On August 4, 1957 at the German Grand Prix on the long and tortuous 14 mile Nürburgring circuit four-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio from Argentina overcame a huge deficit to overtake his two main competitors on the next to last lap and seal his fifth World Championship.
Ever since that fateful day 56 years ago, Grand Prix experts have cited this incredible performance as the most exciting Formula 1 race of all time. In 1957 Grand Prix races would normally be run without a stop for fuel. Fangio decided to try a new strategy in his Maserati 250F against his main rivals, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, both of whom drove for Ferrari. Fangio started with a half-full fuel tank, hoping that the lighter weight would allow him to build up a substantial lead, come into his pit for a quick fuel stop and be able to return still in front. Fangio did get that lead but there followed a chaotic Maserati pit stop which used up Fangio’s advantage and returned him to the race over 45 seconds behind the cars of Hawthorn and Collins. At first Fangio, taking it easy with new tires and more fuel, lulled his opponents into a false sense of security. The great lap length of the Nürburgring meant that drivers could only receive signals about their positions relative to others when passing the pits, about once every 10 minutes or so.
This delay worked to Fangio’s advantage when he began a truly historic challenge, breaking the outright lap record lap after lap and leaving it some 8 seconds below his lap record qualifying time.. He caught the Ferrari of Collins behind the pits on the penultimate lap and passed Hawthorn a few corners later, holding on to take the win a lap later. Fangio said that he had never driven as hard and taken so many chances, and he never would again. It was an amazing performance for a man already 46 years old. He would retire from racing in 1958 and died 1995.
This fabulous photograph of Fangio was taken late during the 1957 German Grand Prix as he climbed through Brünchen corner from the dark forest into the low sun of the late afternoon.
Photo by Yves Debraine – © The Klemantaski Collection