Grand Prix History – The Post-War Racing Years and Formula One
The People. The Teams. The Races. The Ultimate Guide.
Motor Racing History – Formula One And A World Championship For Drivers
In 1946, following World War II, only four races of Grand Prix calibre were held. Rules for a Grand Prix World Championship had been laid out before World War II, but it took several years afterward until 1947 when the old AIACR reorganised itself as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or “FIA” for short, headquartered in Paris. It announced the new International Formula, also known as Formula 1 or Formula A, to be effective from 1947.
At the end of the 1949 season the FIA announced that for 1950 they would be linking several national Formula One Grands Prix to create a World Championship for drivers, although due to economic difficulties the years 1952 and 1953 were actually competed in Formula Two cars. A points system was established and a total of seven races were granted championship status including the Indianapolis 500. The first World Championship race was held on 13 May 1950 at Silverstone in the United Kingdom.
After the Fighting
After 6 years of war most of Europe lay in ruins including much of its automobile industry. Having been converted to munitions or military-vehicle production they were ready targets to heavy aerial bombing. Germany was still banned from racing when in September of 1945 the first race meeting were held. World War Two ended in Europe in May 1945 and by September the first postwar meeting was taking place. France staged three races on a circuit in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.
Entries were accepted for cars which had survived the war. The first race was the Robert Benoist Trophy, a memorial to the prewar Bugatti driver who had been shot by the Gestapo. The race was won by Amedee Gordini in a 1500cc car based on Simca and Fiat parts. The second raced, entitled the Liberation Trophy, was won by Henri Louveau in a 2 litre Maserati. The final race of the meeting was the Coupe des Prisonniers, in which Jean-Pierre Wimille took a 4.7 litre Bugatti T59 to victory.
Wimille had served in the French Resistance during the was and at one point just managed to escape capture by the Gestapo by jumping from a window and hiding in a nearby stream. After the war a more mature Wimille re-started his career as soon as possible.
That opportunity came at the Coupe des Prisonniers which saw a late entrant in the form of Jean-Pierre Wimille and the unique 4.7-litre Bugatti sprint car. Arriving too late for practice he was forced to start from the rear of the grid. Unfortunately for the others it wasn’t far enough back as he soon charged through the field to take the victory, racing had returned to Europe. His driving, once hot headed and prone to accident was now recognized as second to none. He became a hero to countless up and coming drivers including no less than Fangio himself.
Another pre-war ace Rene Dreyfus settled in New York City, where he opened a French restaurant, “Le Gourmet.” Upon the United States entering the war, in 1942 Dreyfus had enlisted in the American army and served in Europe as an interrogator in the Italian Campaign. After the war, in 1945 he became an American citizen and brought his brother Maurice back to New York, where they opened another French restaurant, “Le Chanteclair.”
This soon became the semi-official New York meeting spot for the world’s automobile racing community, the rivalries of the past having been overcome by the spirit of fraternity. There were few modern racing cars available to compete. An official authorization was necessary to manufacture cars in France after the end of the war. The government planning gave priority of the use of rationed raw materials to the manufacture of small production cars in large series. It was only in June 1946 that Tony Lago obtained permission to build 125 touring cars. Talbot-Lago, the French company, started working on a 4.5 litre single-seater. In all of Europe there were several pre-war Maseratis and Alfas available including a couple of 158s that were hidden in a cheese factory during the war.
There were only four races of Grand Prix caliber held during 1946. The top drivers included Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina, Jean-Pierre Wimille, Louis Chiron, Achille Varzi and Tazio Nuvolari. The Fédération Internationale d’Automobiles (FIA) was formed to organize the sport at an international level. A formula was set for 1947 that allowed 1.5-litre supercharged or 4.5-litre unsupercharged cars. Alfa Romeo with their supercharged Type 158s would still win every major race that it entered. In England the British Motor Racing Research Trust was created as a means of providing Britain with a way of breaking the stranglehold of the Italians. The man responsible for this was Raymond Mays who was driven with the idea of making Britain a major force in motor racing. Mays canvassed the British auto industry for financial and technical support. Among early responders were steelmaker Rubery Owen, Lucas Electric, Standard Motor Co., and Rolls-Royce. A war-weary nation caught the spirit, providing both money and expertise. Ultimately some 350 firms would participate. An end of a era was marked when legendary car maker Ettore Bugatti contacted a lung infection and died in a Paris military hospital on August 21, 1947.
