1951 Swiss Grand Prix race report: Fangio wins season opener

Fangio wins first race of season for Alfa Romeo ahead of Ferrari's Piero Taruffi and Nino Farina

Juan Manuel Fangio leads a wet race (Alfa Romeo 159A 8) at 1951 Swiss Grand Prix, Bremgarten, Switzerland

Fangio on his way to victory in the Alfa Photo: Motorsport Images

THE Swiss G.P. held on the Bremgarten circuit at Berne was the first clash between the "works" Alfa-Romeos and Ferraris, and it was clearly seen in the practice periods that neither equipe were pulling any punches. The outcome of the race is now history but some of the pre-race efforts are of interest. On the first day of training Alfas fielded four cars, all Typo 159, with no major modiffications apart from extra fuel tanks, so it was obvious that Ferraris had them worried over the question of losing seconds on pit stops.

Qualifying

Fangio, Farina. Sanesi and de Graffenried all practised, most of the time using the same car. As soon as one driver had done his specified number of laps he drew into the pits, tyre pressures, instrument readings and fuel levels were recorded, the race numbers changed and the next driver was off, to cover the same number of laps. Meanwhile one or another of the remaining cars was used by the drivers for learning the course, the guinea pig car being essentially a travelling test-bed for the technicians to checkeverything. It was all very swift and efficient, with a minimum of three mechanics to each car.

Ferraris had only one car out driven, in a very nonchalant manner, by Villoresi. The outcome was that Villoresi recorded fastest practice time!

In contrast Ferraris had only one car out, a 4 1/2-litre unsupereharged, driven, in what appeared to be a very nonchalant manner, by Villoresi. There were only two mechanics in attendance and the car was merely driven round and round with little apparent interest being taken. There was a second 4 1/2-litre behind the pits but it was not used, and towards the end of the afternoon Taruffi did a few laps in Villoresi's car, he having been nominated as an additional Ferrari entry. The outcome of this apparent nonchalance was that Villoresi recorded fastest practice time!

Three Lago-Talbots were circulating steadily while the HWM team of Moss and Abecassis were quietly getting on with the job of training for the race.  After the withdrawal of the BRM entries it was good to site the HWMs representing this country. The most pro-B.R.M. Englishman present could not help agreeing that "at least HWMs were at Berne, even if they had no hope of winning." If only the BRMs had gone to Berne and practised it would have done a lot of good. The continental motor-racing enthusiast goes on sight and sound, not figures and talk, and if the BRMs had gone past the pits a, few times on full song and then toured round the difficult parts, as the drivers wouldn't have been au fait with the handling, they would have caused it stir. Then, had they been packed up and taken home with the excuse that they were not quite ready for the race, everyone wonld have beon most impressed and not a little worried for the time when they have a real go. As it is no one is worried about "when they come," it is a question of a shrug and "if they come."

Stirling Moss (HWM 51-Alta) rounds the bend at Bremgarten, Berne, Switzerland. 27th May 1951.

Stirling Moss put in a solid showing to finish 8th Photo: Motorsport Images

Meanwhile, hats are raised all round to the HWMs especially when they are in front of Ferraris, as at the Formula II race at Genoa. Maybe it was for a few laps only, but they were in front and that is what people believe.

Farina nearly lost his car, having to lift his foot and taking 250 yards or more to sort it out, before it was straight enough to open up again; all on a 25-30-ft. road at 150 m.p.h!

On the second day of practice Alfas produced five cars, all labelled 159 on the bulkhead plates, but one car had the now de Dion rear axle layout, still using the transverse leaf spring, but with shorter radius arms and, of course, double-universilly-jointed halfshafts. All the team members and Guidotti, the "chef," tried the car as well as practising on the other cars, and again numbers were repainted so rapidly that it was diffieult to keep up with the changes. Farina tried a comic crash-hat with a perspex peak about 12 in. long that extended torward almost to tile aeroscreen. He finial discarded it, for the wind got under it and nearly broke his neck! 

