THE FIFTIES by Luca Dal Monte

The 1950s in Formula 1 are marked by the dominance of big automotive manufacturers – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes. They are the major players for the first seven seasons. The small English teams, which start to make an impact in the second half of the decade, don't truly become protagonists until the latter part of the 1950s, when Vanwall claims the first Constructor's Cup and Cooper-Climax does even better by clinching both the Drivers' and Constructors' titles in the final season of the decade.

The Formula 1 World Championship begins with Alfa Romeo as the absolute protagonist. In the inaugural race at Silverstone on May 13, 1950, four Alfa Romeos occupy the first four positions on the starting grid, and four Alfa Romeos finish in the top four positions at the end of the race. The dominant car is the 158 model, also known as the Alfetta. That first race, as well as the first World Championship title, goes to Italian Nino Farina, who wins two races and battles until the end of the season with the Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, who also wins two Grand Prix races. In 1951, Fangio becomes the world champion with the evolution of the previous year's car, the Alfa Romeo 159. Four victories in seven races are his seasonal haul. But the dominance of the Milanese automotive manufacturer is first interrupted and then challenged by Ferrari, which on July 14, 1951, at Silverstone, achieves its first Formula 1 victory with Froilan Gonzalez at the wheel of a 375.

Ferrari is on top of the world for the first time the following season. Thanks to six victories in six races, Italian Alberto Ascari secures the first world title for the Prancing Horse. Due to changes in the international regulations, the championship-winning car is a Formula 2 car, the 500. With this car, or rather its evolution, Ascari repeats his success the following year, 1953.

In 1954, the Fangio era begins. In four seasons, the Argentine champion clinches four consecutive world titles with three different manufacturers and teams. The first and second titles of this extraordinary winning streak – his second and third personally – come in 1954 and 1955. Fangio becomes world champion driving the Mercedes W196 in both 1954 and 1955. But in his first season, he also achieves two victories with the Maserati 250 F. Mercedes is not yet ready for its debut, so Fangio races with the Modena-based team. Things like this could happen back then. For Mercedes, the 1954 season marks a return to racing after the long hiatus of the Second World War. The German manufacturer is eager for redemption and does things properly. The cars it fields in the championship trials are essentially two: one in a traditional configuration for slow or mixed circuits, and a second one, so streamlined as to look almost like a futuristic flying saucer, for fast circuits. Fangio has no rivals driving both models. Alongside him, a young star begins to attract general attention, Englishman Stirling Moss.

In 1956, Fangio is world champion for the fourth time. This year, he drives for Ferrari. The D50 car is actually a Lancia, which the Maranello team practically received as a gift the previous year when the Turin-based manufacturer decided to close its racing program. Fangio wins, but doesn't dominate as in previous seasons. His relationship with Ferrari doesn't work, and even his teammates are not all willing to accommodate his great talent and inevitably imposing figure. There are internal controversies. The atmosphere is tense. At the end of the season, the Argentine prefers to leave and joins the other Modena team, Maserati. But he’s still the best. At Maserati, Fangio finds himself with the old, but reliable 250 F, one of the best cars in the entire history of Formula 1. In August, with an extraordinary victory at the historic Nürburgring circuit, Fangio becomes world champion for the fifth time. It's a record that then, and for a long time to come, will seem unbeatable.

In 1958, Ferrari wins its fourth Drivers' World Championship title with Englishman Mike Hawthorn at the end of a season in which fate shattered the dreams of two of its teammates, fellow countryman Peter Collins and Italian Luigi Musso, all driving the Ferrari 246 6-cylinder. But as mentioned, the Drivers' World Championship title, the first Constructors' Cup, goes to Vanwall, which fields champions of the calibre of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks – the flying dentist!

The music changes completely the following year. In 1959, Formula 1 witnesses the first major technical revolution in its history. John Cooper has placed the engine behind the driver, in a central position on the car instead of the front, as has always – or almost always, let's remember the Auto Union from the second half of the 1930s – been done until then. At the wheel of his revolutionary, light, agile, and quick mid-engine Cooper-Climax T51, Australian Jack Brabham wins the first race of the season in Monaco and repeats himself at Aintree in the heart of summer. In doing so, he keeps his two title rivals at bay, both with two victories each, Brooks on Ferrari 246 and Moss, who alternates between driving a BRM and a Cooper-Climax T51 fielded by Rob Walker's team.