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13 May 1950: Formula 1 Comes to Life at Silverstone

On 13 May 1950, the British Grand Prix marked the official start of the Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship. A total of 7 races were scheduled for the opening season: in addition to the British Grand Prix, there was to be the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, the Swiss Grand Prix in Bern, the Belgian Grand Prix on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, the French Grand Prix in Reims, and the Italian Grand Prix on the Monza circuit. Then, on 30 May, the American classic Indianapolis 500 was added, but it was a lone championship, in view of the total absence of drivers involved in the European races.

The motor racing championship that was destined to become the most important of all time was thus launched on Saturday 13 May, seventy years ago. And it did so on the circuit built on the former RAF military base at Silverstone, just outside London, in front of a hundred thousand spectators, with King George VI in the grandstand.The championship was for drivers only, for the constructors’ title only came in 1958. Almost all the drivers in 1950 had been famous champions since the pre-war period: “almost” all, because there were also some young drivers with promising futures on the starting grid. One of these was the Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, who with the veterans Nino Farina and Luigi Fagioli was one of the so-called “3 F” trio with Alfa Romeo. their Alfetta 158s were the same ones that had taken them to victory in the previous era of the Grand Prix.

Another promising driver was Alberto Ascari, son of the great Antonio who died in 1925: but it was only at the Monaco Grand Prix that he got to work with the Ferrari 125, together with Gigi Villoresi, Raymond Sommer, and Dorino Serafini.
There were many big names racing with the colours of the various Maserati teams: Toulo de Graffenried and Prince Bira for the Scuderia Enrico Platé, Louis Chiron and Franco Rol for the Officine Alfieri Maserati, and Felice Bonetto and Franco Comotti for the Scuderia Milano. The Argentines José Froilán Gonzalez and Alfredo Piàn of the extremely fierce Scuderia Varzi were yet to come. All these champions had one thing in common at that first Formula 1 World Championship: the Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, and Maseratis they drove were all fitted with the “Victory Tyre” – the Pirelli Stella Bianca. That first race at Silverstone ended in the pre-war order: first Nino Farina, in an Alfa Romeo, second Luigi Fagioli, in an Alfa Romeo, and third, the British driver Reg Parnell, also in an Alfa Romeo. Over ten years since it had made its debut on the racetrack, the Alfetta 158 had lost none of its shine and there was nothing the French drivers in their Talbot-Lagos or the British manufacturers ERA (English Racing Automobiles) and the Alta Car and Engineering Company could do against them. And for the Pirelli Stella Bianca “Victory Tyre”, the age of triumphs was only just beginning.