1951 British Grand Prix

Part 2

During practice I had broken Farina's lap record so I shared pride of place on the front row of the starting grid beside Fangio and Farina in Alfa Romeos and Ascari, my team-mate in a Ferrari. I felt very much that we were in the public eye - just as I had in Reims - but this time I knew that nobody would take my car away from me.

The "jewel" was at the starting grid while I kept pacing back and forth under tremendous nervous tension. I wandered aimlessly in a daze while a handful of my countrymen - just a few of my own people in this crowded and very foreign arena - were talking to me, trying to calm me. I could not listen to them. My mind would not concentrate on anything but the race. It was my obsession. I even carried on a conversation with myself: "Pepito! You, a peasant, have entered a high society party." I tried to relieve tension by asking myself: "Pepito! What are you doing among so many Field Marshals? What will they all say in Argentina, in Arrecifes; what will your parents think?" And finally, when these questions did nothing to calm my nerves, I muttered aloud in a panic: "Pepito! How will you get out of this!"

It was the strident note of the horn announcing 5 minutes to race time which brought me abruptly to my senses. I had to rush to the toilet! And each time that devilish horn sounded again it increased my tension and anxiety. But at last we were in our cars. I stared at the starter, very careful not to move my car a fraction of an inch forward, since an early start meant a one-minute penalty. All the engines were revving impatiently while the crowd stood motionless watching us all on the grid. To me the grid was Hades and the engines were instruments in a hellish concert. My heart felt as if it would burst. Breathing was difficult. Then, just before I felt I must pass out, the starter's flag came down. We were away. And what a start it was. The four of us in the front row, trying to lead the pack, accelerated so suddenly that our wheels spun while the cars moved forward in slow motion, leaving behind a cloud of rubber smoke through which the other cars roared, overtaking us like arrows! When our tyres got a grip on the track we found that instead of being pursued we were pursuing, trying desperately to find a gap in the crush of vehicles to catch up the leaders who were of course, increasing their speed.

As we passed the pits for the first time I noticed that both the Alfa and Ferrari team managers were signaling the same instructions, which were in effect that we should drive our own race. The alarming start meant that team tactics must be abandoned. "Go for the lead," came the urgent message and soon as I saw that I went flat-out. By the next lap I was leading.

I could not hear them but I had the feeling that the British crowd had forgotten their usual restraint. They were jumping and waving and, it seemed to me, yelling like mad. "Pepito. You are ahead of the Field Marshals," I thought, and kept my foot hard down on the accelerator pedal. Then suddenly my rear-view mirror showed a red car, growing bigger and bigger. A signal from my pit as I shot past told me it was Fangio's Alfa Romeo. "Pepito. Don't do anything foolish. Don't panic. Even Fangio will have to do a re-fuel."

When Fangio caught me in the 10th lap I let him overtake, placing myself directly on his tail. We traveled in tandem, our two cars seeming to be roped together. Even when he increased speed we remained like this, driving like men pursued by the Devil himself. There was a moment of danger around the 25th lap when I took Becketts Corner too fast and hit the straw bales. But this made me keener than ever and I set off again after Fangio. I began to close on him, having been perhaps 5 or 6 seconds behind him with both of us averaging about 97 mph until, on the 39th lap, I eventually took him. Towards the end of the race I was more than a minute ahead of him. I knew that he could not possibly make up 10 seconds per lap, although I thought he was trying. I even looked over my shoulder as I eased up a little. Within a few laps after that I saw the checquered flag waving for me. I had won my first Grand Prix.

I drove the winner's lap and then, nearing my pit, I saw my mechanics jumping, waving their arms. The spectators were standing. When I stopped I was lifted bodily from the car. My wife, Amalia, hugged me and then friends rushed forward to embrace me: Corner, Fernando, Guzzi, the Argentine Ambassador Hogan; all their faces were blurred as they surrounded me, encircling me in such a strong embrace that I still feel their warmth and the moisture of their tears mingling with mine. All around us was confusion and excitement. "The Alfa Romeos are beaten", the mechanics were shouting as they handed me a drink and solicitously cleaned my face.

After a few minutes they led me forward, a compact little group, to the presence of the Queen of England who congratulated me. I was crowned myself - with a wreath of laurels. From all sides I heard cries I did not understand. I saw hands trying to reach me and heard words in many languages, but none in my own tongue. It was strange music, but very pleasing to my spirit.

Then I was carried to the winner's podium. All became quiet. People were still as they faced towards me. The deep silence was broken by the first chords of the Argentine National Anthem. It was the first time that I had been the centre of such a touching ceremony; and I started crying when I saw my country's flag being hoisted to the top of the winner's standard.

I was young, a country boy. And now more than twenty years have gone by. But still I remember July 1951 and often find myself again in that turmoil of hands, voices, and cries which, if I close my eyes, I can still see and hear around me ...

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1951 British Grand Prix

1st Froilan Gonzalez Ferrari   1:43.4
2nd Juan Manuel Fangio Alfa Romeo    
3rd Nino Farina Alfa Romeo