1951 Spanish Grand Prix race report: Fangio takes his first title in grand finale

Juan Manuel Fangio wins for Alfa Romeo and thus becomes 1951 F1 World Champion

Alberto Ascari (Ferrari 375F1) leads at the start of the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix, Pedralbes, Spain

Photo: Motorsport Images

The last Formula 1 Grand Prix of the 1951 season, the Gran Premio de Espana, run over 70 laps of the 3.9-mile circuit de Pedralbes, on October 28th, promised to be a dramatic. It lived up to its promise! Only two points separated Ascari from Fangio as 1951 World Champion and clearly Alfa Romeo would be anxious to grasp this last chance of retrieving some of the prestige they have lost this year to Ferrari. BRM although depicted on the cover of the race programme, were licking their wounds in Italy and did not enter, which no longer makes news, but Alfa Romeo put in Fangio, Farina, Bonetto and de Graffenried, and Ferrari entered Ascari, Gonzalez, Villoresi and Taruffi. The field was made up of three Wade-blown Simca-Gordinis, six Talbots, Jover's and Godia's Maseratis and Bira's Osca. Whitehead's 1½-litre Ferrari and Branca's Maserati non-started.

Ascari, anxious no doubt to make up his deficiency in the championship, made fastest practice lap, in 2 min. 10.59 seconds, whereas Fangio did not better 2 min. 12.27 seconds, Gonzalez 2 min. 14.01 seconds, or Farina 2 min. 14.94 seconds. But, in spite of Ascari's demonstration of speed, Ferrari were in trouble with tyres and Taruffi went off the course, a mishap matched by Bonetto, neither driver sustaining injury. Positions on the starling grid, which was situated some distance before the finishing line along the 1¾-miles Avenida Del Generalisimo Franco, were decided on practice times whith Ascari on pole, Fangio second and Gonzalez third.

"Opinion was that an open race would result - and how right that proved to be!"

Bira had been in trouble with the OSCAs engine bearings, but Murray, who had motored down through the snow of the Pyrenees in his Jaguar XK120, did what he could to help. Opinion was that an open race would result - and how right that proved to be!

After scribbling a report of the Earls Court Show, we presented ourselves at Croydonand were flown to Barcelona in a Transair Avro Anson I, arriving at midnight on the Friday.  At once Peña Rhin hospitality, under the care of D. Jaime Arias Zimerman, Press Secretary of the small but enthusiastic club which runs the race, went into operation. We were met by an aged "12/24" Citroën taxi, an hotel found for us, and we were handed Press passes and invited to a reception the following night, everyone remaining cheerful alhtough these formalities were not completed until 3:30am. 

There was no practice on the Saturday but hospitality of the most Charming and generous sort was forthcoming from Señor A. F. Nava, a well-known loyal enthusiast, and we went to look over the splendid Pegaso factory - but that is another story!

Alberto Ascari (Ferrari 375), rounds a corner in 4th position 1951 Spanish Grand Prix, Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain.

Ascari finished 4th and two laps down in his Ferrari Photo: Motorsport Images

Sunday dawned fine and very warm and in one of two most imposing Pegaso coaches we were driven the short distance to the Press box - this Peña Rhin G.P. is rather as if we closed the arterial part of our Great West Road for a race, letting disinterested parties leave London via Hounslow and Isleworth! The scene was as any other great motor race in Enrope—very picturesque. Perhaps more so, by reason of the dusky troops who guarded the pit area, the mounted police, the trailer-trarns crammed and festooned with humanity, and an occasional Hispano-Suiza! The stands, like those at Silverstone, are of steel scaffolding, but far better disguised!

Alfa-Romeo were using a track-style ribbed front tyre on the ears of Bonetto and de Graffenried, treaded front tyres on the others, 5.50 -18 front, 7.00 18 rear. Ferrari used a blue edging to the nose cowl to identify Ascari, silver for Villoresi, yellow for Gonzalez. The Talbots all had horizontal carburetters, the air tunnel missing from Claes' and Grignard's Talbot had large lightening holes in the brake back-plates.

