1956 Monaco Grand Prix race report: Moss the Monaco maestro

Stirling Moss sees off Fangio fightback to lead from first lap to last

Stirling Moss (Maserati 250F), on his way to victory at the 1956 Monaco Grand Prix.

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The Classic Grand Prix of Monaco, held through the streets of Monte Carlo, was once again for Formula 1 cars and counted in the World Championship series, being the second in the 1956 list. Naturally all the big factory teams entered, leaving very little room for private owners, and in view of the town circuit being short and narrow a starting limit of 16 cars was fixed. There were 18 entries, so that during practice the two slowest cars were going to be ruled out, while, additionally, if any of the first sixteen were considered too slow then they too would not be allowed to start. This was a sound idea and meant that this classic Grande Epreuve was to accept the cream of Grand Prix cars and drivers.


The first practice was at the civilised hour of 4pm on the Thursday of race week, going on for two hours, and in addition to times counting for qualifying there was a prize of £100 for the driver making the fastest lap. This meant that there was considerable activity during the afternoon and that the whole meeting got away to a flying start, unlike some events which do not warm up until the day before the race. Conditions for practice were perfect and the circuit was only altered in one respect, that being at the chicane where the road comes downhill from the tunnel and does an ess onto the harbour front. Here the angles of the esses had been made much sharper so that the cars joined the harbour front at a lower speed, thus minimising the chances of a repetition of Ascari’s plunge into the harbour.

Moss races past the spectators

Moss races past the spectators

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It meant slower lap times, so that the chances of the old record being broken were slight. This record stood to Fangio in 1min 42.4sec, made during last year’s race, though he had recorded 1min 41.1sec in practice.

It was most heartening to see green cars first away for practice, the BRMs and the Vanwalls setting the pace. The rest were soon after them and as drivers settled in the times came down to just over 1min 50sec, until Fangio went out and started off at 1min 49sec and rapidly got down to 1min 45.6sec, which was bogey time for most of the afternoon.

“The other Maserati drivers were having trouble, Perdisa wheeling his car back to the pits, and Behra leaving his out on the circuit”

The Maserati team sent their drivers off in carburetter cars first of all, and then Moss changed over to an injection car halfway round one lap and persevered with this new toy, but could not go as fast as the normal car. The other Maserati drivers were having trouble, Perdisa wheeling his car back to the pits, and Behra leaving his out on the circuit.

The Vanwalls and BRMs were overgeared for the twisty course, and the Bourne cars were having trouble with pick-up from low revs, out of the hairpins. Schell had some bother with complete lack of pick-up until he found a throttle link had dropped off, but this was soon put right.

The Ferrari team had only two modified Lancias for their four drivers on this first day and there was a lot of chopping and changing going on, while Maserati had all their cars available. Gordini had one six-cylinder car running which Manzon and Pilette were sharing and Rosier and Gould were going round in their private Maseratis.

Before putting the Weber-carburetter model away Moss beat Fangio’s best time with a lap in 1min 46.2sec, but could not approach this with the fuel-injection model. By 5.30 pm there was a lull and everyone felt they had done enough, but with 15 minutes practice time left Fangio went out on an empty track and did some very quick laps, getting down to a shattering 1min 44.2sec. Then Collins took the car and had a go, but could not approach “the guvnor” and it looked as though the £100 would go to Fangio and the credit to Ferrari.

“There was a most heartening moment for the British when Schell then set off in the Vanwall, sounding wonderfully crisp after the deep bellow of the Lancia megaphones”

There was a most heartening moment for the British when Schell then set off in the Vanwall, sounding wonderfully crisp after the deep bellow of the Lancia megaphones. In spite of being a bit overgeared Schell tried hard and put in a very creditable 1 min 45.2 sec. It was now nearly 6 pm and Moss suddenly discovered about the £100 prize and rushed back to the Maserati pit, but of course his fast carburetter car was round at the garage on the other side of the circuit.

