100 Years of Grand Prix Racing

The greatest grands prix as voted by MotorSport readers

The best 20 races from the first century of grands prix. This is what you voted for…

20 1987 British GP

In front of a wildly partisan crowd, Nigel Mansell blitzes Williams team-mate Nelson Piquet with just three laps to go to hold out for an emotional win.

The Brummie ace slashes into the Brazilian’s advantage following a tyre stop on lap 35, prompted by the loss of a wheel-balance weight. In the dying stages he scythes inside Piquet into Stowe for a sensational victory.

What you said:
Darren Galpin. Bristol

You could tell when Nigel was about to appear in front of you due to the moving cheer of the crowd before you heard the car.

What they said:
Alan Henry. Motoring News

“Nigel Mansell scored one of the most brilliant wins of his career in Sunday’s Shell Oils British GP at Silverstone in front of a record 100,000 strong crowd. It was another blindingly impressive demonstration of his current high level of confidence, iron nerve and terrific powers of concentration. Murray Walker summed it up in a nutshell: ‘If willpower was horsepower, Mansell would have 100bhp more than anyone else!’ Honestly, it was great stuff!”

19 1976 US GP West

A strong vote from our West Coast American readership here: this race is not renowned as a thriller, but it goes down in history as the event where Formula One street racing is brought to Long Beach.

A dominant performance from Ferrari number two Clay Regazzoni gives him his traditional solo win for the year. Team leader Niki Lauda inherits second after a controversial Depailler/Hunt clash, but can do little about the flying Swiss.

What you said:
John Harris, Los Angeles. USA

Of course it was amazing when Mario Andretti won in 1977 but not as mind-blowing as F1 cars making their first visit in ’76.

What they said:
Alan Henry, MotorSport

“It’s much easier to work away at a rival’s advantage if you can actually see the car in front of you, but it appears to be another thing altogether if you’ve actually lost sight of the car you are chasing. Despite pulling away from his immediate pursuers, Lauda gradually lost ground on Regazzoni until he was over 14sec adrift. He managed to pull back a couple of seconds in the middle of the race but eventually conceded the battle, preferring to ease back over the last few laps and finish in a safe second place.”

18 2003 British GP

Rubens Barrichello drives the race of his career to win a thriller at Silverstone for Ferrari after an audacious half-lap pass of Kimi Räikkönen’s McLaren.

Later on a mistake by Räikkönen on oil allows Juan Pablo Montoya to take second for Williams. Räikkönen

The race is interrupted by a track invader, who causes a safety car which even allows Cristiano da Matta to lead in his Toyota. There’s passing galore — and a scary Alonso/ Schumacher moment.

What you said:
John Turner, Spalding, Lincs

Rubens one of the very finest drives of recent years. Was this his ‘day of days’?

What they said:
Mark Hughes, Autosport

“It was a grand prix you expected to wake up from. Impossibly colourful, wonderfully exciting, unfeasibly busy throughout the field. Against a backdrop of renewed criticism going into the race, Silverstone served up a GP that will go down in history as one of the great ones. And what’s more, the layout of the track was largely responsible; that and the tyre war.” Rubens BarrIchello

“People have been saying things about the first-lap crashing Rubens, and this and that, so I hope they shut up now!”

17 1968 German GP

Jackie Stewart wins at the daunting Nürburgring by four minutes. In pouring rain. In fog. Considering the evangelical zeal with which he campaigns for greater safety in motorsport, it’s easy to forget that the Scot is fearless: the manner in which he pulls out a gap of 10 to 15 secs — each lap — over the pursuing pack in such conditions proves his greatness beyond all doubt.

What you said:
Paul Levison, by e-mail

Whatever you say about Jackie Stewart, you can’t deny that he was one of the all-time greats. And this was his best performance.

What they said:
Innes Ireland. Autocar

“The 1968 German Grand Prix, run at the demanding Nürburgring in continuous rain and fog, will go down in history as one of the truly great races, and historians will talk of Jackie Stewart’s victory in the same terms that they used to describe Rosemeyer’s on the same circuit in 1936. All eyes were straining in an attempt to penetrate the fog as seconds ticked away and it was JYS who first came out of the murk with a lead of over seven seconds. The pattern was set.”

16 2005 Japanese GP

Giancarlo Fisichella may know how Jack Brabham felt after Monaco 1970, for this is what appears on the surface to be a grand prix win thrown away.

