In pics: The 1950s greatest racing car drivers

history of racing cars

The story of Formula One car racing began more than six decades ago in the 1950s. Inevitably it was a very different sport then, with safely a minor consideration. In fact, even though the cars had front-mounted engine blocks and drum brakes, seat belts were non-existent. Unsurprisingly, this lead to many deaths and drivers of those early F1 cars needed to be as brave as they were skilled. Here’s five fantastic drivers who fulfilled both those criteria.

Alberto Ascari

When it comes to famous Ferrari drivers, the great Alberto Ascari above was one of the best. He won his first race at the 1951 German Grand Prix and the year after won every race he he participated in. In doing so he set the fastest lap in every race and finished the season with the maximum amount of points he could have achieved.

In 1953 he claimed his second title. Sadly, his career came to an end in 1955, when he crashed in a sportscar race in Monza, driving without his lucky blue crash helmet. His car skidded and somersaulted on his third lap, throwing the Italian onto the track where he died moments later from his injuries.

history of racing cars

Stirling Moss

Without doubt, Stirling Moss will go down in the history books as the greatest driver never to win the Formula 1 title.  During his career, Moss won 16 races in F1 from 66 starts and achieved 16 pole positions and 19 fastest laps. He was  runner-up to great rival Juan-Manuel Fangio in three consecutive seasons from 1955-57 but his big chance of lifting the title came in 1958.  He would have been crowned champion were it not for a remarkable act of sportsmanship at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Moss intervening on rival Mike Hawthorn’s behalf after he had been disqualified for bump starting his stalled car. Hawthorn went on to win the title by a single point and Moss would never get as close again.

history of racing cars

Juan Manuel Fangio

Stirling Moss’s great rival, the Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio won an incredible five world drivers’ titles between 1951 and 1957. To this day, he still holds the record for te highest winning percentage in F1 history at 46 percent having won 24 of the 52 races he entered. Having dominated the first decade of the sport’s history, Fangio is regarded by many as the greatest F1 driver of all time.

history of racing cars

Sir Jack Brabham

The British don’t give out their knighthoods easily. So, the fact Sir Jack Brabham, the first post-war driver to be knighted was Australian show’s his class. He received the honour for services to motorsport in 1978.  But it was in the mid 1950s that Brabham began a career, which lasted  from 1955-1970. In those years,  he became only the second driver after the great Juan Manuel Fangio to net three world drivers’ titles having won in 1959, 1960 and 1966.

history of car racing

Giuseppe “Nino” Farina

Giuseppe “Nino” Farina’s place in racing car history was guaranteed when he won the very first Formula One world championship in 1950.  He took the title by just three points from Juan Manuel Fangio. Famed for his straight-arm driving style, Farina made his grand prix debut for Alfa Romeo at the 1950 British Grand Prix and promptly won the race.

This heralded the beginning of a season-long rivalry with Fangio, which ended with them both gaining three wins apiece.  His final win came at the 1953 German Grand Prix and he retired at the end of the 1955 season. Tragically, Farina was killed in 1966 in a road accident in Chambery whilst on his way to watch the French Grand Prix.


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