In 1948 Ferrari fielded their own car, after parting with Alfa before the war Enzo Ferrari promised that Scuderia Ferrari would not compete against their former patrons for four years. 1948 also saw the death of the venerable Achille Varzi while practicing for the Swiss Grand Prix during practice runs for the 1948 Swiss Grand Prix while a light rain fell on the Bremgarten track. His car skidded on the wet surface, flipping over and crushing him to death.. In 1949 Alfa Romeo was forced to withdraw from racing due to financial woes. Without the Alfa the field was left open to Maserati, Ferrari and Talbot to enjoy some success.
Monza had fallen into some disrepair during World War II, being used for a storage area for government vehicles, and even animals from the nearby zoo. A parade by Allied forces in 1945 tore up the main straight of the track. So when racing resumed in Italy in 1947, the Italian Grand Prix was held at Milan. In 1948, the Milan Auto Club decided to restore the Monza track, and even though work was completed quickly, the Italian Grand Prix was run at the Valentino Park circuit, which was won by Jean-Pierre Wimille. The Italian Grand Prix would finally return to it’s home in Monza in 1949 and, except for one race, has remained there ever since. The Nurburgring was severely damaged by tanks of the 11th Armored during the last months of the war but early after war’s end, reconstruction work had begun and in early 1947 an Eifel Cup Race was run. The fee to enter at the time was five Reichs Marks, including a consumption ticket for wine, sausage and bread which were still rationed. The first race was for motorcycles, and was run on the Südschleife on August 17, 1947, in front of 80,000 spectators. The Sport Hotel reopened in April 1949, and a month later the Nordschleife hosted the first automobile race held there since 1939. The German Grand Prix returned to the Ring in 1950.
Death of a Giant
The post-war era saw the gradual return of most of the famous races in Europe including the Targa Florio, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia. The first Mille Miglia held after the war was in 1947. The entrants were overwhelmingly Italian and definitely represented a mixed bag were it not for the presence of Nuvolari, then 55. Leading the race at the half way point his open Cisitalia sports car developed electrical problems when it started to rain heavily.
After lengthy repairs he rejoined the race and worked his way back to the front but had to settle for second place Already suffering from ill health he entered the grueling race again the following year. Driving a new sports car from Ferrari he soon found himself where he belonged, in the lead. Though Nuvolari was very sick, coughing and spitting blood he was still able to open an incredible 29-minute lead over his own teammate! Driving in the only manner that he knew, flat out on the edge, he left parts of his car all along the Italian countryside. Whether it was the manner in which his car was built or his driving style, the Ferrari slowly came apart. Soon the driver’s seat came loose and was shortly replaced with a sack of oranges and still he drove on.
Knowing that he was dying and that this might be his last chance for a victory he would not, could not quit.
When he reached Maranello his appearance shocked Enzo Ferrari, who begged him to quit even at the cost of denying Ferrari his first victory. Some thought that he was on a suicide mission to die at the wheel of a race car rather than in a hospital. Finally the brakes on his car failed while still leading the race. He had driven the Ferrari as fast as he could, as long as he could and had it not failed nothing on this earth could have taken this last great victory from his grasp.
His race over he stopped his car by the side of the road, exhausted he was lifted from his car by a local priest and put to bed. This turned out to be his last major race and five years later he was to die in bed. This man of small physical stature had the heart of a giant. Those who competed with him on the tracks of Europe knew that they would not see his likes again. The Italian nation and the world of motorsports mourned the death of the greatest driver the world would ever see.
The World Championship
In 1950 a World Championship for drivers was introduced. The championship would be decided based on the results of seven races: the British, Swiss, Monaco, Belgium, French and Italian Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. The latter was included in the hope that this would promote Grand Prix racing in the Americas but in reality the effects were minimal. Alfa Romeo returned to contest this new series with a team made up of pre-war drivers, Giuseppe Farina, Luigi Fagioli and Juan-Manuel Fangio. These drivers except for Fangio were beyond their peak years and depended on their vast experience against younger rivals. Their main opposition came from Ferrari but the cars from Maranello lacked reliability and the championship would be decided between the three Alfa drivers.
