1951 Belgian Grand Prix
The 1951 Belgian Grand Prix was the third race of the 1951 Formula One World Championship and was held at Spa-Francorchamps on June 17th 1951. B. Bira won the race, his first Formula One victory, ahead of André Pilette and defending champion Giuseppe Farina.
Between the outstanding Indianapolis 500 that saw the unexpected victory of 21-year-old Troy Ruttman and the 24 Hours of le Mans, held less than a week later, we had the Belgian Grand Prix. As usual, the race was already a success. The organizers received nearly 40 entries, but some were refused, including the entire Jaguar - Aston Martin Racing Team, due to the entry cap regulations, leaving a field of 33 cars for this race.
Due to the entry cap, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari had cut down on entries, entering three each. Alfa had taken a gamble, as since Rose returned to the USA and Trintignant was loaned to ENB, they lacked a third driver, and hired the unknown Englishman Stirling Moss, who performed surprisingly well in Monaco. It remained to be seen whether he could keep up his performance at this tough circuit.
The surprise of the season so far was Alexander Racing Team. Despite the entry cap, they had decided to field four cars for their four usual drivers. They would once again be looking to score big points to keep their lead in all championships. Scuderia Maremmana didn't have the best Monaco GP, with von Brauchitsch failing to qualify, and Biondetti heartbreakinlgy retiring while in a good top-10 position. Indy didn't go much better, with Cross retiring before the halfway mark. However, they were still seen as a decent team, and if they finished, they were likely to get a decent top 10 result.
Phoenix were pretty much in the exact same boat. Should they finish the race, they'd be in the hunt for a possible points finish. Reliability issues plagued their Monaco weekend, with only Gonzalez making it to the race, retiring while in a good position. A first top 10 beckoned. Hampshire Racing Alliance were like the loveable backmarkers. Theoretically, they would have no chance at qualifying, with a general lack of experience. The large amount of cars starting the race meant that HRA would start the race no matter what. This would be their chance at making a mark on the F1 scene. To finish would be a great achievement for them.
Scuderia Platé-Varzi, though embarrassingly outpaced by the customer Redman Racing Team at Monaco, was getting quicker and quicker, especially since acquiring de facto works team status. Look for them hunting down a good top-10 finish, especially with experienced racer Luigi Fagioli joining the team for the rest of the season.
Ecurie Albertini surprised the paddock by shunning their home race to delay their début to Indianapolis. It turned out to be a good decision, as they would probably have failed to qualify at Monaco. The acquisition of a Kurtis Kraft for Indy, with a short entry list meant they finished tenth, and immediately climbed up the Entrant's Championship standings. With Talbot-Lago-Talbots, they'd be looking for a decent midfield result.
Ferrari America were now reduced to one car, for Luigi Villoresi, after the latter's Monaco qualifying blunder. The team had the pace to get a good result. Without the danger of a DNQ, the team would have to concentrate on finishing the race and getting out of that one-entry-per-race zone. ENB would be carried by their wonderful result at Indy, entering four cars for their home race, therefore sacrificing future entries at the British Grand Prix. With the certainty of qualifying, they'd be looking to finish in a really good position to get more entries.
Metcalf were persisting with their home-made chassis and engine, but it now looked like the team were just there, like they weren't managed by anyone. Piero Taruffi must have been wondering why he had signed for them. His miraculous finish in Monaco meant that the team was allowed a second entry and, sure enough, they hired local driver Paul Frère, who was to be loaned out by JAMR for this weekend. Another finish would be a good achievement.
Claes Racing Developments were still capable of scoring big points, case in point: their two podiums the previous year. They came close in Monaco, with Claes finishing just outside the points and Simon in the top 10 on début. For the team's home race, they'd be hoping for points, mainly Claes, as he needed to get that load off his back.
Redman Racing Team were in a good position thanks to Franco Rol's fifth place in Monaco, and were now the leading Maserati team. More points were a possibility with some attrition. Scuderia Commesso finally made the decision to drop their woefully uncompetitive chassis for a Maserati, leading to the awkward Maserati-Ferrari combination. With a hopefully competitive car, Landi was an unknown quantity, and the team was still inexperienced. A finish would be a good start.
On paper, Motorsport Bleu were still a competitive team. However, with Bira seemingly in a slump, the team had to resort to a single car for Bira. The car was still reasonably competitive, and a climb in the entrant's championship was definitely possible. Scuderia Ambrosiana had kept Giovanni Bracco for this race, hoping that the absence of DNQs would help them up the standings. Bracco's future in Formula 1 would be decided in this race.
Finally, two privateers had made their way to Spa for this race. With all local drivers already hired, foreign drivers decided to try their luck. While Geoff Richardson's entry was turned down, Aldo Gordini would once again try his luck in Formula 1, while Peter Whitehead's half-brother Graham made his début in an ERA.