The field was assembled on the grid, the hiring of a canon indicated five minutes to zero hour. Farina, bottle in hand, ran to take his place, the red and yellow flag of Spain rose, hovered, flashed down, and they were off. Ascari fractionally ahead, Gonzalez on his tail, pursued by Farina and Fangio. As the mechanics, led by excitable Harry Schell, ran into the pits, some trailing starter trolleys, the drivers jockeyed for position down the long straight swung right-handed onto the Carretera de Corfiella a Fogas Tordera, taking the swerves at the end of it, negotiated the sharp hairpin onto the short Avenidas de la Victoria, braked for the left-hand corner into the not-quite straight Paseo de Manuel Girona finally to negotiate the twin right-hand corners connecting the brief Calle de Numancia straight.

As they accelareted past the pits at the close of the initial lap Ascari had a small advantage over Farina with Fangio third, followed by Bonetto, Villoresi, Gonzalez, de Graffenried, Simon in the first of the trim blue Simcas, Manzon behind him, then Chiron, Godia in the red and yellow Maserati with big air intake oil the bonnet top, Trintignant, Bira, Cabantons, Rosier, Grignard and Claes.

Bira was already in trouble and retired. On the next lap Ascari drew away from Farina and, further back, Villoresi and Taruffi each picked up a place. Lap three saw Fangio pass his team mate Farina and get up close behind Ascari. Villoresi was fourth, ahead of Bonetto. On the fourth lap Fangio took the lead and Villoresi was passed by Bonetto. Two laps later Gonzalez also passed Bonetto - the order was now Alfa, Ferrari, Alfa, Ferrari, Ferrari, Alfa, Alfa, Ferrari, the last two ears those of de Graffenried, which was overheating and Taruffi.

Juan Manuel Fangio takes the chequered flag, the win and the championship at the 1951 Spanish Grand Prix , Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain. 28 October 1951

Fangio takes the chequered flag, the win and the championship Photo: Motorsport Images

Then, just as the race looked like developing into a fine inter-marque struggle, drama intervened. On this sixth lap, to a rustle and murmur from the spectators, Taruffi drove to his pit with the near-side rear tyre in ribbons. Simon's Simca was some way behind and the unlucky Ferrari was able to resume without losing its place to the smaller car. But on the very next lap Taruffi's off-side rear tread broke up and he, too, was forced to come in! By lap eight the order of the leaders was Fangio, Ascari, Farina, Gonzalez, Bonetto, de Graffenried, with Villoresi and Tartuffi some way behind. Villoresi's pit, now prepared for tyre trouble, having been able to dispatch him before Taruffi had come by. Meanwhile, Simon was overtaken on lap nine by both his teammates, Trintignant and Manzon.

Ferrari had certainly picked the wrong tyres for this fast-run race in the heat, for on the ninth lap Ascari, while in second place behind Fangio, had trouble withi his near-side rear tyre. The leaders were fairly closely bunched, so that the unfortunate Alberto dropped from sceond to sixth place by end of the next (10th) lap. He was now behind Fangio, Farina, Gonzalez, Bonetto and de Graffenried.

"Then, just as the race looked like developing into a fine inter-marque struggle, drama intervened"

Chiron had retired on lap four, after suffering loss of oil pressure. On lap nine Trintignant spun in the Simca at the corner before the long straight but resumed without being passed by Manzon. Ascari, with fresh, wheels, required four laps to get out of sixth place, but by the end of the 13th lap he was fourth. The next lap saw the dreaded tyre trouble strike Gonzalez! His near-side cover threw its tread and as he came to his pit Ascari went into third position behind Fangio and Farina. Behind him, eyer present, came Bonetto's and de Graffenried's Alfa-Romeos, although the latter's was not entirely happy.

Farina, however, was going as strongly as ever behind the leader although he momentarily missed a change-up as he accelerated past the pits on lap 12.

So the race began to take shape, all four Ferraris unexpectedly delayed by tyres which, suited to a fast circuit, seemed unable to stand up to corners, while the Alfas would have to refuel. First to stop for essence was de Graffenried, who came in on lap 17 and, his engine being unduly hot, did not get away for some time. T add to the excitement Ascari made a brief stop after a "corner-incident", but actually got away before the Alfa-Romeo driver, so that by the end of lap 18 the order had become Fangio, Farina, Bonetto, Villoresi, Gonzalez, Ascari, Taruffi, de Graffenried.

