The late clemency of time and the drivers’ fighting spirit save in extremis the Grand Prix of Caen, which takes place on Sunday july 28 1957: the competition escapes even the mediocrity it seemed destined for. The rain just a few hours from the start, and the absence – at least official - of italian teams, doesn’t create an encouraging element for the thousands of spectators that despite everything want to attend the competition. The Grand Prix of Caen emphasizes, on a sinuous and difficult circuit, the speed and qualities of B.R.M.s. Overall, the competition proves that both B.R.M.s and Coopers, if entrusted to valuable drivers, can become dangerous even for the fastest cars of Formula 1. Maserati and Ferrari are not officially represented by the cars and by the drivers that these Companies will send on Sunday 4 august 1957 to the German Grand Prix, valid proof for the Formula 1 World Champioship. But if we can draw lessons fron races, we must say that a serious threat by the british is emerging, regarding both drivers and cars. On Tuesday july 30 1957, after Maserati, Ferrari and Vanwall, at the German Grand Prix signs up B.R.M. with Flockart and another driver who will be designated at a later time. Maserati and Ferrari cars are expected during the night in Adenau: is projected that Fangio e Musso, the respective bishops of the two companies, will start on Wednsday the practice on the Nurburgring circuit. Stable presence of the championship since 1950, except 1955, the track lenght is 22.810 meters, characterized by a bottom not always optimal.
This circuit counts 172 curves, of which 84 on the right and 88 on the left, all different for radius and slope. It is a track characterized by continuous ups and downs in the woods, with real jumps that connect the towns of Adenau, Müllenbach and Nürburg, which with its castle dominates the landscape. In this race there will be the debut of the Porsche racing 1500 cc that, according to leaked rumors, would develop a power of 170 horses. The three models 550 RS, marked by the race numbers 20, 21 and 27, will be entrusted to Umberto Maglioli and the German Edgar Barth, while Godin de Beaufort signs up as private owner. The German company immediately finds a tough opponent like the Cooper T43-Climax that have already played well in other Grands Prix, in particular thanks to Jack Brabham. At the German Grand Prix the Italian and British teams joined the complete race: Ferrari entrusts its powerful 801 to Musso - the great revelation of the current season - and the two British drivers Hawthorn and Collins, while the Frenchman Trintignant will compete with the new 1500 in the race reserved for Formula 2 cars. The 801, a single-seater built on the base of the Lancia D50, is capable of delivering 280 horsepower and weighs 640 kilos. In Ferrari, to better distinguish the drivers, they opt for a curious ruse, painting the front of the car in different colors: white for Musso, green for Collins and blue for Hawthorn, having race numbers 6, 7 and 8 respectively. The Alfieri Maserati Workshop is presented with six examples of Maserati 250F, the timeless single-seater that runs the world circuits for four seasons; the updated car boasts a slightly higher power than the rival of Cavallino, 290 horses, and a few extra pounds , 650.
Fangio, Behra, Schell, Scarlatti, Menditeguy and the Spaniard Godia-Sales are the drivers selected for the German Grand Prix, but only five will start, with Carlos Menditeguy as a spectator and fan of the team-mates. The three Vanwalls lined up look like the most interesting cars: 290 horsepower, like the Maserati, and a weight of about 600 kilos. Trust the drivers Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Stuart, in light of the thunderous victory in Great Britain, on the eve of the Grand Prix the British cars are the favorite for success. The German Grand Prix, valid as the fifth round of the World Championship, is expected with exceptional interest as it will have the continuation of the Italian-British duel that at Aintree ended with the unexpected success of Vanwall; it was the first time, in the post-war period, that a British-built car could assert itself in a Grand Prix. For the Italian Houses it is therefore a matter of taking revenge. And since the Nurburgring circuit with its many curves is one of the most difficult in the world, we can certainly predict that the fight will be fierce and relentless. It is not excluded that the fate of the World Championship is decided at Nurburgring: for Fangio, forced to retire in the European Grand Prix, a good placement would be enough to definitely secure the world title. On the eve of the German Grand Prix, the Argentine is first in the ranking with 25 points, followed by Moss with 13 and Brooks with 10. On Wednesday morning it is not yet known when the official tests will begin; initially these had to take place, but later the organizers postpone them to Thursday for technical reasons.