The Italian Renault ace’s lack of pace earlier in the race is punished by Kimi Räikkönen, who takes a brilliant last-gasp win for McLaren-Mercedes. But perhaps even more startling is Fernando Alonso, who twice passes Schumacher, on one occasion on the outside of 130R…

What you said:
Eric Burchill. Derby

Schumacher, Räikkönen and Alonso all driving and battling at the peak of their form. What more could you want? Stunning.

What they said:
Mark Hughes, Autosport

“Alonso could have backed out of the move [on Schumacher at 130R]. This is one of the few situations where a current-day Formula One driver can know that he’s not risking just a wrecked car if it goes wrong. This is a genuine 200mph corner. An interlocking wheel accident here would probably be fatal. It’s one of the few places where the sport’s raw essence pokes its head above the parapet. If the Ferrari had begun to run wide, Alonso would have felt the bump and nothing more… ever again.”

15 1969 Italian GP

Monza and the new flat-12 Ferrari isn’t ready. Today will belong to a Cosworth but whose? Four different makes top the 2×2 grid: Jochen Rindt’s Lotus 49 fastest, Denny Hulme’s McLaren alongside: Jackie Stewart has his Matra next up, with Piers Courage to his right in the BT26A Brabham. This is going to be close.

A messy start: Rindt and Stewart go clear, McLaren, Siffert. Courage and Beltoise are right behind. Hulme and Brabham following Jackie takes command, eight cars strung together like beads on a necklace. Jochen leads, then Hulme, then Stewart again. Hulme’s brakes drop him back, but Graham Hill has pushed his Lotus up to join the pack. At 50 laps it’s still a bunch of six Stewart, Hill, Courage. McLaren, Rindt, Beltoise in the second Matra.

They’re trading the lead, but it’s no exhibition; the lap speed is rising. So are the crowd. Stewart is in control, as he recalls: “I knew I had to let them through in places it was quicker: if you make it hard to pass, you’re only holding the whole cluster up, allowing the rest of the field to catch you.”

Mechanical ailments thin the pack to four JYS, Rindt, Beltoise, Bruce McLaren but it’s anyone’s call. Stewart could be World Champion even without winning. Will he back off? “I never considered it. My objective was to win every race. And I never had a moment’s unease racing with people like McLaren and Rindt.” Last lap: Stewart lets Rindt lead into Lesmo, then passes again. It’s all part of a calculated plan. “You have to work out your passing process at least a lap before, so you’re in sync when the time comes.” says JYS. “You can lose more time in a faster corner, so that’s where you want to be in front.” That’s why he repasses Rindt out of Lesmo and leads through Vialone, long and fast, into the final 180-degree turn. “Parabolica is crucial,” says Stewart. “You have to plan for it, and the more anxious drivers don’t.” Like Beltoise, who punches through inside, then runs wide on the exit. “Jean-Pierre nearly lost me that race because he was hustling,” says the Scot. But it’s Jackie who chops back inside the second Matra; it’s Jackie who spearheads a diamond formation to the tightest four-car finish ever. And it isn’t luck: “I had spent all practice finding a gear which would take me from Parabolica to the line, with that fuel load, without changing up,” Stewart remembers. It’s a fractional edge, but it means the World Championship to him. GC

What they said:
Denis Jenkinson, MotorSport

“Formula Ford at its best! They were all driving as hard as they could, not playing games for the crowd. Having let any likely opposition have a go out in front, so that he could watch them closely, Stewart now led consistently at the end of each lap, though he occasionally let Rindt or Hill into the lead at the Lesmos, only to repass before the back straight.”

Jackie Stewart

“When Ken told me I was champion, I had to ask him four times, ‘Are you absolutely sure?”

What you said:
David Meredith, Shrewsbury

A sensational race, made more memorable by an early Murray Walker mix-up. confusing Stewart with Beltoise!

14 1970 Monaco GP

Jochen Rindt sets himself on the road to the World Championship by pressuring Jack Brabham into a last-corner mistake to win.

After driving up through the field, Rindt starts smashing the lap record as his Lotus catches up with the Brabham in the closing laps. On the final lap he breaks it again — lapping eight tenths faster than the pole position time! — and passes Brabham, who has slid off just yards from the flag.

What you said:
John Pinkney, by e-mail

It was the greatest grand prix ever by a mile.