André Pilette stunned the home crowd by setting a blistering lap to take a surprising pole position, signalling the start of Ecurie Nationale Belge's brief period at the very front of the Formula One pecking order. On top of this, Jacques Swaters qualified fifth , Trintignant seventh and Charles Van Acker 13th. Manfred von Brauchitsch also impressed, taking second place for Scuderia Maremmana and compensating for Clemente Biondetti's 22nd position. Behind the top two, Alfa Romeo was the fastest factory team, with Farina third and Fangio fourth. Championship leader Robert Manzon qualified sixth, with teammates Bettenhausen, Sanesi and Cabantous 12th, 17th and 19th. Ferrari and Talbot-Lago were also fairly well placed, with de Graffenried eighth, Parnell tenth and Bira eleventh. Metcalf and Phoenix confirmed their slide up the grid, with Taruffi 16th, and Ascari 15th.
At the start, everyone got away cleanly. Nobody was involved in any kind of contact, and every driver made it to the end of lap 1. Pilette kept his lead at the start, but at the end of lap 1, he was behind von Brauchitsch and virtually on a dead heat with Giuseppe Farina. Apart from that, the top five stayed the same. At the very bottom, Graham Whitehead passed Hampshire for second last. On lap 2, Hans von Stuck's gearbox failed, and he stopped his car at Stavelot. At the end of the lap, the top two stayed the same, while Fangio passed Farina for third position, while at the back, Whitehead also passed Aldo Gordini for 30th place.
Farina showed that he wasn't world champion for nothing by storming up to take the lead from von Brauchitsch, also passing Fangio and Pilette, the three of them locked in epic battle at the start of lap 4. Manzon also passed Swaters for fifth, and entered the points zone. Von Brauchitsch wasn't giving up without a fight and got a bit closer to Farina, leaving Pilette and Fangio a short way behind him. De Graffenried also passed Swaters for sixth. Two more drivers also retired, both with mechanical failures, as Gonzalez's engine failed while he was 25th and Bettenhausen's brakes failed from 14th place, though he was able to stop the car on one of the circuit's long straights. Adding to the unusual streak of mechanical retirements, Johnny Claes retired from 23rd place and Robert Manzon's car stopped, losing a potential points finish. Manzon was fifth.
At the end of lap five, Farina still led from Pilette, Fangio and von Brauchitsch in no particular order, as they were pretty much three-wide down the pit straight. De Graffenried was fifth and rounded out the points. The top ten is completed by Trintignant, Swaters, Bira, Simon and Van Acker.
Lap 6 saw some good things, like fast laps by Pilette, confirming his second place, Biondetti moving up to 13th place, and especially Farina setting the fastest lap of the race to open his points tally for the season. However, we also saw the most horrifying moment in Formula 1 up to this point, when Luigi Fagioli slid on oil left behind by another car in the middle of Burnenville corner. The car span around and slid off a 90cm-tall banking at full speed, rolling twice before landing on its wheels. Racing fans extracted Fagioli from the wreckage and attempted to treat any injuries while the ambulance arrived. Fagioli was taken to Heusy hospital, with critical head and chest injuries, as well as severely broken legs. He was conscious when the ambulance arrived, but fell into a comatose state on his way to the hospital. Fagioli was diagnosed with a fractured skull and cerebral haemorrhaging and was taken into surgery, but to no avail. Fagioli was pronounced dead on Monday morning at 3:51 a.m., leaving the entire Formula 1 paddock in shock. Fagioli had just turned 53.
But the race continued, and by now, the battle at the front was heating up. Farina still had a decent lead, but Pilette managed to stabilize the gap. Von Brauchitsch was still third ahead of Fangio, but the battle for fourth was hard-fought between Fangio, de Graffenried, Bira, Swaters and Van Acker. Maurice Trintignant also retired from the race with a flat tyre after running over debris from Fagioli's accident.
Farina made a mistake on lap 7 and was caught by Pilette, but still kept the lead of the race. de Graffenried and von Brauchtisch were in the same situation, only both were passed by the flying Bira, who was now in third with von Brauchitsch and de Graffenried rounding out the points. But where was Fangio? He was in the paddock, his car stalled in the escape road at La Source. A promising race for Alfa Romeo ended by a driver error made trying to defend from de Graffenried.
The battle didn't stop, however. Farina recovered nicely and started to rebuild a gap, while von Brauchitsch was now breathing down Pilette's neck with Bira dropping back and fighting with de Graffenried for fourth place. Bira was eventually passed by de Graffenried. Swaters was still sixth and just waiting for a retirement to enter the points. Graham Whitehead also retired from the race. Starting last, he had made it up to 21st place, and could have finished in a good position had he finished. The way he retired, however, was less disappointing than it was scary, as he ran wide at Blanchimont at high speed, spun and collided with the rock face on the circuit's left side. He got out of the car by himself, but was also taken to Heusy hospital for checks. After lap 10, Farina still led from Pilette and von Brauchitsch scrapping over second place.
