The first Formula 1 World Championship
Towards the end of the Thirties, Alfa Romeo's industrial fortunes picked up, thanks to aviation products, heavy goods vehicles and cars that were becoming increasingly popular. Ugo Gobbato decided that the decisive factor was racing success, not so much in the Sport category, where Alfa Romeo was practically unbeatable, but rather in Grands Prix where the German builders' superiority encouraged the management to abandon the Alfa Romeo-Scuderia Ferrari partnership and set up Alfa Corse. In the meantime, the company's designers were concentrating on a project to build a new "vetturette" with a 1.5-litre supercharged engine. This category had been left untouched by the German companies but it was to become the leading class in 1940. The team, led by Gioachino Colombo, sketched out the lines of the GP Tipo 158, soon to be nicknamed "Alfetta". The engine was an innovative straight-eight design in light alloy with screw-in steel bores, twincam valve train and a fuel system featuring a Roots supercharger. The gearbox was in-unit with differential and mounted on the rear axle. The power output of the first version was 195 hp but this had increased to 225 hp by 1939.
With its top speed of 232 kph, the lean single-seater made its debut at the Coppa Ciano in 1938, taking first and second place. Next there was the Milan GP and a series of wins that were only brought to a halt with the outbreak of war that put a stop to all competitions and forced Alfa Romeo to hide all their cars in Melzo, near Milan, under a fake wood-pile on a pig farm.
At the end of the war racing slowly started up again but there was no overall classification. In 1947, the Alfetta's, now making 275 hp with a top speed of 270 kph thanks to their two-stage superchargers, were overwhelmingly superior to other cars. Their triumphant charge was halted in 1949 when the team was decimated. Jean-Pierre Wimille, Achille Varzi and Carlo Felice Trossi all lost their lives and Alfa Romeo withdrew from Grand Prix racing. This was not just as a result of the tragedy but also to allow them time to prepare for the 1950 season when the first World Formula 1 Championship would be contested. The power output increased to 350 hp with a top speed of 290 kph.
1950 was the year of the "Fa-Fa-Fa" team: Nino Farina, Juan Manuel Fangio and Luigi Fagioli. According to Giuseppe Busso, "the main problem was deciding which of the three drivers should win the race." The 158 won six of the seven official Championship races. Like the other European teams, Alfa snubbed the Indianapolis 500 Mile race but dominated five other non-championship Grands Prix. From its debut at the Silverstone GP, the Alfa Romeo remained unbeaten and occupied the top three places in the classification. Giuseppe "Nino" Farina became the first World Champion of the new Formula 1 series.