Charles Leclerc almost gave Ferrari a fairytale WIN in Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Earlier that same day, the Monegasque driver got behind the wheel of a beautifully restored Ferrari 375 F1, the car that did indeed win the British GP back in 1951.
On the Thursday of the British Grand Prix 2021, Formula 1 unveiled a full scale model of what the radically different 2022 cars could look like. Designed with aerodynamics that it is hoped will allow for closer racing and more overtaking, the car of the future is a huge beast, reckoned to weigh nearly 900 kilos when fully fuelled.
Later in the weekend, Ferrari wheeled out their 1951 car, the 375F1, with which the Italian marque took its first ever world championship win at the same Silverstone circuit, with Jose Froilan Gonzalez at the wheel. On Sunday lunchtime Charles Leclerc, who so very nearly gave Ferrari a fairytale win in the main event, took the immaculately restored 375 F1 for a few laps of the track and seeing him fight the car, sawing away at the giant steering wheel, one could imagine just how exciting and scary the racing would have been back in the Fifties.
Charles Leclerc all set to get behind the wheel of the Ferrari 375F1 at the 2021 British Grand Prix. Image courtesy Ferrari.
Weighing in at just 560 kilos, with a wheelbase of around 2400 millimetres, the older machine looks like a toy next to next year’s car. But a very beautiful toy, free of all those ugly aero appendages. It only raced ten times, making its debut in 1950 in Belgium, before winning three races on the trot the following year, with Gonzalez at Silverstone, before Alberto Ascari won in Monza and at the Nurburgring. Fitted with an Aurelio Lampredi-designed 4.5 litre normally aspirated V12 and a four speed gearbox, the 375 was the car that put Ferrari on the map as an F1 contender.
The cars were very different back then and so too were some of the drivers. Jose Froilan Gonzalez, who set Ferrari on the path to becoming one of the most famous brands in the world, did not look like your typical modern day racing driver. In fact the Argentinian’s nickname, “El Cabezon,” means “fat head!’ English race fans christened him “The Pampas Bull” because of his muscled physique. He died in 2013 at the age of 90, having competed in 26 F1 world championship rounds over nine seasons. Apart from the 1951 British Grand Prix, he took his second and final F1 win again at Silverstone in 1954, the year he also won the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Aged 80, Gonzalez attended the 2002 Italian Grand Prix and recalled that first Ferrari win talking to highly respected Formula 1 journalist, Nigel Roebuck.
Marc Gene demonstrates a 1951 Ferrari 375, to commemorate 70 years since Jose Froilan Gonzalez' victory at Silverstone. Image courtesy Ferrari
“There were four cars on the front row: myself, Fangio, Farina and Ascari. At the drivers’ meeting they said that the first one who moved would get a one-minute penalty. We were all so frightened that none of us moved, and all three cars on the second row went straight past us!
Jose Froilan Gonzalez,
Former F1 Driver talking about the British Grand Prix, 1951
“At the first corner I was back in fifth place, but I passed Felice Bonetto for the lead on the second lap, and Fangio, who’d lost even more places, got into second place. Then it was a fight with him all the way. I was waiting for Fangio to stop for fuel before me. I had a lot of fuel on board, but his Alfa had far higher consumption. Ferrari were signalling every lap for me to come in, but I knew I was okay because I still had not used the reserve tank. Of course, there was no way I could tell them — no radio in those days.
“Ah, that was a race! It was my first win, and also the first for Englebert tyres in F1. Two of the Ferraris were on Pirelli, because of the money; the other two were on Englebert — also because of the money! But we didn’t get any of that. It all went to Enzo!”
Roebuck told Gonzalez that he had been at Silverstone that day at the age of five, which prompted this amusing response: “No! Well, that day I signed an autograph for Jackie Stewart — I think he was 11 or 12 — and he says he has always kept it.”
Charles Leclerc behind the wheel of Ferrari 375F1 at the 2021 British Grand Prix. Image courtesy Ferrari.
The Ferrari Classiche Department’s sole purpose in life is restoring its old cars, either for the company museums or for private owners and the starting point for any of these masterpieces is the original paperwork relating kept in its historical archive. Everything is there from the first car produced in 1947 – the technical drawings, assembly instructions and even sales documents.
For the 375 F1, the Classiche department was able to work from the original assembly sheet for the engine, as well as drawings for every component including the chassis, using original parts to rebuild it. The beauty of this process is that not only is the car itself restored, but the specialist skills from the bygone days are revived to bring the car back to its original glory.
Over the course of the 2021 British Grand Prix weekend, Charles Leclerc and Marc Gene demonstrated the power and agility of the Ferrari 375F1. Image courtesy Ferrari
Enzo Ferrari himself recalled that historic 1951 British Grand Prix win in his book “Ferrari80”. “When González in a Ferrari left the 159 and the entire Alfa Romeo team trailing in his wake for the first time ever in our duel, I cried with joy. But mixed in with the tears of enthusiasm, there were also tears of pain, because on that day I thought, ‘I have killed my mother.’” In this case the “mother” was Alfa Romeo, for whom Ferrari had been a test driver, racer and head of its racing department.