top of page

Jose-Froilan Gonzalez


       The name of José-Froilan González is inscribed in golden letters in the history of Formula 1, as the driver who brought Scuderia Ferrari its first World Championship Grand Prix victory. Undoubtedly, the Argentinean was one of the most talented racers of the 50s, and this victory was the best confirmation of this, but in addition to racing talent, José-Froilan had a great heart and was remembered as one of the most good-natured and human drivers in the Formula 1 paddock.
       The Argentine was born on October 5, 1922 in the city of Arrecifes in the province of Buenos Aires and, despite the fact that he had a rather corpulent build since very childhood, Jose-Froilan always showed excellent athletic shape and achieved good results in all sports in which he took part whether it's football, swimming or cycling.


        Nonetheless, all these hobbies of the Argentine turned out to be temporary, and, having matured, he was inspired with a passion for a completely different sport, motor racing. Naturally, Jose-Froilan could not immediately realize his dream and become a racer due to lack of funds, and at first he had to quench his need for speed at the wheel of a truck, driving multi-ton loads along Argentinean roads. Nevertheless, Jose-Froilan also did not forget his dream and slowly assembled his own racing car, parts for which he found in all sorts of junkyards and garages.
         In 1946, the Argentinean's first racing car with a Chevrolet engine was ready, and by bringing it to the start of the race in Carmen de Areco for the first time, José-Froilan defeated all rivals and won these competitions with brilliance. At the same time, the Argentinean hid his real name and took the pseudonym Montemar, fearing a negative reaction from his relatives. The fact is that the Gonzalez family had already experienced one tragedy associated with motor racing, when Jose-Froilan's uncle Julio Perez died during a 1000-mile race, and the Argentine reasonably assumed that his new hobby was unlikely to resonate with his immediate family. However, when Jose-Froilan began to win one victory after another, his secret was still revealed, but by that time he had already become one of the most famous racers in Argentina, and his family could only come to terms with his choice.


Meanwhile, Gonzalez's success paved the way for him into the Temporada national racing series, where the best Argentinian racers competed against the best European drivers in Grand Prix cars. In 1949, having purchased for these competitions a Maserati 4CL car, previously owned by Nino Farina, the Argentine showed very good results, and at the end of the season he was included in the Argentine Scuderia Achille Varzi team, taking the opportunity to compete in Europe.


A year earlier, Juan Manuel Fangio made his debut in European racing in the same way, who immediately achieved resounding success and moved to Alfa Romeo in 1950, taking part in the first Formula 1 World Championship as part of the Italian team. At the same time, both Argentines were already well acquainted from joint performances in their homeland, and it was largely thanks to the support of Fangio that Gonzalez received his ticket to Europe, which became the key to their strong friendship in the future.


Gonzalez made his European debut at the Marseille Grand Prix, and upon seeing the stocky Argentine for the first time in a racing car, the public and the paddock immediately awarded him the nickname "The Pampas Bull", which stuck with him until the very end of his career. The race itself was not very successful, and the Argentine never made it to the finish line due to a broken magneto. The first World Championship stage for José-Froilan was the Monaco Grand Prix, and in the winding streets of the Principality, the Argentine created a real sensation, having managed to qualify in his Maserati in third place and ahead of even one of the Alfa Romeos, which were out of competition that season.


However, the very first World championship race almost became the last one for the Argentinean. Despite the fact that Gonzalez started well and immediately came in second place, he had to defend himself from Nino Farina for the entire first lap, who hesitated a little at the start. As both drivers approached the Bureau de Tabac corner, which was very slippery due to water spray, Farina went on the attack, but was unable to hold his Alfa Romeo and smashed it against the curb, hitting the back of Gonzalez' Maserati along the way. The result of this accident was that Farina's car blocked the entire track, provoking a massive blockage in which nine cars were smashed, and Gonzalez' Maserati had a fuel tank damaged.


On the second lap, fuel from the damaged tank fell on the red-hot body of the car, and instantly flared up, turning the entire back of the Maserati into a torch. Fortunately, the Argentinean managed to jump out of the burning car, and the spectators who ran up helped to pull off the burning shirt from him, so José-Froilan escaped with only minor burns and three weeks later went to the start of the Formula 2 race in Angouleme, where he achieved his first success, finishing third .


