For the first time, a British car and driver have combined to win the German Grand Prix.
Last Sunday, at the fabulous Nurburgring in the Eifel Mountains of Western Germany - surely the most testing Grand Epreuve venue in the world - Tony Brooks drove his Vanwall to victory at a race average substantially higher than Fangio's record win in last year's race. He gave a dazzling display of driving virtuosity remarkably akin to the world champion's performance last year, again in direct competition with Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn in Ferraris, but this victory was tragically marred by the fatal accident that befell Collins, when the latter went off the road while battling Brooks for the lead.
Stirling Moss set a new lap record at the beginning of the race in a second Vanwall, clocking but 9m9.2s for the lap, an average of 92.9mph compared with Fangio's own 1957 record lap of 91.53mph. However, magneto failure brought Stirling's drive to an end on the fourth lap, when he was leading the race, over 18 seconds ahead of the field.
British Coopers also took second and third places, driven by Roy Salvadori and Maurice Trintignant (the latter a Rob Walker entry) and John Cooper's joy was complete when New Zealander Bruce McLaren won the Formula 2 category in another Cooper, against opposition which included works entries from Porsche and Ferrari.
The practice periods, on Friday and Saturday, enjoyed every kind of weather, from blazing sunshine to tropical rainstorms. Vanwall brought only two cars for the race, plus a practice machine, so Stuart Lewis-Evans did not get a drive, and went 'wheel-hunting' around the other equips, eventually doing some quick laps in both the central-seater works F2 Porsche and the sports 1500, for there was a chance that Edgar Barth, down to drive both cars, might not be fit in time following his crash at the Freiburg hillclimb the previous weekend. In the event, however, he was fit - so Stuart stayed on the sidelines.
Last year, it will be remembered, Vanwalls were not at all happy on the team's first visit to The Ring, the suspension being unsuited to the tortuous and very bumpy course. Lessons though, were learnt and this year Brooks assured us that the road-holding was improved out of all recognition and the green cars were really motoring. Fangio's lap record stood at 9m17.4s and on the Friday Moss got down to 9m21.9s.
Rain fell during the early afternoon, making the track very slippery in places. Tony Marsh, in his F2 Cooper, had a moment on the very twisty, downhill stretch before the tongue-twisting Quiddelbacherhohe, but held the car and, as he straightened out, glanced in his mirror just in time to see another green car disappear through the hedge behind him. It was Jean Behra, trying out Harry Schnell's BRM. He finished up perched on the safety bank behind the hedge, which, with rubber-like resilience, had sprung back in place. When Schell came out to look for the missing Behra, the car was quite hidden and Harry went by without seeing it, which confused the recovery operations for a while!
Edgar Barth, Porsche RSK © LAT
This meant that Schell had to use the spare practice car for the race. The BRMs were finding the course on first acquaintance bumpier than expected and the undertrays were grounding on some of the faster humps - no good thing for the lowest part of the shield barely covers the transmission disc brake.
Ferrari had brought five cars. Three were of the familiar type, which took the first two places in the British GP, but Hawthorn also practiced in one with helical-spring rear suspension instead of transverse leaves. He found that although it gave him a more comfortable ride, the older type had a very slight edge on roadholding, so he kept that one for the day. Phil Hill had the F2 Ferrari and amusement was caused when it was majestically driven out to the starting area by a mechanic for Friday's practice - and as it arrived in front of the well-populated stands, a rear wheel fell off! Hill later recorded second best F2 time (all wheels firmly secured), with a lap in 9m43.4s.
On Saturday the lap times really began to tumble. Faster and faster went the Vanwalls and the Ferraris, ending with Hawthorn quickest, having taken only 9m14s. Brooks was exactly a second slower, both these being, of course, better than the existing official lap record. Moss was third quickest with 9m21.9s - quite a front row.
Salvadori and Trintignant in works and Rob Walker Coopers respectively, had motored very well to join Wolfgang von Trips in the second row. Although Jack Brabham was still quickest of the F2 cars, he had only completed five of the required six practice laps, so Phil Hill, who had brought his lap time down to 9m48.9s, had the premier grid position and Jack was relegated to the back of the grid.