Behind, Trintignant led Manzon and Simon, who were in close company. A lap later and Trintignant was in dire trouble - the heat and the pace were certainly taking their toll. From laps 18 to 26 Ascari ran sixth, unable to regain his lost place, then Taruffi passed him, and a lap later Alberto's blue-cowled Ferrari was again stationary at its pit, although it soon resumed, still in seventh position.

Fangio, Alfa Romeo 159, pulls in to take the plaudits at 1951 Spanish Grand Prix, Pedralbes, Spain. 28 October 1951.

Fangio pulls in to take the plaudits Photo: Motorsport Images

The back markers were growing ragged, frequent pit calls making the order difficult to follow, but the flying Fangio came round faultlessly lap after lap. On his 29th, he came in to refuel and was away in a very brief space of time, without a tyre change, which Ferrari must have found irksome! He retained his lead but Farina, previously about three-quarters or a lap behind, was now closer, and too, refuelled on the very next lap (30th), also resuming before Gonzalez passed him. Lap 31 saw Bonetto refuelled and away before Ascari, still in seventh place, was due to appear, but Taruffi's Ferrari ceased "out in the country" and he never re-appeared.

Interest was never lacking for the vast crowd, estimated it some 250,000, for no sooner were these refuelling stops over than Villoresi's Ferrari commenced a series of stops with engine trouble. By half-distance Fangio led Farina by 511.26 seconds, having averaged 99.0 mph to his team-mate's 98.4 mph. Gonzalez was third. Ferrari's only hope now and going like the wind. Villoresi was fourth, but he had to come in again, Ascari's Ferrari passing into this position as the Alfa-Romeo did so. Bira, Cabantous, Chiron and Tartuffi were out, de Graffenried's Alfa-Romeo was still overheating and Simon's Simca had a long stop, to resume after fuel had been put in. Manzon, too, found his Simca unwilling to motor at its former speed.

The race now began to settle into a definite pattern. Front laps 36 to 41 the order of the leaders was unchanged - Fangio, Farina. Gonzalez, Ascari, about a lap behind, de Graffenried, a lap away again with Bonetto following, the sick Ferrari. Actually, de Graffenried had a brief pit-call on lap 41 and fell to seventh place. Further back there was trouble. Claes ran through the straw bales at the corner before the home straight. He drove to his pit but the yellow Talbot retired. Godia's Maserati had dropped further and further back but, after periodic attention to the machinery, its now begrimed driver went on. Simon's Simca was still running but later had to be pushed to its pit for "servicing".

From laps 42 to 49 the leaders were Fangio, Farina, making mysterious gestures to his pit, the determined Gonzalez, Ascari, Bonetto, Villoresi and de Graffenried - Alfa, Alfa, Ferrari, Ferrari, Alfa, Ferrari, Alfa - but the Ferraris seemed unable to hold their initial speed on the treaded 7.50 -17 rear covers they had now fitted, and Gonzalez could only catch the two Alfa's by a miracle.

However, they had to refuel again and thus the intense interest of the struggle was fully maintained. 

Refuel Fangio did, after his 52nd lap and so quickly was he away that Farina remained behind him in second place. Then Farina carne in for his second refuel (still no tyre changes!) and as he did so Gonzalez took second place it was as close as that! Bonetto likewise paused but as he was nearly a lap ahead of de Graffenried his place (fifth) was secure. Meanwhile, Villoresi's Ferrari had ceased for good after lap 49. Soon after, de Graftenried made another call at his pit.

Alberto Ascari, Ferrari 375, brakes for a corner at 1951 Spanish Grand Prix, Pedralbes, Barcelona, Spain. 28 October 1951.

Photo: Motorsport Images

After Farina had refuelled he did his utmost to catch Gonzalez, encouraged by signals from his pit, as was Fangio. But he could make little impression on the flying Argentinian. Equally, Gonzalez did not look like catching Fangio.

