Le Grand Prix des Nations

Ferrari, Alberto Ascari, Grand Prix des Nations

The Grand Prix des Nations was first given as a name to a bicycle time trial held in Paris, starting in 1932. The automotive version using that name was held in 1946, 1948 and 1950 on a 2.4 mile layout using the streets of Geneva, Switzerland – home of the former League of Nations. Usually, there was a race for Voiturettes, later referred to as Formula 2 cars, and another for Grand Prix cars. Although the World Championship for Formula 1 was inaugurated in 1950, the Geneva race remained a non-championship affair, but having a well-attended entry all the same.

For the 1950 race which took place on July 30th, there were four factory Alfa Romeo 158s, driven by Juan Manual Fangio, Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, Piero Taruffi and Swiss “gentleman driver” Emmanuel (“Toulo”) de Graffenried. Ferrari showed up with two stretched 125GP chassis, one fitted with a 3.3 liter V12 single-cam normally aspirated motor for Luigi Villoresi with the other having a similar but 4.1 liter motor for Alberto Ascari who is pictured above showing the clear visual impact of a driver in action in the early postwar Grand Prix cars. These Ferraris would soon be replaced by the newly-built 4.5 liter 375F1 for the later Championship races at Monza and Barcelona. There was also a large entry of Maserati 4CLTs, but by 1950 they were  totally outclassed by the Alfas and the Ferraris.

It was apparent that on a short circuit like Geneva Ascari’s Ferrari was a clear match for the Alfettas, even though it was still 400 cc below the displacement limit. For many laps Ascari shadowed Fangio in the leading Alfa until finally his Ferrari’s motor gave up with six laps to go, its water emerging from the exhaust. Just before Ascari’s retirement, tragedy struck when Villoresi lost control over some oil and overturned across the straw bales, penetrating the simple spectator fence. Although he emerged alive albeit with serious injuries, three spectators were killed. As can be seen above, spectator protection was nil with that fence serving only to keep them on the sidewalk.

Photo by Louis Klemantaski ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com


  1. Carol S · · Reply

    Post war racing resumes, in August 1946 John Wyer commented that

    ” it would take a very good engineer to build such an engine to compete
    with 1500cc supercharged motor..”(think the original 3.3 care at Spa developed a
    mere 260 HP.)
    But by 1950 Denis Jenkinson mentioned that at “1950 Monza, it was the first
    occasion Ferrari could compete on equel terms.”

    Your great photo surely a proper race car.!
    Dramatic shot of rising star.
    Jim Sitz


    1. One our favorites. So dynamic!


  2. This marvelous photograph triggers memories of shoving aside math and history books in high school study hall to instead pencil draw these postwar Grand Prix racecars on lined note paper, shapes somewhat matching those seen in British motorsport magazines neatly arranged on shelves at home. It took so little then to transport thought and mind to European circuits and make it all real in imagination. What a treat now decades later to have these images again, and the stories that go with them.


  3. So right, William. Thanks for your thoughts as always.


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