Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina: the man who set the ball rolling

29 Jun

Today marks day 5 of the Formula 1 Formula week of legends (25th June – 1st July). These legends are drivers who have been unsung but have completed achievements that deserve merit. Today’s driver is Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina, the Italian driver who won the inaugural Formula 1 World Championship.

When asked to name a F1 world champion many will mention the names of the greats: Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna and in more recent years: Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton. But few will name the inaugural world champion, Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina who was world champion in 1950, the first year of the Formula 1 World Championship.

By today’s racing climate many would have thought Nino was too old to be starting in F1, at the time of his first race he was 43, but in the days of 50s racing when fatalities were common and the machinery regularly broke experience was a very important trait, and Farina had it in droves, he’d won his first major race in 1940 in Libya and was even a doctor of engineering.

Farina was lucky to be chosen in 1950 for the invincible Alfa Romeo team alongisde Luigi Fagioli and Juan Manuel Fangio. It was a very strong performance by the entire team with every race being won by an Alfa Romeo, but Farina was the lucky man to dominate the team. The debut race was the 1950 British GP at Silverstone, Nino was by far the driver of the weekend, pole position, fastest lap and the inaugural race victory by 2.6 seconds over Fagioli. Next race meeting was in Monaco, but it wasn’t the weekend Farina hoped for retiring on the first lap after an incident. The third race scheduled for the calendar was the Indianapolis 500, but none of the regular season drivers took part in it. Race four was at the Swiss of Bremgarten, despite not claiming pole position Farina managed to win after Fangio retired on lap 32/42. Not only did he win (by o.4 secondsover Fagioli again) but he also set fastest lap, this meant that Farina was back at the top of the championship. The fifth race of the season was at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps but despite taking pole position and fastest lap Farina could only finish 4th, 4 minutes and 5 seconds behind winner Fangio. The next race was the French GP at Reims-Gueux but Farina failed to perform, finishing 7th after a fuel pump forced him to retire whilst Fangio won again.

The final race was at Monza and anyone of the three Alfa drivers could claim the championship. Fangio was the favourite, all he had to do was finish 2nd and the title was definitely his whilst Farina had to beat Fangio by at least two positions. Things didn’t look promising for Farina when he qualified 3rd which meant he’d start behind Fangio who’d qualified on pole, but lady luck smiled on Nino in the race, Fangio retired on lap 23 with a gearbox change, but took over team-mate Piero Taruffi’s car, only to retire that on lap 34 with an engine problem. Meanwhile Farina drove a good race to win by over a minute and claim the world championship. During 1950 Farina entered 6 races with 3 victories and finishing on 30 points.

For 1951 Farina stayed with Alfa Romeo, and it was another promising start finishing 3rd in Switzerland and first in Belgium. But disapointing performances in France, Great Britain and Germany left him well behind Fangio. Italy was a stronger performance finishing 3rd after a shared drive with Felice Bonetto and then finishing 3rd in Spain. Farina finished 1951 with 22 points to finish 4th.

1952 saw a move to title dominators Ferrari but over the next two years Farina was always the second driver. Over the 1952 and 1953 seasons he started 15 races, finishing 3rd once, 2nd seven times and winning just one race, the 1953 German GP. In 1952 he was 2nd with 27 points and in 1953 he was 3rd with 32.

After 1953 Farina became a much more occasional driver only starting 5 races over the next two seasons, finishing 3rd at the 1955 Belgian GP, 2nd and 3rd in the 1955 Argentinian GP (he shared drives with two drivers, one finishing 2nd and one 3rd) and finished 2nd in the 1954 Argentinian GP, all the five races were in Ferraris. What was most impressive was that all his races in 1955 Farina was full of painkillers after being badly burnt in a Sports Car race at Monza in 1954.

After this point Farina didn’t compete in F1 although he did try his hand (unsuccessfully) at the Indianapolis 500. During his F1 career Farina picked up the 1950 drivers championship, started 33 races, winning 5 and picking up podiums at 20 races. He picked up 127.333 etc. points 5 fastest laps and 5 pole positions.

Farina also had success in the 1953 Spa 24 hours which he won in a team with Mike Hawthorn.

In 1966 Farina died in a car crash whilst on his way to the 1966 French Grand Prix.

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