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ALFA ROMEO VERSUS FERRARI—THE 1951 GRAND PRIX SEASON PART 2

YESTERDAY, CORRADO MILLANTA introduced us to Alfa Romeo and Ferrari Formula One cars of the 1951 season. Today in Part 2, we see results of their contrasting technologies. 

Above, the Ferrari front suspension featured parallel A—arms and a transverse leaf spring. Below, the Alfa employed Porsche-type twin trailing arms with its transverse springing. Images from R&T, January 1951.

Monza 1951. Millanta reported in R&T, November 1951, “The ascent of Ferrari and the descent of Alfa crossed at Nurburg Ring (Road and Track, October, 1951) and finally, at Monza, Ferrari seems to have established its superiority.” 

Alberto Ascari, the winner of the 1951 Italian Grand Prix, in his Ferrari. 

“September 16, 1951,” Millanta wrote, “marks the date when Ferrari finished 1,2, 4, and 5, while Alfa Romeo finished but one car—and that 3rd.” 

“A few years ago,” Millanta observed, “the reliability of the Alfa astounded the technical world , but the broken pistons at Monza show that the fuel pressure (45% more than the Ferrari) and high temperatures developed in the older supercharged engine are too high to guarantee its reliability any longer…. Unless some miracle happens to change the situation, it looks like the glorious Alfa Romeos are already at the end of their career.” 

“Fangio (Alfa) leads Bonetto (Alfa) and Taruffi (Ferrari) thru a fast corner at Monza.”

Millanta wrote, “Ascari was perfect. He took over first place early in the race and held it… even tho Fangio madly pursued him. I was at the most difficult spot in the circuit, Lesmo Curve, and I never once saw him correct the trajectory of his car, even tho he held on to a hellish speed. Ascari, like Fangio, is certainly one of the best drivers in the world.” 

An added comment, which proved prophetic: “Too many tires were changed by the leaders… 22 in all…. Tho the hot day may have caused this, it looks as tho the high power to weight ratio of the cars presents a serious problem for the tire manufacturers.” Back in those days, several tiremakers participated: In 1951, there were Italian Pirelli, American Firestone, British Dunlop, and Belgian Englebert.

Above, the Alfa cockpit. Below, the Ferrari’s.

Barcelona Showdown. “In fact,” Millanta wrote in R&T, January 1952, “two teams (Alfa Romeo and Ferrari) were equal in their chances when they came to the Barcelona starting line. And two drivers were nearly equal—the winner at Barcelona would be Champion of the World—either Ascari (Ferrari) or Fangio (Alfa Romeo).” 

There had been six other 1951 European venues prior to Barcelona: Switzerland (going to Fangio/Alfa), Belgium (Farina/Alfa), France (Fangio/Alfa), Britain (Gonzalez/Ferrari), Germany (Ascari/Ferrari), and Monza (Ascari/Ferrari). Lee Willard won the Indy 500 in a Kurtis Kraft-Offy, which was also part of the World Championship calendar back then. 

A Matter of Tires. Both Alfa and Ferrari were running Pirellis. However, Fangio’s Alfa triumphed on Barcelona’s street circuit. Ascari and others of the Ferrari team fell prey to tire and engine troubles. 

Millanta analyzed, “It is interesting to trace the causes which had so much to do with the Barcelona result. Surprisingly enough those causes turn out to be mostly the tires. And to understand this, we must retrace our steps to the Italy Grand Prix (Monza), when the Ferrari technicians used smaller tires [16- versus 17-in.] against the advice of the Pirelli company. The Ferrari people did so principally so as not to put too much strain on the transmission.”

Millanta continued, “Ferrari hoped to arrive at both superior acceleration and braking, but this greater efficiency was gained at a great cost of tires.…”

A Ferrari tire’s response to Barcelona’s varied street circuit. 

A Confident Fangio. Millanta reported, “The Alfa Romeo team (using the same Pirelli tires but larger diameter) was running so perfectly.… From the very first moment, Fangio drove his Alfa so sure and calm, heading—by one minute—Ascari, his direct rival. The victory crowns the dream of this great Argentinian who, because of his good nature and modesty, counts a great number of friends even in Italy.”

Fangio Clinches his first (of five) Drivers’ World Championships at 1951 Barcelona.

And What of the 1952 Season? Unknowable to Millanta at the time, Alfa Romeo was to take its laurels and, citing economic reasons, retire from racing. 

This left Ferrari as the only serious Formula One entrant, and the F.I.A. decided to run Grands Prix to Formula 2 regulations for two years. This gave larger fields of entries and a great varieties of cars, albeit still with Ferrari domination. 

Already in the works was a rule change coming in 1954 to an all-new normally aspirated 2.5-liter Formula One. Which, of course, is another story for another day, partially told here at SimanaitisSays. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

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