Three drivers went into the sixth (seventh technically, thanks Indy 500) and final round of the championship with intact title hopes, all driving the dominant Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta.
Juan Manuel Fangio, 39 years old, having entered the season with little previous experience in motor racing, led the championship with 26 points, winning three of the five previous races, including a Monaco Grand Prix where he lapped the entire remaining field after half of them, including his two main championship rivals, were eliminated after a mass pile-up in lap 1. He had the best chances, with not only leading the championship, but also taking pole position here in Monza.
Trailing him by only two points was 52 year old, pre-war Grand Prix racing veteran Luigi Fagioli. While not being as quick as his two direct rivals, he was extremely consistent and lucky enough not to suffer mechanical breakdown, having finished on P2 every single race with the exception of the mass incident in Monaco.
This was unfortunately a severe handicap for him in the championship decision at Monza – while his rivals had only scored three times so far, Fagioli had four point finishes to his name, and with the 1950 rule that only the best four finishes would be counted for the championship, anything else but a victory at Monza was meaningless for his title aspirations.
The third man, and another one who celebrated his home Grand Prix, was 43-year-old Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, who trailed Fagioli by two and Fangio by four points, having won two Grand Prix, including the very first Formula 1 event at Silverstone earlier in the year.
The Grand Prix turned out with a high attrition rate, the likes of which you’d rather expect in a 1980s turbo-engine race. One of the major causes was the sheer length of the race alone – 80 laps on the Monza circuit amassed a staggering 504 Kilometers (or 313.1 miles) of distance, which apart from Indianapolis was the longest distance covered in the entire season. Of the 27 starters on the grid, 20 didn’t see the finish line, at least 17 of them due to mechanical problems. One of the unlucky retirees was pole sitter Fangio himself, who had to call it quits in lap 23 of 80 due to gearbox failure. As if that wasn’t enough misfortune, Piero Taruffi was ordered to give up the race and give his Alfa Romeo to Fangio, so he could continue – in vain, as that car also stopped due to a mechanical failure less than half distance from the finish of the race. While he did get the extra point for fastest lap, it was not enough to secure the championship. At the end of the event, only the #48 Ferrari of Ascari/Serafini and the #36 Alfa Romeo of Fagioli were still on the lead lap with eventual winner Farina. Frenchman Rosier and Étancelin dragged their clearly inferior Talbot-Lagos to a points finish, a whopping five laps behind the winner.
Some records and other occurrences on this day are still standing to this day. Dorino Serafini, who started with the car #48 until Ascari took it over after the latter’s car suffered an engine failure, shared the second place with Ascari, and since Serafini would never start a Grand Prix again in his lifetime, he is to this day the sole Formula 1 driver with a perfect 100% podium finish percentage.
Another Italian who started his sole Grand Prix on that day, 51 year old pre-war racing veteran Clemente Biondetti, did so with a self-built vehicle, based on a Ferrari chassis and what is most argued to be a Jaguar engine, though no one seems to be completely sure. Biondetti was the first and is to this day the only driver to have competed in Formula 1 with a Ferrari without a Ferrari engine. The engine unfortunately didn’t see as museum, as it blew up in lap 17 of the race.
Philippé Etancelin, born in 1896, was the fifth and final entry to score points in this race, becoming the to this day oldest driver to ever score points in Formula One.
Robert Manzon, competing in this particular race with team mate Maurice Trintignant for the Simca-Gordini racing team, was the final competitor of this event and the final Formula 1 driver to have competed in the inaugural 1950 season at the time of his death on January 19th, 2015, aged 97.