Thursday, 6 October 2011


South America has produced several top-rate Formula One drivers: Fangio, Gonzalez, Fittipaldi, Reutemann, Pace, Piquet, Senna, Barrichello, Montoya and Massa…

Froilan Gonzalez, career 1950-1960
Comparing the career of Froilan Gonzalez from the fifties with that of Juan-Pablo Montoya half a century later, reveals some coincidental similarities. Both were real racers with heart, instantly fast and very competitive. Both their F1 careers were terminated early, at age 31, having debuted F1 at 27 and 26 years old respectively.

As people though, they were very different: Gonzalez was calm and philosophical; Montoya fiery and temperamental.

Froilan Gonzalez came to F1 racing in Europe as a protegé and friend of Fangio’s. Driving an old Maserati in two races of the inaugural 1950 season, he debuted sensationally at Monaco by setting third fastest time to the Alfas of Fangio and Farina. He started on the front row, ahead of all the other, more experienced ‘names’. This was the infamous race in which more than half the field crashed out on the first lap! This after waves had splashed water onto the road, causing second-running Farina to crash, third placed Gonzalez and nine others following suit! Someone in Maranello had noticed this imprsesive debut...

After driving a Talbot-Lago in the first event of 1951, he was signed by Enzo Ferrari for the Maranello Team alongside Alberto Ascari, Villoresi and Taruffi. The 4.5 litre V12 Ferraris were in the process of challenging the invincible 1.5 litre supercharged Alfa Romeos. Gonzalez’ Ferrari debut at Reims saw him running second, when he was called in to hand over to Ascari, who finished the race, in second place.

At his next appearance, only his fifth, at Silverstone in July 1951, Froilan scored Ferrari’s first F1 win. Beating Fangio and the Alfas and his own team-leader Ascari assured Gonzalez’ standing. He raced very competitively for Maserati in 1952 and in 1953, which latter season was cut short by injuries sustained in a sports-car event. He returned to Ferrari for 1954, winning his second memorable British GP, again defeating Fangio, now heading the Mercedes-Benz team, and Ascari. Unfortunately this was Froilan’s last full season before retiring to run his car dealership in Buenos Aires. He said he did not earn enough in F1 to afford the luxury of racing full-time! Gonzalez then appeared only sporadically in one-off drives per season for Maserati, Vanwall and Ferrari from 1955 until 1960.

Montoya? Who will forget this Williams-BMW rookie’s daring overtaking of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari for the lead at the end of the Interlagos main straight in 2001? One of F1’s most memorable moves, it assured Juan-Pablo’s status. The Williams-BMW Team employed him alongside the under-rated Ralf Schumacher for 2001-5, after which J-P switched to McLaren-Mercedes in 2006, for what was to be his last season. He left suddenly in mid-year (Peter, please explain). Unfortunately for F1.

According to the Driver Ratings, how the Argentinian and the Colombian stack up are shown in the table below. Bear in mind that the figure 100.0 represents the fastest, increments of 0.1 being slower. The figures can be read as percentages, or as based on a fastest lap time of 100.0 seconds, which was almost Vettel’s Red Bull-Renault lap at Abu Dhabi in 2010.

Season One
Season Two
Season Three
Season Four
Season Five
Season Six


Gonzalez’ debut season rating of 100.6 matched Michael Schumacher’s initial rating in 1991. Froilan’s improvement to 100.3 in his second season was phenomenal, for he was up against two of the greatest drivers, Fangio and Ascari. He maintained this high rating for the next three seasons, the rest of his full-time career.

Montoya’s debut rating of 100.8 matched Stewart’s of 1965. Juan-Pablo’s start was outstanding, but he was slower than team-mate Ralf Schumacher for his first two seasons, 2001-2002. As J-P said at the time: “Ralf is much more experienced than me”. By 2003 Montoya had raised his game to 100.3, a rating maintained, just as Gonzalez did, for the rest of his career. J-P came up against Raikkonen as his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate in 2006. The Finn had already had three seasons with the team, so Montoya did well in that half season to race within 0.3 of the acknowledged speed-king, Kimi.

Amazing to discover that, at their peaks, these two very combative and superb drivers raced at the same gap from the front, although fifty years apart! Gonzalez at 100.3 was next fastest against ultimate pacers Juan Fangio and Alberto Ascari. Montoya at 100.3 had Michael Scumacher and Kimi Raikkonen as his fastest driver rivals. Ralf Schumacher and Alonso then were virtually his speed-rating equals. Formidable measures.

Formidable drivers, Gonzalez and Montoya. Real racers with great talent, who both retired from F1 too early.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.