Each lap the familiar mechanic held out the pit board, from the middle of the road, to give Fangio the lead had clear of the only active Ferrari chasing him. It was 34 seconds on lap 59, 34 again on lap 60, then the gap narrowed to 32. 27, and then 38 second. But Fangio, driving impeccably, obviously couldn't be caught. As Gonzalez eased up a bit, although ever watchful for Farina, Fangio's lead, and with it the World Championship, became ever more secure. Gamely, Ascari held on in fourth place, but what a disappointed man he must have been!

Behind, Bonetto and Graffenried coaxed their Alfa-Romeos along: further behind, only Etancelin, Rosier, Manzon and Godia were still motoring. Godia damaged the front of his Maserati during an "incident”, threw the bonnet into his pit and roared on, loudly applauded, as a local driver who finishes against great odds should be.

So the race ran to its conclusion. Fangio unassailable. Alfa-Romeo had retrieved lost honours, but with a Ferrari pressing their leading car quite hard! had Ferrari not had tyre failures the result would probably have been different, but note that two Ferraris retired to one Alfa-Romeo. The Peńa Rhin race constituted a most uncertain and exciting finish to an intense season, and Fangio not only clinched his World Championship beyond question but gained an extra point (31 in all) by breaking last year's lap record of 97.7 mph which he elevated to 105.82 mph. The race average was 4.79 mph higher than in 1950, and was actually higher than the fastest lap in 1950, in spite of the distance increase or 78 miles (making just over 274 miles in all. It was a grand finale!

Barcelona Briefs

Pirelli tyes served Alfa-Romeo well!

Farina, Ascari, Villoresi and Taruffi attended the reception at the premises of the Real A.C. de Espana and Peña Rhin the evening before the race, and Col. Barnes, of our RAC, also attended.

Stirling Moss was present as a spectator

Godia's Maserati carried No 44, the organisers using only even numbers for the ears.

1951 Spanish Grand Prix Race Results

1. Juan Manuel Fangio (Alfa-Romeo) 2:46:54.1 

2. Jose Froilan Gonzalez (Ferrari) + 54.28

3. Guiseppe Farina (Alfa-Romeo) + 1:45.54

4. Alberto Alberto (Ferrari) + 2 laps

5. Felice Bonetto (Alfa-Romeo) +2 laps

6. Toulo de Graffenried (Alfa-Romeo) +4 laps

7. Louis Rosier (Talbot) + 6 laps

8. Philippe Étancelin (Talbot) + 7 laps

9. Robert Manzon (Simca-Gordini) + 7 laps

10. Paco Godia (Maserati) + 10 laps

11. Luigi Villoresi (Ferrari) Retired - Iginition

12. Andre Simon (Gordini) Retired - Engine

13. Johnny Claes (Talbot) Retired - Accident

14. Piero Taruffi (Ferrari) Retired - Wheel

15. Maurice Trintignant (Gordini) Retired - Engine

16. Georges Grignard (Talbot) Retired - Engine

17. Yves Giraud-Cabantous (Talbot) Retired - Accident

18. Louis Chiron (Talbot) Retired - Iginition

19. Prince Bira (Maserati) Retired - Engine

20. Juan Jover (Maserati) Retired - Engine

Championship Standings

1. Juan Manuel Fangio - 31 (37)

2. Alberto Ascari - 25 (28)

3. Jose Froilan Gonzalez - 24 (27)

4. Guiseppe Farina - 19 (22)

5. Luigi Villoresi - 15 (18)



The BRM was going to be

the marvel of the century.

To travel at the speed of sound

and practically leave the ground:

When travelling along the straight

would go at such a fearful rate

That all the rest, with faces dropped,

would get out thinking they had


Ferraris. Alfas would pull in 

admitting that they couldn't win:

The BRm would set the pace,

and comfortably win the race.

That's what they thought, but now, alas.

things are at a sorry pass.

No more its looked upon with pride,

nobody even gets a ride,

For breakages come fast and thick,

and everybody's feeling sick,

Too many cylinders I fear,

Too many ratios of gear,

Too many oiI pipes to the diff, 

too many bearings to run stiff, 

The moral's here to blazon forth,

Too many cooks hare spoiled the