Jose Froilan Gonzalez, the stocky ‘Pampas Bull’ who in 1951 delivered Ferrari’s first Formula 1 world championship race win, died in a Buenos Aires hospital at the age of 90 on Saturday.
Gonzalez beat compatriot and five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio,then driving for Alfa Romeo, to win the 1951 British Grand Prix at Silverstone after making his championship debut with Maserati in Monaco a year earlier.
The son of a Chevrolet dealer from Arrecifes, near Buenos Aires, he also won the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race with Frenchman Maurice Trintignant in a works Ferrari in 1954.
The Argentine’s F1 career spanned a decade, taking in 26 grands prix. His last appearance for Ferrari came in his home grand prix in 1960.
Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo said, “The news of the death of Gonzalez saddened me greatly.”
“We had spoken not that long ago, talking about cars and racing, the topics he was most enthusiastic about,” Montezemolo told the Ferrari website in a tribute to the man nicknamed ‘El Cabezon’ (Fat Head) by his friends at the Italian team.
“Over all these years, he was always very attached to Ferrari and, as a driver and a man, he played an integral part in our history. His death means we have lost a true friend.”
Gonzalez’s two wins were both at Silverstone for Ferrari, with the second coming in 1954, when he ended the season as runner-up – a mere half a point clear of Britain’s Mike Hawthorn – to Fangio, who drove for both Maserati and Mercedes that year.
He recalled in 2011 that it was only when he met up with Enzo, who rarely went to races, days later at Maranello that he realised just how much the victory meant.
“In his office there was a big photo of the victory right behind his desk,” the Argentine said. “He asked me to sign it and to tell him every last detail about the race, and then he gave me a gold watch with the Prancing Horse on the face.
“It has always been a cause of pride that I managed to take this first win, especially given what the marque went on to achieve in the past 60 years all over the world.”
Ferrari is F1’s most glamorous team, having won of 218 races and 16 constructors’ titles as well as 15 drivers’ championships. They are the only team to have competed in every year of the championship since 1950.
Gonzalez – short, bullish and more corpulent than the lean racers who now populate the sport – was a muscular, arms-out racer who finished second on seven occasions and was third six times in an era when driver fatalities were commonplace.
In 2011 he was honoured by Ferrari on the 60th anniversary of his first win, with Fernando Alonso driving the 1950s Ferrari 375 race car around the Silverstone circuit. The Spaniard went on to win the British Grand Prix for Ferrari later that day.
Gonzalez’s death leaves Australian triple world champion Jack Brabham, now 87, as the oldest surviving F1 race winner. (Reuters)
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