The greatest driver’s greatest race? Sunday 4th August, 1957. A warm summer afternoon in the Eifel mountains, where 200,000 spectators gathered to watch the German Grand Prix – 22 laps of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a terrifying 14.1-mile circuit of 172 corners leaping and twist- ing through dense forest.
In pole position, with a qualifying lap time of nine minutes and 25.6 seconds, Argentinian maestro Juan Manuel Fangio – four times and reigning World Champion, at the wheel of a Maserati 250F, a development of the car that had delivered his second title in 1954. By now 46 years old, Fangio was likewise in the twilight of his career; a new generation of English drivers respectfully called him “The Old Man”. Among them was Stirling Moss, recent winner of the British GP, but his Vanwall had problems. The challenge of beating Fangio thus fell to Ferrari drivers Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins.
The Ferrari was no slouch. Fangio himself had driven it to victory in 1956, breaking a 17-year lap record in the process. Yet even at that pace it would take more than three-and-a-half hours to complete the 311.67-mile race. Noting that the Ferraris had full fuel tanks, evidently intending to run nonstop to the finish, Fangio chose to start with half-full tanks and softer tyres – less weight and more grip, giving him greater speed at the cost of a 30-second mid-race pit stop.
At first, everything went to plan. Leading from lap three, Fangio smashed the lap record time and time again. After 12 laps he was 28 seconds ahead of the Ferraris and duly pulled into the pits for fresh tyres and fuel.