The final round at Monza would crown the first World Champion. At the drop of the flag Fangio roared into the lead only to see his race end with a seized gear. Farina would go on to win the race and the title of the first World Champion. 1951 started where 1950 left off with Alfa still in charge. Ferrari strengthened his team with the addition of Froilan Gonzalez joining Ascari and Luigi Villoresi. Fangio scored a victory in the opening race in Switzerland. The German Grand Prix at Nurburgring was added to the calendar that year and saw the Ferrari of Ascari taking the checkered flag.
The final race was held at Pedralbes in Spain. Fangio led Ascari by 28 points to 25 going into the race. Alberto Ascari claimed pole position but the Ferrari’s race was marred by tire trouble. Fangio would dominate the race and score his first World Championship. Though they had lost the championship, Ferrari was gaining strength and Alfa aware of this growing threat and unable to finance a proper defense of their title for next season chose to withdraw at the end of the year. Few knew then that this would mark the end of this proud manufacturer’s involvement in Grand Prix racing except for some half-hearted attempts in the 80’s.
Starting in 1952 The World Championship was run using Formula Two cars of 2-litres unsupercharged or 500 cc supercharged. Ferrari would dominate Grand Prix racing for the next two years winning 30 out of 33 major races. Fangio was not able to defend his title because of a broken neck suffered in a non-championship race at Monza. In his absence Ascari won every race that he entered, having to miss the season opening race the Swiss Grand Prix because of commitments to Indianapolis that year. The year was not totally devoid of interest owing to the debut of the English team Cooper-Bristol and its driver Mike Hawthorn. Ascari was crowned Word Champion. 1953 was again dominated by Ferrari and only the brilliance of Fangio in a Maserati stood in their way.
Mike Hawthorn was signed by Ferrari and was very much the junior driver on a team dominated by two World Champions, Ascari and Farina, and veteran driver Villoresi, or so it was until Reims.
Race of the Century
Hawthorn was the first Englishman to join a foreign team since Richard Seaman drove for Mercedes in 1937. Many questioned whether this young driver who had not raced a single seater until 15 months ago was up to the challenge. This question would be answered before the end of the day.
Reims, the site of the French Grand Prix in 1953 is roughly the shape of an inverted triangle. Two points of the 8.3 km triangle ended in hairpins and the third point was a flat-out bend. The long backstraight actually formed the main road to Soissons. Everyone who came to see the race that year was anticipating another duel in the season long fight between Fangio and Ascari for the title. In pole position was Ascari, Fangio and fellow Argentinean Gonzalez in Maseratis were on the second row followed by Hawthorn, in a Ferrari on the third row.
At the start Gonzalez had made a great start from the second row into the lead. Gonzalez known as the “Pampas Bull” was on half tanks and built a solid lead on the field. He was followed in order by Ascari, Villoresi, Fangio, Hawthorn, Bonetto, Marimon and Farina. At twenty laps or one third of the race distance, Gonzalez had built a twenty second lead. Since he had started the race on half tanks he would shortly have to pit for fuel. On the twenty-ninth lap he dove into the pits. Immediately his crew jumped to action but even their best efforts resulted in a twenty-seven second pitstop and a drop from first to sixth.
Hawthorn now led Ascari and Fangio who would soon garner the lead. It was now Fangio in first followed by Hawthorn and Ascari. Soon Fangio and Hawthorn began to pull away from the rest of the field. They battled wheel to wheel lap after lap many times coming abreast just before having to slam on their breaks for one of the hairpins. The crowd of course was going wild and could actually observe Hawthorn grinning at the Argentinean driver as they raced abreast along one of the long straights. Fangio tried every trick he knew to shake this young pretender but to no avail. Behind these two leaders Gonzalaz was driving as he had never done before and soon passed Ascari into third place. Driving in that crouched down form of his he seemed to be willing his car ahead all the time closing the gap with the duo in front. Ascari too was giving his all.
While the two leaders were engrossed in their race long duel they came upon a much slower car. Entering the right hand curve following the pits there would be room for only one car, but with a gesture unheard of in current Grand Prix racing Hawthorn pulled his car over as far as he dared. With two wheels actually on the grass both he and Fangio could pass together and continue their battle. The crowd upon hearing this let out a roar of approval.
