This race was won by the shared car of Luigi Fagioli and Juan Manuel Fangio. This was the first of three races in which a car shared by two drivers would be credited for a win. The pair shared the points, however Fangio was given an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
The long sweeping street track situated in between the towns of Reims and Gueux played host to the French Grand Prix once again. The race would for 1951 also hold the honourary title of this year's European Grand Prix. The powerful Alfa Romeo's were expected to run well on this circuit, however the more fuel conservative Ferrari's still had a good chance in the race.
Alfa Romeo had proved in Spa-Francorchamps that they remained the team to beat, having dominated their Ferrari rivals. Giuseppe Farina had reclaimed the championship lead, the reigning champion benefitting once again from mechanical troubles encountered by teammate Fangio. Fangio sat only two points behind Farina and was determined not to lose out to him in France. Consalvo Sanesi would once again drive the third car whilst the paddock had a warm welcome to the return of Luigi Fagioli to the Alfa Romeo seat. Fagioli who had battled for the championship the previous year, had been dropped by Alfa Romeo as a regular driver, he had re-signed for 1951 however largely as only a test driver. However the team gave the old veteran a chance to race for them once again at Reims-Gueux.
Ferrari were left frustrated after Belgium, the team were determined to win a race, the Alfa Romeo domination had gone on too long, yet the team still hadn't been able to beat them in Belgium. Alberto Ascari sat third in the championship with six points. He remained six points adrift of championship leader Farina, yet hoped to close the gap in France. He was joined by regular teammate Luigi Villoresi, however the third driver of Piero Taruffi was taken ill and could not participate in the race. The team then punted on hiring José Froilán González, the quick young Argentine that had been considered Fangio's prodigy. González had failed to find a drive for 1951 and was forced to participate in the start of 1951 as a lone gun. González stepping in for Taruffi would finally get the opportunity to prove his worth in a top level car. Peter Whitehead was entering his old private Ferrari 125 for the event whilst Reg Parnell, being funded by BRM financier, Tony Vandervell was able to participate in the new modern Ferrari 375 as a privateer.
The private Maserati's also had a limited number of entries. Enrico Platé was once again the major team entering the Maserati's. Emmanuel de Graffenried had returned to the team for Reims-Gueux whilst he was joined by the team's new driver, American Harry Schell. The team's old driver Prince Bira, for the third race in succession planned to enter the Maserati-OSCA, however once again he had opted to withdraw the car due to its lack of competitiveness. Scuderia Milano's attempts as a manufacturer had proven difficult during 1950. The Ruggieri brothers were back in 1951 attempting to run their Milano engined Maserati once again. This time, another Argentine prodigy of Fangio's, Onofre Marimón would be piloting the car.
Simca-Gordini was the only French manufacturer to enter a works team. The successful Formula Two outfit was slowly making its impression on Formula One. The team would interestingly enter four cars for the event. Regular drivers Robert Manzon, Maurice Trintignant and André Simon were all entered into the event. However Simca-Gordini had entered a fourth car for Aldo Gordini, making his Formula One debut in France. Aldo Gordini was the son of the team's founder and leader, Amédée Gordini. Aldo usually worked in the team as a mechanic, rarely did he participate as a racing driver, however for his home race and for his father's team, he made the decision to enter the event as a driver.
The other French manufacturer represented at their home race was Talbot-Lago, however they were without a works team having ceased their Formula One development at the end of 1950. The Talbot-Lago privateers were now starting to run dated machinery, however the Talbot-Lago cars still hosted some of France's best drivers. The Monagasque, Louis Chiron once again joined Louis Rosier in his Ecurie Rosier team. Like in Belgium, Yves Giraud-Cabantous entered cars for both himself and Guy Mairesse. The old French veteran, Philippe Étancelin would once again enter his Talbot-Lago whilst Johnny Claes and Eugène Chaboud also entered as privateers.