Scuderia Centro-Sud were out of luck this time. Indianapolis exponent Troy Ruttman was due to drive with them, together with Paco Godia, Jo Bonnier and Hans Herrmann. However, the team had valve and piston trouble and by raceday had only Hermann's and Bonnier's cars serviceable. Bonnier now has the 1957 car raced by Giorgio Scarlatti last season: it is still basically red in colour, but for the race was distempered in lurid blue and yellow. There was considerable speculation as to the effect rain might have on this colour scheme!
Brian Naylor was having trouble with his new Cooper in the clutch and Brake departments and a new clutch was fitted the night before the race. Lotus were having overheating bothers and Graham Hill's F2 car seized momentarily, causing him to spin. While the engine was being sorted out, Graham took out Cliff Allison's 2-litre car for a while, but went slightly off the road and damaged the nose and front suspension: more work for the mechanics!
Come race day, and after the sports-cum-GT race, the huge crowd settled down to wait for the grand prix, which was due to start at 2.15pm. It was estimated that 120,000 people paid for admission to the various enclosures around the 14-mile circuit and certainly the stands were well-filled.
The seconds ticked away and the smoke haze rose from the howling pack on the grid as the rather frightening starting procedure took place; it involves quite a number of people standing right in front of the cars until about five seconds from the off, but all went well and the two Vanwalls shot into the lead at the drop of the flag. Schell moved out from the third row and raced right up the pit lane, to go into the Sudkehre in third place behind Moss and Brooks, and on the back leg behind the pits he passed the latter.
However, Harry's initial dash did not last, and the illuminated progress board showed him dropping back to fourth, fifth, and then sixth place. Brooks, too, was taken, first by Hawthorn and then Collins, but Moss was so far out in front that as he howled past the pits at the end of the first lap, we wondered where the others had got to! He had nearly a 20s lead, and the order of the others, when they did arrive, was Hawthorn, Collins, Brooks, von Trips, Schell and Behra (being harried by Allison's Lotus), with Salvadori not far behind.
Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins in their Ferrari Dino 246s © LAT
Towards the end of the field, Naylor appeared and pulled into his pit - the first stop. The fuel pump was giving trouble and he was not able to get anywhere near full revs. He eventually went on, but merely completed the loop round the Sudkehre to the pits again and retired. At about this time, Brabham arrived with his Cooper, the front completely squashed flat, with a certain amount of herbage hanging from it. It seems that he was closely following Bonnier when they both required the same piece of road at the same time and clanged off each other, Brabham smiting the bank. Bonnier continued, to retire on lap two as trouble developed, but Brabham retired there and then - for no air could get to the radiator at all.
On lap two the order remained the same, but Collins and Hawthorn set off in pursuit of Moss and closed his lead to around 11s. Brooks followed at a safe distance and then in a bunch came the two BRMs and the Lotus and the Cooper. Von Trips appeared a little behind schedule and made a quick pit stop for attention to his brakes; it seemed that nothing could be done to restore the power that was fading and he continued.
Moss had received signals that he was being pursued and really pulled out the stops on lap three to bring his lead back to over 18s, by a lap in 9m9.2 s - a new and fabulous record! Collins was lying second now with Hawthorn's Ferrari only a few yards behind. Brooks was still there and the battling quartet of BRMs, Lotus and Cooper steamed through. Phil Hill was next in the F2 Ferrari, and creeping up was McLaren in the other works F2 Cooper, narrowly leading von Trips in the near-brakeless Ferrari and Trintignant in the dark blue Cooper.
Carel Godin de Beaufort came in with the sports Porsche Spyder to change the right-hand front wheel (all those wheel nuts), and Wolfgang Seidel in the Rob Walker F2 Cooper also came in with some front suspension problem.
Still Moss stormed round in the lead on his fourth lap until the indicator failed to indicate him as having passed the Schwalbenschwanz. Hawthorn and Collins came hurtling past the stands, just a length apart - with Moss nowhere in sight.
After Hawthorn and Collins had passed, nearly half a minute elapsed before Brooks arrived, followed by Allison, Schell and Salvadori, all waving their arms about and making those rotary gestures that usually mean "someone's spun back there". As it happened, they were wrong, for Moss hadn't spun; his magneto had merely died on him and that was the end of his race, although no one was to beat his last lap time. Behra had disappeared, too, but he came along slowly at the tail of the field and stopped at the BRM pit, where mechanics spent a very long time bouncing the car up and down on its springs, checking tyre pressures and generally revealing that all was not well in the suspension department. At last they gave it best and sadly pushed the car away to its retirement.
