The Monaco Grand Prix of 1950 and the Alfa Romeo 158

The Monaco Grand Prix of 1950

May 21, 1950, Monaco

Monte_Carlo_1950_ Map EditedA week later, the teams arrives in southern France to the principality of Monaco.  The race was already familiar to fans of motorsport.  From the beginning, Bugatti dominated this unique track.  By the end of the 1930’s, Alfa Romeo rose but ultimately fell to the supremacy of the Nazi-backed Mercedes Benz cars which dominated from 1935 to 1937.  Due to the second world war, Monaco was not run again until 1948.  Guiseppe Farina proved to be ultimately quickest in that contest.  Again, in 1949, the Monaco Grand Prix was not run.  Thus, 1950 was the first time in two years that the Grand Prix had been run.

William Grover-Williams at the 1929 Monaco Gra...

William Grover-Williams at the 1929 Monaco Grand Prix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The great Argentinian driver Juan Manuel Fangio qualified on pole two seconds ahead of the next driver–Farina, who was also in an Alfa Romeo.   The wide spread of qualifying times continued down the grid.  I was taken aback by the sheer spread of times on the very short track.  The Monaco track layout is relatively similar to the track of today.  Although it has been altered somewhat for what safety gains could be made, in spite of the relatively tight confines of the principalities’ layout.

Freely available footage of the race is relatively limited.  However, the race was notable for a pile-up at the beginning of the race.  The crash appears to be the result of a windy day which caused spray, and even waves, to breach the track.  In any event, certain areas of the track were slick despite the dry conditions and caught many drivers off guard.  Fangio escaped the pile-up and went on the win the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix.

The Alfa Romeo 158

Although it would go on to another iteration, the 159, the Alfa Romeo 158–at this point–is getting toward the end of its illustrious career.  The car had been racing since 1937 and had, notably, won 47 of the 54 Grand Prix that it entered.

Four Photo Montage of the Alfa Romeo 158/159 "Alfetta"

Four various photos of the 1950 to 1951 Alfa Romeo 158 and 159.

As for my first impressions of the car, I note that visual inspection reveals the supercharged eight-cylinder set up. At this point, the Alfa only employed a single-stage supercharger.  A two-stage supercharger would be subsequently introduced with the Alfa Romeo 159–the final, “Alfetta.”   Additionally, engine and driver both sit inside the four corners of the wheels.  So, it is not a fully front-engine set-up as opposed to a front/mid situation.  This also places the puncture-prone bladder-less gas tank behind the rear wheels.  This would make you think twice before punching the brakes if being tailed within a few meters.

The tires are extremely narrow.  On the one hand, one must consider that the 158 were not the most powerful of cars.  The power was rated to under 200 bhp, whereas the twin-stage supercharging of the Alfa Romeo 159 essentially doubled the brake horsepower.  On the other hand, the narrow nature of the tires would–arguably–make driver input of more importance than in Formula 1 today.  As Sir Stirling Moss once noted, the driver was permitted to “paint a broader picture” with the strokes of his driver input.