I read with interest Nigel Roebuck’s recent recall of his early memories of grands prix and his thoughts about the Moss/Fangio finish at the dramatic 1955 GP at Aintzee. He tells us that he saw his first such race in 1951, at Silverstone; I witnessed my first GP at Donington Park in 1937, 10 years after I had seen the less important affairs at Brooklands. But Nigel was five, I was 24, on our respective GP baptisms, so the spoils are perhaps hard to judge.
I, too, was at Aintree, close to the finish-line, and saw Stirling win and Fangio come in second, a car’s length behind, to lead that impressive 1-2-3-4 Mercedes victory. The unsolved question is — did Fangio let Moss win? It will never be resolved, as Moss says he has no idea, and the late Argentinian ace never referred to it. But, with the greatest regard for the Olympian skills of both drivers, one may speculate, one hopes, without giving offence.
My visual impression was that Fangio, so exceedingly close behind Moss, had either intended a dead-heat photo finish, or that he intended the close result to show to British onlookers that their skills were on a par. To me, it looked as if the nose of Fangio’s Mercedes dipped when it was almost at the finish-line, by a touch of the brakes or through lifting off the power. Sir Stirling says the race order was open, Roebuck that Neubauer may have whispered in Fangio’s car on the start-line that it would be nice if a British driver could win, for the Aintree spectators. Does DSJ’s report tell us anything to help?
Fangio led Moss away. But, says Jenks, “on lap three Fangio let Moss by, and it looked as if he was to be allowed to set the pace and win”. By lap 17 Fangio led, “perhaps from force of habit or to remind ‘the boy’ that he was still about,” wrote Jenks. There has been a story that he had told Stirling that, if he was in his mirrors at half-distance, he would allow Moss to win. It does not sound like a Fangio remark, unless to prompt Moss to drive fast for a good 1-2 finish, but Moss always drove as fast as he could anyway.
At half-distance, Jenks says, both were signalled to drive as fast but keep that order. Moss was 9sec ahead by lap 41, as Fangio had been held up. But he made up 5sec before they were signalled to slow, to allow the other M-Bs to close up.
DSJ says that Stirling thanked Fangio for letting him win, if reports can be believed, and let Fangio wear the victor’s laurel wreath, confirmed by a photograph. Roebuck says Fangio once told him he could not have won anyway, as his W196 had a lower axle ratio than Stirling’s. We shall never know; but isn’t it an intriguing bit of history?
I have reason to remember Aintree. I left after a meeting there, to drive back to Hampshire, when a dubious petrol gauge on my road-test car brought me to a halt. I walked to a nearby pub, asking in the crowded bar whether anyone had any petrol. A stranger, merry but not drunk, said, ‘Take my VW Beetle, there’s a garage down the road.” He didn’t know me! I was desperate and so I accepted his offer, filling my car and putting a gallon into his VW
Before that, I had entered the almost empty Mersey Tunnel with a slow car on the inner lane. So I moved to the middle one. As I emerged a man seemed to be waving at me. I had not known it was an offence to change lanes in the tunnel. A summons duly arrived but Motor Sport’s proprietor said he employed so many drivers he could not say who the criminal had been. I heard no more.
Moss was less lucky after his victory, being summoned for exceeding the tunnel’s speed limit. The local man who had reported Stirling was known to some drivers of heavy lorries, who said ‘leave it to them…’ Or was the letter we received a hoax?