What they said:
Patrick McNally, Autosport

“With the crowd beside themselves, egging Rindt on for all they were worth, the two cars raced round, sweeping through Tabac and coming up to lap Courage and Peterson (who kept out of the way). Brabham, presumably anxious not to leave the door open, took the inside line — and for some inexplicable reason left his braking too late and skated into the guard rail. Jochen shot by the crippled car and passed the man with the flag, who was so surprised he forgot to drop it!”

13 1981 Spanish GP

Gilles Villeneuve proves that he is capable of leading from the front without recourse to overdriving with a sublime display of self-control.

For the final 10 laps of Jarama he keeps four cars behind him, picking his way through traffic without baulking them. Second-place man Jacques Laffite is shellshocked: “The power of that Ferrari — poof!” Elio de Angelis — barely a second behind the winner — can’t believe he’s ended up only fifth. A classic tactical win.

What you said:
Marcus Mussa, Monaco

A faultless win with an inferior car. And that was before the stupid blue-flag rule leaders actually had to overtake backmarkers!

What they said:
Peter Windsor, Autocar

“The Ferrari weaved around as Gilles Villeneuve squeezed the brakes. They darted left into the apex as the front tyres found grip. Only one serious corner remained: the righthander that had claimed Alan Jones. Gilles played safe, braked early and stayed resolutely on the groove. That last lap had been the very best by Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari and Jarama; until then it was the best since the days of the Monza slipstreamers, before any of the five [protagonists] had even dreamed of F1.”

12 1990 Mexican GP

After the usual Ayrton Senna demonstration run, matters liven up in Mexico City following the McLaren man’s retirement.

Ferrari’s Alain Prost takes the lead, but it’s his team-mate Nigel Mansell who stars. Gerhard Berger takes him for second, only for the Brit to retake the position at the Peraltada with just one lap to go: an audacious move that defies belief.

What you said:
Kevin Turner, York.

That battle for second between Mansell and Berger was decided by one of the best overtaking manoeuvres I have ever seen.

What they said:
David Tremayne, Motoring News

“While Prost coasted to a perfectly judged victory, Berger muscled his way past Mansell, only for Mansell to retake second place with an astonishing move on Berger on the outside of the Peraltada with a lap to go. It might have been something of a sleeper for the first 45 laps, but what might be the last Mexican Grand Prix ended up an absolute gem; the most exciting of the season. Come to think of it, it was probably the best since Silverstone 1987. Can we have a few more like this, please?”

11 1986 Australian GP

It’s one of those imprinted TV images — the blue-and-yellow car snaking left-right-left towards the camera, Nigel Mansell’s dreams of the title shredded into blue smoke and rubber shrapnel as he wrestles his crippled Williams to a stop.

Starting from pole, ‘Our Nige’ has been pacing himself— he only has to finish third in this final GP to take the crown from Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet. Fourth, then the vital third place. Mansell fans hold their breath — and release it in a nationwide groan of despair. It isn’t fair…

What you said:
Alec Cuthbert, Sutherland

What a race! Even if I did cry into my cornflakes…

What they said:
Alan Henry, MatorSport

“The car sat down on its chassis in a furnace of sparks and slewed drunkenly up the escape road, Mansell fighting gallantly to retain some semblance of control. In some ways Mansell finished the 1986 season a bigger hero than if he had taken the championship.”

Nigel Mansell

“To be honest I’m glad simply to be in one piece. There was no warning of it. In fact I was just cruising along, knowing that I was in the right position to take the title. It just wasn’t meant to be, was it?”

10 1914 French GP

Georges Boillot is crying after his retirement from the 1914 French GP at Lyon. The Frenchman has been heroic in his efforts to win the race, but the Peugeot équipe has made a mistake on tyre choice and his car has proven a handful.

Even so, he chases Mercedes’ Christian Lautenschlager, only to retire after his engine cries enough. Plucky Boillot would die two years later after taking on seven German planes in a dogfight. A brave man.

What you said:
Gary Doyle, by e-mail

Nothing comes close in terms of drama, size, impact, influence on racecar design and longevity of competitiveness of principal cars.

What they said:
H Massac Buist, Autocar

“The Mercedes victory was one of superiority at every point save that of brakes. The Germans have set a new standard, from which we have to learn. Time and again during the day, especially as the exciting duel between Mercedes and Peugeot developed, we would see the much faster German machines draw nearer to the French cars, gaining visibly until a corner fell to be negotiated. Sometimes it was like a fleet hound in pursuit of a hare. Invariably, a corner proved a temporary shelter for a Peugeot or a Delage.”