It was pretty obvious that the team were beginning to try by the way they went by start, where there is a long right hand curve taken full bore from the previous corner, wich means about 150 mph.  By comparison with Ferraris the Alfas looked rather unsteady and on one lap Farina nearly lost his car, having to lift his foot and taking 250 yards or more to sort it out, before it was straight enough to open up again; all on a 25-30-ft. road at 150 mph! Ferraris became very serions this day and three 4 1/2-litres were out with Villoresi, Ascari and Taruffi, the first named with the latest version GP50/2. Alberto was obviously off colour and Taruffi was still feeling his way along, but nevertheless the cars were going very rapidly and looked very steady.

All the Talbots were out, entered privately or by various Ecuries, and Gonzalez was driving the 1950 "Le Mans" two-seater stripped of its road equipment. This car is the same as the single-seater with the exception of the propeler-shaft, which runs down the centre to a normal rear axle, whereas the single-seater had a transfer train of gears behind the gearbox setting the propellor-shaft on the right of the chassis, driving to an offset differential, the result bring that the driver can sit in the centre of the car and remain low. Rudolph Fischer, the Swiss driver, and Peter Whitehead were going steadily in their privately owned Ferraris, the former using an unblown 2 1/2-litre engine and the latter a blown 1 1/2-litre. Both had long chassis ears with four-speed gearboxes and swing axles at the rear, although Fischer's car was slightly shorter in the wheelbase than Whitehead's.

Juan Manuel Fangio (number 24, Alfa Romeo 158) prepares to pass Louis Chiron (Maserati 4CLT/48). at the 1951 Swiss Grand Prix

Conditions were tricky on the Swiss cobbled streets Photo: Motorsport Images

Race

Race day being very wet, Alfas and Ferraris fitted anti-splash shields just behind the front wheels at hub level and extending back to the bulkhead. Alfas had them on both sides, Ferraris on the off side only. While new to G.P. racing the idea is not new, for AC Dobson used the same thing on his ERA before the war, "for untidy circuits with lots of loose gravel about," as he put it. On the starting grid, Fangio, Farina and Villoresi were in the front row having recorded the best practice time's, in that order.  By the size of the two extra tanks in the cockpit of Farina's car he was obviously going to go through non-stop as Ferraris were.

Fangio and de Graffenried each had one extra tank on the right of the cockpit. While Sanesi, with the experimentaldie Dion car had no extra tanks. So worried were the Alfas about fuel consumption that as the cars arrived on the grid after doing a warming-up lap, the tanks were topped up with fuel from large jugs, right up to the last pint. Ferraris sat quietly waiting, with 7-8 mpg up their sleeves. Taruffi, in the third row, had taken over the GP50/2 that Villoresi had used in practice, while "Gigi" had GP50/1 and Ascari the original de Dion 4 1/2-litre.

Taruffi's meteoric drive and Fangio's mastery of the rain, together with the Moss-HWM effort need not be enlarged upon. It was one of the better Grande Epreuves. 

1951 Swiss Grand Prix Race Results

1. Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa Romeo) 2:07:53.64

2. Piero Taruffi (Ferrari) + 55.24

3. Guiseppe Farina (Alfa Romeo) + 1:19.31

4. Consalvo Sensi (Alfa Romeo) + 1 lap

5. Toulo de Graffenried (Alfa Romeo) + 2 laps

6. Alberto Ascari (Ferrari) + 2 laps

7. Louis Chiron (Maserati) + 2 laps

8. Stirling Moss (HWM) + 2 laps

9. Louis Rosier (Talbot) + 3 laps

10. Philippe Etancelin (Talbot) + 3 laps

11. Rudi Fischer (Ferrari) + 3 laps

12. Harry Schell (Maserati) + 4 laps

13. Johnny Claes (Talbot) + 7 laps

14. Guy Mairesse (Talbot) + 11 laps

15. Peter Whitehead (Ferrari) Retired - Accident

16. Henri Louveau (Talbot) Retired - Accident

17. George Abecassis (HWM) Retired - Magneto

18. Yves Giraud-Cabantous (Talbot) Retired - Ignition

19. Luigi Villoresi (Ferrari) Retired - Accident

20. Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Talbot) Retired - Oil Pump