However, the pilots who have already arrived protest against this decision. Therefore, waiting for the official practice to begin, the Vanwall drivers go down in the late afternoon on the Nurburgring circuit for a test of their cars. The standard-bearer of the British company, Moss, who set himself in front of the Ferrari in the European Grand Prix as we recently know, drove about ten laps of the difficult track at very high speed. According to some timekeepers, the British ace makes a few laps in times oscillating between 9'50" and ten minutes net (the lap record is held by Fangio, on Ferrari, in 9'41"6 at an average of 141.200 km/h). The British car gives a good impression and everything suggests that Sunday will worry the representatives of the Italian teams that, arrived in Adenau, will begin the official practice during the morning of Friday, August 2, 1957. Juan Manuel Fangio, interviewed on Thursday evening, said that in the German Grand Prix the fight with the Italian-English will be even more fierce than in the recent European Grand Prix, won by Moss. Much will depend in this race on the endurance to the effort of the various machines. Keep in mind that the Nurburgring puts a tremendous strain on the various organs of the cars. In the first day of official practice for the German Grand Prix Juan Manuel Fangio, on Maserati, establishes a sensational record on the lap, covering 22,810 meters of the track in 9'25"6, at the remarkable average of 145,100 km/h. The standars bearer of the Modena House improved by sixteen seconds the record that he himself had achieved last year in the same race.
Nevertheless, the mechanics of the Maserati are a bit worried about the lightness of the chassis and the de Dion bridge, which breaks on one of their cars, while the front transverse arms welded, lighter and used throughout the season are replaced by more robust forged cross arms, while being heavier. During the tests, the French driver Jean Behra and the American driver Harry Shell, both of Maserati, are also distinguished, while the Vanwalls disappoint, because their drivers are forced to settle for times oscillating between 9'44"0 and 9'49"0 due to obvious sealing problems. Their task is certainly not made easier by the horrible flat-spot in the middle regime of laps in acceleration, and as if that were not enough, when riders select a lower gear the tires slip. As for Luigi Musso, the Italian driver arrives only in the late afternoon in Adenau, so he can only do very few practice laps. The Ferrari driver promises to push hard in the final training sessions that will take place on Saturday. The teammates, meanwhile, try a different specification of the front springs, before qualifying. Contrary to what could be expected, the B.R.M. could not line up the only car brought to the Nürburgring, that of Flockhart, because the Edinburgh driver could not get on track due to an injury. The prowess of Fangio is clearly the subject of wide praise from the numerous technicians from all over the world: the time achieved by the Argentine driver seems almost incredible. Never would have thought that it was possible to reach such a high average on this circuit, that it is all a ups and downs.
"My car is running very well. I think that if it is necessary I can do even better. In any case, Sunday the fight will be as fierce as ever".
Meanwhile, the Automobile Club of Germany, which organizes the race, again addresses the public urging it to comply with the safety standards that have always shown that the Nurburgring is one of the safest in the world. In fact, since its creation thirty years ago, only one spectator has been a victim of events because he was in a dangerous sector, which was clearly bordered by a hedge. The organizing body expects to have to register a deficit of 100,000 marks from Sunday races, for which the total expenses are estimated at 430,000 marks, and rejects an Italian proposal that future world championship trials should be sponsored by professional organisers, arguing that in the case of Nurburgring, professional organisers would not be able to properly carry out the technical part of the race. Despite this, the German sports scene is waiting for the race; it is in fact a very exceptional competition, given that the first twelve drivers from this year’s World Championship participate. In addition to this, there is another new element that will make the race particularly interesting: a spokesman of the German Automobile Club says that there is a single ranking for Formula 1 and Formula 2 cars, therefore the two types of cars will race together, but of course they will be assessed separately. Saturday, August 3, 1957 Juan Manuel Fangio definitely secured the pole position, after that in the second practice session no other rider manages to beat the time scored by the Argentine driver during training on Friday.