9 1982 Monaco GP

The race it appeared that nobody wanted to win… In the end, Riccardo Patrese is shoved off a kerb by some marshals at the Station Hairpin and plods on to the flag to win for Brabham.

It looks like Alain Prost’s race before he crashes with six laps left. Patrese leads before his spin. Didier Pironi leads, then runs out of fuel. Andrea de Cesaris should take over, but he’s out of fuel too! Cue Patrese.

What you said:
Michel Deraemaeker, by e-mail

A more exciting finish than Dijon in ’79. Nobody was sure about who would win the race.

What they said:
Nigel Roebuck, Autosport

“Can we have a winner, please? Someone step forward. Monaco is up for grabs. Patrese decided that he was the man. The marshals, judging the Brabham to be in a dangerous place, had pushed it straight again. Moving gently down the hill, Riccardo bump-started the engine and continued. If the Brabham had not been allowed the push, the Lotuses would have gone on their way and Mansell would have won his first grand prix. Weird circumstances, but then Monaco is not a race.”

8 1993 European GP

The post-race press conference was almost as electrifying as the race. Held in a scaffold-supported hard-floor tent in the Donington paddock, the lashing rain beat down upon the roof so you heard it even above the amplified voice of Alain Prost. He was explaining why the constantly changing weather conditions had made the ’93 European Grand Prix such a hellishly difficult race for him. To his right, and slightly behind, laid a long way back on his chair, Ayrton Senna had his eyes closed, perhaps reliving his unbelievably audacious drive to victory. There was also clearly an element of feigned disinterest at Prost’s explanations. You just knew Senna was not going to be gracious enough to let it go, that he hadn’t yet finished with his humiliation of his greatest rival. From fifth at the first corner in the blinding spray to the lead at the end of the first lap. Senna had passed Michael Schumacher around the outside of Redgate, Karl Wendlinger around the outside of the mighty Craner Curves and zapped Damon Hill shortly after, leaving just Prost ahead of him. It had to be this lap: that was crucial. Prost’s Williams-Renault was faster than the McLaren-Ford. If he could just use the momentum of his attack to displace Prost now as Alain was still feeling his way, he might have a chance. He gambled all on a bold late-braking move down the inside of the Melbourne Hairpin, the lap’s penultimate corner. On the exit, a yellow helmet in a dayglo car emerged first out of the gloom. That was the foundation of the victory, built upon with a sustained demonstration of genius and tactical poker through the ever-changing conditions.

Alain had been in no position to fight it out at the Melbourne hairpin, he was now explaining: “The tickover was still on its dry setting, making it too high for the slippery surface. It was making the car very difficult to control under braking at a slow corner like that. I was defending my line but then the gearbox suddenly found neutral and I ran wide.” He went on to explain how the wrong rear-wing setting had been chosen and how the Williams felt near-undriveable on slicks. Then there was the problem of the stalled engine at the fifth stop, and the later puncture. In all, he’d made seven pit stops, two more than Senna. And that had been crucial.

Still mid-flow in his shopping list of woes, Prost was interrupted. Senna had opened his eyes, looked across and with perfect timing said: “Maybe you should change cars with me.” The whole room laughed, Senna closed his eyes once more and Prost sat there with a forced smile frozen upon his face. You could see he considered Senna’s jibe a cheap shot, see his disgust at how Ayrton could not even be gracious in victory. But the rest of the room was laughing because Ayrton had worked them, just as exquisitely as he’d worked the car and the heavens that day. If you stood aside from being entranced, became a dispassionate observer, it was like seeing someone kick a wounded dog. MH

What you said:
Pat Garnett, Wolverhampton

They say the rain’s a great equaliser, and clearly it cancelled out the superiority of Williams. But nothing could match Senna.

What they said:
David Tremayne, MotorSport

“This was Senna’s Day of Days. He dealt with Schumacher in Hollywood, went round the outside of Wendlinger down to Old Hairpin, and at McLeans he shouldered inside a cautious Hill. In the Melbourne hairpin he took Prost down the inside and the Williams driver could only let it happen. By the time he reached Redgate, Senna can barely have seen the FW15C as a spray-blurred yellow and blue dot in his mirrors. This was annihilation, and it made the rest of them look as if they were on their warm-up lap.”

