Ferrari 375 F1
The final 125 served as the basis for the Ferrari 375 F1, the model that broke Alfa Romeo’s stranglehold on Formula 1.
Rules allowed use of a 1.5-liter engine with supercharger or a maximum of 4.5-liters with natural aspiration. Supercharging generated incredible power, and had been Alfa’s strength. But supercharging also consumed lots of fuel, and Ferrari now felt it was his principal rival’s Achilles' heel.
And so was born the Ferrari 375 F1. It continued use of the 125’s tubular chassis in its longer wheelbase form of 91.3 inches (2320mm). The suspension and four-speed gearbox were carried over. But instead of a supercharged 1.5, the V-12 was a naturally aspirated 4.5-liter of 330-380 horsepower. This was the culmination of an Aurelio Lampredi-designed series of unsupercharged Ferrari F1 V-12s that began as a 3322cc unit in the 275 F1, followed by a 4101cc engine for the 340 F1.
The 4.5 made its debut at the all-important Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September 1950. It just missed setting the pole, and ran a close second for the majority of the race before retiring with six laps to go.
But the die had been cast, and the man who punctured Alfa’s F1 dominance was a young Argentinean in his first year as a Ferrari works driver. Froilan Gonzalez, 29, was the son of a Chevrolet dealer and an immensely talented driver who originally came to Europe as a companion for countryman Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio was now driving for Alfa, and the turning point was July 14, 1951, at the British Grand Prix.
“Two to three days before the British Grand Prix Juan drove me around the Silverstone circuit in the Alfa,” Gonzales recalled in Ferrari 1947-1997. “’Pepe,’ he said after we had studied the course, ‘I think you are going to win this one.’”
Fangio was right. The Alfas were extremely thirsty, averaging just 1.8 mpg, giving Ferrari the advantage of one fewer fuel stop, critical in what for the period was a short race.
“I still have a photograph of us looking across at each other as we drove side by side down the main straight,” Gonzales remembered. “But his advantage went away at his first pit stop when his crew put in too much fuel, making his car too heavy.”
The stocky Argentinean beat Fangio to the checkered flag. That ended an amazing run in which Alfa Romeos had finished first in every postwar Grand Prix event in which they were entered, more than two dozen races in all. The triumph over his former employer was a satisfying, if poignant, start to Enzo Ferrari’s F1 legacy.
An interesting footnote to F1’s first decade was that all its races, typically eight or so per season, were run in Europe -- with one notable exception. From 1950 to 1960, America’s Indianapolis 500 was among the events counted toward the F1 world championship. Thus, fabled Indy 500 winners such as Bill Vukovich and Rodger Ward are listed among drivers with F1 points.
For the traditional F1 field, travel to America for one race was impractical, and Indy was never treated seriously as a points opportunity. But Ferrari’s U.S. importer and chief promoter, Lugi Chinetti, saw the publicity possibilities.
Ferrari thus prepared a variation of the Ferrari 375 F1 to run in the Memorial Day classic. Called the 375 Indy, its naturally aspirated 4.5-liter was tuned for 400 horsepower, the chassis was strengthened, and aerodynamics were improved. As a shakedown run, three were sent to the 1953 Turin Grand Prix, where Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi’s finished first.
A fourth was prepared for Ferrari works driver Alberto Ascari, and he qualified it for the ’52 Indy 500 at just over 134 mph, good enough to start in 19th position. The red 375 proved ill-suited to a long afternoon of punishment at the Brickyard, however. It lasted 40 laps, spinning in the fourth turn when a wheel hub collapsed. It was the only Ferrari to compete in an Indy 500.