1957 German Grand Prix race report: Fangio brilliantly clinches title No5

In a display of sheer driving supremacy, Juan Manuel Fangio recovers from a disastrous pitstop to win the German Grand Prix and take a record-breaking fifth F1 world title

Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati 250F during the 1957 German Grand Prix

Fangio put in a superlative performance

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Once again the Grand Prix teams of cars and drivers came together to pit their skill and endurance against the fabulous Nurburgring, for the German GP is seldom a split-second race of driver against driver, but more often the result of car/driver combination against the 22.810 kilometres of the Eifel mountain circuit. While there are many people who know every bump and curve, every ascent and descent, and every blind brow with absolute certainty, applying this knowledge to conducting a Grand Prix car round the circuit at the very limit of tyre adhesion is another story.

It is probably true to say that no one has driven a Grand Prix car round the length of the Nurburgring on the ultimate limit of roadholding and power for a given car. In 22 laps it is unlikely that even the greatest drivers ever do a single faultless lap, and though they may find the limit of their car at every point of the course at some time during a race, by the time the next German GP comes round design of GP cars will have advanced and they will have to learn all over again, and so on.

“It appeared that roadholding that was good for an English billiard-table course was quite useless on the mountainous going of the Nurburgring”

Last year Fangio left the race lap record at 9min 41.6 sec, driving a Lancia/Ferrari, and with the circuit resurfaced for a greater part of its length this year it was anticipated that this time would be beaten. By just how much it was eventually beaten was something even the most excitable onlooker would not have dared to suggest.

With practice on Friday and Saturday, the Vanwall team took the opportunity of arriving a day early and hiring the track for a preliminary outing. Never having run their cars on the Nurburgring before this was a wise move, but, as it turned out, it would have been wiser had they brought Colin Chapman with them a week earlier. Brooks and Lewis-Evans took two of the cars out and even though the former was within two seconds of the existing record, they both reported a terrible ride with the cars airborne for a greater part of the lap and roadholding that was unpredictable, the car leaping sideways over the bumps and hammering the drivers with high-frequency vibrations.

Tony Brooks takes on the carousel in his Vanwall, 1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring.Vanwall

Vanwall were represented by three entries, Tony Brooks pictured above

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It appeared that roadholding that was good for an English billiard-table course was quite useless on the mountainous going of the Nurburgring and mirrors fell off, bodies split and pipes came undone, while shock-absorbers were nearly red hot with overwork. However, this initial outing was very useful and enabled the mechanics to get the cars in a happier state before the start of official practice.

This race was to be a manufacturers’ affair, private owners not being invited, and the numbers were to be made up to a reasonable starting grid with a collection of Formula II cars, these competing in the Grand Prix but for separate awards. The Scuderia Maserati entered Fangio, Behra and Schell in 1957 six-cylinder cars, Scarlatti in a 1956 works-car and Godia in his own 1956 car.

The Scuderia Ferrari had three entries of MussoCollins and Hawthorn in 1957 Lancia/Ferraris; Vanwall had three entries with Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans; the Scuderia Centro-Sud entered their two Maseratis, to be driven by Masten Gregory and Hans Herrmann, and BRM were to have completed the list with two cars.

With Flockhart still out of action the Owen racing team decided to withdraw rather than take two second-class drivers to such an exacting circuit, especially as the cars’ abilities at Nurburgring were unknown. At the last moment these two places were taken by Gould and Halford with their Maseratis.

Edgar Barth, Porsche 550RS, leads Luigi Musso, Ferrari D50, during the 1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring.

Formula Two machinery was pitted against that of Formula One

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In Formula II Porsche entered three works Spyder 1500RS sports cars driven by Barth, Maglioli and de Beaufort; Cooper entered Salvadori, while Brabham drove Rob Walker’s 1,500 Cooper-Climax. Other privately-owned Formula II Coopers were driven by Marsh, England, Naylor and Gibson. It was intended by Ferrari to pit his V6 1½-litre against these cars but it did not arrive as Enzo considered he had no driver available who could do justice to the car at the Nurburgring. Having Trintignant, Gendebien and Phil Hill locked up under contract this seemed a strange statement.

 

Qualifying

On the first practice day all three Vanwalls were soon circulating but the drivers were finding the physical strain almost unbearable. That the cars were going well was shown by the fact that in spite of complaints all three drivers were lapping around 9min 45sec but this was causing bits to break on the chassis. Their task was not made any easier by the horrible flat-spot in the middle rev-range causing the cars to splutter on acceleration; if a lower gear was selected the poor suspension allowed violent wheelspin to set in, so that, taken all round, the Vanwall team were a sorry sight to watch around the circuit, especially on the uphill section after Adenau. Back at the pits they were appearing over the Tiergarten brow on to the finishing straight faster than anyone but the weaves and swoops they went into when they hit the change of surface before the timing-box was really frightening.

