Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Michael Schumacher, Niki Lauda, ​​Juan Manuel Fangio, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso… In addition to greatness and championship titles, these drivers are united by one more fact: they all played for Ferrari. However, in addition to the absolute legends of motorsport, much less famous racers can be found on the Scuderia’s “subject” list. One of the unsung heroes of Ferrari can be called Alfonso de Portago, a man with an incredibly interesting and equally tragic destiny. We remember the unusual story of one of the main characters of the new film “Ferrari”.

He founded the Spanish bobsled team and was on the verge of becoming an Olympic medalist.

What is the portrait of a modern Formula 1 driver? This is, above all, a crazy professional who follows a regimen, stays in perfect physical shape, works on a simulator, studies the nuances of aerial acrobatics and is also polite to the press, is as politically correct as possible and shows emotions. him only on the podium or during radio conversations. In general, doubts sometimes arise that machines are powered by living people, and not biorobots. As a classic would say, a cyborg multiplied by eternity.

But at the dawn of the championship, back in the 50s, everything was different. To get to F1, drivers did not have to go through a bunch of junior championship levels, strictly adhere to the regime and prepare their body for flying into space. Almost anyone with just two things (money and desire) could become a Royal Racing driver. It was a time of enthusiasts, adventurers and playboys, those who went to races not so much for the victories but for the thrill. One of the characteristic characters of that time was the Spanish pilot Alfonso de Portago.

Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton (approximately half of his full name), 11th Marquis of Portago and 13th Earl of Mejorada was born on 11 October 1928 in London. As you understand, he did not come from the simplest family. Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca’s distant ancestor was a conquistador and governor of the Spanish possessions in South America, his grandfather was mayor of Madrid and was baptized by the King of Spain Alfonso XIII, in whose honor De Portago was named.

Our review of the movie “Ferrari”:

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The young aristocrat spent his childhood in France and received his education in Italy, Spain, Great Britain and the United States. In general, De Portago was a fairly versatile person. If you study his biography, you can get the impression that he did everything possible to leave his mark on history. For example, at the age of 17, Alfonso flew a plane under Tower Bridge thanks to a bet: by the way, he won 500 dollars.

De Portago’s other activities were of a more legal nature. He played jai alai, polo, seriously engaged in swimming, horse riding and bobsleigh, essentially single-handedly developing an exotic sport for hot Spain. Gathering his cousins, Alfonso formed a national bobsled team to compete at the highest level.

In 1956, de Portago participated in the Winter Olympic Games held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. In the “four” competition the Spanish crew failed (ninth place), but in the “two” competition Alfonso finished fourth, losing only 0.16 seconds to the bronze medalists. A year later, De Portago would still take the coveted medal at the World Bobsleigh Championships in St. Moritz (third place).

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He failed in his debut race because he didn’t know how to change gears

Curiously, De Portago achieved all his successes in the field of bobsleigh while already being a quite famous runner. In general, the Spaniard’s knowledge of motor racing was quite late. For a long time Alfonso was absolutely indifferent to cars. Even in the active phase of his motorsport career, de Portago had a rather cold attitude towards cars and had little knowledge of the technical aspects of racing cars. This fact is perfectly confirmed by Alfonso’s own words:

“Cars bore me, I know almost nothing about them and I don’t care much about them. I have no sentimental attachment to the car. I can hardly distinguish one from the other. “Sometimes I make a small scratch on the car, in an inconspicuous place, so I can recognize it next time.”

De Portago’s career in motorsport began largely by chance. While living in New York, he met BBC veteran Edmund Nelson, a car enthusiast who worked as an elevator operator at the Plaza Hotel and would later become Alfonso’s co-pilot. It was Edmund who interested the Spaniard in the world of automobiles, advising him to attend the automobile show that was held in New York.

It was there that De Portago’s fateful relationship with Luigi Chinetti, three-time Le Mans winner and the main importer of Ferrari in the United States, took place. Luigi invited Alfonso to be his co-driver in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana.

As De Portago remembers, most of the time he had to tremble with fear and admire Chinetti’s aerial acrobatics; Sometimes the Spaniard did not understand how they managed not to crash in one episode or another. The crew of Luigi and Alfonso quickly abandoned the race due to mechanical problems, but at that moment De Portago already knew what he wanted to dedicate his life to.

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The Spaniard’s racing career began in 1954. Alfonso bought a used Ferrari 250 MM, in which he and Harry Schell participated in the 1,000 kilometer race in Buenos Aires. De Portago’s debut turned out to be quite wrinkled, but at the same time fun.

