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60 years on – the world championship pioneers



Lasting the distance – the drivers who completed the 1950 season

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the very first race of the inaugural Formula One World Championship. Over the course of the seven-round 1950 season – which included the Indianapolis 500 in the US – 46 drivers competed. Just six, however, lasted the distance, taking part in all six European races. We take a look back on how each fared that year, and what they went on to achieve…

Johnny Claes
1950 season – Pole Positions: 0, Fastest Laps: 0, Podiums: 0, Wins: 0, Points: 0
He may have been born in London to an English mother, but Claes proudly flew the colours of his father’s native Belgium. Having come into contact with racing as an interpreter at the 1947 (non-championship) French Grand Prix, Claes, also a talented jazz musician, made his privately-funded driving debut in 1948. In 1950 the gentleman racer struggled to make much of an impression in his Talbot-Lago, never qualifying higher than 14th. His best Grand Prix finish (eighth) came fittingly at his home race at Spa-Francorchamps on a balmy June day, but he still finished three laps down on race winner Juan Manuel Fangio. Claes’ F1 foray continued over the next four seasons, driving Gordini and Connaught machinery amongst others, but he never scored a world championship point. He achieved greater success in other series and claimed third place alongside compatriot Jacques Swaters in the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours. It was a notable achievement, not least because Claes had already succumbed to tuberculosis, which eventually claimed his life in 1956, at the age of just 36.

Philippe Etancelin
1950 season – Pole Positions: 0, Fastest Laps: 0, Podiums: 0, Wins: 0, Points: 3
Born in Rouen, France in 1896 to a wealthy family, Etancelin was 53 when he took part in the first world championship round at Silverstone. He had already been racing for almost 25 years, and had scored 16 non-championship Grand Prix wins. He’d driven Alfa Romeos, Maseratis and Bugattis before the war, but was at the wheel of a home-grown Talbot-Lago in 1950. With three retirements, and one shared drive, his season was pretty much a washout until September’s final event in Italy. He qualified only 16th at Monza, but finished fifth, and remains the oldest driver to score world championship points. Etancelin’s F1 career continued for another two seasons, but never crossed the finish line higher than eighth. Awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government in 1953, he retired from racing in 1956 and died in 1981.

Louis Rosier
1950 season – Pole Positions: 0, Fastest Laps: 0, Podiums: 2, Wins: 0, Points: 13
French-born Rosier caught the racing bug as an apprentice at a local garage. Initially he focused his attentions on motorcycle hill climb events, but he was soon racing cars and took part in the 1938 Le Mans 24 Hours. Following the war he returned to the sport, trying his hand in a variety of non-championship events and won the 1950 Le Mans event with his son. That same year he took part in the opening round of the Formula One World Championship at Silverstone, qualifying ninth and finishing fifth driving a privately-owned Talbot-Lago. He went on to clinch third-place finishes at the Swiss and Belgian events, scoring 13 points on his way to fourth in the standings. He continued to race in F1 over the next six years but never matched his debut season. By then his team ‘Ecurie Rosier’ was well established and Georges Grignard, Louis Chiron and Maurice Trintignant were among its drivers. In 1956, still racing aged 50, he was seriously injured during a Coupe du Salon event at Le Mans and died a few weeks later in Paris.

Luigi Fagioli
1950 season – Pole Positions: 0, Fastest Laps: 0, Podiums: 5, Wins: 0, Points: 24
Born in Italy in 1898, and a trained accountant, Farina’s first attempt at racing was in hill climbing. He continued to race in different series throughout the 1930s, enjoying non-championship Grand Prix victories in Monza in 1931 and Rome in 1932. After a long break, caused in part by the war and an onset of rheumatism, he returned to the sport in 1950, aged 52. Racing for Alfa Romeo alongside Fangio and Farina was a real baptism of fire, and the Italian found himself largely overshadowed over the course of the six European races. While he failed to win, he was consistent enough to enjoy five podiums and finish third in the standings behind his younger team mates. He took part in just one more Grand Prix – in 1951 in France – sharing a drive with Fangio for Alfa Romeo. The duo was victorious, and Fagioli remains the oldest driver to have won a Formula One race. He died the following year after an accident while practising for a touring car race in Monaco.

Juan Manuel Fangio
1950 season – Pole Positions: 4, Fastest Laps: 3, Podiums: 3, Wins: 3, Points: 27
Acknowledged as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time, most know the story of Fangio’s meteoric rise. Born just south of Buenos Aires in 1911, the Argentinean honed his skills competing in epic cross-country events, before traversing the Atlantic to peddle his wares in Europe. By 1950 he’d won five non-championship races and was signed to drive for Alfa Romeo alongside Nino Farina and Luigi Fagioli. The Italian team dominated the 1950 season and Fangio won every race he finished, also racking up four pole positions. But three retirements over the six European races meant he lost out by just three points to Farina for the championship. Fangio’s story, however, doesn’t end there. Over the next seven seasons before his retirement in 1958 he clinched a further 25 poles and 21 victories on his way to five drivers’ titles, competing for Alfa Romeo (1951), Maserati (1954/57), Mercedes (1955) and Ferrari (1956). ‘El Maestro’s’ five-title feat was only beaten by Michael Schumacher in 2003.

Nino Farina
1950 season – Pole Positions: 2, Fastest Laps: 3, Podiums: 3, Wins: 3, Points: 30
With a privileged background and a doctorate in law, on paper Farina seemed an unlikely first world champion. But from his teenage years, the ‘Gentleman of Turin’ had been hooked on motor racing and throughout the 1930s impressed the likes of Enzo Ferrari and Tazio Nuvolari with his driving skills. Following the war, he was back behind the wheel and in 1950, 44 year-old Farina was picked to lead the three-car Alfa Romeo team in the newly-organized F1 world championship. With a dominant car beneath him, Farina won the first round at Silverstone with ease and was victorious again in Switzerland and at his home race at Monza. Although his tally of three victories that season was matched by team mate Fangio, his fourth place in Belgium was enough to earn him the title. He continued to race in F1 for the next five seasons for both Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, but while he won another two races, he never claimed a second title. He retired from competition in 1955 but his love of F1 continued and he regularly attended races. He was killed on a trip to the 1966 French Grand Prix after skidding off an Alpine road.

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