Follow Hawthorn on Ferrari, Jean Behra on Maserati, Collins on Ferrari, and Brooks on Vanwall, Schell on Maserati, and Stirling Moss on Vanwall. In the category reserved for cylindrical machines not exceeding one and a half liters the best time is marked by the German Edgar Barth, on Porsche, in 10'02"2 to the average of 136.3 km/h, thus achieving the twelfth best time of the twenty-four cars entered in the race. The times scored during the day on Saturday are for everyone lower than those on Friday, because evidently the drivers did not want to force to not put the engines to the test right on the eve of the race. Qualifying highlights an interesting topic for the tactical reading of the race: the Pirelli tyres, mounted on Maserati and Vanwall, show a lower time limit than the Englebert, the covers that equip the Ferrari, which seem to be able to cover the entire distance of the race without the need for replacement. In addition, the tank of the Maserati is much smaller than the Ferrari 801 so Fangio and Ugolini, the sports director, study a race strategy to be implemented the next day: run lighter and run out of gasoline, lead a first part of the assault Grand Prix, refuel and restart to the rhythm of qualifying to recover the Ferraris and win. The mechanics are made aware before the race that there would be a replacement of the tires, so they exercise and get a better time of thirty seconds. On Sunday, August 4, 1957 the weather is serene and the climate effervescent in the pits, in the stands and even in the trees; in fact, some fans climbs on the branches higher and more resistant to enjoy a better view.
During the morning, as the drivers arrive at the garages, most of them directly aboard their cars before the last ritual preparations. The exception is Fangio, who joined the circuit driving a Porsche 356 Cabriolet. His Maserati 250F was brought to the track by the chief mechanic Moreno Bertocchi, and a similar fate characterizes the twin car of Behra. Some riders before the start exchange four chats, demonstrating how Formula 1 is still a championship frequented by gentlemen, a middle ground between sport and pure passion. Karl Kling, here as guest of honor, encourages and wishes the best to Umberto Maglioli on Porsche, for the first race in Formula 1 of the historic German brand. The Italian rider thanks and returns the greeting. At 1:15 p.m. everything is ready for the start of the German Grand Prix: the British aces at the wheel of the Ferraris are well taken with Hawthorn jumping to the lead, ahead of Collins, then Fangio, Behra, Musso and Schell, Evans, Gregory, Brooks and Herrmann, followed by the first Formula 2, that of Roy Salvadori on Cooper. Regular start with the group heading towards the Nordschleife, the most winding and driven part of the track. Fangio, after taking note of the Ferrari strategy, opts for a softer set of tyres to be able to implement his tactics: escape, acquire a sufficient margin for stopping, stop, refuel and recover. From the first stages of the race the contours of the race are outlined that maintain the premises of the tests. Hawthorn, Collins and Fangio have another step and take the margin on the first solo pursuer, Jean Behra, then a lively group of Musso, Moss and Schell from battle to the sound of overtaking. At the end of the first lap, more than twenty kilometers long, Hawthorn rushes to the finish line in first position hunted by Collins; Ferrari bishops know that they must impose a frenzied pace from the very beginning of the race to put pressure on Fangio, and nullify the scheduled stop for the Maserati driver.
Slightly detached in third position is just the Argentine Balcarce while the group of Behra, Musso and Schell lead solo. More exciting the duel for the seventh position: the internal challenge at home Vanwall between Brooks and Moss is won by the latter, which just at the starting grid unleashes an attack that ends just before the Süd-kehre, the curve that connects the main straight to the Nordschleife, excluding the south ring. In the following minutes the situation is a stalemate at the top of the race, until Fangio reaches the leading pair in the middle of the second round; now the three red cars are divided by a few handfuls of seconds, set and follow a virtually unique trajectory. In the Formula 2 category, excellent Salvadori who finds himself in eleventh position in the wake of the two Maserati with specifications of 1956, those of Gregory and Herrmann. During the first lap the English driver on Cooper also took away the satisfaction of settling between the two 250F of the Scuderia Centro Sud, cars much more powerful than his small Cooper-Climax 1,500 cc. Second and third of category the two Porsche of Barth and Maglioli. The RS550 is a car with covered wheels, fairings that vaguely recall the legendary Mercedes that dominated the 1954 and 1955. Even if they defend themselves well in the central group, they seem to be more suitable for road racing like the Mille Miglia or the Targa Florio. Lap number three, Fangio’s action begins: until now, the reigning World Champion, as he often happens, studies the situation driving in a concentrated but relaxed way. In the stretch of the Süd-kehre puts Collins and is second, then as soon as you start to venture between bumps and woods makes the winning attack on Mike Hawthorn. Fangio goes up to the first position, as planned, and starts to run away, which allows him to gain the necessary time for the stop. Collins also surpasses his team-mate and is second, but the illusion is short for driver number 7, as he is promptly overtaken by Hawthorn the next round.
