After the 375 F1 victory at Silverstone in 1951, Ferrari easily defeated Alfa Romeo’s 159s in the next two races, setting up a showdown at the season’s final race in Spain. Alfas finished first and third, Ferraris second and fourth. That gave the championship to Alfa driver Juan Manuel Fangio.
But it was evident that the 159 and its supercharged engine were no longer capable of holding off Ferrari and its larger, naturally aspirated V-12. Alfa’s owner, the Italian government, was unwilling to contribute funds to the company to develop an all-new car, so at the end of the season, Alfa Romeo reluctantly withdrew from racing.
With Alfa gone, the FIA recognized that Formula 1 faced a serious shortcoming. There were no other strong competitors to challenge Ferrari, let alone fill the grid. In April 1952, a decision was made to use the less-expensive Formula 2 series for the World Championship. F2 had been popular since its inception in 1948, due in part to its limiting maximum engine capacity to 2.0-liters.
Ferrari was ready. He began competing in F2 with the V-12-powered 166 F2. This was, in essence, a modified 166 Spyder Corsa sports-racing car. For 1949, the 166 F2 used a 125 F1 chassis, winning every race in which it entered. In 1950 it won 13 of 17 races.
In charge of 1952’s F2 project was Ferrari chief engineer Aurelio Lampredi. “I would go into the factory on Sunday mornings to look over my affairs,” he recounted in Ferrari I Quattro Cilindri. “Ferrari turned up and told me they’d launched the new project, an F2 with 2000cc capacity.
“‘What would you do?’ he asked.
“’I’d make a 4-cylinder,’ I replied.
“’Do make me a sketch then, now.’”
A few intense hours later, Lampredi was finished. The 185- horsepower 1985cc inline-four was placed in a chassis that followed lessons learned in F1. The combination was virtually unbeatable.
The Ferrari 500 F2 won seven of eight races in 1952, and made team driver Alberto Ascari Ferrari’s first world champion. The car won seven of nine races in 1953, and Ascari was again world champion.
On the way to his two titles, the former motorcycle racer from Milan finished first in nine consecutive races in which the Ferrari 500 F2 competed. It was a Grand Prix record that would last the century, and beyond.