Fangio once again proved indomitable in his Alfa Romeo in qualifying. He consistently ran the quickest throughout the practice session to take pole 1.7 seconds ahead of the champion, Farina. The Ferrari's were pleased to see they were closing the gap, Ascari was only seven tenths off Farina's best time. Villoresi had also done well to put his Ferrari into fourth position. Sanesi could only manage fifth ahead of the Ferrari debutant González . Fagioli on his return for Alfa Romeo would start in seventh.
Chiron was the leading Talbot-Lago in eighth place, managing to run faster than even the private Ferrari 375 of Reg Parnell. The grid was then followed by the Talbot-Lago cars of Étancelin, Cabantous, Claes, Rosier and Chaboud.
Marimon in the Milano engined Maserati, was the fastest of the Maserati cars. Whilst behind him came De Graffenried's Maserati. Aldo Gordini, was interestingly the fastest of the Simca-Gordini cars in his debut. Trintignant in eighteenth was the next of the Simca-Gordini's in eighteenth.
Mairesse was the slowest of the Talbot-Lago in nineteenth. Whitehead was the slowest Ferrari in his old 125 chassis. Simon had work to do to in his Simca-Gordini from twenty first. Manzon, in the final Simca-Gordini car was at the back of the grid, Schell's Maserati splitting the pair on the final row.
Fangio immediately took away into the lead at the start, Farina had got a lot of wheelspin off the line and had dropped several places. The two Ferrari's of Ascari and Villoresi had made it past Farina as did Sanesi and González. Ascari was running extremely well, by the end of the first lap he had taken the lead from Fangio's Alfa Romeo.
The Reims circuit was notorious for breaking cars, and after only a single lap, Whitehead had retired with a blown engine. De Graffenried also retired his Maserati with engine problems. Marimón's first race in the Milano engined Maserati also came to an end after two laps when his Milano blew up. Manzon who had been having an underwhelming weekend was also out on lap three with engine troubles. Simon in a second Simca-Gordini car then blew its engine on lap seven.
The mechanical troubles were even hitting the front runners, Sanesi in fourth place began to develop a misfire in his engine which allowed González and Farina past him. Farina was then able to make his way past González's Ferrari, however the top trio of Ascari, Fangio and Villoresi were still some way ahead. González, holding his own in his first Ferrari race maintained a gap to Sanesi and Fagioli. Parnell in his dark blue Vandervell entered Ferrari was doing well to hang onto the tails of Sanesi and Fagioli in seventh.
It was looking like Ferrari were going to take their first victory in the world championship, Ascari was comfortably leading the race, for the first time they had truely managed to put Alfa Romeo on the defensive. However their hopes of a first victory were dashed when Ascari's gearbox seized up on lap ten bringing him out of the race.
Fangio then retook control of the race, Farina meanwhile had closed on Villoresi's second place and quickly took the place back from the Ferrari driver. Alfa Romeo were back in control of the race. However Fangio then began to develop a misfire problem, forcing him into an early pit stop so his mechanics could check the car. After a once-over by the mechanics, Fangio returned to track, however the problem had not subsided and he then returned to the pits. This had brought his car well out of contention of the race. Further retirements saw Trintignant's engine blow, then the last Maserati in the race of Schell retired with overheating problems. The last Simca-Gordini of Aldo Gordini then pulled into the pits to retire his first race with engine troubles.
Farina had therefore inherited the lead of the race, he was pushing his Alfa Romeo hard, Farina taking a lead nearly a full minute clear of Villoresi's Ferrari behind him. Fagioli, the only other Alfa Romeo not to encounter problems had also picked up speed, moving past González's Ferrari to take third place. However when he came in for his customary pit stop, the Alfa Romeo team ordered him out of his car, in order to give Fangio a chance at the race. A furious and reluctant Fagioli nonetheless complied and Fangio took over the third positioned Alfa Romeo that had been run by Fagioli.
Fagioli, unused to being treated like a secondary driver, was asked to take over Fangio's battered machine, to allow the team leader to return to the race in Fagioli's healthy car. An angered Fagioli was forced to wait in the pits as the Alfa Romeo mechanics took their time in repairing the car that was formerly occupied by Fangio. Fagioli rejoined the race, however restarted nine laps adrift of the leaders and in last place of the race.
