Welcome to a new episode in the wonderful world of bruznic loves F1.
In this fourth episode we'll talk about another marvelous, yet seemingly impossible victory.
This time it's about the last ever victory of arguably the greatest F1 driver ever: Juan Manuel Fangio and the German Grand Prix of 1959.
Juan Manuel Fangio was forty-six(!) years old and a four-time World Champion at the time of the 1957 German Grand Prix. Before the season he had switched teams once more. That year he would be driving in the absolutely gorgeous Maserati 250F, which is regarded by many to be one of the most iconic, and beautiful, F1 cars of all time. Who am I to argue? I mean... Look at it!
Prior to the German round of the championship he had already won the season opening race in Argentina, together with the Monaco and the France edition. Fun thing about the 1957 season was that Fangio replaced Stirling Moss at Maserati, who had gone on to drive for the British BRM team. That year no one else but those two would take victory at every Grand Prix that counted for the championship.
During practice sessions for the German GP, ran on on the notorious Nordschliefe, the Maserati team did not like the way that the Pirelli tyres degraded. Deeming them unfit for 22 laps at such a demanding track. -See? It's not only in today's F1 that tyre management was important. Since the mechanics were sure they could pull a pit stop off in under 30 seconds they proposed a strategy to Fangio were he would start with only half of the normal fuel load and then pit at the half-way point to refuel and change the rear tyres.
The Nurburgring had been partially resurfaced since the previous edition and this meant that the practice times dropped considerably. Fangio would start from pole position with a time of 9min 25.6sec, a time you can pull off in a Ford Focus these days, haha. Not to belittle what he did back then of course, just to show how technology evolves.
At the start of the race, the Ferrari's of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins took the lead. Fangio started out cautiously and it wasn’t until the third lap that he passed the two Ferrari's. That third lap was a new lap record. A feat he'd repeat for the fifth lap. And sixth. And seventh. And eighth... and tenth! On the twelfth lap, little over mid distance, Fangio pitted with a twenty-eight second lead. This gave Collins an opportunity to retake the lead, followed by his teammate Hawthorn. Of course, the danger of a pit stop is that there are always things that can go wrong. And naturally they did. In this instance there were some difficulties with the rear tires and the stop took over fifty-six seconds.
Once Fangio rejoined the race the two Ferrari's had a lead of forty-eight seconds! And both of them were on a no-stop strategy... That Fangio's first two laps were pretty slow, compared to his previous ones led to confusion in the Ferrari pit. They thought they had the Argentinian beat, to which they signalled their drivers to take it easy. Little did they know that Fangio was cautiously running in his new Pirelli tyres.
But once Fangio got that out of the way he put his foot down, to recover little over fourteen seconds on lap fifteen. The distance each lap of the Nürburgring covered worked in Fangio’s advantage. He could make up enormous amounts of time before the Ferrari team could inform its drivers. Remember that they didn't have radio's in those days. The only info drivers got was through a board, each time they passed the pit.
Fangio would do something no one had ever done before; he broke the lap record ten times, seven times in succession, after his bodged pit stop! His fastest lap was 9m17.4 sec, which was 8.2 seconds quicker than his pole time. On the twenty-first lap Fangio passed Collins in the Nordkurve, he then caught and passed Hawthorn at Breidscheid for the race lead. Hawthorn tried to keep up, but could not re-challenge for the lead. When both men started the final lap the Briton would already be three seconds behind Fangio, and he would drop another second by the end of the lap.
Fangio would later tell Nigel Roebuck:
“I loved that Maserati, it wasn’t very powerful, but it was beautifully balanced – I felt I could do anything with it. Even now, sitting here with you all these years later, when I think of that race I can feel fear. The Nürburgring was always my favourite circuit – I loved it, all of it, and I think that day I conquered it, but on another day it might have conquered me, who knows?
Afterwards I knew what I had done, the chances I had taken – I believe that day I took myself and my car to the limit, and perhaps a little bit more. I had never driven like that before, and I knew I never would again…”