Von Brauchitsch ended up winning the battle with Pilette on lap 11, and also made up ground on Farina in the process. Bira was losing ground, and was passed by Swaters, who was launching his attack and was now fighting with de Graffenried for fourth position. Bira was now between this group and the fierce battle for seventh place, between Van Acker, Serafini and Parnell. Biondetti also retired, suffering from an oil leak, out of 12th position.
Pilette got back at von Brauchitsch and again the two started to fight, with de Graffenried now a bit further ahead of Swaters but by no means safe. Indeed, Swaters was soon breathing down de Graffenried's neck again, and actually pushed the experienced Swiss into pushing his machinery too far. Indeed, de Graffenried's Ferrari broke down on lap 14, leaving Swaters in clean air and in fourth place. Or so he thought, as Reg Parnell broke away from the group behind and passed Swaters on the same lap. At the end of lap 15, Farina still led, but Pilette was starting to catch up. Von Brauchitsch was still a cleat third, followed by Parnell, Swaters and Bira, all in a big fight.
Pilette was now very close to Farina, with von Brauchitsch equally close to Pilette, with Parnell now in a relatively safe fourth place, Swaters in an equally safe fifth, but with Bira still in striking distance. Von Brauchitsch fell a bit further behind the front two, while Swaters pulled out a quick lap to overtake Parnell for fourth position. Stirling Moss retired from the race on lap 17, by spinning at Eau Rouge and stalling on the side of the track on the slope, unable to start the engine again. After starting 26th, he had made his way back up to 15th place, and was aspiring for a top ten finish, but those hopes are now over.
Pilette finally retook the lead away from Farina on lap 18 and looked like he had the pace to win the race, while von Brauchitsch was falling back into the clutches of Swaters, who was now eyeing a spot on the podium with Parnell a short way behind. Parnell was quickly passed by Bira, who was now on fire, and also overtook Swaters for fourth, who was then passed by Parnell! Von Brauchitsch took the opportunity to pull away from them and consolidate his third position while Pilette increased his lead over Farina. Luigi Villoresi's race came to an end, as he slid wide at Blanchimont, damaging his suspension, forcing him to retire out of 17th position.
On lap 20, Pilette had a sizeable lead over Farina, who himself had a decent gap back to von Brauchitsch. Behind them came Bira and Parnell, rounding out the points. The 20 drivers were then reduced to 19, when Aldo Gordini span on the pit straight, colliding with the concrete wall opposite the pits at relatively low speed. He got out of the car visibly in shock. A doctor was brought to evaluate any possible injuries, but he looked unharmed.
Van Acker was now the man in form, and was now virtually side-by-side with Parnell for fifth place, with Swaters just behind in seventh place. Pilette made a small mistake and Farina made up some of the gap, but not enough to make a large impact on the course of the race. Bira was still incredibly fast, and was now very close to passing von Brauchitsch for third position. Van Acker was now in fifth place, having passed Parnell, as did Swaters, who was now in sixth position. At that point, Bira was at his peak and not only passed von Brauchitsch for third place, but also made up the whole gap between him and Farina. Yves Giraud-Cabantous also had to retire, when he returned to the pits with a faulty transmission. The damage was done, and he had to retire from ninth position.
Pilette then made a mistake and let Farina and Bira catch up, the three were now in epic battle with just five laps to go. Von Brauchitsch was still fourth ahead of Van Acker, closely followed by Parnell, Serafini and Swaters. Farina then dropped back a bit, and Pilette and Bira took the opportunity to leave him in their dust, fighting over the win like no one had ever seen. Farina was now in the clutches of von Brauchitsch. Almost simultaneously, Frère and Landi retired from the race with mechanical failures, leaving 16 cars on the track.
On lap 26, Bira passed Pilette and took the race lead, while Farina was passed by von Brauchitsch for third place. However, both groups were basically running at the same pace, making for a very exciting end to the race. The battle for fifth was also raging on between Serafini, Van Acker and Parnell. Bira was now pulling away from Pilette, but at the end of lap 27, with just two to go, he began to slow down a bit, leaving Pilette a great chance to catch up. Farina, meanwhile, had made his way back up into third, and looked like staying there permanently. A bit further back, Parnell won the battle for fifth, and had a big enough gap to not have to worry about it until the end.