Besides, Gonzalez made his first start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, becoming Fangio's teammate at the wheel of a Gordini car. However, the first step is always the hardest, and the Argentines failed to reach the finish line due to a technical problem. Just as unsuccessful for Jose-Froilan was the French Grand Prix, in which he became one of the many drivers who burned his engine under the scorching rays of the July sun. However, two weeks later at the Albi Grand Prix, Gonzalez managed to secure second place, his best result of the season. But despite this success, at the end of the year the Argentine Automobile Club stopped funding Scuderia Achille Varzi, and Gonzalez' future in Europe was in doubt.


Still, Jose-Froilan did not despair and, returning to his homeland, the Argentinean began the 1951 season with two victories in the Temporada series. This success was one of the most important in the career of the Argentine, because, driving a Ferrari, he managed to defeat the formidable Mercedeses led by Fangio, which for the first time after the Second World War appeared on the international stage, albeit with pre-war cars.


      Thanks to silver arrows' participation in these competitions , Gonzalez' victories received wide publicity, and as soon as the news of them reached Maranello, Enzo Ferrari immediately sent a congratulatory telegram to the Argentine. This gesture of Commendatore deeply impressed José-Froilan, so on his return to Europe he first visited Maranello and thanked the head of Scuderia, declaring his readiness to drive a scarlet car at the first opportunity.
        However, by the start of the 1951 racing season, the line-up of Scuderia drivers had already been determined, so Gonzalez had to look for other options. The most common car among private racers at that time was the French Talbot-Lago, and it was on this car that Gonzalez opened his European season, taking part in the non-championship Paris Grand Prix. The race was quite successful for José-Froilan, and the Argentine took second place, losing only to Farina in a Maserati and leading a whole group of drivers in French cars, among which was Louis Rosier. The French veteran was impressed by Gonzalez' performance and approached the Argentine after the race, offering him a place in his team. Having no other options, Gonzalez accepted the Frenchman's offer and a week later went to the start of the first round of the World Championship in Switzerland driving for Ecurie Rosier. However, due to heavy rain and problems with the oil pump, the Argentine failed to shine, and after a rather nondescript race, he retired from the race.
       The next significant event for the Argentine was the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, where his compatriot and best friend Onofre Marimon became his teammate, who spent his first European season. In the race, Gonzalez looked quite confident, fighting for a place in the top three, but at about the middle of the distance, his Talbot engine could not stand it, and the Argentine had to retire.


Finally, a week later, it was the turn of the French Grand Prix, and it was on it that the Argentine pulled out his lucky ticket. Shortly before the start of the Grand Prix, one of the Ferrari drivers, Piero Taruffi, suddenly fell ill, and looking for a replacement for him, Commendatore immediately remembered the Argentinean. Naturally, having received an invitation to drive for the Italian team, Gonzalez was overjoyed, and he was not even embarrassed by the lack of a contract. At the same time, realizing that such a chance comes only once in a lifetime, the Argentine drove the car quite carefully, eventually taking only 6th place on the starting field. However, in the race, the Argentinean's tactics paid off, as the Reims track, as usual, became a stressful test for engines, and thanks to the retirements of his  rivals, the Argentinean managed to reach second place by the middle of the race.


But when José-Froilan pulled in for a planned pit stop, he was disappointed as he was forced to give up his car to team leader Ascari, who ended up finishing in second place, sharing the points with the Argentine. Therefore, José-Froilan was not particularly happy about his first podium in the World Championship, being sure that he did not live up to expectations, and that his career at Ferrari was over. However, in fact, everything turned out exactly the opposite. Commendatore was pleased with Gonzalez' performance, seeing him as a driver who was not only very fast and reliable, but also who had the necessary team spirit, so after the race he congratulated the Argentine and offered him a contract until the end of the season. Needless to say, José-Froilan was immensely happy with this turn of fate, and he went to the next round of the World Championship in Great Britain determined to demonstrate everything that he was capable of.


