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Froilan Gonzalez was born in 1922. Known as the "Pampas Bull" he began racing in Europe in 1950. Famous for his all out hunched over the steering wheel style he is now a successful businessman in Argentina.

If you are wondering why he keeps referring to his Ferrari as his "jewel" you must try to imagine the types of "modified" race cars he use to drive on the dirt tracks of Argentina.

His win was Ferrari's first in a Grand Prix and broke the domination of the Alfa Romeo that began after the end of WW II.

1951 British Grand Prix




 
Part 1 by Froilan Gonzalez

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More than twenty years have passed since that British Grand Prix and yet it seems to me as if it was yesterday. It needs only a casual word at a party, a friend or perhaps a journalist asking me, "How was it all in the beginning, Pepito?" for memories to flood into my mind; memories of a raw, inexperienced lad from Argentina. Since then I have received praise and congratulations from kings, princes, and statesmen in many countries. I have forgotten many races. But always fresh in my mind is 14 July 1951.

It really began earlier when I was, for my local countrymen, still Cabezon (Big Head!) Gonzalez, a driver who was content to win on local dirt circuits, thinking of no more exalted arenas.

Then Don Francisco Borgonovo, President of the Racing Board of the Argentine Automobile Club, telephoned me at the beginning of 1950, asking if I would join the team which the Club were sending to Europe, under the leadership of my great friend and countryman, Juan Manuel Fangio. I accepted of course, but was very unlucky that year and did nothing spectacular. The Club were patient with me and selected me for 1951, however.

1951 British Grand PrixI was at Reims, ready to race in the 1951 Grand Prix de France in a Maserati owned by the Argentine Automobile Club, when something happened which changed my destiny. Nello Ugolini, then director of the Ferrari team, asked me if I could drive one of the team cars because their driver Dorino Serafini had been injured in the Mille Miglia. The request, I learned later, came from Don Enzo Ferrari himself. I was astonished that a "peasant" of very little experience would have attracted the notice of the great Ferrari. We all held him in awe and I can recall, even now, my stumbling excitement as I agreed. I had few illusions about my chances but from that moment I seemed to be living a dream and even when they took me to the workshop to be measured for the seat and for the pedals I still could not believe I was to be the driver of Ferrari’s mechanical jewel. I was nervous, happy and afraid at the same time, like a peasant who suddenly attains the love of a princess.

The dream was to be very brief. I was utterly determined to make my mark at Reims in the Grand Prix de France and after a tough battle I managed to lead the race. But when I stopped at the pits to refuel Ugolini told me to hand over my jewel to Alberto Ascari who had walked back to the Ferrari pits after his own car had broken down.

Recalling it now I suppose it was understandable. Ascari was more experienced in the Grand Prix arena than I, and since he was now available, it was obviously more sensible to let him take over. But at the time I was mystified and wounded. I assumed I had in some way failed one of Ferrari's mysterious tests. Yet nobody would tell me where I had failed.

Froilan GonzalezI was just as puzzled when Enzo Ferrari sent for me. Puzzled and timid, for Ferrari was a powerful experienced man of the world while I had only recently arrived in Europe. I had no idea how to address the "sacred monster" of the motoring world when I was led into his office. I managed to say "Good morning" in Spanish and then stood there speechless, wondering why I was there and what to do next. Don Enzo, realizing my embarrassment, helped me out by smiling and shaking my hand. And to my utter amazement he - the greatest figure in world motor racing - actually congratulated me for what I had done at Reims. I was even more astounded when he suddenly asked me: "Would you like to sign a contract to drive for the Ferrari team?" I can feel even now the almost painful thumping of my heart. This just isn't true, I told myself.

Plainly Ferrari was aware that he had confused me for he continued by saying that the terms of my contract would be the same as those for Villoresi and Ascari, his official drivers. But this did not matter to me. I was hardly listening to the details. I think I was already holding a pen - ready to sign anything. I only wanted to race, to become part of the powerful Italian team which seemed to me like attaining the highest rung of the ladder. After a very short career in motor racing I had attained the equivalent of singing at La Scala, Milan.

Ferrari had the gift of instilling confidence in its drivers. Although I was still very inexperienced I arrived at Silverstone for the 1951 British Grand Prix feeling that I really belonged in the Scuderia Ferrari, feeling eager also to pit my car's power against the almost unbeatable Alfa Romeos - and my own skill against the world's greatest racing drivers. Silverstone was the meeting place for international statesmen, industrialists, and millionaires, all looking for excitement.