The end of 1955 saw the withdrawal of Mercedes from Grand Prix racing. Moss went to drive for Maserati while Fangio moved over to Ferrari. Driving a Ferrari based on the Lancia D50 Fangio scored several victories including the opener in Argentina and the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The title fight went down to the wire and would be decided at Monza. Fangio was leading in points but both Jean Behra and new boy Peter Collins still had a shot if either one of them could win the race and set the fastest lap. Harry Schell blasted into the lead in a Connaught but soon had to retire. Moss assumed the lead and was followed by Fangio and Collins. Fangio's title hope turned for the worse when he suffered steering failure, but he was saved when Collins sacrificed his own title chances when he stopped to hand over his car to Fangio. It was said at the time that Collins might have thought that he would have other opportunities in the future while Fangio would soon be ending his legendary career, yet the generosity of this act cannot be overlooked. Fangio would finish a solid second and clinch his fourth World Championship. 1957 started the same as the previous year for Fangio with a victory in Argentina, this time driving a Maserati. Moss had moved to Vanwall but they were not ready for the first race. Hawthorn and his friend Collins had teamed up at Ferrari. Monaco saw a crash that took out the cars of Moss, Collins and Hawthorn allowing Fangio an easy win. The star of the race was Jack Brabham pushing his car to the finish line and scoring a sixth place finish for the small Cooper. Fangio scored another victory at Reims while Moss won a well received victory at Aintree.
This brought the championship to the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. It was generally acknowledge by the Grand Prix Circus that this would be Fangio's last season. He was determined to finish on top.Fangio and Hawthorn qualified one-two and the race looked set for an epic battle. The Maserati of Fangio started the race on half tanks and it was incumbent on him to build a large enough margin that would allow him to pit yet retain his lead. This he started top do, blistering the track at a record pace but Hawthorn and Collins in the Ferraris had other ideas. On the twelfth lap Fangio dove into the pits. Even though everyone in the Maserati pits was prepared the pitstop cost Fangio the lead when both Collins and Hawthorn thundered past. Finally the work was done and Fangio re-entered the fray. All seamed loss as Fangio was now 45 seconds behind the leading duo and few thought that even the great Fangio could make up this difference. Fangio was one of the few as he began chopping off large chunks of the gap to the leaders. In the Ferrari pit panic took hold as they pleaded for their drivers to go ever faster. Fangio would later say that he drove faster than he ever wanted to drive again. The lap record came tumbling down and he would soon be lapping at a faster average speed than that with which he had qualified! Both Collins and Hawthorn continued to race at a furious pace. Peter Lewis, the famous British journalist said that "he (Fangio) might almost have been pulling them backwards on the end of a rope for on the twentieth lap Fangio sliced eleven seconds off their lead. Fangio caught Collins first and passed him on the inside but the Englishman returned the favor and pushed Fangio back into third." The second time Fangio drew alongside and then slowly drew away. Just the Collins was hit in the eye by a stone thrown up by the Maserati's rear wheel but was saved by his goggles. Now it was Hawthorn's turn and still Fangio came on; actually driving straight on in one corner to pass force his way past Hawthorn. They would finish three seconds apart with Collins coming in third. The victory gave Fangio an unassailable lead in what would become his fifth and final World Championship. So ended the maestro's greatest race.
Rise of British Racing Green
The British Grand Prix of 1957 saw a full complement of British Racing Green including three Vanwalls driven by Moss, Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans; two BRMs and three Coopers; one of them driven by Jack Brabham. Moss streaked into the lead and drew steadily away from the others only to suffer from engine problems. Seemingly done for the day on lap 26, He took over the car of Brooks who was in ninth place. A remarkable series of failures struck the leaders including a broken clutch, engine failure, a tire puncture, and finally a broken throttle linkage clearing the way for Moss to regain the lead! When Moss crossed the line the crowd erupted in patriotic celebrations - a British car had won the British Grand Prix with one of its sons.
The 1958 season started without one of its most famous names when Maserati decided top call it quits. Ferrari had a new model, the 246 Dino, for their drivers Hawthorn, Collins and the rising Italian star Luigi Musso. Vanwall had Moss, Brooks and Stuart Lewis-Evans once again while Cooper retained Brabham and Roy Salvadori. Beginning this season the cars were required to use gasoline instead of alcohol or methane. This would require some modification to the engines and Vanwall would not be able to complete these changes in time for the opening race in Argentina. The Grand Prix of Argentina was noteworthy as Moss, driving a Cooper, used one less pitstop and had to conserve his tires in the later stages of the race, just crossing the line with the canvas showing. The next race, Monaco was also won in a Cooper this time driven by Maurice Trintignant in a race of attrition. Remarkably both of these wins were scored in a private Cooper entered by Rob Walker.
In between the first two races there was a time span of four months.During this period Moss and Fangio entered a 500km car race in Cuba. Only Fangio never made it to the starting grid, having been kidnapped by Cuban rebels in support of Fidel Castro who were protesting the governments decision to sponsor the race in despite the terrible economic conditions. Thankfully he was freed shortly after the conclusion of the race which was won by Moss. It is unknown if Moss ever again had this kind of unwanted help!
The Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort had an all British race car podium with Moss the victor in a Vanwall followed by Schell and Behra in BRMs. The next race, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa was won by Tony Brooks who's fluid driving style seemed to compliment this circuit of broad high speed corners. The French Grand Prix saw both triumph and tragedy with Hawthorn scoring the first victory by Ferrari since 1956 and the death of Luigi Musso ending the great Italian line of succession. The race also marked the final race in Fangio's great career.
Peter Collins had pledged at the beginning of the season that he would support his friend, Hawthorn, in his pursuit of the title. At Silverstone, Collins was good to his word when he sacrificed his own car to try to draw Moss into a duel. The strategy succeeded and moss' car soon broke. Collins went on to win and his pal Hawthorn scored some much needed points for finishing second. This friendship tragically ended when Collins lost his life chasing Tony Brooks for the lead at the Nurburgring. Brooks went on to win the race.
The championship race now had a third player Tony Brooks. The fight moved on to Portugal. Here Moss was in command but a mistake by Moss and his sense of honor conspired to give his rival, Hawthorn the 6 points he needed to stay in the lead for the championship. Moss misread a pit sign that read HAW-REC to mean HAW-REG or regular missing the fact that his rival had just scored one point for setting the lap record. The other incident concerned allegations that Hawthorn pushed his car when it stopped on the course, which would have resulted in disqualification. Moss came to his defense and the points were restored. Two years later the same fate would befall Moss but no one spoke in his defense, the world of racing has changed.The final race was in Morocco and saw Moss score fastest lap and win the race all for naught as Hawthorn would finish a easy second and become the first British World Champion by one point over Moss. Towards the end of the race Lewis-Evens crashed his Vanwall which ignited. The driver was able to scramble free of the wreckage but was now fully engulfed in flames. In his panic he ran away from his would be helpers. Six days later he would die from his burns.
Motor racing is a dangerous sport, it always will be. To write about racing, you cannot deny that the possibility of injury or death is always close by. We must not allow ourselves to be hardened by it. The drivers of yesteryear were a much closer bunch for a myriad of reasons and were deeply effected by each death. We, the fans, should revel in their skill and daring yet mourn their loss. Chris Nixon wrote a wonderful book, "Mon Ami Mate", about racing in the fifties, using the friendship of Hawthorn and Collins as its central theme. I could not recommend a book more strongly.