Here is a fine study of the great Juan Manuel Fangio on the grid for the Swiss Grand Prix in Berne on May 27, 1951. His car is an Alfa Romeo 159 with its double-stage supercharged 1.5 liter straight eight motor, producing about 420 hp. The Alfa 159, or Alfetta as these cars were called at the time, was the final development of the earlier 158 which had been first introduced in 1937. The Alfas were undoubtedly the fastest cars of 1951, but their very high fuel consumption made it possible for the 4.5 liter naturally aspirated Ferrari 375F1 to be increasingly competitive.
That said, Fangio qualified on pole with a time two seconds better than his team leader Giuseppe “Nino” Farina who had earned the first title of F1 World Champion with the Alfa 158 in 1950. Fangio’s margin was impressive and indicative of his bravery on the Bremgarten forest circuit which was right next to the city but lined with trees and with a stone block surface in some areas which made it especially dangerous in wet conditions. Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Piero Taruffi had the three Ferrari 375F1s to do battle with the four Alfettas, but Ascari was not on form as he was still recovering from burns on his arm which he had received in an F2 race in Genoa a week before when his car’s fuel tank had split causing a serious fire.
Race day was damp which made the outcome to be ever more uncertain. Fangio led from the start ahead of the Alfas of Farina and and Consalvo Sanesi. Fangio is seen here at the left in the wet conditions. Note the slick “Belgian blocks” road surface. There was a bit of drama to come in that Farina had extra tankage on his car and was planning to run non-stop while Fangio would have to refuel. But when this occurred Fangio had amassed a significant lead and came out from the pits only a few seconds behind Farina with Taruffi’s Ferrari right behind the Argentinean. Fangio then passed Farina who was attacked by Taruffil who in turn squeezed by to take second late in the race.
Photos by Alan R. Smith ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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