For obvious reasons, the much more experienced Shell drove the car for most of the distance, but after lap 70 (of 106), the American relinquished control to De Portago to get at least some rest. However, Harry quickly regretted his decision. The fact is that Alfonso was not just an inexperienced runner, he was an absolute amateur. The Spanish newcomer simply didn’t know how to shift gears.

As a result, in just three laps, Alfonso’s team fell from second to fifth place. De Portago’s racing debut ended with Harry Schell entering the track waving flags to invite his teammate to the pits and take his car. By the way, Shell managed to recover the positions lost by the Spanish: the crew finished second.

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Two years after the start of his racing career, De Portago was called to Ferrari.

Later, De Portago, of course, learned to drive a manual transmission; one of the Maserati mechanics helped him with this. Yes, in addition to the Ferrari, the Spanish aristocrat also bought a Maserati, with which he debuted at Le Mans: it turned out to be completely unsuccessful: he withdrew from the race due to an engine malfunction.

Little by little, De Portago began to get involved in the world of “Big Races”, regularly participating in high-profile races. At first, of course, Alfonso did not succeed in many things (it was difficult to keep up with the conventional Fangio or Moss), but the Spanish aristocrat learned incredibly quickly. Many noted De Portago’s natural style. To a certain extent, we can say that he drove by instinct: in theory he compensated for gaps with excellent car sense.

Alfonso achieved his first more or less significant successes in Latin America: he took prizes in races within the framework of Speed ​​Week in the Bahamas and also finished second at the Venezuelan Grand Prix.

De Portago’s progress did not go unnoticed by his colleagues. “Today he is definitely one of the top ten drivers in the world and, as far as I understand, he is the one to watch out for,” said Stirling Moss.

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In 1955, the brilliant Spaniard caught the attention of Enzo Ferrari himself. To begin with, Comendatore simply agreed to sell De Portago one of his cars: Alfonso bought a 625 F1 car. With this car, De Portago participated in five non-championship Grands Prix, one of which ended very badly for the Spaniard. Alfonso suffered a serious accident at Silverstone, as a result of which he suffered a broken leg.

De Portago’s wrecked Ferrari

Photo: Express/Getty Images

However, this accident did not ruin Portago’s reputation at all. On the contrary, Alfonso received a long-awaited offer to become a driver for the official Ferrari team next year, both in Formula 1 and in the sports car championship (as you can see, the story here is very different from the plot of the last movie about Enzo).

The 1956 season was the best of De Portago’s career. Alfonso won the Tour de France and the non-qualifying race in Porto, finished third in the Nürburgring 1,000 kilometers and in the Swedish Grand Prix (sports), and also became the first Spaniard to get on the podium in a Formula classification. 1. race: he tied at Silverstone in second position with Peter Collins, who was forced to give up his car after the Briton abandoned.

!!! There will be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie “Ferrari” yet, below you will find important information for the plot!

The next season prepared for De Portago the main test of his life: his debut in the Mille Miglia. Overall, Alfonso did not want to participate in the iconic Italian race; Before departure he seemed unusually anxious. He was alarmed by both the complexity of the route and the fact that he had never driven there before, he had not even received any training. Alfonso would have been happy to skip the race, but Enzo Ferrari himself insisted on his participation; after all, De Portago was already an official Scuderia driver.

“As you know, my love, I didn’t want to participate in the race, but Enzo Ferrari forced me to do it. I hope I’m wrong, but it could lead to an early death. “I don’t like the Mille Miglia, no matter how much you practice and memorize the route, it is almost impossible to remember each of the curves, and a slight error by the driver can kill fifty people,” de Portago wrote in a letter to his beloved Linda Christian. the night before the race.

The famous “Kiss of Death”

Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

As cautious as Alfonso was, he still had to get to the beginning. At one of the checkpoints in Rome, the Spaniard met Linda: Alfonso stopped the car, kissed his girlfriend and continued the race. The photographers managed to capture this moment; This image will go down in history under the name “The kiss of death.” The same day, about 50 kilometers before the finish line, a tire exploded on the Spaniard’s Ferrari, he lost control of the car and flew into a crowd of spectators. As a result of the terrible accident, 11 people died, including De Portago and his navigator. Alfonso was only 28 years old.

Next year, Ferrari will be affected by tragedy again:

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By NAIS

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