Fangio using all of his experience forced his way pass Hawthorn and was leading the race as it entered its last laps. But Hawthorn was not done yet. He was observed pulling out several times looking to pass only to fall back. Time was running out as they entered the last lap with Fangio leading by one car length but upon entering the last corner Hawthorn had pulled up even. Hawthorn braked at the last possible instant and took a slightly different line which allowed him to out accelerate Fangio’s Maserati upon exiting the corner.
Hawthorn was able to hold his car on the track and he crossed the line one second ahead of Fangio after 309 miles and 2 hr. 44 min. of racing. In the end 4.6 seconds spanned the first four cars for a Ferrari, Maserati, Ferrari, Maserati finish and so ended the greatest race of the century. Hawthorn on this day was able to beat one of the greatest drivers of all time in a straight fight. That evening, in the bar of the Hotel Welcome, glasses were raised in honor of the the brash young blond Englishman. In winning the race he became the first Englishman to win a Grand Prix since Richard Seaman won the German Grand Prix in 1938.
The Return of the Silver Arrows
After the war as soon as Mercedes were back on their feet plans were made to get the company back into racing. Neubauer attempted to locate any surviving race cars that had been hidden during the war. Modifying these pre-war race cars brought Mercedes mixed results. Mercedes would have to build new cars. The cheapest way to go would be to convert a touring car into a competition vehicle, this car was designated the 300SL. The 300SL was definitely the result of the spare parts bin. One unusual feature of this car was its doors. Because the car’s tube frame made regular doors impossible it was decided after careful review of the rules to construct doors that opened vertically. After the first photos of this “new” car appeared in America it was remarked that when opened the doors made the car resembled a seagull, and the name “Gullwing” became its famous nickname.
With the readmission of the German Federal Republic to the FIA in 1951, both Porsche, which had won its class at Le Mans earlier in the year and Mercedes-Benz entered works teams in thwe 1952 Mille Miglia. The ‘three-pointed star’ marque once again relied on the strategies of Alfred ‘Don Alfredo’ Neubauer, who had directed Caracciola’s victory in 1931. Twenty-one years after his legendary victory Caracciola had returned along with fellow drivers Hermann Lang and Karl Kling. Three new 300SL sports cars were carefully prepared for the race. As if the terrible war had never happened this veteran team set upon a two month regime of preperation. During this time they studied the course, practiced refueling and changing tires, planned their strategy and studied their potential opposition with, dare I say it military precision. Kling the best Mercedes finisher came in second. Caracciola still not fully recovered from an accident at Indianapolis five years ago came in a heroic fourth and would race only one more time before retiring. Caracciola, Mercedes’ most famous driver who was considered the greatest of all time by Neubauer would continue to work for Daimler-Benz until his death in 1959.
That same year Mercedes-Benz entered the race across Mexico. A total of four 300 SL (W 194) racing sports cars – two coupés and two roadster variants – were shipped over to Veracruz, together with a full complement of engineers. Karl Kling, Hermann Lang and John Fitch were selected to drive. The exacting 5-day race took place in blistering heat and placed extreme demands on both man and machine, as well as laying on one or two surprises for the drivers and teams. Travelling at full speed, the 300 SL gullwing piloted by Karl Kling and co-driver Hans Klenk, was struck full in the windscreen by a vulture. Kling emerged the next day with thin metal bars protecting the windscreen of his car. Non-plussed he then raced to victory over the desert tracks and remote villages of the Mexican outback. It was a triumph that made Kling a national hero in post-war Germany. In a speech at the Schaumburg Palace, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was also in celebratory mood: “This win gives us the key to becoming a successful exporter.
