The 1951 Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps

Just the Facts.

The 1951 Belgian Grand Prix took place at Spa-Francorchamps.  It’s official title was, “XIII Grote Prijs Van Belgie.”  The lap length, as officially recorded, was a few tenths of a mile shorter.  However, they added a lap, bringing the total length to about 315 miles (36 laps × 8.774 miles = 315.864 Grand Prix Length).  Fangio took fastest lap and fastest race lap at 4:25.0 and 4:22.1, respectively.  Again, this year repeats the pattern that I picked up on last season, in that the fastest race lap was quicker than the fastest qualifying lap.  This doesn’t seem to happen at other, usually shorter, tracks.  The podium was as follows: (1) Nino Farina (Alfa Romeo); (2) Alberto Ascari (Scuderia Ferrari); (3) Luigi Villoressi (Scuderia Ferrari).

The standings, at this point in the season were as follows:

1951 Alfa Romeo 1900 C Sprint Touring Superleg...

Alfa Romeo; circa 1951. This is the logo as it would also have appeared on their Formula 1 cars.

  1. Nino Farina, Alfa Romeo, 12 points
  2. Juan-Manuel Fangio, Alf Romeo, 10 points
  3. Lee Wallard, Indy 500 winner, 9 points
  4. Alberto Ascari, Scuderia Ferrari, 6 points
  5. Pierro Taruffi, Scuderia Ferrari, 6 points

Notably, the fastest lap this year was over twelve seconds faster than last year.  The track does not appear to have changed significantly in layout in spite of the slightly different

The Ethos of 1950s Grand Prix Racing

1950s Grands Prix racing is the embodiment of a dichotomy, which has persisted through the ages.  However, as a threshold matter, we must set the stage–the context in which 1950s Formula 1 was situated.  First, de-clutter your mind of crinkled Red Bull cans and cheap Ferrari key chains; the sport had not yet commercialized as we know it today.  Second, switch safety-cell monocoques and “HANS” devices for a almost medieval contraption designed solely to hurl a man at a corner (instead of through it).  So, we have stripped the sport of both money and safety.  Now, we can pursue the question at hand–the dichotomy.

On One Hand: Gentleman.  On the other hand: Courage.

In my opinion, this simple dichotomy epitomizes 1950s Formula 1 Grands Prix.  Without its current commercialization, Forumula 1 of the fifties takes on the feel of club racing.  For that matter, I’ve seen club racers with more sponsorship than  some of the privateers brought to these early races.  In terms of feel, it’s like a group of like-minded gentleman met at a pub, decided it would be interesting to find out, “who was ultimately quickest,” and turned up the next day to throw-down on the track.  Maybe it is just me.  Maybe it is because I do not have the necessary perspective yet; but, I genuinely feel like Formula 1 of the fifties had a firm handshake-like quality to it.  The rules were not as strict.  But, perhaps, when people still wore suits with hats, they did not need to be as strict.

The dichotomy is balanced by the issue of safety.  One cannot deny that, at least on some level, these men willingly chose to drive death traps in the pursuit of speed.  This was no secret.  Especially as the years went on, lives would be lost.  Not just the drivers would pay the price, spectators would be claimed, as well as scores of track marshals.  At first, when I think about it, I find it morally repugnant that people were willing to support a sport which had a cost that included human life.  On the other hand, as a gearhead, I find this persistent pursuit of speed beautiful in its Roarkian myopic focus.  That aside, one simply cannot argue that these men did not also epitomize courage.

In sum, I believe the apparent dichotomy between gentlmenlyness and courage encapsulates a large chunk of the ethos surrounding Formula 1 in the 1950s.

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