The World Championship was held for the first time in 1950, linking the established grands prix of just six countries. Alfa Romeo and its drivers Farina, Fangio and Fagioli dominated, but Ferrari was waiting to pounce.
In the years after the end of the Second World War it did not take long for motor racing to re-establish itself, and by 1950 the governing body had decided the time was right to launch a World Championship. There was plenty of pre-war equipment available and also no shortage of drivers who had raced in the 1930s. True, they had lost some of the best years of their careers but, despite the enforced break, were at the top of their game.
Alfa Romeo's superb squad comprised the legendary "three Fs": Dr Giuseppe "Nino" Farina (then aged 44), Juan Manuel Fangio (38) and Luigi Fagioli (53). Equipped with an update of the pre-war Tipo 158, they steamrollered the opposition, led by Ferrari. Ferrari had been disappointing in 1949 and the team was absent from the very first race of the new series, held at a bleak Silverstone on May 13 in the presence of the royal family. There were 21 cars in the field for this first race, and Farina had the honour of taking the first pole position. Old stager Fagioli led initially, but dropped to third behind Farina and Fangio. When the latter's engine failed, Fagioli took second, ahead of local star Reg Parnell.
A week later at Monaco Farina's luck changed when he triggered a nine-car pile-up, which also took out Fagioli. Fangio was ahead of the carnage, and somehow survived when he came across it on the next lap. He went on to score a memorable win. Ferrari entered the championship for the first time, and 31-year-old Alberto Ascari was rewarded with second place, one lap down. Farina and Fagioli scored a one-two in the Swiss Grand Prix at the tricky Bremgarten road circuit, and once again Fangio suffered an engine failure - as did all three works Ferraris. At Spa, Fangio fought back with his second win of the year, ahead of Fagioli. Variety was provided by Raymond Sommer, who led in his Talbot before blowing up.
The first championship, like so many to follow, came to a head in the final round at Monza. Fangio had 26 points to the 24 of the consistent Fagioli, and the 22 of Farina. Fangio and Farina had the new and more powerful 159 model, but the title was settled when Fangio retired with a seized gearbox. Farina won the race, and with it the championship. Ferrari had been working hard on a new unsupercharged engine during the season, showing well in non-championship races, and Ascari was on the pace with the latest model. When his car retired, he took over the machine of team-mate Dorino Serafini and finished second, ahead of Fagioli. The most talked-about car never appeared at a grand prix race. The much-vaunted BRM V16 made an ignominious debut in the International Trophy at Silverstone in August, retiring on the line with driveshaft failure.
Such was the ability of this Gioacchino Colombo-penned car that it filled all four places on the front row of the grid for the opening round of the first World Championship at Silverstone in 1950, before going on to claim all three positions on the podium. On top of that, the 158 was designed before the Second World War, won the first grand prix after the war, at Bremgarten in 1947, and was still the cream of the crop three years later. Changes for its successor, the 159, were few and far between, and this car was also an immediate winner in Juan Manuel Fangio's hands in 1951, with the power from its supercharged engine being boosted to 425bhp. Both the 158 and 159 were known as "Alfettas".
Reproduced from The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Formula One published by Carlton Books