Maserati were a lot happier, though they were a bit worried about the lightweight chassis frames and had a de Dion tube break on one car, while the lightweight welded front wishbones used all this season on one of the cars were replaced by the heavier forged wishbones. Fangio was hurling his Maserati about, showing how well it handled in power-slides, even if it was bumpy, though watching him on the descent to Adenau one wondered if it wasn’t Fangio and not the Maserati that was handling well, for last year he was excelling with the Lancia/Ferrari and the year before that with the W196 Mercedes-Benz! Almost immediately he turned in some laps at 9min 34sec and then did 9min 25.6sec, which left everyone, except Fangio, breathing hard.

Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati 250F during the 1957 German Grand Prix.

Fangio looked impressive in his Maserati during practice

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After a few opening laps the Lancia/Ferraris went back to the paddock and had their front coil-springs changed, and then Hawthorn appeared to be doing enough work for the whole team. He gritted his teeth and had a real go, turning his best lap in 9min 37.8 sec, which was second fastest.

Of the Formula II cars, Salvadori was enjoying himself and put in a lap at 10min 08.6sec, which would have been good for a Formula 1 car a few years ago, while Barth got round in 10min 13.4sec, these two being easily the fastest, though for some time there was a puzzled air amongst the 1½-litres for the timekeepers credited Naylor with 10min 06.5sec instead of 10 min 46.5 sec, a time which even Naylor was nice enough to dispute.

Next day Fangio did not improve on his time, but Hawthorn showed every bit of spirit he possessed and got down to 9 min 28.4sec, a bare 3sec off the “master’s” time, while Collins made more of an effort and got down to 9min 34.7sec, but was beaten by Behra with 9min 30.5sec. The fastest Vanwall was that of Brooks, with 9min 36.1sec, while Moss could not break 9min 41 sec.

A creditable effort was that of Lewis-Evans, who did 9min 45sec, this being his first visit to the Nurburgring for three years and his first GP drive on the circuit, his previous race being with a 500 Cooper. Observing around the second half of the circuit one saw that the Vanwalls were reluctant to stay in the Karussel “ditch,” either driving too far in or sliding out, the Lancia/Ferraris gave the impression of being under-powered for their weight, though their front suspension spring rates were nicely tuned to the bumps, and the Maseratis were scraping their undertrays on the dips but were noticeable for their clean carburation, using large-bore single tailpipes.

Lewis Evans 1957 German GP

The rookie Lewis-Evans was an impressive ninth on the grid in only his third race

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The bouncing and spinning of the Vanwall rear wheels could be heard from afar, while all along the course the steering-wheel kick and front-wheel patter were very noticeable.

Of the Formula II cars the Porsches had obviously been bred on the Nurburgring, though the experimental Le Mans car was not directionally stable at high speed, Barth making a fantastic 10min 02.2sec with the production RS model. The Coopers were standing up to the battering remarkably well but poor Brabham was making slow times in spite of driving hard. It was later discovered that Coventry-Climax had delivered the engine with faulty valve-timing, the inlet camshaft giving a timing more like an exhaust one! On this type of going Naylor was showing more ability than Marsh and made fourth fastest 1½-litre time with a respectable 10min 15.0sec.

When practice finished and the public had the free run of the Nurburgring on which to over-dice their VWs and motor-cycles, the Grand Prix teams retired to the paddock and worked on the cars in preparation for the gruelling 22 laps on the next day. Maserati were inspecting their rear ends closely, fitting new de Dion tubes; Vanwalls were repairing broken engine mounts, body cracks and so on while Ferraris seemed in a fairly solid and happy state.

Race

As in practice the race-day was warm and dry and some 200,000 people turned up to watch, the combined field of Formula I and II making a starting grid containing 24 cars, and with the rising temperature towards the starting time of 1.15pm most people predicted a high mechanical mortality. The start was truly impressive and most orderly, with Hawthorn and Collins forging ahead side by side from the front row, where they had been with Fangio and Behra. Behind them had sat Brooks, Schell and Moss, but the fastest Vanwall was slow off the line and Lewis-Evans came through from the third row with Musso, Gregory and Herrmann.

Juan Manuel Fangio, Maserati 250F, alongside Mike Hawthorn, Ferrari D50 (#8), Jean Behra, Maserati 250F (#2), and Peter Collins, Ferrari D50 (#7), at the start of the 1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring.

Hawthorn takes the lead at the start

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It was Hawthorn who led at the end of lap one, from Collins, these two having drawn away from the rest of the field, which came by in the order Fangio, Behra, Musso, Schell, Brooks (having passed both his team-mates), Moss, Lewis-Evans, and then Salvadori leading the Formula II race and the rest of the Formula I cars. As Hawthorn’s standing lap had been in 9 min. 42.5 sec. it was obvious that this was to be a full-blooded Grand Prix and not an endurance run, and when he came by after lap two he had set up a new record in 9min 37.9sec, but it lasted only a few seconds for Fangio was nibbling at Collins’ tail and had done 9min 34.6sec.

From then on there was only one man on the Nurburgring, for Fangio improved on the lap record on every lap, passed Collins at the beginning of lap three and had overtaken Hawthorn on the descent to Adenau, so that by the end of the third lap the World Champion was 5 sec ahead of Collins, who was just ahead of Hawthorn. The Vanwalls were running seventh, eighth and ninth in the order Brooks, Lewis-Evans and Moss, practically nose-to-tail, and Salvadori was still leading the Formula II field, from Barth and Maglioli.

