The 1957 German Grand Prix

Regarded by many as one of the greatest Formula One races of all time and Fangio's finest drive, this is the 1957 German Grand Prix at the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Juan Manuel Fangio was forty-six years old and a four-time World Driving Champion when he arrived at the Nürburgring in August for the 1957 Grosser Preis von Deutschland. He had already won the season opening  race in Argentine, Monaco and the French Grand Prix.

Driving Maserati’s latest lightweight works 250F chassis (c/n 2529), Fangio would face the Ferrari and Vanwall teams along with his teammate, Frenchman Jean Behra. The British BRM team withdrew its entries due to a “driver shortage”

During practice on the 14.167 mile Nordschliefe circuit, the Maserati team determined that the Pirelli tries had too high a wear rate to last the 22 laps (311.674 miles) of the Grand Prix. Team manager, Nello Ugolini, and chief mechanic, Guerino Bertocchi, proposed a strategy where Fangio would start with a light fuel load and then pit at the half-way point to refuel and change rear tires. The mechanics thought they could add fuel and change the rear tires in thirty seconds. They also thought this would be easier on the rough Nürburgring track than running a heavier car.

The Ferrari team would run a traditional non-stop race. The Vanwalls had performed well on the smooth surface at Aintree, but on the bumps, humps and jumps of the Nürburgring they were off the pace. Stirling Moss has been quoted as saying, “The Vanwall’s taut suspension was totally unsuitable for the Nürburgring”.

The track had been partially resurfaced since the previous year and practice times dropped considerably. Fangio would start from the pole with a time of 9min 25.6sec. Race day, August 4th, was hot, dry and sunny. At the start the Ferraris 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 Ferraris. His third lap was a new record as were his fifth, sixth, eighth and tenth. On the twelfth of twenty-two laps Fangio pitted with a twenty-eight second lead. Collins took the lead followed by teammate Hawthorn. During the pit stop Fangio got out of the car to get a new set of goggles. The mechanics made a mess of the pit stop. There was difficulty changing the rear tires and the stop took over fifty-six seconds.

Fangio reentered the race with the two Ferraris close to thirty seconds ahead and on a no-stop strategy. His first two laps were again cautious to run-in the new Pirelli rear tires. This also led to confusing Ferrari team manger, Romolo Tavoni

At first Fangio made no impression against the Ferraris, the Ferrari pit signaled ‘steady’ at the end of lap fourteen. Bertocchi in the Maserati pit signaled ‘flat-out’ and Fangio recovered over fourteen seconds on lap fifteen. Not understanding Maserati’s tactics, the Ferrari team was lulled into a false sense of security. The long laps of the Nürburgring worked to Fangio’s advantage. He could make up enormous amounts of time during each of the 14.167 mile laps before the Ferrari team could inform its drivers. The Ferrari team finally woke up, and urged their drivers, but Fangio had gained the psychological advantage.

On the eighteenth lap Fangio completed the first 90 mph lap of the Nürburgring. He would break the lap record ten times. His fastest lap was 9min 17.4 seconds 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 Hawthron at Breidscheid for the race lead. The young British driver attempted to fight back. He started the final lap three seconds behind Fangio, but would drop another second by the end of the lap.

When he finished the veins were standing out on his head, he was panting with fatigue, but he had shown them why he was Fangio (Henry Manney – June 1972 Road & Track – Oh, The Great Drivers). No one knew it at the time, but Fangio had won his last Grand Prix victory. He would finish in second place at the Italian and Pescara Grand Prix and be crowned World Driver Champion for the fifth time.

The following is an excerpt from an Adam Cooper interviewed with Fangio in 1989.

“I always had in my head the possibility of winning a race, but this race was almost lost for me. So I had to take a risk – that’s something I never did before in my life. So I started to switch from using fourth gear to fifth. I started to pull stronger using the longer gears. And I thought inside of me, “Maybe once is OK, I can take one turn like this – but it’s crazy if I take two …”

“I made the right decision. If in one turn I was using second gear, then I went into third. When it was third, I put fourth gear. And the car went better into the turns. Then there was much more risk and it waas much less safe, but you go faster. Then in some downhills I saw the other two cars. There were only two laps to go. And that moment was the first moment that I really thought I could get them.”

“I’ve never been a spectacular racer, but I did things I never done in my life, driving from one side of the circuit to the other, using the maximum revs. And that’s how I caught them and won the race – I won by three seconds. I made record laps in the last 10 laps.”

“But I had a problem. One of the screws in the back of my seat broke on the last lap. I got my leg hurt trying to get the seat straight. I couldn’t grab hard on the steering wheel, I had to drive with it – you can’t use it to hang on at a circuit like the Nürburgring!”

The photographs were taken by American Dean Adams. He used a ANSCO Regent 35mm camera and primarily shot Kodachrome film. 

The following is Dean’s recounting of the day’s excitement. “We watched in amazement as Fangio built a commanding lead, then stopped for fuel and tires, restarted calmly in 3rd place and began setting lap record after lap record, finally passing Collins for second place then out braking Hawthorn for 1st place! We started the race near the South curve and did move around some, but were back near the South curve again late in the race and witnessed Fangio’s famous moves – I sure wish I had pictures of that one, too!”

The slides along with the race programs were passed onto the National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) Reno, Nevada.

Article by: Bill Wagenblatt
Photos by: Dean Adams