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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Žišková

Dr. Giuseppe Farina

In his days he was one of the least favorite drivers on the grid. Now, we remember Giuseppe Farina with an admiration and respect. A man who cheated the death way too many times to become a legend.

Born into privileged family didn't really secure Giuseppe Farina an easy life as he had faced a few obstacles later in his racing career. On October 30, 1906 in Turin, two important events happened:

One of them was establishing Stabilimente Farina, a bodywork shop for cars, located in the famous manufacturing city of Turin by Giovanni Farina, Giuseppe's father. The second, more important, is the birth of Giuseppe Antonio Farina. Little Nino was from an early age expected to join his father in the family business, but when he celebrated his ninth birthday the youngster had other plans...

His first driving experience happened in a small car on the grounds of his father's factory. That's the moment which lighten up a fire inside of his racing soul.

Later, at the age of 16, Giuseppe's favorite uncle Pinin asked him to accompany him as a co-driver in road races. Only after three years of racing as his uncle's co-driver, Giuseppe began entering solo events. In one of his first solo races, he survived a big accident in a hill climb. This crash would be only a start of worrying trend in Farina's career.

He was a brilliant student and proved it by becoming Doctor of Political Science, which gave him a title "il Dottore". Since many described him as athletically talented, he excelled at skiing, football, horse riding, athletics and cycling.

He began his military service as a cavalry officer, but this career in the Italian army was cut short in order to fulfil his ambitions in another direction - motor racing.

In 1932 Farina bought a second-hand Alfa Romeo and ran it in the Aosta-Gran San Bernardo Hill-climb where he crashed. He ended up badly cutting his face and breaking a shoulder, while trying to beat his father...who was fourth.

During the years 1933-1934 he raced privately-entered Maseratis and Alfa Romeos. Even though he was crashing quite frequently, his driving ability showed enough promise to impress Enzo Ferrari, who recruited him to drive for the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo team.

There Farina began a friendship with Tazio Nuvolari who, to some extent, guided Farina's early career.

#1 Did you know that...

...Giuseppe won the Masaryk Grand Prix for voiturette held at Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1934?

His first season for the Scuderia in 1936 was, sadly, followed by the fatal accident that happened during the Grand Prix de Deauville - Farina collided with Marcel Lehoux who was killed instantly.

Now a very brief timeline:

1938 - the official Alfa Romeo team returned to motor racing and Farina becomes a member

1939 - Farina wins the Antwerp Grand Prix, the Coppa Ciano and the Prix de Berne to become Italian Champion for the third year in succession!

1940 – winning the Tripoli Grand Prix and finishing 2nd in the Mille Miglia for the third time

After World War 2 Farina returned to drive the Alfa Romeo 158s, but then he left after a disagreement over team leadership.

#2 Did you know that ...

...Giuseppe Farina and Reg Parnell were both involved in a huge accident that happened on the opening lap of the Czech Grand Prix* that resulted in the deaths of two spectators?

*it was held on the Masarykův Okruh public roads circuit, to be precise, near the Moravian city of Brno on September 25, 1949

Personal life

He tied the knot with Elsa Giaretto - a very elegant woman. She thought that motor racing was a dangerous activity and even tried to persuade Giuseppe to stop, but without success. Three days after they got married, he flew to a race in Argentina!

World Formula 1 Championship, 1950

Farina was signed up by Alfa Romeo, alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli, known collectively as "the three F's". Team mates Farina (aged 44 ), Fangio (aged 39) and Fagioli (aged 52) finished in that order in the standings. Despite Nino's advancing years, he became their team leader.

In the same year he won in the sport’s inaugural Grand Prix held at Silverstone.

Over the seven rounds of the season Farina took three outright victories, which officially made him the first ever Formula One World Champion.

But Giuseppe Farina hated publicity. After winning the World Championship, he refused to allow photographs of him to be taken at home or to allow the press to invade his private life.

In 1952 he moved to the Scuderia Ferrari where he met another younger team mate, Alberto Ascari, who was about to become another racing star.

In the 1953 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring Farina took his first win for Ferrari and the last of his five Formula 1 victories.

Guess what happened next? Correct, another crash... In 1953 he was involved in another horrific accident during the Argentine Grand Prix, where at least 10 spectators were killed and a number of others were injured.

"A man of steel, inside and out. But I could never help feeling apprehensive about him, especially at the start or when there were just one or two laps to go......As a consequence he was a regular inmate of the hospital wards......He was capable of mad things, but it has to be said, only putting himself at risk, not others." - Enzo Ferrari about Farina

Then he won the Gran Premio di Siracusa, only to be injured again – his Ferrari got caught on fire but he managed to escape. The outcome were a few severe burns on his legs from which he had to recover for a very long time. This huge crash took place in the Supercortemaggiore sportscar race held in 1954 at Monza.

FYI: Surprisingly, even Carroll Shelby has his "cameo“ in Farina´s story, since both of them must have met at the race mentioned above!

It may seem like nothing could keep this man out of a racing car. With Ferrari back in Argentina in 1955, Giuseppe was ready to race by taking morphine injections to kill the pain. He finished on the second place, 4th at Monaco and 3rd in Belgium.

Unfortunately, his friend and once a team mate Alberto Ascari lost his life in the same year. His physical pain and the death of Ascari were the main reasons for his retirement at the end of the season.

Not so shockingly, he was soon back. But in an attempt to qualify at the Indianapolis 500, he managed to crash in the process. Going back to the Supercortemaggiore sportscar race held at Monza, yet another accident happened exactly 2 years after his first crash there. This time he ended up with a broken collarbone.

"Because of the crazy way Farina drove, only the Holy Virgin was capable of keeping him on the track, and we all thought one day she would get tired of helping him." - Juan Manuel Fangio

Recovered once more (!!!), he returned to Indianapolis in 1957. However, his car was destroyed in practice by his team mate Keith Andrews who tragicallly lost his life there.

This was the last straw for Farina. His enthusiasm for racing disappeared and he decided to give up for good.

During his life Farina gained a nickname "the Gentleman of Turin" and it is supposed to be a reference to his privileged background.

His driving style belied his tendency to punish his cars. Maybe it was a lack of mechanical sympathy that caused him to push them beyond to the point of no return. That's when the accidents happened, which he tended to blame on bad luck or fragile machinery – but never himself. It also is rumored that he didn't agree with an idea of having drivers with no special family backround attending races.

Farina felt he was still alive, not due to good luck but to his deep belief in God. After every accident he would give prayers of thanks to the Virgin Mary.

On Thursday, June 30 in 1966, he started from Turin at the wheel of his car, traveling for the French Grand Prix. In the Alps near Chambery his car skidded off a slippery bend, but this time, after all those years of surviving, his Virgin Mary didn't help him. This was the end of the the first World Champion. He died aged 59.

Countless of crashing in the races, but in the end it was a road crash that became fateful to him.

The fact that he survived many really bad crashes made him appear to be indestructible in an era where drivers' deaths weren't a rare sight.

For now, I am closing the fascinating story of Giuseppe Antonio Farina who definitely caused a bit controversy here and there, but his legacy still lives on until this day. He will be always the first.

„He drove as if the devil was behind him and angels ahead.“



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