The only available cars were the injection models, which had gone tick inside, and Perdisa’s car which he had pushed in and the only way back to the garage was via the circuit. Horace Gould came to the rescue and lent his car to Moss to go round to the Maserati garage and collect the healthy factory car. Moss reappeared at the pits, four pairs of hands changed the 12 plugs for hard ones and away went the English driver after the £100. On a perfectly clear track Moss really had a go but it was no use, he could not better 1min 45.2sec, so practice stopped with Fangio on top.

Maserati's Behra makes his way past the harbour

Maserati’s Behra makes his way past the harbour

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Next morning there was another practice period at the unreasonable hour of 5.45 am and the whole town was woken from its slumbers. This was a very uninspired session, for few people were ready at such short notice after the previous evening, and no factory Maseratis appeared at all. Ferrari let Collins out for a very short while. Both BRMs were running, but not very well, and Hawthorn and Brooks were far from happy. Trintignant was the only Vanwall driver present, but Gordini had all his men on parade, Manzon, Bayol, Pilette and Silva Ramos all sharing two eight-cylinder cars and one six-cylinder.

Chiron appeared with the Maserati belonging to the Scuderia Centro-Sud and circulated rather slowly, but still managed to drive the car to a standstill, with the rev-counter nearly off the scale, no oil pressure and all the bearings ruined. By breakfast time when practice finished, it was Collins who had made fastest lap of the morning, with 1min 47sec, though Trintignant was only one-fifth of a second slower.

During the day the Maserati garages had cars and engines strewn about everywhere, Ferrari was still awaiting the arrival of some more cars, BRM were trying to think of some way of making their cars go, and Vanwall were doing routine work.

The last practice period, on Saturday, was again at 5:45am and conditions were good, except that the hot sun was causing some dazzle going up the hill from Ste Devote corner. Everyone was out and having a last fling, but Schell was frustrated by a faulty clutch and Trintignant was still bothered by being fully enclosed by Perspex, and having to look sideways through it on the slow hairpins. In spite of this he was trying hard and the Vanwall was being a credit to its country and designers.

Moss was using both types of Maserati, but still going faster in the carburetter model, while Behra was really trying and cornering on the limit. Bayol overdid things at the chicane and bent the near-side front suspension of the new eight-cylinder Gordini, Musso had his Lancia/Ferrari die on him and had to walk back to the pits, and Castellotti was going well.

The two BRMs did a few slow laps and then gave up, with worried looks on the faces of the pit-staff, and the private owners were practising but trying to keep out of the way of the “big boys” who were using all the road. Fangio set off with his “determined” look on his face, but just as he got wound up the bonnet came undone and he had to stop to have it fixed. Off he went again and this time there was no messing about and he put in a series of laps in the 1min 44 and bit sec class. He was right on the limit of adhesion all the way round, and when Fangio is on the limit it is well worth watching. This little flurry ended with a lap in 1min 44sec, and that was that.

“Maserati lent their precious fuel-injection car to Chiron and he went round for a few laps and then there was an almighty bang as he passed the pits”

Maserati lent their precious fuel-injection car to Chiron, as the blown-up engine from yesterday was still in pieces, and he went round for a few laps and then there was an almighty bang as he passed the pits, and the Maserati engine fell out all over the road, with the rev-counter once more nearly off the dial. With practice over by 8.15 am, the teams had the rest of the day to prepare the cars for the race, and late in the afternoon a tour of the various garages was most revealing.

Castellotti rounds the final turn

Castellotti rounds the final turn

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At Maserati’s there were three carburetter cars almost complete, Moss and Perdisa both having cars with right-hand throttles, so that there was a spare for the team leader, the number one car having the four-speed gearbox, while the other two had five speeds: all three were using twin tail-pipes. At Ferrari’s the mechanics were busy polishing the paintwork, all four team cars being complete, Fangio, Musso and Collins having the Syracuse models and Castellotti an Argentine type.

In the town the Gordini team had repaired Bayols bent chassis, as it was steering better than the other eight-cylinder car anyway, and there were two six-cylinder cars ready for Manzon and Silva Ramos, Pilette being reserve driver. A quick trip out of town to see the Vanwall team found both cars in good order, with the mechanics busy making sure everything was tight and in place, while a return back to town found the BRM garage empty. Despairing of curing their engine troubles they had packed up and gone home, their withdrawal upsetting their drivers but not the opposition. It was reported that the engines were suffering front valve trouble, but one can only assume it was because they were not tested properly before leaving Bourne. Of the private owners only Rosier and Gould were starting in the race, as Maserati had shovelled all the wreckage of Chiron’s efforts into a box and washed their hands, and Scarlatti with his 2-litre Ferrari just was not fast enough.


On race day the sun was shining brilliantly as everyone got ready for a 2:45 pm start. The two Vanwall cars and the Gordini team were in place very early, the three factory Maseratis did a very impressive slow warming-up lap nose to tail, and the Ferrari team were wheeled by hand from the garage to the pits. After the general air of chaos that has surrounded the Maserati team since the beginning of the season, the complete calm that now prevailed was most convincing.

The front row of the start saw Moss sandwiched between Fangio and Castellotti, with Behra and Schell behind; then came Trintignant, Perdisa and Musso, followed by Collins and Silva Ramos, with Manzon, Bayol and Rosier in row five and Gould on his own at the back. A small but select field of 14 runners. The start was superb and the whole bunch leapt for the gasworks hairpin with Castellotti and Moss side by side and Fangio a half-length behind.

Stirling Moss leads at the start

Stirling Moss leads at the start

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Moss chopped his way into the hairpin first, the two Lancia/Ferraris went round wheel to wheel and then the whole bunch came screaming up behind the pits. Schell was right in amongst the red cars, but Trintignant had bumped someone’s tail and was at the back with the nose of his Vanwall badly crumpled. The roar as the 14 cars came out of the tunnel and approached the harbour front was wonderful and then Moss came round the corner into the pit area in a wonderful controlled power-slide and it was seen that he was well out in front.

“Moss came round the corner into the pit area in a wonderful controlled power-slide and it was seen that he was well out in front”

Behind him came a seething, jostling bunch of red cars with the green Vanwall of Schell in the middle of them and the next lap was motor racing at its best. Everyone seemed to be going completely mad, except Moss who was well out on his own, looking smooth and relaxed. Behind the pits they roared in the order Moss, Fangio, Collins, Castellotti, Behra, Musso and Schell, with the rest already some way back, and the leader only on his third lap.

Going under the footbridge into Ste Devote corner Fangio overdid things and spun, and Castellotti, Collins and Behra scraped by. Then Fangio turned round in a big loop and found himself face to face with a hurrying Musso and Schell, who both dodged wildly: Musso rammed the straw bales and broke his steering and Schell spun and hit a wall, bending the Vanwall’s front suspension and meanwhile Fangio continued to turn round and set off up the hill, leaving two bent cars and two very furious drivers behind him.

As always at Monte Carlo, the opening laps saw nearly everyone denting noses or tails, though somehow Collins had avoided contact, and of course Moss, who was way out on his own. After this initial skirmish things began to settle down a bit, though Trintignant retired with an overheated engine due to the crumpled nose blanking off the radiator, and Rosier stopped at his pit for a short while to look at his back tyres.

By 10 laps some semblance of order had settled, and Moss was well away in the lead, driving with a relaxed precision that was a joy to watch. Collins was nicely in second place, concentrating on what he was doing, while behind him came Behra and Castellotti, followed by Fangio going very hard to make up time. Perdisa led the rest and Manzon was leading the Gordini trio.

The next 10 laps were spent watching Fangio regaining his lost position, and first Castellotti saw the old man in his mirror, and then Behra. The former was not very interested in letting his team leader get by and for three laps Fangio pressed heavily on Castellotti’s tail. Then as they came through the chicane Fangio forced his way past, and as they went past the pits and into the hairpin a very peeved Castellotti tried hard to bump Fangio’s tail.

By the end of the next lap Castellotti could barely see Fangio’s tail, let alone try and bump it, for the World Champion was now after Behra. The Maserati driver kept giving nervous looks over his shoulder but was determined not to give way. However, as Fangio got closer so Behra’s cornering got wilder, until the Argentinian got by as they left the chicane.

