The United Kingdom had never seen Juan Manuel Fangio at his best. Even his only victory on these shores – the 1956 British Grand Prix at Silverstone – had been pyrrhic.
JUL 19th 2017
Fangio’s 1957, part 5: British Grand Prix
For not only had it relied on the unreliability of faster cars, but also Fangio was battling his suspicions of sabotage within the Ferrari team, as well as a painful midriff rash caused by his being sprayed with petrol at the preceding French GP.
The omens were not good when he arrived at Liverpool’s Aintree circuit stiff and sore because of his Reims crash and nursing an upset stomach. At the same circuit in 1955, he had allowed Mercedes-Benz team-mate, Stirling Moss, a politic maiden GP victory – though he never admitted to it, and Moss insists that he will never be sure of the Argentinean’s intention, so hard had he made him work for this ‘gift’.
There would be no such carve-up or doubt this time around: the patriotic Moss was bidding to end the long wait for a world championship victory for a British car – and Fangio was off the pace at the pan-flat course that wound around the jumps of the Grand National. According to Motor Sport correspondent Denis Jenkinson: “[Fangio] never looked confident and gave the air of not liking the circuit very much.”
Jean Behra was Maserati’s best hope and he split the green Vanwalls of Moss and Tony Brooks on the front row. The latter was still badly knocked about from his Le Mans crash with Aston Martin and had promised his car to Moss should he need it. That moment of selflessness arrived on lap 26.
Moss had been holding a commanding lead when the misfire set in. He pitted and the magneto’s earthing wire was ripped out, but the hesitation persisted. Thus the hobbled Brooks was beckoned and helped from his car, which he “had kept nicely on the boil”; Moss leapt in and rejoined ninth. On lap 35, he passed the lacklustre Fangio for sixth. And after 14 more undercooked laps, the World Champion coasted into the pits, his Maserati’s valve gear broken.
Behra, meanwhile, was driving beautifully, responding spiritedly to Moss’s sequence of fastest laps and looking likely to cling to victory; the Frenchman in the crash helmet with the chequered band had yet to win a world championship GP. But everything changed on lap 69: his clutch assembly – or crankshaft – shattered; Ferrari’s Mike Hawthorn, running second, punctured on the shrapnel; and Moss passed team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans for what he thought was third place.
In fact, Vanwalls were now first and second and Britain held its breath; gasped when Lewis-Evans’ throttle assembly came adrift, and almost passed out when the leader pitted on lap 79 (of 90). This, however, was only a precautionary 10-gallon splash-and-dash and Moss re-joined still in the lead, 40 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s in-form Luigi Musso.
This breakthrough victory triggered a track invasion and through the throng pressed Fangio. “The first one to congratulate us, as usual, was Juan,” said Moss. “Ever the great sportsman, whether he won or lost.” Both, of course, knew that this result might signal a shift in their balance of power. The subsequent German GP at the Nürburgring would be the crux of Fangio’s quest for a fifth world title.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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