Fangio the supreme master
ADENAU (EIFEL), August 4th.
Once again the Grand Prix teams 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 road-holding and power for a given car.
Last year Fangio left the race lap record at 9 min 41.6sec, 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.
The Scuderia Maserati entered Fangio, Behra and Schell in 1957 six-cylinder cars, Scarlatti in a 1956 works cars and Godia in his own 1956 car. Ferrari had three entries of Musso, Collins and Hawthorn in 1957 Lancia/Ferraris; Vanwall had three entries with Moss, Brooks and Lewis-Evans. 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 9 min 45sec, but this was causing bits to break on the chassis. The Vanwall team were a sorry sight to watch around the circuit. 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 surface change before the timing-box was really frightening. Maserati were a lot happier, though they were a bit worried about the lightweight chassis frames.
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 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.
Next day Fangio did not improve his time, but Hawthorn showed every bit of spirit he possessed and got down to 9min 28.4sec. The fastest Vanwall was that of Brooks, with 9min 36.1sec, while Moss could not break 9min 41sec.
As in practice the race-day was warm and dry. The start was truly impressive, 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 LewisEvans came through from the third row.
It was Hawthorn who led at the end of lap one, from Collins, these two having drawn away from the field. As Hawthorn’s standing lap had been in 9min 42.5sec, 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 9 min 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 on lap three and overtook Hawthorn on the descent to Adenau, so that by the end of the third lap the World Champion was 5sec ahead of Collins.
The fantastic Fangio was in this element and increased his lead by 7sec a lap from Hawthorn and Collins. By lap eight he was 28sec in front and had set the lap record at 9 min 30.8sec. 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 set off again over 45secs behind the two Lancia/Ferraris. Collins was credited with a new lap record of 9 min 28.9sec and he and Hawthorn took turns at leading.
For three laps, while his tyres were new and the tanks heavy, Fangio made no impression on the 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 9 min 28.5sec. On lap 19 he did 9min 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. At the end of lap 20 Hawthorn led Collins over the line and then the crowds rose in acclamation, for Fangio was right behind, only 2sec between himself and Hawthorn. Round the Sudkerve he was grinning 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 race, “Fangio has just lapped in 9min 17.4 sec!” — an unbelievable record but clearly true for he had gained 11sec on Hawthorn in 14 miles. Before reaching the lowest point of the course, Hawthorn had been overtaken and with a lap and a half to go Fangio had made up for his pit stop. Once overtaken, Collins dropped back, 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 never-say-die Hawthorn everyone likes to watch, who will fight against overwhelming odds to the bitter end. For that last lap he lost only a few yards on Fangio, turning in a time of 9 min 24sec, but to what purpose when Fangio had done 9 min 17.4sec? One slip by the Champion and Hawthorn would have been in front, but it’s because he doesn’t make slips that Fangio is World Champion, and he led the Lancia/Ferrari over the line by 4sec.
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. — D.S.J.