Castellotti leads the midfield off the start

Castellotti leads the midfield off the start

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Now it was Collins’ turn to suffer the wrath of the “old Master” and all this time the “young Master”, Stirling Moss, was driving superbly, increasing his lead all the time and looking comfortable, while the Maserati sounded perfect. Collins kept an eye on his mirror and, while he did not ease off at all, he kept well into the side, allowing Fangio plenty of room to overtake if he could. After being very thoroughly “dealt with” by his team leader, Castellotti had his clutch pack up and walked unhappily back to the pits.

Before 30 laps were completed Fangio was up with Collins and went by into second place, but not before he crumpled the nose of the Lancia against a hard object. Moss was lapping in just over 1min 48sec and Fangio was gritting his teeth and doing 1 min 46.2 sec, but Ugolini was keeping his “wonder boy” well informed of the situation from the Maserati pit. While gritting his teeth Fangio overdid things on the bend before the pits and hit the right hand wall, getting away with a bent rear wheel, but this slowed him and Collins now caught him up and the two Lancias went round nose to tail, Fangio’s looking a battered wreck and Collins’ all nice and new.

“Now it was Collins’ turn to suffer the wrath of the ‘old Master’”

Of the others, Bayol had got tired and handed over to Pilette; Manzon was going very steadily and taking quick looks up the road as he cornered round the hairpin, to see if anyone was following; Silva Ramos was running along quietly, keeping out of the way, as was Gould; Perdisa who was supposed to be keeping his car nicely on-the boil, in case Moss should need it, now found it getting woolly.

At lap 40 Fangio drew into the pits for a variety of reasons; his clutch was beginning to slip and the bent rear wheel was slowing him, so that he was losing on Moss and at the same time holding up Collins; and Behra, who was fourth, was now catching them. Castellotti had walked back to the pit and the tattered wreck of Fangio’s car was given to him while the team leader had a rest.

With a clear road, Collins now speeded up and drew away from Behra, who had got to within six seconds, and all the while Moss was more than half a minute in the lead. By lap 50, or half-distance; the order was Moss 32 sec ahead of Collins, then Behra 15 sec in the rear, Castellotti in Fangio’s car a lap behind the leader, Perdisa and Manzon, Pilette, Silva Ramos, Rosier and Gould all still running, but well back. This was a classic occasion for British racing history, for British drivers were lying first and second in complete command of the race. The next step will be when they are driving British cars.

The order was Maserati-Lancia-Maserati-Lancia-Maserati and then on lap 54 Collins drew into the pits and handed his car over to Fangio. This let Behra into second place, 50 sec behind Moss, who was well aware of what was happening and was surprised it had not happened earlier. Once more Fangio had to force his way past Behra, but it was easier this time as the Maserati engine began to sound flat. The question now was whether Fangio could make up 50 sec on Moss, providing both cars kept going, and though Fangio was trying all he knew it seemed unlikely for Moss was obviously driving well within his limits and could speed up if required.

By three-quarters distance Moss lapped Behra and now only Fangio was on the same lap as the leader, though he was driving Collins’ car. The gap was down to 43 sec, but then it remained constant and meanwhile Castellotti drew into the pits to complain about the heap of wreckage he had been given to use as a racing car, but was told to go away. Perdisa was now touring round, aiming to finish, and Manzon was trying hard to catch the ailing Castellotti. The Gordini was running out of brakes, as were most of the others, and finally hit both sides of the chicane, bending the front suspension but, after a quick inspection at the pit, he went on.

Horace Gould slides his Maserati through the gasworks hairpin

Horace Gould slides his Maserati through the gasworks hairpin

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On lap 80 the gap between the first two was down to 39sec, Behra was still third and Manzon was catching Castellotti for fourth place. On the 87th lap Moss was about to lap Perdisa once more when the young Italian driver panicked and put his brakes on, so that the leader rammed him in the tail.

This slight setback dropped the gap to 32sec and Fangio was still going as hard as he knew how, the car sounding perfect. As a result of the pushing match the leading Maserati had a crumpled nose, but more serious was the fact that a front bonnet catch had been broken and the bonnet was lifting on one corner.

