1954-1963

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The era of the heroic drive — 1955 Mille Miglia and Nürburgring ’57 — but the face of motor racing is changing courtesy of the new British teams

Driver: Juan Manuel Fangio

Unconventional roots

Fangio was runner-up to Alberto Ascari for last years world title, which he lost by seven points, although in cars which until well through the season were hardly a match for the Ferraris. With Maserati he nevertheless managed to score victories at Monza and Modena, and to finish second at Naples, Reims, Silverstone (twice) and Nürburgring , besides setting a new lap record at Albi with the treacherous BRM.

Fangio, from the Argentine, is reputed to have been a taxi or bus driver back home, but I think that is exaggerated. Certainly, he learnt his motor racing with some very improbable cars in the rough-and-tumble of Argentinean racing, yet emerged as world champion in 1951 — proof that he is a ‘natural’, for his training period was certainly shorter than that of Ascari, who started on Sertum, Gilera and Bianchi motorcycles, and was coached by the great Luigi Villoresi in Maseratis and Ferraris.
May 1954

German GP: his greatest race

Finishing lap 12, Fangio drew into the pits, got out of the car, and two mechanics took 52sec to change rear wheels and refuel, a disgustingly long time by grand prix standards. Fangio had arrived with a 28sec lead, but this put him over three-quarters of a minute behind the Lancia-Ferraris, which went by while he was stationary. Peter Collins was credited with a new lap record of 9min 28.9sec, and he and Mike Hawthorn took turns at leading the race, passing the pits with one hand on the wheel and the other shading their eyes from the sun.

For three laps, while his tyres were new and the tanks heavy with fuel, Fangio made no impression, but lap 16 saw the gap reduced to 33sec. And the next time round it was 25.5sec. The Ferrari pit became frantic and urged the two Englishmen to greater things, but there was nothing they could do, and Fangio was smiling happily to himself as he first of all lowered the record to 9min 28.5sec, then to 9min 25.3sec. On lap 19 he did 9min 23.4sec. The gap was only 13.5sec, and Hawthorn and Collins knew their race was run, for when ‘the old man’ gets in record-breaking groove there is no-one to stop him, especially on the Nürburgring.

At the end of lap 20 Hawthorn led Collins over the line, both straining all they knew how, and then the crowds rose in acclamation for Fangio was right behind them, only 2sec between himself and Hawthorn. Round the Sudkurve he was grinning contentedly at the two young boys, and as Collins went into the left-hand Nordkurve, Fangio went by him.

Then came the most shattering announcement of the whole race: “Fangio has just lapped in 9min 17.4sec !” An unbelievable record, but obviously true for he had gained 11sec in 14 miles.

Before reaching the lowest point of the course, at Breidscheid, Hawthorn had been overtaken and with a lap-and-a-half to go Fangio had made up for his pitstop. Collins relaxed and dropped right back, which was partly admissible as his clutch was not working, but Hawthorn refused to give up and was only 3sec behind as Fangio started his last lap. This was the Hawthorn everyone likes to watch, the never-say-die version who will fight against overwhelming odds to the bitter end. For that last memorable lap he lost only a few yards on Fangio, turning in a time of 9min 24sec, but to what purpose when Fangio had done 9min 17.4sec? — DSJ
September 1957

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