7 1953 French GP

Mike Hawthorn comes of age and becomes the first Briton to win a World Championship grand prix after an incredible duel with Juan Manuel Fangio at Reims.

Hawthorn’s Ferrari is put on the grass by Fangio’s Maserati with a few laps to go, but Mike recovers and gets the verdict by 40 yards after a sprint from the final hairpin. Just behind them, Gonzalez gets third in a scrap with Ascari and Farina.

What you said:
David Baxter, Dordogne, France

A great duel between Hawthorn and Fangio, with Ascari and Gonzalez in the frame.

What they said:
Gregor Grant, Autosport

“Everyone was on his (or her) feet. ‘C’est Howtorn — non, c’est Fangio’ howled the PA announcer. Up in the press tribunes the Argentinian commentator was practically in a state of collapse. He’d been jabbering away for over two and a half hours and could scarcely obtain any breathing space. Hard-headed journalists threw nonchalance to the winds. One gentleman even went so far as to tear up his notes, stand on his hat and finally fall over his desk.”

6 1935 German GP

The perfect storyline: underdog topples favourites after clawing his way back from disaster. In this case Tazio Nuvolari, in the dated Tipo B Alfa, ignoring a huge power deficit.

An anguished two-minute pit stop leaves him sixth; then on one stunning lap he takes two Mercs and two Auto Unions and starts to chase the Mercedes of von Brauchitsch. The gap falls to 35sec on the last lap. It’s impossible in 14 miles — until the Merc’s shredding tyres rupture.

What you said:
Richard Ambroson. California

Nuvolari, in an outclassed Alfa Romeo, beats the Silver Arrows on their home circuit. A brilliant, inspirational win.

What they said:
Adrian Conan Doyle, MotorSport

“The people of Germany have been streaming towards the Nürburgring. Charabancs of elderly people, droves of men, women and children on cycles singing through the darkness as they pedal. A regiment of Nazis have marched 350 miles to see the race. All honour to the Germans for their support of a great sport.” MotorSport report

“As Nuvolari crossed the line there was a deathly silence — then the sportsmanship of the Germans triumphed. He was given a wonderful reception.”

5 1971 Italian GP

Closest grand prix of all time; fastest World Championship F1 race until well into this millennium… And this classic Monza slipstreamer has an unexpected winner to boot — Peter Gethin in his BRM.

The ex-jockey is nowhere early on, but at the end of 55 laps he leads Ronnie Peterson, Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood and Howden Ganley across the line, with the quintet covered by a mere 0.61sec. Average speed? 150.759mph…

What you said:
Dieter Hausberger, Fernitz Austria

Five cars covered by a towel at the finish line plus a big surprise at the end. I fear we will never see a grand prix like this again.

What they said:
Patrick McNally, Autosport

“The antics of the leaders were quite terrifying to watch, for they would go past the pits sometimes four abreast yet somehow managed to squeeze into the gap where the road narrows as they went down to Curva Grande.”

Peter GethIn

“To try and convince the Italians I was the winner I put my hand up on the line! They didn’t have photographic equipment and the Italians are likely to go with whoever they make up their mind with on the spur of the moment.”

4 1967 Italian GP

In a brilliant display of opportunistic driving, John Surtees wins a Monza classic — on his debut in the Lola-devised Honda RA300 — by a hair’s breadth from Jack Brabham after long-time leader Jim Clark slows on the last lap. Surtees keeps well to the left as he comes down the straight for the last time, so that Brabham is forced onto cement dust and runs wide. Surtees pounces. And wins.

What you said:
Lloyd Rainford. Liverpool

Absolutely superb drives from John Surtees and Jim Clark two of the giants of British motor racing at the top of their form.

What they said:
Denis Jenkinson, MotorSport

“The crowd went wild and swarmed onto the track as Clark coasted over the line in third place. While one section of the milling throng overwhelmed Clark, another section nearly tore Surtees to pieces in their enthusiasm, for he is still the idol of the Italian sporting world. The Lotus mechanics filled the tanks on Clark’s car and found that there had still been three gallons left, so he had not run out of petrol, but the pumps had failed to pick up the last three gallons.”

3 1961 Monaco GP

Stirling’s greatest race? Ferrari’s new V6s will dominate the season, but only after Moss beats Maranello — in last year’s Rob Walker Lotus.

