When the World Championship was first held in 1950, red Italian cars predominated, from Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati, and continued to do so for much of the period. But by the time the decade closed, green British cars were in their ascendancy, first Vanwall and then rear-engined Cooper playing the starring roles, and BRM and Lotus having walk-on parts. As for drivers, one stood out above the others, Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio, becoming World Champion five times. Much of the fascination of this era also lies in its numerous privateers and also-rans, all of which receive their due coverage in this complete work.
Year-by-year treatment covers each season in fascinating depth, running through the teams — and their various cars — in order of importance. Alfa Romeo’s supercharged 11/2-litre cars dominated the first two years, with titles won by Giuseppe Farina (1950) and Fangio (1951). The new marque of Ferrari steamrollered the opposition in two seasons run to Formula 2 rules (1952-53), Alberto Ascari becoming champion both times, and the same manufacturer took two more crowns with Fangio (1956) and Mike Hawthorn (1958). Maserati’s fabulous 250F, the decade’s most significant racing car, propelled Fangio to two more of his five championships (1954 and 1957). German manufacturer Mercedes-Benz stepped briefly into Formula 1 (1954-55) and won almost everything with Fangio and up-and-coming Stirling Moss. Green finally beat red when the Vanwalls, driven by Moss and Tony Brooks, won the inaugural constructors’ title (1958). Then along came Cooper, rear-engine pioneers, to signpost Formula 1’s future when Jack Brabham became World Champion (1959).