• Spanish Grand Prix 1951

Fangio claims first drivers' title

Martin Williamson October 28, 1951
Juan Manuel Fangio claimed his first drivers' title in Spain © Getty Images

Alberto Ascari's wins in the previous two races in Germany and Italy meant he travelled to the season finale in Barcelona only two points adrift of Juan Manuel Fangio. The scoring system meant that basically if either won the race then they would be champion. The pair had plenty of time to contemplate the grand prix as it had been six weeks since the previous outing at Monza.

On the Pedralbes street circuit on the western suburbs of the city, Ferrari reduced the size of their wheels from 18 inch diameter to 16 inches in a bid to find better performance, while Alfa stayed with the larger wheels - it proved crucial. Alfa also fooled Ferrari into thinking it had fitted additional fuel tanks to the side of its cars - they were dummies - and in so doing convincing them to alter their pit-stop strategy. It was to prove a superb piece of deception.

At the start it looked as if the smaller wheels and tyres offered a big advantage and Ascari led from Gonzalez in front of an estimated 300,000 spectators. But after only six laps Taruffi's Ferrari threw a tread , Villoresi a lap later, Ascari a lap after that and Gonzalez on lap 14 and further similar problems followed. The smaller wheel gamble had not paid off.

Gonzalez fought brilliantly, despite the tyre problems, and passed Farina for second place but Fangio was well ahead and came home to victory and in so doing secured the first of his five world championships. Gonzalez finished second ahead of Farina and Ascari with Bonetto fifth and de Graffenreid in sixth place.

But Fangio's celebrations were muted as he was suffering from a blinding headache and later that evening he was informed Alfa, despite the race track success, was in financial problems and was withdrawing from racing. There was one last celebration, in Milan, as Ascari and Fangio had wagered whoever won would pay for a massive party.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Martin Williamson Close
Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo