The Crowning Glory
Nine Maserati 250Fs were among the 21 entries for the 15th Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco [in 1957]. The factory brought its three lightweights (2527, 2528 and 2529), a single 1956 model (2501) and the V12-engined prototype (2523). The factory driver line-up was Juan Manuel Fangio, Harry Schell, Carlos Menditéguy, Giorgio Scarlatti and Hans Herrmann, the latter pair temporary replacements for Jean Behra, who had sustained a broken arm during practice for the Mille Miglia and had to stay at home in his apartment on Paris’s Boulevard Victor. For this race chassis 2528 would have to be entrusted to somebody else and who better than Fangio? Maserati planned to start four cars and the driver of the fourth –Scarlatti or Herrmann – would be determined simply by which of them was faster in practice. The four other 250Fs were independently entered.
Fangio’s Maserati ended up fastest [in qualifying] on 1m 42.7s followed by Collins’s Ferrari (1m 43.3s), Moss’s Vanwall (1m 43.6s), Brooks’s Vanwall (1m 44.4s) and Hawthorn’s Ferrari (1m 44.6s), these five cars occupying the first two rows of the grid.
Heavy rainstorms swept Monaco prior to the race but these had abated by the time the cars began to assemble in the pits. Indeed, the sun came out, the sky became a typically luminous blue, and the track soon dried as the temperature rose to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A large crowd gathered and even before daybreak people could be seen congregating on the slopes behind the Gasworks hairpin.
Soon, though, it was time to put racing plugs into warmed engines. Moss’s Vanwall was reluctant to start without an energetic push from a couple of mechanics and all the other cars were ready on the grid when the Vanwall was manoeuvred into place. Anthony Noghès, the originator of the race, wandered around as if it was all too much and had some difficulty in organising the start, such was the crowd milling around the grid. The resonant sound of the 16 cars became satisfyingly deep as the grid emptied of hangers-on but Noghès continued to pace nervously until eventually he dropped the flag.
Fangio and Moss shot away first, leaving Collins slightly behind. The Maserati and the Vanwall powered down towards the Gasworks hairpin side by side. Under braking, Moss appeared to take the slightest of leads, but Fangio had 2528 positioned on the inside line and held the advantage through the hairpin.
Fangio went neatly round while Moss exited on a slightly wide line, prompting Collins to seek to take advantage with an attempt to dive inside the Vanwall. Moss’s wider trajectory, however, enabled him to get the power down well and accelerate past Fangio as the pack streamed up towards Ste Dévote. By this stage the order was Moss, Fangio, Collins, Schell, Brooks, Menditéguy, Hawthorn, von Trips and the rest.
Fangio was experiencing carburettor problems. When he accelerated the carburettors would flood, a setback that accounted for his lacklustre start. On the fourth lap, with Collins right on his tail, he decided to let the Ferrari past at Ste Dévote, and on the same lap Brooks overtook Schell for fourth place. Into the fifth lap the leading trio seemed to have eked out a small gap to Brooks. Then suddenly everything changed.
‘Approaching the chicane,’ stated Stirling in My Cars, My Career, the book he co-wrote with Doug Nye, ‘I hit the brake pedal as normal, and I swear there was a system failure. The team said they could find no problem later, but I am adamant the front brakes had gone when I hit that pedal. The now over-braked rears instantly locked, and my only course was to go straight on, smashing through a pole-and sandbag barrier, crushing VW3’s nose and breaking mine against its steering wheel.’
With parts of the barrier breaking up and scattering with the Vanwall’s impact, an errant pole impeded the progress of Collins’s Ferrari and he slid into a bollard on the harbourside, but Fangio – ‘clever old Fangio’ in Moss’s words – managed to slip through. Brooks and Hawthorn were next to arrive, the left rear wheel of Brooks’s rapidly slowing Vanwall getting struck by the right front wheel of Hawthorn’s car.
With wheel missing and out of control, the Ferrari plunged into the carnage at about 50mph, almost piggy-backing on top of Collins’s car just as its driver was preparing to jump out of it. Britain’s top three racing drivers were all of a sudden out of the race. The two wrecked Ferraris came to rest perilously close to the harbour edge, and Hawthorn’s right front wheel, complete with brake drum, ended up in the sea, floating like a tossed lifebelt.
‘When all this happened I was coming out of the tunnel, and I saw earth and debris flying in the air,’ said Fangio in Roberto Carozzo’s book My Racing Life. ‘I braked and came up slowly. There was a post across the track and I passed it carefully for fear of scraping and rupturing the fuel tank, which had 250 litres in it. The post was lying in such a way that I was able to pass it diagonally. Brooks was behind me…’
It seemed a miracle that not only Fangio but also Brooks got through unscathed, although the English driver virtually had to stop. He was forced to drive his Vanwall over the pole that Fangio had been able to avoid, damaging the underside such that the car bottomed at the Tabac corner for the rest of the race.
All this left Fangio the clear race leader, with the tenacious Brooks the only driver anywhere near him.
The 1957 Monaco Grand Prix may not have been the most memorable Formula 1 race, but it showcased Fangio’s ability to take control of a situation and mould it into a secure victory. The race did not quite conform to his philosophy of winning at the slowest possible speed and by the finest possible margin, but his impeccable performance was near enough. As for Maserati 250F chassis 2528, this was its finest hour.