The 1951 French Grand Prix

The Supremacy of Alfa Romeo Continues


Circuit de Reims-Gueux

Circuit de Reims-Gueux (Photo credit: CpaKmoi)


The XXXVIII Grand Prix de L’ACF took place in Reims, France on a hot and sunny July 1, 1951.  Let me start off by saying that I heard a clip of Juan-Manuel Fangio‘s car passing by a car.  It growled like a beast from the underworld.  Just because these cars were old, does not necessitate that they were weak.  Alfa Romeo was pushing 400 brake horsepower out of its twin-stage supercharged 1.5 liter straight-eight.  In my detailed look for patterns, I managed to miss the biggest pattern of all; namely, Alfa Romeo has dominated each and every Formula 1 Championship Grand Prix (but for the Indianapolis 500).


At this point, Alfa Romeo was reputed to continue to have a power to weight advantage over the other teams.  However, Scuderia Ferrari was nipping at state-owned Alfa’s heels.  The protegé had targeted the master in his sights.  Ultimately, this would not be Enzo’s day.  However, this would be the final time that Alfa Romeo would be the only winner of all official Formula 1 Championship Grands Prix.


The Reims Grand Prix circuit was in the heart of champagne country.  A delightful destination in the fifties, to be sure.  The Reims circuit was a typical European track of that era at 4.856 miles long. Typical for the era, the race reportedly started 40 minutes late due to “the formalities of contemporary racing.”


English: Diagram of the Reims circuit after mo...

English: Diagram of the Reims circuit after modified in 1950, hosted the Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix from 1950 to 1951 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Ascari, for Scuderia Ferrari, took the early lead which he held for the first eight laps.  Juan-Manuel Fangio came around in the lead for the ninth lap.  Then, Nino Farina led.  Ultimately, Fangio would suffer a breakdown.  Fagioli was forced out of his car–how’s that for team orders!  This would be one of three Grands Prix in which the two-people would split points due to the allowance of car-sharing in those days.  The raced average approximately 114 miles per hour.


Red Bull > Alfa Romeo.


I think if this were a matter of apples and apples, Red Bull Racing is the better team when compared to the original Alfa Romeo outfit.  This is just my opinion, but it is one I am pretty confident about.  Now, let me start from the beginning as to how I reached this conclusion…


The French Grand Prix of 1951 symbolizes a classic battle of Alfa Romeo versus Ferrari.  What started this all off is not the main topic I decided to address.  But, anyway, first I had the realization of how back Ferrari’s history goes; it makes Red Bull’s confidence look a bit trite and nearly justifies Ferrari’s hubris in spite of defeat.  At first, I found myself having a bit less success for the modern success stories such as Red Bull Racing.  However, perhaps I am overlooking just how amazing the teams of modernity really are.


As a threshold matter, one must realize that comparing the success of a classic team such as Alfa Romeo in 1951-1952 with the last few years of Red Bull Racing’s success, is really a matter of comparing apples and oranges.  Because everything was different, including team structures, sporting rules, the “formula itself,” and the scoring system.  So, I do not believe one can compare classic Formula 1 teams with a modern one objectively.  Rather, any comparison must be done on a subjective basis alone.  But, since I have to fill these pages with a discussion of something…


How Would One Compare a Modern F1 Team with a Classic One?


I believe three categories are worth considering when comparing the ultimate value of a given F1 team’s success:


  1. Reception by commentators and critics
  2. Ingenuity and Innovation
  3. Supremacy Relative to Other Teams



These are the best criteria I can come up with.  But, I’m not sure they are definitive enough to do my original comparison.  Please, in the comment section, let me know what criteria you think is the best way to judge a classic Formula 1 team (versus a  modern one)?  Also, which two teams would you compare?



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