Moss quickly takes a lead he’ll never lose, despite constant Ferrari pressure from Phil Hill and Richie Ginther. Brilliantly using traffic to offset his 2 5bhp power deficit, he’s within sight of the edge lap after lap, but never oversteps it. Ginther grimly chases, but this is Moss at his sublime best — uncatchable.

What you said:
Rod Barrett, North Wales

Moss was simply The Man and this was him at his best.

What they said:
Denis Jenkinson, MotorSport

“Moss was really scrabbling into the Gasworks turn, using all the brakes and staying in front by sheer driving virtuosity. Ginther was so determined that a lesser man than Moss would have given up, but not the ‘Golden Boy’; he was enjoying every minute of the battle, even if he was sweating a bit. They crossed the finish line 3.5sec apart, and the vast crowd sank back in exhaustion saying ‘what a race, and this new [1.5-litre] Formula One has only just started’.”

2 1979 French GP

The dust is settling at Dijon. Literally. Just a couple of hours earlier one of the most ferocious Formula One battles of all time perhaps the most ferocious has been fought out between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve. For second place. Villeneuve’s Ferrari has pipped Arnoux’s Renault for the verdict. Not many are talking about the sister car, driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, which has finished 15sec up the road. First modern-era GP win for Renault, first for Jabouille, first for turbocharged engines… Arnoux smiles: “I am not sad to be third. Gilles drove a fantastic race. Most of all, I am pleased for Jean-Pierre. Cest justice!”

He meant it, of course. Third was a breakthrough for Arnoux, in the middle of his first full F1 season. He knew his time would come. But fast-forward a quarter of a century and the context has changed. Ask whether he would have preferred to trade places with Jabouille and he nods: “I would have preferred first position when you race you always want to win.” Even without that Villeneuve/Arnoux battle this was a history-making race, facilitated by a number of factors. Renault, still alone in its pursuit of F1 turbo technology, had not long pressed its RS10 ground-effect car into service. With more downforce, this allowed the drivers to stay on the throttle longer, thus diminishing the hitherto troublesome turbo lag. And Dijon, with its fast, sweeping bends and relatively high altitude meaning the atmospheric engines lost power in the thinner air played to this newfound strength. And, with such a power advantage, the Renaults were able to bolt on yet more downforce, further improving cornering speeds and further minimising turbo lag…

Jabouille stalked early leader Villeneuve for 46 of the 80 laps before calmly moving ahead, but Arnoux had a tougher job he had bogged down at the start and was forced to carve through from ninth place.

With Jabouille in front and Villeneuve’s Michelins in trouble from his efforts to stay in front, Arnoux was given the vite signal from the pits. With five laps to go he was on Villeneuve’s tail. “If you put too many revs it’s dangerous for your engine,” says Arnoux of his getaway. “If you have not enough the turbo stops and you don’t start. So I don’t start! But I come back again and again and I arrive a few laps before the end of the race with Gilles. “Gilles had a big problem with his tyres and with his brakes. My car was very good but I had a big problem with fuel pick-up in the engine, and it stopped for a moment. So it was also very difficult for me and we had a very exciting bagarre. We rub the wheels together Gilles was a very good friend of mine and this was only possible with him. Whether it was for the win or second place we always pushed very hard. I remember one time on the exit of the first corner we had four wheels interlocked, and I see Gilles’ eyes behind his visor! It was really exciting for those last few laps.” MS

What you said:
Walt Hull, San Pedro California. USA

If anyone has to ask why this is the greatest grand prix ever, that person must not have seen this race.

What they said:
Nigel Roebuck, Autosport

“Those closing minutes beggar description. While Jabouille cruised serenely on, there was a battle behind of an intensity not seen for many moons. No one — not even Gilles or Rene — really knows how many times the Ferrari and Renault passed and repassed. It was exhilarating to watch; and later the two drivers said it had been fun!”

Gilles Villeneuve

“I felt for sure we were going to get on our heads.”

Jody Scheckter

“Very dangerous. They were lucky to get away with it.”

1 1957 German GP

The late Juan Manuel Fangio’s final grand prix victory is renowned for being his best. Adam Cooper spoke to him about his Nürburgring drive

Like those regular pop-culture poll toppers Citizen Kane, Sergeant Pepper or the 1970 Brazilian World Cup team, the 1957 German Grand Prix has acquired a mythical status — even among those who were not around at the time.

