DATE: 4th August 1957
DISTANCE PER LAP: 14.173 miles
WEATHER: Sunny, hot, dry
STARTERS: 24 (inc. F2 cars)
POLE POSITION: Juan Manuel Fangio (Maserati 250F) – 9m 25.6sec
Juan Manuel Fangio was 46 years old and he arrived at the Nordschleife with three previous race wins during the 1957 season at Argentina, Monaco and France. In the previous race, the British Grand Prix at Aintree, Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss had been victorious, Fangio had retired on lap 49 with an engine problem.
The Nurburgring. Nordschleife. The Green Hell.
A test of a racing car and the nerve of any driver who dared take on the winding circuit. What happened here on this day would take its place in the history of Formula 1 folklore and legend, but the difference between folklore and this race is that these facts actually happened.
This is the stuff of legends.
During practice it became evident that the Vanwall’s were off the pace and did not look like posing any threat to the Maserati’s or Lancia Ferrari’s. Stirling Moss was quoted as saying “The Vanwall’s suspension was totally unsuitable for the Nurburgring.”
Maserati, in practice, found the Pirelli tyres were too high on wear and would not last the required 22 laps of the famous circuit. Team manager, Nello Ugolini and chief mechanic, Guerino Bertocchi met with Fangio and they came up with a cunning plan. Fangio knew the Ferrari’s of Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn were going to use hard tyres and run full fuel, attempting no pit stops. His idea was to fuel light and race on soft tyres, making one pit stop. He believed this would work in his favour and cut down the advantage on the Ferrari’s
His idea was to go off quick and build a big enough lead over the Ferrari’s so that he could pit and get back out, either still in the lead or within striking distance.
On a hot day in Germany, the race began with Fangio starting cautiously. He spent the first two laps of the race behind Collins and Hawthorn who were fighting over the lead. It was not until Lap 3 that Fangio took the lead and built a gap. it was on Lap 13 that he decided to make his pit stop.
Disaster struck. Whilst he was in the pits, his mechanic was removing the rear left tyre when a wheel nut came off and rolled under the car. At first the mechanic did not notice the wheel nut. On noticing the mistake he began to frantically look around when it was pointed out, some say by a calm Fangio standing talking with the team manager, that the nut was under the car. It took nearly thirty seconds for them to retrieve it and secure the wheel.
By the time Fangio came out of the pits, he had seen a thirty second lead descend into a fifty second deficit. He again began cautiously, the Ferrari management believed they were in control and put out pit boards informing their drivers to “Go Steady”, whereas Maserati were urging their driver on with a pit board telling him to go “Flat-Out”. Colllins and Hawthorn were off into the distance leaving the four time world champion with an impossible mountain to climb. Fangio set about reeling in the Ferrari’s, in what some say was the most illustrious drive of his entire career. Due to the length of the circuit, by the time the cars came round, the gap had shrunk enormously and by now it was too late for the Ferrari team to get a message to their drivers.
On lap Lap 18, Fangio clocked the first ever 90mph of the Nurburgring, on Lap 19 he stole eleven seconds off the lead cars, leaving the previous lap record in shreds. On Lap 20, as they went by the start/finish line, Hawthorn was two seconds in front of his team mate Collins who in turn was one second ahead of Fangio. On Lap 21 he had made up enough time that he overtook Collins at the North Curve and then came bearing down on Hawthorn to take the lead at Breidscheid.
Fangio broke the lap record nine times in total, seven of those on consecutive laps. Whilst driving at this blistering pace, unknown to the team and the fans watching, Fangio’s seat had broken. He explained afterwards that he had to hold on tightly to the steering wheel to stop himself from sliding around inside the car.
Fangio won the German Grand Prix by 3.6secs, sealing his fifth drivers crown and what would be his last Formula 1 victory. He would retire after the following season and would become known as one of the greatest drivers to ever grace Formula 1.
In just this race he proved that without a doubt he deserved that accolade in what could be regarded as one of the greatest Formula 1 races of all time.
(c) Photographs – National Automobile Museum
See You At The Chequered Flag