The next race was the Grand Prix de Berne which was a supporting race for the Swiss Grand Prix. A 1-2-3 finish led to an assault on Le Mans. Both Jaguar and Ferrari brought new cars which were answered in typical Mercedesstyle by the introduction of a roof-top air brake. According to Road & Track the car at full-speed down the Mulsanne straight up came the air brake …
“flipped up into the slipstream with a whupp! and the car slowed down as if a giant hand had reached out and grabbed it … from 150 to 75 mph in a matter of split seconds”
The device was merely being tested and was not used during the race due to safety concerns. It did serve to rattle the competition which may have been its main purpose. The race began with the Mercedes following a conservative race strategy. The Jaguars were the first to fold with all three succumbing to overheating in the second hour. The Ferraris too suffered mechanical failures. Amazingly the wily veteran Pierre Levegh in a private Talbot was leading followed by two Mercedes. Levegh was three laps in the lead but Mercedes instead of increasing their speed continued to lap at 98 mph. Soon the lead was lengthened to four laps yet the Mercedes continued their deliberate pace. Neubauer knowing that Levegh was driving alone he would not believe that Levegh could finish the race. An hour and fifteen minutes from the finish Levegh was out with a broken connecting rod, the result of a missed gear shift. Neubauer was right and the Mercedes coasted to a one-two finish. As great as these victories were, the 300SL was only meant as a stop-gap measure in absence of the still being developed Grand Prix car.
The new formula taking effect in 1954 spurred the introduction of many new cars. Most cars were built to the 750cc supercharged specification. One car of particular note was the new Lancia D50 Designed by the renowned Engineer Vittorio Jano. The car designed by Jano was quite ambitious in design and in many ways more advanced than the W196 of Mercedes. The four-camshaft V8 was used as a stressed member in conjunction with a tubular space-frame chassis.
The engine was offset with the propeller shaft running to the left of the driver. The most visually striking aspect of the car were the twin pannier-type fuel tanks located on faired outriggers between the wheels. Jano’s objective was two fold, improved airflow between the wheels and a constant weight distribution as the fuel was consumed during the race. Output for the V8 was a reputed 260 bhp, 3 more than the Mercedes-Benz while the Lancia enjoyed a 280 lb weight advantage.The D50’s V-8 engine was slightly offset and served as a structural member of the chassis.
In 1954 Auto Union was now known as Audi and no longer racing. Alfa Romeo also was out of the picture but Maserati and Ferrari, building and racing his own cars were very much in as was the long anticipated return of the Mercedes Grand Prix car. The rules at that time did not require exposed wheels and the W196 with its enclosed wheels and streamlined body looked more like a sports car.
The Mercedes was powered by a straight eight inclined 20% off vertical to allow for lower body work and an overall lower center of gravity. The engine also featured fuel injection and desmodromic valve gear. After observing that the valve tappets of the grand-prix engines tended to lift away from the cam surface at the top end of the engine speed range, engineer Hans Gassmann hit upon a simple yet brilliant idea to combat the problem: two cams per valve. One opened the valve as usual, but the second closed it again by means of a rocker arm.
The Mercedes were not ready until the third race of the season, the French Grand Prix. The team consisted of Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herman. The Argentinean ace had been lured away from Maserati by Neubauer for the 1954 race season. Neubauer was a shrewd operator and was quickly on the scene to offer Fangio spare parts after his privately-run Alfa Romeo was struck by mechanical problems at the Nürburgring in 1953. During testing prior to their debut at Reims it was found that fuel consumption was only 40 liters per 1000 km instead of the expected 35 liters. This would result in the car coasting to a halt 48 km short o the lag! With no time to waste Uhlenhaut, a noted driver in his own right hot-footed it back to Stuttgart to supervise the building of supplementary fuel tanks for the race on Sunday.
Though it was somehow fitting that the German make would introduce it’s latest supercar at the French Grand Prix it unfortunately lacked a credible French rival. That did not stop the 300,000 fans who came to view the event which started on the right foot when Fangio was given 50 bottles o champagne or breaking the 200km/h barrier. The race turned into an inner team battle for Mercedes when their major rivals all suffered mechanical problems, Fangio claiming first blood over his teammate Kling. The Mercedes would triumph in 9 of the 12 races they would enter over the next two years before once again leaving the sport having demonstrated the same superiority as their pre-war brethren.
Triumph and Tragedy
The season opener in 1955 was held in Argentina. Neubauer feeling that he needed another driver of front-line caliber to partner Fangio consulted his black book of promising drivers and signed Stirling Moss. It was impressed upon Moss that in matters of the Grand Prix he would serve as second to Fangio, but when it came to sports car racing they would be treated as equals. Jean Behra replaced Moss at Maserati while Hawthorn left Ferrari to join the British team Vanwall.
