Just occasionally we manage to turn up a photograph which simply breathes the spirit of an age of racing; Formula 1 cars yumping at the Nürburgring, Fangio’s millimetre-perfect judgement skimming the harbourside railings at Monaco, or Senna and Mansell checking which would blink first at Magny-Cours.
Relatively few pictures were ever taken of Grand Prix cars actually locked in combat on the banked Pista de Alta Velocita section of the combined road and track course at Monza. Normally the photographers caught just a couple of cars in company there, and most negs show singletons alone. Searching through my late colleague Geoff Goddard’s archive recently a print slithered out which to me just about says it all. It’s one of those shots in which if you narrow your eyes I swear you’ll hear the 26 cylinders of the leading group hammering flat-strap onto the rising loom of the speedbowl banking. It’s the 1956 Italian GP, and eventual winner Stirling Moss is leading in the tailor-made Maserati 250F Fuoricentro with its engine and driveline offset right of centreline.
Right on his heels is Fangio in the works Lancia-Ferrari D50A, being slipstreamed eagerly by his young team-mate Peter Collins’ sister car. And overlapping the Lancia-Ferraris is the emergent new teardrop Vanwall of Harry Schell – giving the Italian establishment a clear (though brief) warning… In the background chase Vanwall, Lancia-Ferrari, Maserati. Cones divide the broad start and finish straight into the separate legs of the autodrome’s combined road and track sections.
We know that this is the race in which Fangio’s Ferrari failed him, and Collins surrendered his own D50A – together with his chance of winning the Drivers’ Championship – to enable The Old Boy to secure his fourth world title. We know too that it was Maserati’s last great victory in their home GP. And that 12 months later it would be the teardrop Vanwalls which would rule this particular roost – without the majestic but unsuited banking being included. One era was closing, another dawning – and it’s all encapsulated in one great photo.