On this day: Fangio's swansong


El Maestro’s last and greatest win

At the Nürburgring, the margins of human error render perfection an impossible feat. The Eifel mountain circuit has too many parameters, so many variables and on August 4, 1957, new unknowns. A resurfaced circuit meant that last year’s lap record of 9min 41.6sec would be broken, but how far could drivers dare to push the new limits?

A combined Formula 1 and F2 entry formed the grid for the German Grand Prix in front of a crowd of 200,000. Temperatures spiralled upwards as the start time approached, so a high mechanical mortality was expected – if the drivers didn’t give out first. The front row was a lockout for Maserati and Scuderia Ferrari, and the D50s of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins surged into an early lead at the start, chased by the 250Fs of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra. Timekeepers were eager to clock Hawthorn’s standing-start first lap and when his Ferrari came through less than a second off last year’s record, it was clear this was to be no endurance run. Five seconds were stolen off the lap record the next lap, but in a blink Fangio had shattered the record again, now nibbling at the heels of the Ferraris out front.

Soon the race lead belonged to the Argentinian who each time round traded lap records with the Ferraris, until a nightmare pitstop on lap 12 allowed the D50s back through. For a tantalizing few laps it looked like Fangio couldn’t make an impression on the Ferraris out front, until a voice of disbelief suddenly came over the tannoy: “Fangio has just lapped in 9min 17.4sec!” El Maestro had flirted with the impossible to set the signature lap of his career, but he still had a fight on his hands if he was to claim a fourth world title and a final win of his Grand Prix career.

Subscribers only: Fangio’s lap of the Gods, as told by Paul Fearnley, in the June 2017 issue

From the Archive: Fangio the Supreme Master
Nürburgring, August 4

  1. Juan Manuel Fangio, Maserati 250F
  2. Mike Hawthorn, Lancia-Ferrari D50 +3.600s
  3. Peter Collins, Lancia-Ferrari D50 +35.600s

Once again the Grand Prix teams of cars and drivers came together to pit their skill and endurance against the fabulous Nürburgring, for the German G.P. 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 G.P. comes round design of G.P. cars will have advanced and they will have to learn all over again, and so on.

Last year Fangio left the race lap record at 9 min, 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.

Read the full race report: XIX Grosser Preis von Deutschland

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