This meant that the last battle within the points was for the lead. Farina attempted to make up the gap, but it was too little too late, and he had to settle for third. Pilette was making up the lost ground and was now only eight seconds behind Bira entering the final lap. He had already made up six seconds on lap 28, and Bira was gradually getting slower, making for a very exciting finish. At Eau Rouge, Pilette won back a second. Another at Kemmel, and two more at Burnenville, to be four seconds behind Bira at Masta. He continued to claw back up to Bira, gaining a second at Stavelot, one more at Carrière and another at Blanchimont, to be just a second behind at La Source. Pilette left the brakes until the last possible moment and was right behind Bira at the exit of the hairpin.
Pilette could use Bira's slipstream to take the win, and he tried to use it to his advantage. Sadly, the pit straight was too short, and Bira kept the lead, winning the race by just two tenths of a second. Farina finished in a safe third, with von Brauchitsch fourth and Parnell fifth.
- Tony Gaze, Mike Hawthorn and Geoff Richardson's entries were turned down due to a lack of experience.
|2||66||André Pilette||Ferrari||29||+ 0.2||1||6|
|3||48||Giuseppe Farina||Alfa Romeo||29||+ 40.1||3||5|
|4||4||Manfred von Brauchitsch||Ferrari-Jaguar||29||+ 56.1||2||3|
|5||24||Reg Parnell||Ferrari||29||+ 1:52.2||10||2|
|6||20||Dorino Serafini||Ferrari||29||+ 3:04.3||14|
|7||32||Jacques Swaters||Ferrari||29||+ 3:12.3||5|
|8||30||Charles Van Acker||Alfa Romeo||29||+ 3:12.4||13|
|9||46||André Simon||Maserati||28||+ 1 lap||9|
|10||40||Consalvo Sanesi||Gordini||28||+ 1 lap||17|
|11||54||Franco Rol||Maserati||28||+ 1 lap||23|
|12||42||Piero Taruffi||Metcalf||28||+ 1 lap||16|
|13||10||Alberto Ascari||Phoenix-Ferrari||28||+ 1 lap||15|
|14||18||Georges Grignard||Talbot-Lago-Talbot||28||+ 1 lap||21|
|15||64||Giovanni Bracco||Ambrosiana-Maserati||26||+ 3 laps||29|
|16||14||David Hampshire||Alta||26||+ 3 laps||32|
|Ret||58||Chico Landi||Maserati-Ferrari||24||Oil leak||20|
|Ret||6||Aldo Gordini||Simca Gordini-Gordini||19||Accident||31|
|Ret||26||Luigi Villoresi||Ferrari||18||Accident damage||30|
|Ret||52||Stirling Moss||Alfa Romeo||15||Spin||26|
|Ret||22||Toulo de Graffenried||Ferrari||13||Overheating||8|
|Ret||2||Clemente Biondetti||Ferrari-Jaguar||10||Oil leak||22|
|Ret||50||Juan Manuel Fangio||Alfa Romeo||7||Spin||4|
|Ret||28||Maurice Trintignant||Alfa Romeo||6||Puncture||7|
|Ret||56||Luigi Fagioli||Maserati||5||Fatal accident||18|
|Ret||12||José Froilan Gonzalez||Phoenix-Ferrari||3||Engine||25|
|DNA||Tony Gaze||Alfa Romeo||Refused entry|
|DNA||Mike Hawthorn||Alfa Romeo||Refused entry|
|DNA||Geoff Richardson||RRA-ERA||Refused entry|
- First victory for B. Bira.
- First and only pole position for André Pilette.
- First fastest lap for Giuseppe Farina.
- First and only podium for André Pilette.
- First points for André Pilette, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Reg Parnell (only points for von Brauchitsch).
- First start for Giovanni Bracco, Georges Grignard, Graham Whitehead, Paul Frère and Aldo Gordini.
- First entry for Graham Whitehead.
- Final entry and start for Luigi Fagioli.
- First victory for Motorsport Bleu.
- First pole position for Ecurie Nationale Belge.
- First points for Scuderia Maremmana.
- First start for Aldo Gordini, Graham Whitehead and Hampshire Racing Alliance (only start for Gordini and Whitehead).
- First entry for Aldo Gordini and Graham Whitehead (only entry for Whitehead).
- Manfred von Brauchitsch: 2 laps (1-2)
- Giuseppe Farina: 15 laps (3-17)
- André Pilette: 8 laps (18-25)
- B. Bira: 4 laps (26-29)
- Most career podiums: Giuseppe Farina (4)
- Most career points: Giuseppe Farina (29)
- Most career starts: 7 drivers (8)
- Most career entries: 8 drivers (9)
|1||Alfa Romeo SpA||11|
|2||Ecurie Nationale Belge||10|
|4||/ Alexander Racing Team||9|
- Only the top five positions are listed.
| Previous race:
1951 Indianapolis 500
| Alternate Formula 1 World Championship
| Next race:|
1951 French Grand Prix
| Previous race:
1950 Belgian Grand Prix
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1952 Belgian Grand Prix