21. Peter Hirt (Veritas) Retired - Fuel System

Championship Standings

1. Juan Manuel Fangio - 9

2. Piero Taruffi - 6

3. Guiseppe Farina - 4

4. Consalvo Sensi - 3

5. Toulo de Graffenried - 2

* * *

Nurburgring saw the Eifelrennen meeting on June 3rd with International Formula II and III races. The larger class was dominated by German cars, though two of the new Formula II Altas arrived at the last minute. The Veritas team were hard at work in their new factory on the edge of the track and Paul Pietsch was number one driver. The cars now have a five-speed gearbox with central gearchange, the lever being mounted vertically, in the centre of the leading edge of the driving seat. The Warren girder frame construction is retained with wishbone ifs on torsion bars and de Dion rear, also on torsion bars, while the single ohc engine is virtually unchanged, stub exhausts being used.A new German equipe was present, the DAMW team, standing for Deutsches Amt fur Material u Warenprufung, and they hailed from the Russian zone of Berlin.

There was one Formula II car entered and sports versions in the 1,500cc and 2-litre classes. The Formula II model had a 328 BMW engine and axles in a tubular frame with left-hand steering and controls and an offset single-seater body. The nose cowling, bonnet and scuttle hinged forward in one piece as on the DB Aston-Martin and knock-off Rudge type wire wheels were used. Driven by Rosenhammer, the car went quite fast, making fourth fasted time in practice, but in the race had trouble on the first-lap, dropping to 15th position. After that it went very quickly and finished seventh.

Fritz Reiss had the neat 328-engined AFM-coil sprung all round, the V8 engine still being temperamental. The old original driven by Hans Stuck, was in the hands of Willy Heeks, and it looked very battered and disreputable, though still fast, finishing third in the race. 

Oscar Moore was running with his 1950 HWM and in practice suffered the 1950 trouble of broken stub axles, but went well enough in the race. Gaze and Watson with the new Altas were a welcome sight, and with the impressive entry of English cars in the Formula III race, the two categories were well supported by this country. It only wants our Formula I team to have a go and then English motor-racing will be as strong in International events as it has ever been. While the Altas were not exceptionally fast and the drivers both mew to G.P. racing, they impressed by their neat appearance and air of efficiency, the reaction being "Alta? English, eh! very nice." A pity the official HWMs were not present as Nurburgring is a Moss circuit if ever there was one. Howvever, they were gaining laurels on the twisty little eirettit at Aix-le-Bain, following which they went to Angouleme to gain more second places.

The Effelrennen Formula III was dominated by the Coopers, the official three, Ken Wharton and the German driver Toni Kreuz. Emeryson FWDs put up a brave show, but had mechanical bothers. The Cooper team running in line ahead formation in second, third and fourth places behind Ken Wharton was a fine sight.

Formula III Coopers in line ahead formation, Formula II HWMs in line ahead formation, Formula I . . . ?

In the Formula II race round the cite walls of the ancient French town of Augouleme on June 10th the HWM team were once more to the fore. The two cars entered, driven by Lance Macklin and Louis Chiron finished second and sixth, respectively. While still not quite a match for the Formula II Ferraris, these brilliant English racing cars are now masters of the Gordini-Simcas, as the results below show.

1st: R. Fischer (Ferrari), 1 hr. 28 min. 11.2 sec.; 43.52 m.p.h.
2nd: L. Macklin (HWM), 1 hr, 28 min. 52.1 sec.;
3rd: M. Arnaud (DB), 1 hr. 28 min. 56.7 sec.
4th: R. Manzon (Simca), 1 lap,
5th: A. Simon (Simca), 2 laps,
6th: L. Chiron (HWM), 3 laps.

Fighting a lone battle agtanst overwheiming numbers of Ferraris, Stirling Moss gave his usual good account of himself and the H.W.M. car in the Formula II race over 130 miles on the Caracalla circuit in Rome on June 10th,

1st: RaffaelI (Ferrari), 2 hr. 5 min. 42.1 sec.; 61.18 m.p.h.
2nd: I. Bianchetti (Ferrari), 2 hr. 7 min. 2.2 sec.
3rd: G. Marzotto (Ferrari), 2 hr. 8 min. 18.4 sec.
4th: S. Moss (H.W.M.), 1 lap behind.