With the temperature reaching 104 degrees in the shade the Grand Prix became a test of man more than machine. Only two drivers would be able to finish the race without relief, one of them Fangio, would win the race. Both Fangio and Moss retired from the Monaco Grand Prix which was won by Trintignant in a Ferrari. Monaco featured an omen of what was to come when Ascari crashed into the harbor. He was rescued only to die four days later while testing a Ferrari sports car. Lancia, without their top driver andfacing severe cash shortages was forced to withdraw from Grand Prix racing.
Moss meanwhile scored a stunning victory at the Mille Miglia becoming the first non-Italian since Caracciola to win the race. Mercedes returned to the winner’s circle at Spa with a 1-2 finish. As was the custom of those days most of the top drivers also raced sports cars and there was no bigger sports cars race than the 24 hours of Le Mans.
The race looked all set for a long awaited duel between the British Jaguar, Italian Ferrari and German Mercedes teams. All three of the teams sports car programs were at their peak each grimly determined to triumph over the other.
At 4:00 p.m.on the 11th of June 1955 the race that would witness the worst disaster in motor racing began. Castellotti in a Ferrari jumped into the lead followed by Hawthorn’s Jaguar. Fangio who had made a poor start was tearing through the field from fourteenth place. Working the air brake on his Mercedes Fangio’s race car was likened to a “pre-historic monster about to devour its prey.” Soon he had caught up to Hawthorn and had actually passed the Jaguar only to be re-passed on the following lap. Hawthorn and Fangio passed Castellotti and replayed their epic struggle of Rheims in 1953. At 6:30 p.m. it was time for the first pit stops. After passing White House and entering the straight before the pits Hawthorn dove for the pits. This maneuver caught Macklin in his slower Austin-Healy by surprise and he swerved to the left. This left the on rushing Mercedes of Pierre Levegh with no escape. The Mercedes hit the Austin-Healey at over 130 m.p.h. and launched into the air and onto the earthen barrier that divided the spectators from the pit straight.The car burst into flames and the shock of the crash tore the engine and front suspension which were hurtled into the trapped crowd killing 83 people and injuring over 100.
Ivor Bueb took over for a shaken Hawthorn, while Moss took over for Fangio and the race continued. After ten hours word came from the directors of Daimler-Benz to withdraw the remaining Mercedes which were running first and third. Finally at 4 p.m. the next day the nightmare was over with Hawthorn’s Jaguar taking the checkered flag. The personal tragedy that resulted from the crash from which he was an innocent contributor would haunt the talented Englishman the rest of his life.
Despite public outcry, the Dutch Grand Prix was held the next week. Fangio and Moss had another Mercedes 1-2 in the bag. The next race was the British Grand Prix which was held at Aintree that year. The Mercedes team completely dominated the race and scored a 1-2-3-4 victory. The race was marked by the first win for Stirling Moss. A number of other races were canceled in the aftermath of Le Mans. The Grand Prix of Italy would be the last championship race for the year. The Mercedes team finished 1-2 with Fangio leading Taruffi but would withdraw from racing after winning the Targa Florio. Having conquered all within their path there would be no more Silver Arrows for the foreseeable future. Fangio with almost double the points of his nearest rival claimed his third World Championship.
The season ended with a stunning victory when Tony Brooks piloted his Connaught to victory at Syracuse. The race weekend had begun quite inconspicuously. The first practice session on Friday was well under way, yet the transporter carrying the Connaught teams cars was nowhere to be seen. This forced the British teammates, Brooks and Les Leston to reconnoiter the circuit on borrowed Vespa motor scooters which was not exactly conducive to finding the correct racing line or late breaking points! A more inauspicious beginning to a remarkable weekend could not have been written.
Tony Brooks a full-time dental student and part-time driver had only been racing for less than three years. Arrayed against them were nine Maseratis and various Ferraris and Gordinis. The Maserati was led by a pair of Italian aces Musso and Villoresi who were turning in lap times of nearly 100 mph. On Saturday the Connaught teams cars finally arrived from England.
The Italians were secure in their belief that their Friday times were sufficient to award them the leading positions on the grid and were only running sporadically. Brooks after some familiarization laps soon got down to business. Suddenly the loudspeakers announced the unbelievable news that the young dental student had recorded the fastest time of the session. Upon hearing this the Maserati engines burst to life, the whole team rose to the challenge of this brash young driver. The final grid showed Musso on the pole followed by Villoresi and Brooks. Since this was a non-championship event, missing were such top drivers as Moss and Fangio. This did not in any way diminish the accomplishment of the small British team.
