Ranking the Top 10 Drivers of the 1950s
The 1950s is where the Formula One story began and the early pioneers of the sport laid the foundations of the technological advancements we see in today’s racing cars.
It was very different back then with no seat belts, front-mounted engine blocks, drum brakes and a frightening lack of safety measures that led to many deaths.
To drive those early F1 cars on the limit required immense skill, huge bravery and no shortage of luck.
Every driver from the first decade deserves to be remembered for putting a great sport on the map, but here are ten of the very best.
10. Maurice Trintignant
Although perhaps not the most flamboyant of drivers, Frenchman Trintignant sneaks into the top ten because of his longevity alone.
Trintignant competed in F1 for an incredible 14 years from 1950-1964 and thus had one of the longest careers in F1.
He placed fourth in the drivers’ standings in 1954 and 1955 and won twice at Monaco in 1955 and 1957.
9. Luigi Musso
Italian Musso’s F1 career spanned six seasons from 1953-1958 and he lived the Italian dream, driving for Maserati and Ferrari.
He made his debut at the 1953 Italian Grand Prix and was second behind Mike Hawthorn in his very next outing in Spain.
His first and only win came at the 1956 season opening Argentine Grand Prix, but his season was cut short by a crash at the Nurburgring.
It is for his rivalry with Ferrari teammates Hawthorn and Peter Collins for which Musso is remembered. Lying third in the championship standings, he was chasing leader Hawthorn at the 1958 French Grand Prix when he lost control, struck a ditch and somersaulted.
Musso succumbed to his injuries later that day and years after his death, girlfriend Fiamma Breschi revealed in a television documentary, The Secret Life of Enzo Ferrari, that she hated the English drivers.
Whichever of them won, they would share the winnings equally. It was the two of them against Luigi, who was not part of the agreement. Strength comes in numbers, and they were united against him. I had hated them both. First because I was aware of certain facts that were not right, and also because when I came out of the hospital and went back to the hotel, I found them in the square outside the hotel, laughing and playing a game of football with an empty beer-can. So when they died, too, it was liberating for me. Otherwise I would have had unpleasant feelings towards them for ever. This way I could find a sense of peace.
8. Peter Collins
Peter Collins competed in F1 from 1952-1958, winning three times.
He made his debut at the 1952 Swiss Grand Prix driving for HW Motors but it was not until the 1956 season and a move to Ferrari that his career really took off.
He was second at Monaco before wins in Belgium and France catapulted him to the top of the drivers’ standings. He still led Juan Manuel Fangio by a point after a second place finish in Britain but was overhauled by Fangio and Stirling Moss after a retirement in Germany and second place finish in Italy.
Collins was chasing Tony Brooks’ Vanwall during the 1958 German Grand Prix when he ran wide and struck a ditch, the Englishman flung clear but into a tree and died later that afternoon.
7. Tony Brooks
Englishman Tony Brooks competed in F1 from 1956-1961 and was known as the “racing dentist” as he was the son of a dentist and studied the practice himself.
But it was in F1 racing that Brooks really bared his teeth, winning four times for Vanwall in 1957 and '58 and twice during his only spell at Ferrari in 1959 when he finished second in the championship standings only four points behind Jack Brabham.
6. Mike Hawthorn
Mike Hawthorn goes down in the history books as Britain’s first Formula One world champion after winning the 1958 title by a single point from Stirling Moss despite achieving only one win to Moss’ four.
His first F1 victory came for Ferrari in the 1953 French Grand Prix and he won again in Spain the following season.
But it is for his 1958 title year that Hawthorn will be remembered although he probably owed his championship thanks to the generosity of his rival at the Portuguese Grand Prix. Moss intervened on Hawthorn’s behalf after he had been disqualified for bump starting his stalled car downhill in the opposite direction.
Hawthorn’s points were reinstated thanks to Moss and in the final race teammate Phil Hill waved him through for second place and the points he needed to take the title.
Hawthorn retired immediately afterwards having been affected by the death of close friend Peter Collins but he was killed only months later in a car accident on the A3 Guildford bypass.
5. Jack Brabham
You have to be a pretty special person to be granted a knighthood if you’re not from the British Isles.
Take a bow Australia’s Sir Jack Brabham, the first post-war driver to be knighted when he received the honour for services to motorsport in 1978.
Brabham raced in Formula 1 from 1955-1970 and became only the second driver after the great Juan Manuel Fangio to net three world drivers’ titles having won in 1959, 1960 and 1966.
4. Giuseppe Farina
Giuseppe “Nino” Farina stands out in the history books as the first ever Formula One world champion after he won the inaugural season by three points from Juan Manuel Fangio.
Renowned 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. Thus began a season-long rivalry with Fangio and although both took three wins apiece, Fangio’s extra retirement cost him dear.
Farina won again in Belgium the following year and was second in the 1952 championship despite not winning a race.
His final win came at the 1953 German Grand Prix and he retired at the end of the 1955 season.
Farina was killed in 1966 in a road accident in Chambery, France whilst on his way to watch the French Grand Prix.
3. Stirling Moss
Stirling Moss will go down in the history books as the greatest driver never to win the Formula 1 title.
Moss finished 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.
And 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.
Moss won 16 races in F1 from 66 starts and achieved 16 pole positions and 19 fastest laps.
2. Alberto Ascari
If you think of famous Ferrari drivers in the history of Formula One, the great Alberto Ascari probably comes close to the top of the list.
Ascari won his first race at the 1951 German Grand Prix and followed it up with victory at his home race in Italy to the delight of the home fans.
The following season, Ascari was in a class of his own in the most dominant season ever known, winning all six races 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.
He won five more times in 1953 to claim his second title and switched from Ferrari to Lancia towards the end of the 1954 season following a pay dispute.
The 1955 season opened with retirements in Argentina and Monaco where he crashed into the harbour after missing the chicane. Four days later he went to Monza to watch friend Eugenio Castellotti in a sportscar race and decided to try a few laps himself.
It proved a fatal decision as, driving without his lucky blue crash helmet, Ascari skidded and somersaulted on his third lap, throwing the Italian onto the track where he died moments later from his injuries.
The corner where the accident happened has since been replaced with a chicane named Variante Ascari in his honour.
1. Juan Manuel Fangio
There can be only one man at the top of this list, the great Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio.
Fangio won no less than five world drivers’ titles between 1951 and 1957 for four different teams during this period and he holds the 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.