Farina, the race leader had a comfortable and uneventful pitstop, coming out of the pits still well in control of the race. González in second was ordered during the pit stops to give up his car to lead driver, Ascari who had retired earlier in the race. Farina still led the race, however it was Fangio in the car started by Fagioli that was setting the pace. He was setting fastest lap after fastest lap, the Ferrari's of Villoresi and Ascari ahead of him were no match and he soon began to quickly close in on Farina's minute lead of the race. Fangio was lapping so fast he broke the lap record of the track by eight seconds.
However on lap 36, Fangio's car was forced to halt its charge when it came into the pits for its second standard pit stop. However Farina would gain far from any advantage when a lap later, his front left tyre suffered a spectacular blow out. Farina did well to maintain control of the car, however he would be forced to slowly make his way back to the pits. Once he arrived he overshot his garage marks, scattering his mechanics and losing even more time. In this mayhem, the Ferrari's of Ascari and Villoresi had managed to get past. Parnell who was running quietly two laps down on the leaders, also managed to pass Farina in his chaotic pit-stop.
Ascari for the second time had found himself leading, however Ferrari then lost it again when Ascari began to encounter brake troubles and returned to the pits. Fangio flew past, now sensing victory he once again began to put in some incredible flying laps. His margin to Ascari had increased enough so that when he came in for his final pit-stop, he had retained the lead of the race.
The final retirements saw Étancelin retire his car with engine troubles, whilst Rosier, another Talbot-Lago driver went out with transmission troubles. Claes, another of the Talbot-Lago privateers had a big accident on lap 54 but luckily he emerged from the car unscathed.
Fangio and Fagioli would take the shared victory as well as the last place. The shared car of Ascari and Gonzalez would also take second. Villoresi's Ferrari would take third, the podium would remarkably be occupied by seven drivers in this race. Parnell never challenged the lead cars, nonetheless fourth place was good in his private Ferrari. Farina meanwhile was a disappointed fifth following his tyre blowout.
González had been left concerned after Ferrari team manager Nello Ugolini had ordered him to hand over his car to Ascari. González was left concerned that he had unimpressed in the race, only for Enzo Ferrari to offer him a contract for the rest of the season. Fagioli whilst also being accredited the victory alongside Fangio was left incredibly insulted in being demanded to swap cars with Fangio in the race. His future amongst the Alfa Romeo outfit was quickly thrown into doubt.
- Car #8 was shared by Luigi Fagioli (20 laps) and Juan Manuel Fangio (57 laps).
- Juan Manuel Fangio scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
- Car #14 was shared by José Froilán González (35 laps) and Alberto Ascari (42 laps).
- Car #4 was shared by Juan Manuel Fangio (15 laps) and Luigi Fagioli (40 laps).
Fangio went on to take the race win in one of his most dominant displays of driving yet. Fagioli, had finished the race nine laps adrift in Fangio's original car, however he was equally awarded the race victory to Fangio as he had entered the race winning machine at the start of the race. Fangio and Fagioli therefore took the first shared victory in Formula One. The two driver's had also become the first drivers to come in both first and last position in the same race. Fagioli was pleased by the victory, however it wasn't he who took the chequered flag. He had been dropped from the regular Alfa Romeo line-up and upon his race return in 1951, Fangio had won the race in his car lapping immediately significantly faster than what he had done all weekend. Fagioli, now at 53 was seriously contemplating his continued ability to compete at grand prix level.
Fangio retook the lead of the world championship, however the two points salvaged by Farina had meant the reigning world champion remained only one point behind. Ascari, only being awarded half points for his second place was six points off Fangio's championship lead. Villoresi now only a single point behind Ascari in the standings as well.
González had also been left concerned after Ferrari team manager Nello Ugolini had ordered him to hand over his car to Ascari. González was left pondering what he had done in his race, however a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, the following week removed any doubts from his head. The Ferrari maestro had been impressed enough by his performance to offer him a race contract for the remainder of the season.
- The first of three events in which a shared car would be credited with the win
Standings after race
|1||Juan Manuel Fangio||15|
Only the top five are displayed
|V T E||French Grand Prix|
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