But if that race served as his apprenticeship, at Silverstone ‘Pepito’ was ready for the big time. In qualifying he not only took Ferrari’s first pole, he shattered Dr Giuseppe Farina’s lap record and became the first person to circulate Silverstone at over 100mph.
To say he was nervous at the start is putting it mildly. Sitting on the grid with less than five minutes to go he was overwhelmed by a call of nature and had to exit the car and sprint to the loo. But come flag fall, all his nerves evaporated.
Felipe Bonetto made a ridiculously good start from seventh to lead into the first corner but soon Gonzalez was past and held the lead for ten laps. When Fangio’s Alfa finally found a way around him many would have thought an old script was to be replayed once more, but not Gonzalez: he knew if he could just stay with the maestro, pit-stops would take care of the rest.
My father, as it happens, was there, a 12-year-old watching in the Woodcote grandstand, hearing the crowd gasp every lap as the Gonzalez Ferrari powered through this then ultra-quick corner at ever more improbable angles of attack. He was back in the lead when Fangio pitted on the 38th of 90 laps and while he lost it again after his one and only stop on lap 48, it hardly mattered. Even making a complete dog’s breakfast of the stop (he stalled the car) could not turn the tide back in Alfa Romeo’s favour. Fangio had to stop again, he did not and that was that. Despite slowing down in the final laps to preserve the hard-pressed motor of his Ferrari 375, Gonzalez won both his and Ferrari’s first World Championship Grand Prix.