“There was only one man on the Nurburgring, for Fangio improved on the lap record on every lap”

The fantastic Fangio was in his element with so many fast corners and descents and increased his lead by 7sec a lap from Hawthorn and Collins, who were in close formation. By lap eight he was 28 sec in front and had set the lap record at 9min 30.8 sec; the two Lancia/Ferraris were still close together. Meanwhile Lewis-Evans had taken the lead of the Vanwall trio, Gregory and Herrmann had got their Centro-Sud Maseratis ahead of the embarrassing little Cooper of Salvadori, and Barth was closing up and leaving Maglioli behind.

Gould retired out on the circuit, Gibson stopped at the pits with broken steering on his Cooper, and England had the distributor drive shear on his single-cam Climax engine. While Fangio was dominating the Formula I race with no one able to challenge him, interest in the Formula II race reached exciting heights when Barth got to grips with Salvadori and the Porsche and Cooper passed and re-passed at frequent intervals, taking turns at setting up new lap records. Brabham stopped with an ominous ticking noise from the transmission and Moss decided it was time he led the Vanwall team, he and Lewis-Evans drawing away from Brooks, who was tiring physically.

Edgar Barth in his Porsche 550RS at the 1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring

Barth was setting some impressive times in the Formula 2 category

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At the end of lap 10 Behra stopped at the pits for a change of rear tyres and for fuel, to a pre-arranged plan, and started off again in ninth place behind the second Vanwall. Fangio finished this lap with another record, this time 9min 29.5sec, and the next time past the pits he was signalled to come into the pits.

At the same time Lewis-Evans had his gearbox seize and spun wildly at Kesselschen, on the way towards the Karussel, and was lucky to step out unhurt, though the Vanwall was badly bent. Godia broke the steering on his Maserati and limped slowly back to the pits, and then as Salvadori was leading Barth round the Brunchen corner the right-hand rear wishbone broke on the Cooper and the Formula II dice was over, with the Porsche in complete command.

From the archive

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 28sec lead, but slowing down and starting off again after being 52sec at the pits put him over ¾ min behind the two Lancia/Ferraris, which went by while he was stationary. Collins was credited with a new lap record of 9min 28.9sec and he and Hawthorn took turns at leading the race, passing the pits with one hand on the steering wheel and the other shading their eyes from the lowering sun.

For three laps, while his tyres were new and the tanks heavy with fuel, Fangio made no impression on the two Lancia/Ferraris, 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 lap record to 9min 28.5sec, then to 9min 25.3sec. On lap 19 he did 9 min. 23.4sec and 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, especially on the Nurburgring.

Peter Collins, Ferrari D50, leads Mike Hawthorn, Ferrari D50 at the 1957 German Grand Prix, Nurburgring.

Collins leads Hawthorn as they dice for the lead

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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 2 sec between himself and Hawthorn. Round the Sudkerve he was grinning contentedly at the two young boys and as Collins went into the left-handed Nordkerve Fangio went by him on the inside.

Then came the most shattering announcement of the whole race,”Fangio has just lapped in 9min 17.4 sec!” — an unbelievable record but obviously true for he had gained 11sec on Hawthorn 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 pit stop.

“This was the Hawthorn everyone likes to watch, the never-say-die Hawthorn who will fight against overwhelming odds to the bitter end”

Once overtaken Collins relaxed and dropped right back, partly admissible as his clutch was not working, but Hawthorn refused to give up and was only 3 sec behind as Fangio started his last lap. This was the Hawthorn everyone likes to watch, the never-say-die Hawthorn who will fight against overwhelming odds to the bitter end. For that last memorable lap Hawthorn 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? However, one slip by the World Champion and Hawthorn would have been back in front, But it’s because he doesn’t make such slips that Fangio is World Champion, and he led the Lancia/Ferrari over the line by barely 4 sec.

Juan Manuel Fangio crosses the finishing line and passes the chequered flag in his Maserati 250F

Fangio crosses the line to take arguably his greatest win

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All this excitement completely overshadowed the rest of the runners, Behra being unable to catch Moss by 1 sec after his pit stop, Brooks slowing right down and being physically sick on the last lap through the buffeting from the unsuitable suspension, Moss being almost unable to get out of the car at the end, and Schell having gone through the routine Maserati pit stop in 52 sec.

Barth towed home, the first Formula II car, and Marsh spent some time at the pits replacing a broken rear wishbone and then joined in the race again.

In spite of the fantastic speed of the race, the average for the 22 laps being higher than the 1956 lap record, only one works car retired, that being the Vanwall of Lewis-Evans, while apart from Gould the only other Maserati retirement was Herrmann, who had the vertical frame tube carrying the nearside rear radius-arms break right off.

It had been a truly great race in which Fangio had surpassed himself, secured the World Championship for 1957, and put everyone in their place on the toughest Grand Prix circuit in Europe.

Juan Manuel Fangio celebrates with his team after winning the 1957 German Grand Prix and his fifth F1 title, Nurburgring

Fangio is hoisted aloft after achieving the incredible feat of winning five world championships

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