At the drop of the flag the Maseratis surged into the lead, rather than become discouraged Brooks pressed on and soon passed Villoresi into second place. When he passed the leading Maserati of Musso the Italian tried every trick that he knew to regain the lead. Finally getting by he lost the lead again on the next lap. Both cars were turning laps faster than those run during qualifying. The Maserati could out break the Connaught at the hairpin but in doing so was dangerously abusing its breaks. Musso could not have been pleased when the Connaught was able to match his 150 mph on the straighter pieces. Eventually, the British car was able to draw away. Now the question was could the Connaught maintain this torrid pace. When the checkered flag finally flew the Connaught pit crew erupted in jubilation. Musso was one of the first to congratulate the quite unassuming young dental student.
The end of 1955 saw the withdrawal of Mercedes from Grand Prix racing. Moss went to drive for Maserati while Fangio moved over to Ferrari. Driving a Ferrari based on the Lancia D50 Fangio scored several victories including the opener in Argentina and the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The title fight went down to the wire and would be decided at Monza. Fangio was leading in points but both Jean Behra and new boy Peter Collins still had a shot if either one of them could win the race and set the fastest lap. Harry Schell blasted into the lead in a Connaught but soon had to retire. Moss assumed the lead and was followed by Fangio and Collins. Fangio’s title hope turned for the worse when he suffered steering failure, but he was saved when Collins sacrificed his own title chances when he stopped to hand over his car to Fangio. It was said at the time that Collins might have thought that he would have other opportunities in the future while Fangio would soon be ending his legendary career, yet the generosity of this act cannot be overlooked. Fangio would finish a solid second and clinch his fourth World Championship. 1957 started the same as the previous year for Fangio with a victory in Argentina, this time driving a Maserati. Moss had moved to Vanwall but they were not ready for the first race. Hawthorn and his friend Collins had teamed up at Ferrari. Monaco saw a crash that took out the cars of Moss, Collins and Hawthorn allowing Fangio an easy win. The star of the race was Jack Brabham pushing his car to the finish line and scoring a sixth place finish for the small Cooper. Fangio scored another victory at Reims while Moss won a well received victory at Aintree.
This brought the championship to the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. It was generally acknowledge by the Grand Prix Circus that this would be Fangio’s last season. He was determined to finish on top.Fangio and Hawthorn qualified one-two and the race looked set for an epic battle. The Maserati of Fangio started the race on half tanks and it was incumbent on him to build a large enough margin that would allow him to pit yet retain his lead. This he started top do, blistering the track at a record pace but Hawthorn and Collins in the Ferraris had other ideas. On the twelfth lap Fangio dove into the pits.
Even though everyone in the Maserati pits was prepared the pitstop cost Fangio the lead when both Collins and Hawthorn thundered past. Finally the work was done and Fangio re-entered the fray. All seamed loss as Fangio was now 45 seconds behind the leading duo and few thought that even the great Fangio could make up this difference. Fangio was one of the few as he began chopping off large chunks of the gap to the leaders. In the Ferrari pit panic took hold as they pleaded for their drivers to go ever faster. Fangio would later say that he drove faster than he ever wanted to drive again.
The lap record came tumbling down and he would soon be lapping at a faster average speed than that with which he had qualified! Both Collins and Hawthorn continued to race at a furious pace. Peter Lewis, the famous British journalist said that “he (Fangio) might almost have been pulling them backwards on the end of a rope for on the twentieth lap Fangio sliced eleven seconds off their lead. Fangio caught Collins first and passed him on the inside but the Englishman returned the favor and pushed Fangio back into third.”
The second time Fangio drew alongside and then slowly drew away. Just the Collins was hit in the eye by a stone thrown up by the Maserati’s rear wheel but was saved by his goggles. Now it was Hawthorn’s turn and still Fangio came on; actually driving straight on in one corner to pass force his way past Hawthorn. They would finish three seconds apart with Collins coming in third. The victory gave Fangio an unassailable lead in what would become his fifth and final World Championship. So ended the maestro’s greatest race.