Alfonso de Portago
- October 11, 1928
- May 12, 1957
- Not Active
Alfonso de Portago was a very interesting person. During his short life, the Spaniard did many things, including racing in Formula 1.
Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, was born on 11th of October, 1928 in London. He was Marquis of Portago and the son of a Governor of Madrid. One of his ancestors was a famous Spanish explorer Alfonso de Vaca.
As a nobleman from an enormously wealthy family, de Portago was educated in Biarritz in France. He had a comfortable life as many would only dream about. He was a free spirit, always looking for a dangerous adventure. As a rich good-looking guy, he was acting like a playboy, always in the center of attention.
Before he started his racing career, de Portago tried to be a jockey but he was too tall and too heavy. He also was an airplane pilot and at the age of 17 for a bet he flew his plane beneath London Bridge. He was also a swimmer and a bobsleigh driver, one of the very few Formula 1 drivers who participated in the Olympic Games.
Young Alfonso thought he can do anything that he conceives, so one day he wanted to become a racing driver. He met Luigi Chinetti who asked him to become his co-driver in Ferrari, in Carrera Panamericana race. De Portago was so delighted after the race that he bought Ferrari Sport model and soon he started his career.
It wasn’t a surprise when the easy-going lad started to win some major races, like Tour de France, Nassau Governor’s Cup, Grand Prix of Rome, and the Grand Prix of Oporto but his driving style was raw and many cars he was driving were completely ruined. He often needed several cars for only one race and despite being popular among racing fans, the real racers considered him to be dangerous on the road, and one of many aristocrat dilettantes who would quickly lose interest in racing cars.
However, Alfonso had a huge respect for the drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, and Harry Schell. Once he said "They are surely better than me, but I am still learning. When I give up racing as a hero, I am going to Spain and go into politics“. He wanted to be a racing pilot and nothing could stop his dream, even the accident in 1955 when he was thrown out of his Ferrari and was hospitalized with a broken leg.
De Portago also drove in five Formula 1 races during 1956 and 1957. He surprisingly finished 2nd in the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, sharing the seat of Ferrari with Peter Collins. That was his biggest achievement in a short F1 career.
In the meantime, he recruited a couple of his cousins to represent Spain in bobsleigh at the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Surprisingly, they finished 4th which was a huge surprise considering that they had only a couple of days of training before the competition. The following year, de Portago won a bronze medal in two-man bobsleigh at the World Championship in St. Moritz.
Alfonso was described by many as a fearless and stubborn exhibitionist, bigger than a life. They were also saying that he wouldn’t live beyond 30 if he continues to race. His driving style was too dangerous and nowadays he probably wouldn't be considered as a serious racing driver. Nevertheless, he didn't care much about what others were saying about him.
"I won’t die in an accident. I’ll die of old age or be executed in some gross miscarriage of justice," de Portago commented once.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. Aged 28, Marquis of Portago was killed in the horrible crash during the famous Mille Miglia race on 12th of May, 1957 near the city of Brescia. Alfonso and his co-pilot Edmund Nelson, the British ex-boxer who introduced him to bobsleigh in the US, were in a Ferrari and they were driving at almost 240 km/h on a straight, the tire blew.
The car went into the crowd and killed 10 people. The Ferrari landed on the top of the poor drivers, reportedly disfiguring them to the point they could barely be identified. Alfonso’s body was found in two mangled sections.