Friday, July 9, 2010

Birth of the modern F1 championship

Can it already be one year ago since I was fortunate enough to attend what then was being billed as Silverstone’s final Grand Prix...

As one year ago, Formula 1 was at a massive Crossroads, as Sir maXXum, nee MAD MAX Mosley was playing hardball with the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) with his since scuttled Cost-cap Formulae, while the FOTA had announced its intentions to break-away from the FIA and thus, it was pretty amazing to be at the Epicentre of this unheard of activity as your Humble Scribe was frolicking ‘bout Jolly ‘Ol London...

So, on May 13th, 2009, I noted to myself how the date marked the 59th and potentially last anniversary of the British Grand Prix being held at “BLOODY” Silverstone... Or is it the 60th Anniversary? Since if we used Scuderia Ferrari’s logic, whom had christened last years F1 challenger the F60 in deference to its having contested all 60 seasons of Formula 1; Oh Whale, never mind, eh?

Yet, now halfway thru the year 2010, I can pronounce that it was Six centuries ago that the modern Formula One World Championship commenced on a primitive triangle based layout, where a former World War II Royal Air Force Bomber base had been situated, as today:
“Silverstone circuit is extremely easy to find, being located on the A43 between Towcester and Brackley in Northamptonshire. The circuit is just 65 miles from Birmingham and 80 miles from London.”

But one would assume that back in the middle of 1950, Silverstone was out in the countryside and probably not as easy to get to, since I’d assume this was prior to modern Hiways, etc, while obviously the Grand Prix machinery was also vastly inferior to the rocketing LandSharks of today’s designs, even with the mild engine revolutions reduction to 18,000RPM’s!

Yet, ironically as the Scuderia trumpeted its sixty years of F1 heritage, for reasons unknown, Il Commendatore, a.k.a. Enzo Ferrari didn’t see fit to dispatch any of his early Grand Prix machinery to the series inaugural event, hence Ferrari waited until the second round at Monaco to show-up with drivers Alberto Ascari, Raymond Sommer and Luigi Villoresi, thus making the all mighty Alfa Romeo’s work for their victory.

Also making his F1 debut in Monte Carlo was American Grand Prix driver Harry Schell, in a most curious combination; a Cooper-JAP, noted as the very first rear engine F1 chassis. (Post-war) But I digress, as I’m getting ahead of our race in question...

A cursory look down the entry list of that very first modern day British Grand Prix sees a total of 23 entrants, with the factory efforts of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Talbot, while ERA competed along with an oddity named the Alta GP thrown in for good measure. Yet, apparently the races outcome was never in question of which Marque would win, since the mighty Alfa Romeo 158 would be undefeatable that season, with a total of 11 victories. Thus, it was simply a matter of which of the four Alfa piloto’s would take the chequered flag first, as Alfa’s formidable line-up included the series first two World Champions.

This all conquering Alfa Romeo Tipo 158 had originally been designed in 1937-38 for the “Junior Voiturette” class, which would later become the basis for Formula 3, as noted designer Gioacchino Colombo laid out a 1,500cc straight eight cylinder single supercharged gem, which would go onto sweep 26 out of 26 contests between the years 1946-51, before ironically having its streak snapped at the 1951 British GP by Froilan Gonzalez aboard a Ferrari model 375, powered by a 4.5 liter normally aspirated V-12... (As the rules allowed the usage of either 1.5 liters supercharged/4.5 liter normally aspirated “Lumps.”)

So, it was between the French Talbot Lago T26C, a straight six design and the British made ERA (English Racing Automobiles) to scrap for the honours of “Best of the Rest;” while Italy’s Maserati 4CL models were close behind as the home grown Alta GP (Alta Car and Engineering Company) nipped at its heals, as all of these latter manufacturers utilized inline four cylinder engines. (With all of the competitors selecting the 1.5 liter S/C route.)

Thus it was on a spring day with King George and Queen Elizabeth in attendance that as the green flag flew, a trio of factory Alfetti’s rocketed off into the distance, with Giuseppe Farina leading teammates Luigi Fagioli and Juan Manuel Fangio, who’d all take turns pacing the race before Fangio’s engine let go. While the other “Works” entries consisted of a lone Maserati 4CLT/48 for Grand Prix winner Louis Chiron and two Talbo Lago’s for Yves Giraud-Cabantous and Eugene Martin, with the rest of the field being left to privateers...

After Fangio’s retirement, Farina led home a close following Fagioli, with Alfa Romeo’s fourth “Works” chassis, piloted by Reg Parnell in a “One-off” for his Home Grand Prix, finished in third place, while the first make other then Alfa would be the factory Talbot-Lago T26C of Giraud-Cabantous.

Sadly, the date May 13th, in shear coincidence also marks the passing of Harry Schell, who would perish exactly 10yrs to the day of the inaugural British GP held at Silverstone, while qualifying in the wet for the F1 non-championship International Trophy race at the very same venue.

So although you might hear SPEED’s Bob Varsha wax-on about it being the 60th Anniversary of the first modern day Grand Prix, this weekend’s British GP simply denotes 60yrs of Grand Prix racing in Britain, as Silvrestone was the site of Formula One’s very first current FIA Championship event held on May 13, 1950.

Yeah, even though great fun was made ‘bout the ‘Wee Hobbo (David Hobbs) being in attendance at the very first modern era FIA Formula One race at Silverstone... Being just a ‘Wee lad in his knickers, attending in the stands with his parents and the traffic being horrendous... Whilst the racers zoomed ‘round Hay bales... Somehow I don’t think Messer Hobbs or his parents were there six centuries ago, eh? Unless ‘Hobbo was racing against Ben Hur in some sorta Roman chariots, right?