       In the early 50s, the British Grand Prix was held, as now, at the Silverstone circuit, but then the track configuration was completely different. At that time, the circuit consisted of only eight corners, interconnected by short straights, which did not allow drivers to develop maximum speed. Therefore, driving on this track was a continuous series of accelerations and decelerations, and it was critical for the drivers to find the optimal braking points, allowing them to go through corners and out of them at maximum speed in order to have time to accelerate before the next braking. Having first got on this track, Gonzalez instantly got fond of it, and it turned out that it was he who was able to understand its character better than other drivers and catch this elusive line between acceleration and braking, surpassing even such recognized masters as Fangio and Ascari. Therefore, already in qualifying, the Argentine was the fastest and won pole position, which was the first for Scuderia Ferrari in the history of the world championships. Naturally, after such a performance, many expected that Alfa Romeo, which had won all the previous rounds so far, would finally be defeated.
      Nevertheless, the start of the race was rather chaotic. Even before the start of the Grand Prix, the organizers warned the drivers that anyone who made a false start would receive a minute of penalty, so the drivers on the front row were extremely careful, and after the wave of the checkered flag, Felice Bonetto, who started from 7th position, took the lead! However, already the first laps put everything in its place, and already on the second lap, Gonzalez was ahead of the Italian and led the race, and on the fourth lap, Fangio made his way to second place and rushed in pursuit of his compatriot. It soon became clear from the pace of the two leaders that the victory in the British Grand Prix would go to one of the Argentines, who were almost on par and much faster than the others. On lap 10, Fangio went on the attack, and he managed to get ahead of José-Froilan, but despite all his efforts, he could not break away from him.


Moreover, on lap 39, despite the heavier car, Gonzalez again managed to get ahead of Juan Manuel, who, after a few laps, was forced to turn into the pits for refueling, thereby completely losing his chances of winning. Meanwhile, in the Scuderia, thanks to the more economical engine of Ferrari 375, they planned to refuel much later, which allowed José-Froilan to stay on the track and, in a light car, create a tremendous lead from Fangio. When it came time to stop in the pits, Gonzalez generously offered Ascari, who had already dropped out of the race by that time, to take a seat in his car, but the Italian did not steal a well-deserved victory from the Argentine and only waved at him.

image (8).png

Having returned to the track, Gonzalez again rushed the fastest and brought this race to victory, which forever entered the history of Formula 1 and brought the Argentine worldwide fame.


However, Gonzalez managed to appreciate the full significance of this victory only a few days later, when he met with Enzo Ferrari. Entering the office of Commendatore, the first thing the Argentine saw was a huge photo of his victorious finish, which hung right above the desktop of the head of the Scuderia.

image (10).png

     Enzo himself was very excited at the meeting and, having brought Gonzalez to the photo, asked the Argentinean to leave his autograph on it, and then asked in great detail about the course of the last race. When José-Froilan finished his story, Commendatore presented him with a gold watch with a prancing horse and assured him that the doors of the Ferrari were always open for him.
       The remaining three races of the World Championship were also quite successful for the Argentine, and having managed to finish each of them on the podium, the Argentine eventually took third place in the overall standings, losing only to Fangio and Ascari. Naturally, after such strong performances, Enzo Ferrari offered Jose-Froilan to extend the contract with Scuderia for the next season, however, to his surprise, the Argentine refused. This decision was made by Gonzalez more with his heart than with his mind, as the Argentine prefered to drive with Fangio in another Italian team, Maserati. However, as the next two seasons showed, this was a mistake.


In 1952, the World Championship was held according to the technical regulations of Formula 2, and Maserati devoted almost the entire season to the preparation of its new car, as a result of which Gonzalez managed to start only at the last stage in Italy. By that time, the fate of the championship had already been determined, and the former teammate of the Argentine Ascari became the new world champion, who completely defeated all rivals on his Ferrari 500, winning all the races in which he participated. Nonetheless, in the last Grand Prix of the season, he had to sweat a lot, and Gonzalez was the reason for this. Deciding to start on a half-fueled car, the Argentinean easily took the lead from fifth position and began to rapidly break away from Alberto, who also had to fight closely with his teammate Villoresi.


However, by the time of his refueling, Gonzalez had not managed to create a sufficient gap to remain in the lead, and the victory again remained with the Italian, while José-Froilan got the second place. In addition to the World Championship, the Argentine has been active in other series this season, and he has been especially successful in South America, having managed to win the race in Rio de Janeiro at the wheel of a Ferrari and finish second in Uruguay and Argentina. In Europe, his success was limited to two victories at Goodwood, one of which he won at the wheel of a Ferrari, and the other on BRM. At the same time, the Argentinean always remembered the British car with a shudder, because, despite the most powerful 16-cylinder engine, the BRM was distinguished by its sluggishness and unpredictable behavior on the track.


