Pescara was a pimple. Monza was the sore. Bullish Vanwall boss Tony Vandervell’s bugbear was Enzo Ferrari – they were too alike, too competitive, to like each other – and happy-go-lucky Maserati had found itself in their crossfire.
SEP 12th 2017
Fangio’s 1957, part 8: Italian Grand Prix
Eleven of its 250F model bulked the grid at Italy’s cathedral of speed, but none was a match for the stealthily swift British cars. Even though Juan Fangio had revved the guts out of his preferred six-cylinder version, as well as the wailing V12 option, his position on the outside of the front row was due to jiggery-pokery by organisers embarrassed at being swamped by a green wave.
Despite being upstaged by inexperienced team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans, who set a brilliant pole position despite very limited running during practice – and in the spare car, too – it was Stirling Moss who grabbed the lead. The opening 20 laps were Homeric. Fangio led briefly, as did team-mate Jean Behra in the V12, but generally the Vanwalls were in charge, Lewis-Evans and Tony Brooks also taking turns at the front.
The pace took its toll, however. Brooks was the first to stop, his throttle sticking open. Lewis-Evans was next, a weld on a cylinder head core plug having cracked. And Behra pitted for new rear tyres on lap 28. At which point Fangio called off hostilities and settled to a waiting game. His car unable to outpace Moss’s, his best bet was to outlast it. For nobody was better than this ex-mechanic from Balcarce at bringing a racing car home in an age when reliability could not be relied on.
Moss, however, had already suffered his scare, the gearbox hanging between ratios for several laps before the problem righted itself. Resuming the lead on lap 21, he controlled the race thereon and moved a lap ahead when Fangio stopped for tyres on lap 41. This meant that Moss, as he had in victory at Aintree and Pescara, could make a late precautionary stop for oil and rubber without losing the lead. Only Fangio finished on the lead lap and the best of the outclassed Ferraris was two laps in arrears in third.
“It is useless to deny it,” wrote Fangio, “[this] was the Vanwall’s great era. And this was a very good thing. It rekindled public interest, especially in Italy, where the public had begun to cool off about racing, spoiled by too many successes for their national marques.” Judging by the size of the crowd that rushed the track to laud Moss, Fangio’s assessment wasn’t wrong, though it’s doubtful that his employer was as sanguine.
The day after the race there was a raucous banquet on the roof garden of Milan’s Palace Hotel to mark the end of the Formula 1 World Championship. The World Champion was conspicuous by his absence, Fangio preferring the company of ‘Beba’, his constant female companion in Europe, and a few close friends at the more modest Colombia Hotel. The man with the most to shout about was modest and softly spoken. He also had much to think about.
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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