Relatively few of MotorSport’s current readers would have read reports of the race at the time, and even fewer were there to witness the action first-hand. But the ‘Ring ’57 has nevertheless outscored all the events of the TV era that most of you saw for yourselves.

Juan Manuel Fangio himself was always happy to admit that it was his greatest drive, on a day when his familiar calculated approach was abandoned in favour of an all-out charge on this most dangerous and demanding of circuits.

I found out for myself what the victory meant to the great man back in 1989, when I interviewed him about the race. We spoke through his own interpreter — and I later got a Spanish-speaking friend to translate the motorsport nuances on my precious tape — but his animated manner and the sparkle in his eyes transcended any language barriers. He just loved to talk about the race.

It’s ironic that, while the event took place nearly 49 years ago, the very heart of the story is clearly reflected in modern grand prix racing — in adopting a strategy of changing tyres and refuelling, Fangio and the Maserati team were several decades ahead of their time.

“In practice the tyres were not working well; they were consuming too much rubber,” he recalled. “So we decided that during the race I had to stop to change them. The mechanics knew before the race that there would be a problem, so they practised changing. They got a best time of 30 seconds, and at that time that was very good.

“In the race itself I had a 30-second advantage over second place when I came into the pits. I don’t know what happened in the pits, but when I came out again I’d lost 30 seconds, plus another 48 seconds!” By now Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, running a traditional non-stop race, were far down the road. Another lap passed before the Ferrari aces knew that the leader had pitted, but they obviously had no idea that the stop was planned and that new tyres might give Fangio an advantage. They assumed that they could now settle the matter between themselves and, via hand signals, Collins ceded victory to his pal. They could now relax.

At first even Fangio thought he was destined for third place. “They were two good drivers, so I thought I could not get an advantage over them,” he said. “I was 51 seconds behind them when I started again, and there were only 10 laps to go.

“I always had in my head the possibility of winning a race, but this race was almost lost for me. So I had to take a risk — that’s something I never did before in my life. So, I started to switch from using fourth gear to fifth. I started to pull stronger using the longer gears. And I thought inside of me, ‘Maybe once is OK, I can take one turn like this — but it’s crazy if I take two…

“I made the right decision. If in one turn I was using second gear, then I went into third. When it was third, I put fourth gear. And the car went better into the turns. Then there was much more risk and it was much less safe, but you go faster. Then in some of the downhills I saw the other two cars. There were only two laps to go. And that moment was the first moment that I really thought I could get them. “I’ve never been a spectacular racer, but I did things I had never done in my life, driving from one side of the circuit to the other, using the maximum revs. And that’s how I caught them and won the race — I won by three seconds. I made record laps in the last 10 laps.

“But I had a problem. One of the screws in the back of my seat broke on the last lap. I got my leg hurt trying to get the seat straight. I couldn’t grab hard on the steering wheel, I had to drive with it — you can’t just use it to hang on at a circuit like the Nürburgring!”

At the flag he was completely drained: “For me this was the most emotional race. I was named meister — if you win three times on the Nürburgring then you are something special. When I was later waiting for my laurels, I was very emotional. In 1954 a driver I took there to race had died [Onofre Marimón], so this circuit had given me happiness and sadness. I never thought I could win this race. I risked for the first time in my life.” Nobody knew at the time, but at the age of 46 Fangio had taken his final GP victory. Within a season he had begun to think about those risks and had retired from the sport. Further poignancy was brought by the death of Collins when pushing to the limit at the ‘Ring exactly a year after this race, and the loss of Hawthorn at the start of 1959. It was truly the end of an era.

What you said:
Keir Delaney, by e-mail

Fangio catching the Brits napping while throwing his 250F around with great abandon long before the circuit was ‘decluttered’.

What they said:
Denis Jenkinson, MotorSport

“Fangio was smiling happily to himself as he lowered the lap record again and again. On lap 19 the gap was only 13.5sec, and Hawthorn and Collins knew their race was run, for when ‘the old man’ gets in a record-breaking groove there is no-one to stop him. Round the Sudkurve he was grinning at the two young boys and as Collins went into the Nordkurve Fangio went by him. One slip by Fangio and Hawthorn would have been back in front, but it’s because he doesn’t make such slips that he is World Champion.”