Ferrari's newer, unsupercharged 4.5 litre cars offered a real challenge to the Alfas, which were nearing the end of their development potential. The Ferraris were able to capitalize on the inefficiency of the Alfa's very thirsty engines, particularly at Silverstone. Although Alfas won four races, with Fangio taking the championship, Ferrari's three victories spelled the end for the Alfas. BRM made their only championship appearance with the V16 at Silverstone, and the old, slow Talbots were increasingly outclassed.
Points were given to top 5 finishers (8, 6, 4, 3, 2). 1 point was given for fastest lap. Only the best four of eight scores counted towards the world championship. Points for shared drives were divided equally between the drivers, regardless of who had driven more laps.
The Formula One Championship season started in Switzerland at the very dangerous and tree-lined Bremgarten public road circuit near Bern around the time the Monaco Grand Prix would have been held- but that historic race was not held this year. Alfa Romeo, the dominant team in 1950 with its supercharged 159 Alfetta, took the first 5 places on the grid, with the exception of 3rd, which was taken by Luigi Villoresi in a Ferrari. Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio was on pole position, with his Italian teammate Giuseppe "Nino" Farina alongside him. The race started while it was raining, and with its overhanging trees lining the road, this circuit was even more dangerous in the wet. But Fangio made no mistake and won the race from Piero Taruffi in a Ferrari and Farina, whose decision to run the race without changing tires proved to be the wrong decision.
The Indianapolis 500 in the United States was run 3 days after the Swiss Grand Prix on a Wednesday, and was the only non-European championship round and the only round not run to FIA Grand Prix regulations. Lee Wallard won this demanding race in his Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser.
The next Grand Prix was in Belgium at the very fast and spectacular 8.7 mi (14.1 km) Spa-Francorchamps circuit. With Fangio and Farina once again 1-2 with the Ferraris of Villoresi and Alberto Ascari taking 3rd and 4th, the Alfas and Ferraris dueled around this circuit, with only 13 entries- small grids in all kinds of motorsports in Europe were commonplace at Spa, because of the fear most drivers had of the circuit. Farina won by 3 minutes over Ascari and Villoresi, with Fangio finishing 4 laps down in 9th after one of his Alfa's wheels jammed on its hub.
The French Grand Prix at the very fast 4.8 mile Reims-Gueux circuit deep in northern French champagne country played the host for an exciting race. Fangio, on pole again, was beaten off the line by 3rd placed qualifier Ascari, with 2nd placed qualifier Farina making a terrible start and dropping to 12th. On this public road circuit, made up entirely of straights and slow, angular corners saw Ascari retire his car with a broken gearbox and Fangio nursing a sick car. Farina pushed very hard and eventually took the lead. Argentine Jose Froilan Gonzalez was 2nd in a Ferrari, and 53-year old pre-war great Luigi Fagioli in an Alfa was 3rd. Gonzalez was chasing Farina very hard; but Farina's car developed magneto problems and had to fall back, which put Gonzalez in the lead, with Fagioli in 2nd. However, during both the leader's pitstops, as was commonplace in Grand Prix racing up until 1957- Gonzalez handed his car over to Ascari, and Fagioli exchanged cars with Fangio- so Ascari and Fangio were back in 1st and 2nd where they had been before. But Fangio took advantage of Ascari's brake problems on his Ferrari to win a race that holds the record for farthest racing distance ever completed for a Grand Prix- 373 mi (610 km).
The British Grand Prix at the Silverstone airfield circuit in England played host to Round 5 of the Formula One Championship, and this race was to make history. The Alfa Romeos, with their powerful 420 hp supercharged 1.5L engines were fast, but had horrendous fuel consumption: 1.5 miles per gallon (thanks to the rather simple pre-World War II engine design) meaning that Fangio and Farina had to stop twice to refuel, whereas Gonzalez, in the more fuel efficient 4.5L naturally aspirated V12 Ferrari went on to win, with Fangio second. This was the first time Enzo Ferrari had won a Grand Prix with a car of his own company's construction- and this team went on to be the most successful team in Formula One history.
West Germany had been banned from international sports competition until 1951, so the German Grand Prix was able to be a Grand Prix championship round for the first time since 1939. And the venue was the same as it had been in 1939- that venue was the dauntingly challenging, dangerous and twisty 14.2 mile (22.8 km) Nürburgring Nordschleife. Ascari took pole position in front of his teammate Gonzalez, and Alfa drivers Fangio and Farina. At the start, Farina took the lead, but the Alfas started to develop overheating problems, and Farina soon retired. In addition to engine problems, the gearbox in Fangio's Alfa lost 1st and 2nd of 4 gears, and after trading the lead with Fangio during pitstops, Ascari took the lead and won his first championship Formula One Grand Prix.
Italy was next, and the Monza Autodrome near Milan played host to the seventh round of the Formula One Grand Prix championship. Fangio in an Alfa took pole position again, but he retired his car, which had engine problems; Farina, who had taken Felice Bonetto's Alfa had a leaking fuel tank and had to come in twice for fuel, which dropped him down the order far enough for him only to get as far as third. Fellow local hero Ascari won again in his Ferrari- which kept his championship hopes alive catch the leader Fangio to win it in the last championship Grand Prix in Spain.
The first ever Formula One Spanish Grand Prix, held at the Pedralbes street circuit in Barcelona took place 7 weeks after the Italian round. The Ferrari and Alfa Romeo teams each ran four cars with Ferrari fielding Ascari, Gigi Villoresi, Froilan Gonzalez and Piero Taruffi and Alfa Romeo running Fangio, Giuseppe Farina, Felice Bonetto and Baron Emanuel de Graffenried. Ascari was fastest in practice and shared the front row of the 4-3-4 grid with Fangio, Gonzalez and Farina. Behind them were Villoresi, de Graffenried and Taruffi. Ascari led from the start with Gonzalez chasing but by the end of the first lap Gonzalez had dropped to fifth behind Farina, Fangio and Bonetto. Fangio quickly passed Farina and took the lead from Ascari on the fourth lap. As Fangio sailed away to victory Ferrari's challenge fell apart along with its tires - the team having opted to use smaller wheels than normal. By the time the team had sorted out the problem Ascari was two laps behind. Fangio duly won the race and his first of five championships with Gonzalez finishing second and Farina third.
The World Championship Grand Prix races were open to FIA Formula One cars however the Indianapolis 500 was restricted to American Championship Cars.
The following teams and drivers competed in the 1951 FIA World Championship of DriversItalics indicate fastest lap (1 point awarded)
Bold indicates pole position
† Position shared between two or more drivers of the same car
Only the best 4 results counted towards the Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.
Other Formula One races, which did not count towards the World Championship, also held in 1951.