“Fangio’s closing laps were a joy to watch, for he went faster and faster all the time”

With 10 laps to go Moss was going under the bridge at Ste Devote as Fangio joined the finishing straight on his way down to the Gasworks hairpin, and the gap was 28sec. Moss knew what he was up to and made no attempt to hurry, though he had to keep an eye on the lifting bonnet. As the remaining laps ticked by the gap came right down until Moss crossed the line the winner by a mere 6secs, but he knew that one second would have been enough.

Fangio’s closing laps were a joy to watch, for he went faster and faster all the time, believing that the race is never lost until the chequered flag falls. On his 100th and last lap he set a new fastest time in 1min 44.1sec, which was outstanding in view of the amount of rubber and oil left on the road after three hours of racing.

At last Moss had really won a classic Grand Prix, and was elated about it, but nothing like so much as the Scuderia Maserati, who had made a real effort over this World Championship event.

Monte Musings

  • Three factory Maseratis started and three finished. Things are looking up at Modena.
  • Fangio had three accidents with his first car. He managed to drive Collins’ car without denting it.
  • Poor Manzon went out on the 97th lap with broken transmission after fighting his way up to fourth place. Bad luck indeed.
  • Moss hit the wall in the tunnel, which bounced him across the road and made him think. He also bounced off the wall by the harbour front, but without damage.
  • Collins drove a steady and worthy race until the car was taken away from him. As it finished second anyway it was a pity he could not have driven it all the way himself.
  • Castellotti had another bad weekend, rather like the one at Naples.
  • Gould lost a lot of time at the pits with failing brakes.
  • Moss keeps having Perdisa get in his way, Collins suffered in the past with Piotti in his way, but somehow Fangio does not let people get in his way.
  • When dicing Moss looks relaxed, Castellotti has his month open, Behra has a poker-face, Collins concentrates, Fangio looks grim, Musso has a blank look, Schell looks flushed, Manzon looks happy.
  • The transport used by the technical staff for the factory teams was interesting, Gordini had a clapped-out pre-war large Renault, Maserati a tatty Fiat 1,100 with the back seat removed and a stand to carry a spare engine in its place, Ferrari a very overworked Fiat 1,100, BRM an S-type Bentley and Vanwall a Cadillac.
  • The drivers’ personal transport produced a similar motley collection. Behra a Renault Dauphine, also Trintignant, Moss a 220a Mercedes-Benz, also Fangio. Musso a Giulietta Sprint, Collins a 1956 Zephyr, Schell an obscene-looking American car, Perdisa a Lancia, Gould a Consul.

1956 Monaco Grand Prix race results

1. Stirling Moss (Maserati) 3:00:32.9

2. Peter Collins/Juan Manuel Fangio (Ferrari) + 6.1

3. Jean Behra (Gordini) + 1 lap

4. Juan Manuel Fangio/Eugenio Castellotti (Ferrari) + 6 laps

5. Hermano da Silva Ramos (Gordini) + 7 laps

6. Elie Bayol/Andre Pilette (Gordini) + 12 laps

7. Cesare Perdisa (Maserati) + 14 laps

8. Horace Gould (Maserati) + 15 laps

9. Robert Manzon (Gordini) Retired – Accident

10. Louis Rosier (Maserati) Retired – Engine

11. Eugenio Castellotti (Ferrari) Retired – Clutch

12. Maurice Trintignant (Vanwall) Retired – Overheating

13. Harry Schell (Vanwall) Retired – Accident

14. Luigi Musso (Ferrari) Retired – Accident

15. Giorgio Scarlatti (Ferrari) – Did not start

16. Mike Hawthorn (BRM) – Did not start

17. Tony Brooks (BRM) – Did not start

18. Louis Chiron (Maserati) – Did not start

Championship Standings

1. Jean Behra – 10

2. Juan Manuel Fangio – 9

3. Stirling Moss – 8

4. Luigi Musso – 4

5. Mike Hawthorn – 4