Day 9 of Badger’s Advent Calendar and it’s time for something a little different – a three part series on the youngest champions….
With Sebastian Vettel becoming the latest to claim the title of “Youngest Ever F1 Champion” it seems an appropriate time to look back over the history of the championship at the nine drivers who have held that distinction, starting with… the ‘oldest youngest’ – if you follow!
Giuseppe Farina, 1950, 43 years, 11 months, 4 days.
This is, admittedly, a bit of a cheek as he was the first ever F1 world champion and so must have been the youngest ever. Giuseppe, or Nino as he was known, was born in Turin in 1906 and unfortunately for him the peak of his racing career coincided with the Second World War, having been the Italian champion in 1937, 1938 and 1939.
After the war he entered Grands Prix in a privately owned Maserati, winning the 1948 Monaco GP and when the FIA announced the inaugural 1950 world championship he found a place in the Alfa Romeo team, alongside Fangio (see below) and Luigi Fagioli. Over the course of the season, driving the 158 Alfetta he won the British and the Swiss GPs but had to wait until the final race of the season at Monza to secure his third win of the season and the championship. Over the next few seasons he finished 4th, 2nd and 3rd having moved to Ferrari for the 1952 season and he finally retired from racing after a disappointing end to the 1955 season.
He was renowned for his ‘straight arm’ driving style, but also known for his petulance on track and his cavalier attitude towards other drivers, having been involved in two fatal accidents in his pre-war career. A racing fan until the end, he died in 1966 in a car crash on the way to watch the French GP at Reims-Gueux.
Juan Manuel Fangio, 1951, 40 years, 4 months, 4 days.
The second championship winner was no spring chicken either, but managed to come in younger than Farina to become the youngest ever world champion.
He was born in Balcarce in Argentina in 1911 and initially raced there, becoming the Argentine champion in 1940 and 1941. He moved to Europe in 1948, funded by the Argentine Automobile Club and the Argentine government. Over his career he won five world championships, only bettered by Michael Schumacher, and he did it for four different teams, a feat which has never been matched.
In 1950 he won three races at Monaco, Spa and Reims-Gueux for Alfa Romeo, but had failed to finish any of the others and so finished second to Farina. The following year wins in Switzerland and France and seconds in Britain and Germany were followed by a retirement at Monza which meant that the championship was decided at the Petralbes circuit in Spain where tyre problems for the Ferrari challengers allowed Fangio to romp home in first place and take the championship.
He switched teams to Maserati as Alfa Romeo withdrew from the sport because of the change in regulations. He also missed the 1952 season after a crash at Monza but he went on to finish second in the championship in 1953, before winning it again in 1954 driving both Maseratis and Mercedes. He won again in 1955, 1956 and 1957 before retiring after the 1958 season. Such was the esteem in which he was held by fellow drivers that Mike Hawthorn slowed down to allow him to unlap himself in his final race at Reims-Gueux so that he could complete the race distance.
He died in Argentina at the age of 84, having had a successful career selling Mercedes Benz as well as racing them, and is still widely regarded as the greatest F1 driver ever.
Alberto Ascari, 1952, 34 years, 0 months, 21 days.
Alberto Ascari was born in Milan in 1918, the son of racing driver Antonio Ascari and, despite the death of his father in the French GP at Magny-Cours in 1925, he followed him into a career in racing.
He initially drove for Ferrari, coming in 5th in the 1950 world championship. He improved on that to finish 2nd the following year and in 1952 he won an astounding six races (out of eight, including the Indianapolis 500) and clinched the title after the sixth race in Germany. He followed this up by winning the championship again in 1953, but after switching to the Maserati team he could only finish 25th in 1954.
Back at Ferrari in 1955 did not start well, with two retirements, the second at Monaco involving a crash into the harbour. His following death has become the stuff of legend. He was watching a friend test drive a Ferrari 750 Monza sports car at Monza and before lunch he decided to try it out for himself in shirt sleeves and a borrowed helmet, not his usual blue helmet about which he was known to be very superstitious. On the third lap he skidded coming out of a corner, the car somersaulted and he was thrown out onto the track, dying minutes later of his injuries. The connections with the death of his father are where the legend really comes in as both died at the age of 36 (only four days difference in age), both had won 13 GPs, both drove car 26, both died on the 26th of the month and in both cases four days after surviving serious crashes.
The Variante Ascari chicane at Monza is named in his honour.
Stop by tomorrow to read part 2….