Vanwall were denuded in France by the absences of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks through illness and injury. Attempting to fill their shoes was late replacement Stuart Lewis-Evans, a regular winner for several seasons in frantic 500cc Formula 3. Though the British car suited Reims – Harry Schell had used it to give the Ferraris a fright here in 1956 – the calm and efficient manner in which the newcomer drove it impressed everyone. Making the best start from the middle of the front row, Lewis-Evans pulled away at a rate of one second per lap until escaping oil began to mist and smear his windscreen, goggles, gloves and rear tyres. Forced to slacken his pace, he ceded the lead and victory to Musso, who was continuing his good form of Rouen, and was also caught and passed by the battling Maseratis of Fangio and Behra.
So tight had been the schedule, both Italian teams had been forced to run a disparate collection of second-string machinery – though Fangio had begun practice in his Rouen winner – and these proved no match for the Vanwall when it was running properly. Fangio’s offset-engine 250F, first seen at Monza 1956, was no match for Musso’s year-old-spec’ Lancia-Ferrari D50 either and, after reprising his epic 1953 battle with Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn, whose engine blew on lap 28, he was caught by his hustling team-mate in Maserati’s test hack.
Having spun earlier in the race, Fangio was, with four laps remaining, caught out by oil under braking for the tight right at Thillois. He aimed for some straw bales hoping for a ‘soft landing’. Unfortunately, they concealed a solid wall against which he came to a sudden and definitive stop.
Next stop: Aintree’s British GP.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images