Farina stayed with the team for 1951, while contesting other events with his Maserati 4CLT/48. This 05 car was now obsolete, but as the new world champion Farina could negotiate good starting money.
This was the season when Alfa was finally defeated by Ferrari, and when Fangio emerged as clearly the quickest Alfa driver. Fangio took the title; Farina finished fourth in the points. Nino, though, was still a top-class driver, and his comparatively disappointing campaign was largely due to the Alfetta being at the end of its competitive tether. It was overstretched, and Farina did not have the delicacy of touch which Fangio had.
With Alfa Romeo withdrawing at the conclusion of 1951, Farina joined Ferrari, but like everyone else he was outpaced by his young team leader Ascari. This disconcerted him, although he and Alberto were close friends. For the first time in his life Farina had to try too hard, and he crashed a lot. Ascari was the fastest driver of the day — even Fangio acknowledged that — and he piled win upon win, leaving everyone else to pick up the crumbs. But it was still not a bad year for Farina — actually many grand prix drivers would have been very satisfied with it. He was regularly second behind Ascari, and finished runner-up in the championship, too — not bad for a man of 46. To put that in perspective, the runner-up in 2003, Kimi Raikkonen, will turn 46 in 2025!
Ascari continued his domination in 1953, by which time Farina had become a more thoughtful driver less inclined to take risks. He had fewer incidents, and the highlight of his season was winning the German GP after Ascari’s sister car shed a wheel. He remains, at 47, the oldest driver to win a world championship race without sharing a car.
Farina was also retained to drive Tony Vandervell’s Ferrari 4.5-litre 375 which was entered as the ‘Thin Wall Special’ in Formula Libre races in Britain. Given the usual state of the opposition this was akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but it was in this car that he became the first to lap Silverstone at 100mph.
The end of the season saw Farina third in the world championship — he grossed more points than Fangio in second place, but had to shed some — and he was the clear number two over at Ferrari, ahead of Mike Hawthorn and Luigi Villoresi.
Then both Ascari and Villoresi decamped to join Lancia and, at the age of 47, Farina became Ferrari’s number one. He rose commendably to the occasion, but he must have known that Ferrari was in deep crisis with no clear idea where it was going. Even so, in the Argentine GP which opened the season, Farina set pole and led the early stages, though a pitstop for a new pair of goggles perhaps cost him a win.
He then secured victories in the Buenos Aires 1000Km sportscar race (which was unusual because he rarely shone in endurance races), the Circuit of Agadir and the Syracuse GP. He crashed heavily while leading the Mille Miglia but seven weeks later, with his right arm still in plaster, disputed the lead of the Belgian GP with Fangio’s Maserati 250F until his Ferrari 553 developed a fault. Mercedes-Benz had not yet entered the world championship and so that drive at Spa was a good indication of his abilities; Farina revelled in Spa’s fast sweeps where his delicate car control came into its own and where the driver could make a real difference.
Then it all went wrong. While practising for a Monza sportscar race, a universal joint on his Ferrari broke and the driveshaft punctured the fuel tank. The car caught fire and Farina was so badly burned that he missed the rest of the season. When he returned in 1955 he was able to race only by taking morphine injections to kill the pain.
With Moss and Fangio now at Mercedes-Benz everyone else faced an uphill struggle during 1955, but Farina still scored a second, a fourth and a third in the opening world championship races. Many drivers would be more then happy with that tally, yet we are speaking of a man pushing 50 and dosed-up on drugs…
It was too much even for Farina. The constant pain, together with the death of his friend Ascari, led Farina to announce his retirement.
Given his deep-seated passion for the sport, it surprised nobody that this retirement did not last long. Farina was back aboard a Lancia D50 entered by Scuderia Ferrari for the Italian GP, but the car was withdrawn after it threw a tyre tread at 170mph and spun wildly. Monza’s banked track was being used, so speeds were exceptionally high, and the Engleberts which Ferrari used gave enormous problems.
That was the end of Farina’s F1 career. He was not invited to join Ferrari for 1956, and he was not interested in making up the numbers in an uncompetitive car. With Villoresi, he had been the last of the great Italian drivers who had first raced pre-war.
Farina was not quite finished, however; he attempted to qualify for the 1956 Indianapolis 500 using a Kurtis-Kraft chassis fitted with a six-cylinder Ferrari engine, but it was a failure. He tried again the next season with a regular Indycar and withdrew after it crashed in practice, killing the test driver.
After that Farina hung up his helmet and became involved in car dealerships, selling Alfa Romeos and Jaguars. He also dabbled with a driving school in Turin, but it was not a success. Eventually, he went to work for his uncle at Pininfarina, in a capacity which is best described as ‘ill defined’.
In June 1966 he was driving his Lotus-Cortina to the French Grand Prix when it skidded while crossing the Savoy Alps near Chambery and smashed into a telegraph pole. Farina died instantly. Having survived so many crashes on circuits, it was ironic that he should perish in an ordinary road accident. Ironic, but not altogether surprising. He had always treated public roads as though they were racetracks, to the extent that Fangio refused to ride with him.
Today Farina is rarely remembered among the greats, but those three Italian championships in the late 1930s count for something given the calibre of Italian drivers at that time. His world championship was won with no less than Fangio as his main opponent, and he gave Fangio a hard time in 1954. Had he been more outgoing, more of a sporting celebrity, perhaps today his reputation would be brighter than it is.
His influence, though, lives on. In 1950, Stirling Moss undertook a season with HWM on the Continent, and it was not long before he encountered Farina. Nino taught Stirling a thing or two about how an established star deals with cheeky interlopers; Farina was a hard man, and you had to earn the right to overtake him. That was something which Stirling had to cope with. But the thing which really impressed Moss was Farina’s driving style: it looked so good. Farina didn’t hunch over the wheel as most drivers did then, nor did he appear to be wrestling with his car: he sat back with the steering wheel held at arms’ length. The calmness which he displayed while racing conflicted with the Latin passion raging below the surface. Moss, then only 20, imitated that style behind the wheel, and he in turn bred countless imitators.
Stirling has always acknowledged Farina as his influence, and for many that alone would be compliment enough. But for a man like Nino, a true hero in his own right, it is nowhere near.