Like his father he was so fast, sometimes perhaps too fast. In pure natural speed and car control no driver could hold a candle to Alberto Ascari in the 1950’s.
A sobre, very superstitious man he is the driver that put Ferrari on the top of the world for the first time. And in a manner nobody, not even Schumacher could equal.
“He was,” Mike Hawthorn wrote, “the fastest driver I ever saw — faster even than Fangio…”. And Denis Jenkinson, arguably the best motorsport journalist of them all shared the same opinion 20 years ago: “Fangio, was a great driver, with some qualities which have never been matched, but I always thought Ascari was better — in equal cars he could beat Fangio whenever he wanted. In my estimation Ascari was the greatest driver of the ’50s, and he belongs in my ‘pantheon’ list, with Moss, Clark, Villeneuve and Senna.”
Enzo Ferrari was teammate to Antonio Ascari at Alfa Romeo in the mid ‘20s and a great admirer of the fearsome broad man who established himself as the fastest driver in the world after winning the 1924 Italian GP and 1925 European GP. When his inexperienced son came to his new stablement in early 1949 they got along very well, and chubby Alberto won six GP on the throat on his first full season. Good choice, must thought Enzo, the son is even better than his father…
In 1950 the Formula 1 World Championship took place for the first time. Alfa Romeo with their legendary pre-war Alfettas, tipo 158 were clear favorites and the underpowered and some says outdated already Ferrari 166 didn’t stand a chance. Ferrari skipped the first race, but Ascari took second on the team’s maiden appearance in Monaco. Of course, Alfa won the whole races that year, but in the last, the Italian GP at Monza, armed with the new 375 Alberto gave them a fright and he could have won if his car stayed in one piece. Now Scuderia had a weapon that could stand a decent chance to the more powerful, but thirstier Alfetta 159. On the Nordschleife, the greatest track in the world, Ascari took his maiden World Championship GP win after a masterful, well judged drive that put Fangio in trouble. Next race, at Monza he repeat that feat and suddenly he stood a big chance of taking the world crown. But a the year’s decider, the Spanish GP(Pedralbes) Ferrari got so wrong with their tires and despite dominating the practice and qualy session, Ascari was nowhere in the race.
He came back with a vengeance in 1952 and won every GP that he entered. At Spa, under torrential rain, he destroyed the field with his consistency and speed winning by over 4minutes. Again at the Ring and “Ciccio” won for the third time in succession, a unique feat. After seeing his imacculate but ferocious drive in the last lap, Italian journalist wrote on “Autocourse”: “Many Germans who have studied all the famous drivers on this infernal circuit during these last years consider Ascari to be the greatest of them all.
The results themselves are proof enough, but what is more striking is his regularity and sang-froid when the fight is at its most violent.” With a pearless record of six wins he won his and Ferrari’s first title and continued with another dominant one in 1953. That year Maserati built a car that was superior to the Ferrari 500F2, but Alberto again obliterated the entire field, winning five times, some of his performances, like those at Nordschelife and Bremgarten being considered amongst the greatest ever.
The following season, after some misunderstandings with Enzo, he transferred to Lancia, but the innovative D50 wasn’t ready. At the Italian GP he borrowed a Ferrari 553 with an old frame and again showed his class blasting everyone before the care expired. He was prone to return to Ferrari, but, trying his friend Eugenio Castelotti Ferrari 750 at Monza in July 1955 he crashed heavily and died in mysterious circumstances. After the tragedy, everyone mourned Alberto Ascari.
“I felt,” Juan Manuel Fangio said, “that my title in 1955 lost some of its value because Ascari was not there to fight me for it. I lost my greatest opponent, and also a loyal and generous friend.”
Sixty years on Alberto Ascari remains the last great Italian driver. “He had,” said Villoresi, “the clarity and presence of mind of Varzi, together with the fighting spirit of Nuvolari. There was no one better…”