At the sixth lap there is a momentary stalemate on the track, without overtaking by a couple of laps and with Fangio who has already accumulated eleven seconds ahead of the pair of Ferrari drivers. All as expected to have the necessary margin to leave the pit lane still in first position at the moment of the stop. At the moment there are already four retirees: Gould on the first lap on Maserati due to a bearing and then three Cooper-Climax, those of Gibson, England and Brabham, all for mechanical problems. On the tenth lap the first to stop at the pits is Jean Behra, who makes a regular stop and returns to the track in ninth position, while Fangio continues to make record laps, forcing the pace to earn valuable seconds and place them between him and rivals. Meanwhile Lewis-Evans on Vanwall is forced to leave the race because of the broken gearbox, which remains stuck at the height of the Kesselschen, on the road to the Karussel, and during the eleventh lap is Godia the second driver to have to stop because of the broken steering. On lap 12, Fangio went back into the pits. The advantage of more than thirty seconds doesn’t worry the mechanics of the Maserati, but the drama is around the corner: the left rear wheel replacement officer hits, as usual, the gallon with blows of a bat, however the nut slides under the car and precious moments are lost in the search for the lost piece, about half a minute. The stop lasts 52 seconds. The tension goes up, the seconds pass inexorably, the Ferrari are again at the command of the race and when Fangio returns to the track, apparently calm as he used to see him behind the wheel, he is in third position but separated by forty-eight seconds from Collins, He’s chasing after Hawthorn. All the work done by the reigning World Champion in the first part of the race seems to have been wasted, but it is at this stage that the German Grand Prix takes on legendary contours. Stuck in the pits, Fangio thinks:
"If I don’t do something very special the race is lost".
Meanwhile, Giambertone approaches him and tells him, in agreement with the sports director Nello Ugolini:
"Go slowly at the beginning and unleash yourself as soon as Bertocchi gives you the signal. Make a gloomy face, shake your head, they are watching us".
Fangio immediately realizes that a trap is being set for Ferrari. He will slow down two laps before going wild. When he gets back on track, 52 seconds after stopping, ten laps to go. And for two laps he stays behind, making the gap from the leading pair rise to forty-five seconds. On lap 14, with a gap of over forty-eight seconds, Tavoni signals to his drivers:
On lap 14 Hans Herrmann retired due to technical problems, but above all, after a couple of warm-up laps, Bertocchi signals to Fangio that the Ferrari drivers have slowed down, then the furious comeback of the Argentine driver begins: After the stop, the track record is beaten nine times by the Argentine talent of Maserati, seven times consecutively. Each corner is faced by the Argentine driver with a higher gear than expected and the bumps, real jumps for Formula 1 cars, are taken at full speed without slowdowns. If Fangio has always distinguished himself for an enlightened talent, as much technical as reasoned, today prevails the wildest and hidden side of the pilot of Belcarce, tenacity and grit never seen, wisely managed by a sensitivity in the unique right foot. At the sixteenth lap the gap drops to thirty-three seconds, at the next lap we are already twenty-five and a half but the real masterpiece is the twentieth round: Fangio stops the time in 9'17"4, a better time of over eight seconds than qualifying and thirty-four seconds faster than the previous race record recorded the previous year. Despite the late indications of the Ferrari box to the two leading drivers, in the stretch of the Süd-kehre, more precisely at the Terrazza ESSO, Fangio jumps left and slips inside the bend on Collins, and passes to second place. But the comeback is not over: at the end of the 21st lap the Argentine driver jumps to the lead with a brutal action: in the left-right at the height of Breidscheid Fangio attacks Hawthorn with half Maserati 250F on the grass - only the right wheels remain stuck to the asphalt - and rises to first place.