In 1953, Maserati already took full part in the World Championship, and the whole season was marked by the struggle of two Italian teams from Modena and Maranello. Thanks to the more powerful engines, the Maserati drivers had the advantage on the straights, while the Scuderia drivers, thanks to the superbly balanced chassis of the Ferrari 500, felt more confident in the corners. The first two rounds of the championship took place on twisty circuits in Argentina and the Netherlands, with Ascari easily winning both Grands Prix, but Gonzalez also looked good, managing to finish both races on the podium. But at the next stage in Belgium, Maserati already had the advantage, and Gonzalez and Fangio easily took the lead, while Jose-Froilan, who turned out to be the fastest driver on the track, became the favorite of the race.


       Unfortunately, already on lap 12, the car let the Argentine down, and due to a broken accelerator pedal, Gonzalez lost a sure victory, having a 20-second advantage over Fangio, and more than a minute over Ascari. At the same time, Juan Manuel also did not avoid problems, and the victory was once again celebrated in Ferrari.
      The next round of the World Championship was held in France, in which the Maserati drivers chose different strategies for the race. Gonzalez decided to start with a light car, while Fangio chose to start the race with a full tank and without refueling. As in last year in Italy, the chosen strategy allowed José-Froilan to win the start and begin to break away from rivals, however, as in Monza, he had to give up the lead during refueling.


       After the Argentinean's pit stop, Fangio and Hawthorn became the new leaders of the race, and the struggle between them became the main decoration of the Grand Prix, which was later called the "Race of the Century", but the victory still went to the Englishman, who was ahead of Juan Manuel by only 1 sec. Gonzalez after his stop also managed to break through to the top, and in the end he finished third, losing only 0.4 seconds to Fangio.
       At the next round in Great Britain, Gonzalez once again showed that he was a specialist on the Silverstone circuit, managing to take second place in qualifying, which was his best this season. However, the race itself was ruined for the Argentine by a black flag that was shown to him due to an oil leak on his Maserati. Despite the fact that this problem resolved itself in a few laps, José-Froilan had to obey the order and go to the pit stop, where he got into a heated argument with the marshals, proving that he had the right to continue the race. In the end, the Argentine managed to convince the marshals to let him return to the track, but because of the lost time, Gonzalez finished only fourth.


As it turned out, the British Grand Prix was José-Froilan's last of the season, as a week later the Argentine had an accident during a sports car race in Portugal and suffered a spinal injury that put him out of action for the rest of the season. As a result, in the overall standings of the World Championship, Gonzalez took only sixth place, while Fangio in the last race of the season in Italy finally managed to defeat Ferrari and bring Maserati its first victory, thanks to which the Argentine received the title of vice champion. However, even despite the relatively modest results, José-Froilan always remembered with special fondness the time spent at the Maserati side by side with his best friends Fangio and Marimon.


      In 1954, the World Championship returned to the technical regulations of Formula 1, thanks to which several new teams entered the championship, which led to serious changes among the drivers. As a result of this rotation, Maserati lost both of its top drivers, Fangio and Gonzalez, who moved to Daimler-Benz and Ferrari respectively. As Commendatore promised, Scuderia welcomed the return of Jose Froilan, and considering that after the transfer of Alberto Ascari to Lancia, the place of the team leader remained vacant, the Argentine seriously expected to fight for the championship title.
      The first two Grands Prix of the season in Argentina and Belgium were held without the participation of the Silver Arrows, and Fangio as before drove a Maserati, which, however, did not prevent him from winning both races. At the same time, the Ferrari drivers also looked quite decent, and in Argentina only rain prevented them from winning, playing into the hands of Juan Manuel, who was unstoppable on a wet track.


At the second stage in Belgium, Gonzalez showed good speed in qualifying, managing to take second place, but in the race already on the first lap he had engine problems and had to stop into the pits. Subsequently, he managed to continue the race in Hawthorn's car, who inhaled exhaust fumes from a cracked exhaust pipe, but due to a long car repair, José-Froilan finished only fourth.


The third round of the World Championship was the French Grand Prix, and it was on it that the debut of the Silver Arrows took place, which immediately demonstrated their superiority over all rivals. Nevertheless, Gonzalez, who became the sole leader of the Scuderia after the accident of Nino Farina, made every effort to keep up with the pace of Mercedeses, but in the end he finished the race on the sidelines with an overheated engine.


