GRR

Fangio’s 1957, part 2: Monaco

16th May 2017
Paul Fearnley

An overnight thunderstorm had set the scene and this amphitheatre of motor racing crackled with a sparking tension as Stirling Moss’s British Racing Green Vanwall leapt into the lead, and Ferrari’s Peter Collins hustled past Juan Manuel Fangio for second place on the second lap. The latter, having put these youngsters in their place with a brilliant lap during Friday practice, was content to wait and see. 

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He didn’t have to wait long. 

Moss crashed spectacularly into the Heath Robinson arrangement of telegraph poles and sandbags at the Chicane on lap four, and Collins, swerving in avoidance, hit the barriers on the opposite side of the track, sending yet more poles skyward.

“At that moment I arrived on the scene,” wrote Fangio. “I saw posts, torn up by the two cars, rolling in a haphazard way towards the centre of the track. I managed to brake just enough to arrive in the middle of that confusion at no more than walking pace. My right wheels went over a post, jolting the Maserati, but nothing more.”

Those behind found the track blocked by “a sort of level crossing”. Tony Brooks came almost to a standstill, and Mike Hawthorn, caught unawares, swiped off his Ferrari’s right-front corner – tyre, wheel and brake drum bounding into the Med – against the Vanwall’s left-rear before slithering over the tail of team-mate Collins’ car and perching precariously at the harbour’s edge.

Moss, nose broken by the steering wheel, elbows bruised by the cockpit’s sides, was adamant that his front brakes had failed, but a post-race inspection of the car found nothing untoward. 

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Whatever the cause, the Brits, bar the inexperienced Brooks, were a busted flush.

“No one caught me before the marshals could have the unexpected obstacle removed, and behind it, all the others had been forced to stop,” continued Fangio. “So I won easily, with little credit to claim for such a chance victory.”

He – or his ghostwriter – was being too modest. Chance had little to do with it. Reading his rivals’ mood perfectly, Fangio played his cards exactly right.

Moss had crashed at the Chicane during first practice on Thursday, too, writing off the car and forcing the team to fit his engine into Brooks’ preferred chassis. Ferrari, meanwhile, arrived a day late and with a bewildering array of cars fitted with different bodies and suspensions; bored with waiting, Collins had tried Cooper’s new rear-engine design instead. Second fastest on Friday, six-tenths slower than Fangio, he then blotted his Ferrari copybook and badly strained his Mon Ami, Mate relationship with Hawthorn when he crashed the latter’s intended race car at the Chicane during Saturday’s final practice. 

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Maserati, Fangio’s side of it at least, was a relative oasis of calm – notwithstanding the raucous presence of the V12 version of its 250F. Its refusal to run at low rpm forced Fangio to adopt a brutal method – dipping the clutch to keep the revs high, he would let it out with a bang at the hairpins’ exit – to try to force a competitive lap from it. Wisely, this sow’s ear, compared with the silk purse of its proven six-cylinder cousin, was pushed away rather than be foisted on one of his less able team-mates.

Only Brooks, making just his second world championship start, matched this methodical, sensible method, if not Fangio’s speed quite. Despite wrestling the long and heavy change of his Porsche-made synchromesh gearbox, clutch-less since before the incident – a punishing effort that turned his left hand into “a plate of raw meat” – he had kept the leading Maserati honest, chasing it as hard as he felt able for more than 100 laps. 

At last a Vanwall had gone the full GP distance. Could it now deliver a knockout blow?

Photographs courtesy of LAT Images

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