Fangio Feels the Pressure at the 1956 British GP

Several Maserati 250Fs on display. These cars ...

Several Maserati 250Fs on display. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fangio was the “old man” of the drivers.  He also had a humbleness, of sorts, for a world champion racing driver.  But, this does not mean he was not competitive.  On the contrary, Fangio was fiercely competitive.  But, he was in a tough spot.  With the withdrawal from Formula 1 of Mercedes-Benz, Fangio was left without a team for this season.  Moreover, prior to the 1956 season, the Argentinian government had fallen.  Fangio’s independent source of funding fell with it.

And, this season was not going at all to plan.  And, through this season, we see an axiom of F1 race: even the best driver in the best car may not have lady luck on his side.  I cannot barely imagine the pressure he would have been feeling.  One the one hand, he was above the fray.  On the other hand, being above the fray was probably a pretty lonely place to be in.  Following his win at Argentina, he imposed his will on the team and forced Peter Collins out of his car at Monaco.  He made it up to second.  Peter Collins did not pout, he swung back and won the last two Grands Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and then the French GP.  Fangio was not on the podium for either.  By the time we get to this point, Fangio is wedged between Jean Behra (14) and Stirling Moss (12) with 13 points.  Peter Collins was running away with the ’56 F1 driver’s championship with 19 points.

Now, let me add another layer to Fangio’s situation.  He hated racing for Scuderia Ferrari.  More specifically, he could not stand Enzo Ferrari.  The distaste was mutual.  Enzo had no love for the Fangio show.  But, let’s think about this.  Fangio needed money, so a small team was not an option.  Mercedes-Benz was gone along with their winning chassis.  This only leaves Maserati and Ferrari as options.  But the Maserati 250F, although well-updated, was aging.  It could not guarantee Fangio the third straight world championship that he was so desperate for.  The Lancia-Ferrari D50 was not better; he needed that car.

Formula 1 is a zero sum game: one winner, everyone else loses.  Enzo was desperate for his car – not even his driver – to be thewinner.  But, he needed a driver capable of winning.  He had Peter Collins, but he was not as good as Stirling Moss or Fangio.  Moss, on the other hand, at that time, was refusing to drive for Scuderia Ferrari because Enzo had previously revoked a ride  from Moss at the last second.  It’s sort of a long story, but suffice it to say that Moss was miffed for about a decade.  So, Moss was inevitably going to end up at Maserati, the next best thing.  If Fangio went to Maserati, Ferrari would likely not have been able to take the championship.  So, you see what’s going on.  They needed each other.  For either to win, they needed the other.

But, bitterness spewed.  For example, Enzo publicly refused to announce at “number 1” driver, pretty much just to make a point to Fangio.  From what I understand, escalating accusations were thrown back and forth well-beyond the end of the ’56 F1 season.  In summary, Fangio was stuck at Ferrari.  Arriving at the British GP, he was well behind Peter Collins with only three races to go.

So, that leaves us with the question, can Fangio pull off an underdog win and take the 1956 championship?  Well, you’ll have to wait and see because there is still two races following this one and it goes down to the wire.

The 1956 British Grand Prix.

The video is below.  I’ll hit the summary below the jump.

At the very least, Juan-Manuel Fangio surges back and gets the result he needed to stay in the race for the 1956 F1 Championship.  He tied Stirling Moss for the fastest qualifying lap.  Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins shared the front row of the grid.  As from the video, you can see the driver’s are abandoning goggles for shielded helmets, which is an interesting progression of driver’s gear.

As for the race, Stirling Moss and Behra kept up with the front runners for the early part of the race.  He then led laps 16 to 38.  Ultimately however, Fangio got it done.  He led the last 32 laps.  Moss picked up the extra point for fastest lap.  This left the championship as follows after six of eight races: (1) Peter Collins – 22; (2) Juan-Manuel Fangio – 21; (3) Jean Behra – 18; (4) Stirling Moss – 13.

Next up…the 1956 German GP and then the season finale at Monza.