This iconic image was taken from the apex of the original Thillois hairpin at the top of the main straight on the old Reims grand prix circuit during the French Grand Prix on July 1, 1956. At the wheel is then three time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. He is trail-braking his Ferrari-Lancia D50 – obvious from the attitude of the car – as he approaches the apex of the corner. Note the Argentinean racing colors of blue and yellow painted on his car’s nose.
In the 1950s the circuits of Reims, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza held a kind of informal competition to see which was the fastest circuit in Europe. Reims with a 1956 fastest lap of 127 mph was slightly quicker than Spa by just over 3 mph, but Monza, having added the new banked oval section to its road course, had raised its fastest lap to over 135 mph.
In practice at Reims Fangio pinned everyone’s ears back by being over a second quicker than anyone else, and easily leading the five entries from the Scuderia Ferrari. He was the only driver capable of taking the right hand sweeper after the pits absolutely flat out without the slightest lift. Even in early practice Harry Schell had taken his Vanwall around faster than the previous best lap which had been set in 1954. The car’s designer Colin Chapman would have the opportunity to race a Vanwall in this his first Formula 1 outing. Unfortunately, he would crash into his teammate Mike Hawthorn’s Vanwall during practice and would not get to start. In addition to the three Vanwalls, Maserati also had four works cars on hand, led by Stirling Moss and Jean Behra. And Bugatti returned to grand prix racing with its new type 251 with a transverse straight eight motor at the rear, but it was not competitive.
The front row of the grid was all Ferrari-Lancias with Fangio, Peter Collins and Eugenio Castellotti. Behind them was Schell’s Vanwall, then Hawthorn’s Vanwall and the Maseratis. At the start the Ferrari-Lancias went off into their own race, no one else being able to stay with them, especially after Schell retired with a blown engine. At this point the Ferrari-Lancias had taken the first five positions. Schell then took over Hawthorn’s car and got up to the Ferrari-Lancias which kept him back by blocking his way past until he had to pit with a fuel injection problem and fell back. Fangioi generally led his teammates until he had to pit late in the race when a fuel pipe fractured. It was repaired but he was relegated to fourth behind Collins, the winner, Castellotti and Behra but he still set the fastest time that day on his last lap.
Photo by Günther Molter ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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