A move not from Fangio, perhaps, but that shows once again the ability of the Argentine ace that flies away gaining immediately four seconds: now it is a flight to victory. It’s useless the resistance of the English driver on Ferrrai 801, while the unlucky Collins, who breaks the gearbox and fails to return to the lead, even if he does not lose the third position. After completing the twenty-two laps in three hours and thirty minutes, Fangio won the race and the fifth title of World Champion. He follows according to Hawthorn at 3.6 seconds, while Collins, third, is detached by over thirty seconds. Fourth Musso to over three minutes, while in the sprint Moss catches the last world point against Behra. The seventh, Schell, is the last runner not voiced. Significant shot on arrival: Juan Manuel Fangio smiles at the passage under the chess flag. A sly, reassuring, mysterious and emblematic smile. Surely a smile full of satisfaction, because the Argentine driver knows he has accomplished a feat, he knows that this August 4, 1957, from myth man has become Legend.
"It was a good race. The circuit was fast and I had a first class car, in perfect condition. Now I am very tired and happy, of course".
What do you think of your opponents?
"Very good all three drivers of the opposing house. Musso came in fourth, but he took second place in the ranking for the world title. It’s a nice achievement. Collins and Hawthorn’s qualities were already known. The Italian, however, can be considered of value at least equal if not superior to that of his companions".
Fangio is asked if he intends to continue racing.
"Ask me in December. For now I have decided nothing and only others have spoken of my retreat".
Equally chivalrous were Mike Hawthorn’s statements:
"We didn’t think Collins and I would be good enough to catch up. I thought Fangio was in trouble with his car and couldn’t force his pace".
Applause followed on the open stage from the grandstands, while the Maserati men carry their bishop in triumph on their shoulders, starting to sing the Fangio choir, Fangio, which acts as a festive musical background to the ceremony on the podium. Even British Ferrari drivers know they have completed a perfect race, but today Fangio has done something extraordinary, which goes beyond the unimaginable. Fourth victory on six seasonal Grands Prix, including Indianapolis, an advantage in the standings such that the drivers' title is Fangio both from the arithmetic point of view, both from the regulatory one. This is the fifth title, the fourth consecutive, won by Fangio: triumphs obtained with four different teams, victory number twenty-four out of forty-nine participations, twenty-nine pole positions. If the numbers are not enough to describe the greatness of Fangio, the 1957 German Grand Prix is certainly the key episode of an extraordinary career. Fangio was able to get the most out of the Maserati 250F, the only official driver to stay out of trouble and breakdowns, except for the British Grand Prix. Several years later, remembering this race, Juan Manuel Fangio will tell:
"I’ve always had in my head the chance to win a race and this was almost lost for me. So I had to take a chance, it’s something I’ve never done before in my life. So, I started to go from using fourth to fifth. I started pulling harder using longer gears. And I thought, maybe once it’s okay, I can take a ride like this, but it’s crazy if I make two. I made the right decision. If in one lap I was using the second gear, then I would go to the third gear. When it was the third gear, I would use the fourth gear. And the car went better in the corners. There’s a lot more risk, that’s much less safe, but go faster. And then on one of the slopes I saw the other two cars; they were one behind the other. There were only two laps left. And that was the first time I really thought I could reach them. I’ve never been a spectacular driver, but I’ve done things I’ve never done in my life, driving from one side of the circuit to the other, making the most of the laps. And that’s how I got them back and won the race. I won by three seconds. I did record laps in the last ten laps. But I had a problem; one of the screws in the back of my seat broke during the last lap. I hurt my leg trying to straighten my seat. I couldn’t grab the steering wheel. For me this was the most exciting race. I was called meister; if you win three times at the Nurburgring, you are something special. And this race helped me get the fifth World Championship. When I was waiting for my laurels, I was very excited. In 1954 a driver I had taken there to race had disappeared - Onofre Marimon - so this circuit had given me happiness and sadness. Simply, now I can say it; I never thought I could win this race".
For the men of Maserati there is the satisfaction of having provided throughout the season a solid car to their champion, unlike 1954 where the Italian team provided the car to Fangio, again, for the Grand Prix won in Argentina, then the ace of the steering wheel passed into Mercedes to dominate the scene the following two years. Vanwall disappointed, even though they scored points with Moss they never seemed competitive, while in Ferrari we can be satisfied, having brought two cars on the podium and Musso in fourth place. Now the world championship moves to Italy for the next two stages, Pescara and Monza. Italy is the first nation to host two Grand Prix valid for the World Championship during the same season. The cards have been shuffled once again, and making predictions seems risky.
Translated by Claudia Galletta