But at the next stage in Great Britain, the Argentinean managed to recoup in full. As before, at the Silverstone track Jose-Froilan felt like a fish in water, and having taken the lead from the very start, the Argentine did not give it up until the very finish. This victory allowed him to reach second place in the championship, and thus Gonzalez became Fangio's main rival in the fight for the title.


However, the next stage of the championship was held in Germany, and the Nurburgring circuit brought a tragedy, which turned the Argentinean's entire life upside down. In qualifying, Gonzalez' best friend Onofre Marimon, in an attempt to improve his own time, flew off the track and suffered a crash that cost him his life. Upon learning of the accident, Jose-Froilan immediately rushed to the scene, but he did not have time to catch his friend alive.


Crushed by grief, the Argentine returned to the pits and told everyone the sad news about Marimon's death, after which he began to sob on Fangio's shoulder.

1 (2).png

     The next day, Gonzalez, despite the strongest shock, still went to the start of the race, but he did not find the strength to complete it and eventually gave his car to Hawthorn, who finished in second place.
       After the tragedy in Germany, there seemed to be some kind of breakdown in the soul of the Argentine, which had a strong influence on his motivation. His skill did not go away, and the Argentine even managed to win pole position at the next stage in Switzerland, but in the race he began to lose ground one after another, and only thanks to problems of his rivals did he manage to finish in second place. This race was decisive in the struggle for the championship crown, and the Argentine's lackluster performance completely buried his chances for the title, which went to his friend Juan-Manuel Fangio.


The next round of the World Championship was held in Monza, which was famous for its most interesting races and the constant wheel-to-wheel struggle between drivers. However, even here, in the homeland of Ferrari, Jose-Froilan could not compete with the leaders and, after changing cars during the race, finished only in third place.


At the last stage of the championship in Spain, Gonzalez did not make it at all, because a week after the Italian Grand Prix, he crashed in a sports car race in Dundrod, as a result of which he flew out of the car and seriously injured his back. This accident finally pushed Jose-Froilan to the decision to end his career in Europe, and at the end of the season the Argentine returned to his homeland. At the same time, we can say that José-Froilan left European motorsport at the peak of his form, since from a sporting point of view this season was the best in the career of the Argentinean, bringing him not only the title of vice-champion of Formula 1, but also several high-profile victories in other series , including the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Yet, for a few more years Gonzalez still went to the start of the Formula 1 Grand Prix held in his native Argentina. In 1955, Jose-Froilan confirmed his highest class, managing to take pole position behind the wheel of a Ferrari and becoming one of the main contenders for victory, however, due to pain in his back, the Argentine was forced to stop the race ahead of schedule and transfer control to Farina, with whom he eventually shared second place.


The following year, Gonzalez was already driving a Maserati and had a very intense race, fighting with Castelloti for third place, but already in the first third of the distance he was let down by the engine. In the same season, the Argentine broke his vow for the first and last time and returned to Europe, succumbing to Tony Vandervell's persuasion to take part in the British Grand Prix. On his favorite track at Silverstone, José-Froilan, as usual, was very fast and managed to take sixth place in qualifying in an unfamiliar car, but problems with the transmission at the start did not allow the Argentine to even move off.


Meanwhile, the world of Formula 1 was developing rapidly, resulting in new teams, cars, racers appeared, and it was more and more difficult for José-Froilan to fight on equal terms with his rivals. In 1957, Gonzalez again participated in the Argentine Grand Prix driving a Ferrari, but in qualifying he became only 10th, and in the race he was clearly inferior to his teammates and eventually finished only in fifth place, sharing his car with Alfonso de Portago. The last time Gonzalez went to the start of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1960, where he finished 10th, after which he announced the end of his racing career.


Assessing the sporting success of the Argentine, we can say that Gonzalez was one of the few racers who, having an equal car, could outrun such masters as Fangio and Ascari, and had no less talent than the world champions Farina or Hawthorn.


        It is quite possible that he would have managed to become a champion one day, but Jose-Froilan himself has never regretted his decision to leave European motorsport. "In my time, racing was an extremely dangerous business, and the chance of survival was 50-50. At that time, we didn't even have normal helmets, there was just some kind of thing that covered our hair." 
        After finishing his career as a racing driver, Gonzalez went into the automotive business, but all his life he continued to be interested in Formula 1 and remained a close friend of Juan Manuel Fangio. The Argentine's life path was interrupted on June 15, 2013, when Jose-Froilan turned 90 years old, but his name still lives in the hearts of all Scuderia Ferrari fans.

bottom of page