Meanwhile a very lively dice was developing among the F2 brigade. The class was still led by Phil Hill, followed by McLaren, Barth and Ian Burgess, but Ivor Bueb's Lotus and Marsh's Cooper were having a wheel-to-wheel battle of their own, passing and re-passing each other.
Roy Salvadori, Cooper T45 Climax © LAT
Collins and Hawthorn were now very comfortable, away out in front, and they began to 'play bears,' passing the pits side-by-side, first one and then the other leading, to the great delight of the crowd. At the end of five laps the order was: Collins, Hawthorn, Brooks, Allison, Salvadori, Schell, Phil Hill, von Trips and McLaren. Von Trips had definitely begun to drop back and was cutting off for corners 150 yards before anyone else. Barth was next in line, and Bueb and Marsh had caught up with Burgess; a three-cornered fight began which was to last most of the remaining distance.
For another lap things stayed much as they were, although Phil Hill began to drop back a little. Bueb and Burgess now came past the pits side-by-side and repeated the performance all the way back up the return road, really having a go.
It seemed, too, that Brooks was going to have a go now that Moss was out of things. On lap six he was 11s behind and on lap seven only 8.5s. The two Ferraris had been warned of this and the battle was on. Come lap eight, the three cars roared past the pits with less than two seconds separating each one. An echoing roar came from the crowd, for this was quite unexpected; it had been assumed that, now Moss was out, Ferrari would trundle home the winner - but it was not to be.
All eyes watched the scoreboard as the leaders' order was flashed on high for all to see, but still it was Collins-Hawthorn-Brooks, until the end of lap nine. Collins hurtled through, just 1.5s ahead of Hawthorn, who had Brooks right on his tail! Round the Sudkehre they went, and as they dashed up to the Nordkehre, Brooks left his braking late, went on the inside of Hawthorn and scrabbled round ahead of him. A yell of delight from the British contingent! Tony was finding that the Ferraris were substantially faster on the straights than the Vanwall, but that the British car was superior in braking and cornering (Moss reckoned that the Italian cars were some 15mph faster), so positions were constantly changing on the way round the circuit. Brooks desperately tried to make up enough lead on the corners in order to keep the Ferrari wolves at bay on the straights, but on lap 10 they were ahead again, although only just!
The three cars thundered past the pits in a tight bunch and as they went into the Sudkehre, Brooks pulled ahead of Hawthorn again. Round the loop and back behind the pits, and Brooks once more held to the inside of the track as Collins moved over to take the tight Nordkehre left-hander. In a flash the Vanwall was through into the lead and the crowd went wild! Yells, cheers and hats rose into the air as we witnessed a virtuoso piece of sheer driving, incredibly similar to Fangio's lead-taking manoeuvre in last year's race. This was a real motor-race, with all the drama of the unexpected, and Brooks showing himself to be a true top-line racing driver.
On thundered the trio, and then tragedy struck. On a climbing right-hand bend, in the section known as the Pflanzgarten, Brooks took the corner with Collins on his tail, but the Ferrari did not quite get round, clipped the bank and somersaulted straight over the hedge at something approaching 100mph. Collins was thrown out and received severe head injuries. He was flown by helicopter to Bonn hospital, but died without recovering consciousness.
Stirling Moss, Vanwall © LAT
Hawthorn was right behind him and saw the whole thing happen, hesitated, turned in horror as he went by and then continued, shaken. Brooks went by the stands in the lead 7.5s ahead of Mike, who had slowed appreciably. His Ferrari began to puff slight oil smoke at this time and before the lap was over engine trouble brought him to a halt, doubtless not sorry to stop after what he had witnessed.
However, at this time none of us knew the seriousness of the accident and were still exultant at Brooks' brilliant taking of the lead. However, Tony could now take things easy, for he was no less than 2.5m ahead of the next man, who turned out to be Salvadori, instead of Allison. The Lotus came in slowly soon after with water poring from the radiator. It had been weakened in Hill's practice crash and how now cried "enough." Tins of leak-stopper were poured into the steaming cooling system and, after refilling, Cliff accelerated away, having lost nine places.
The race was now running to its conclusion in fairly uneventful fashion. Brooks could romp home with no need to stress his car any more. Salvadori could relax a little, although Trintignant was not far behind. Von Trips was still going remarkably quickly considering he had scarcely any brakes at all by now, and McLaren was leading the F2 category and driving immaculately; Phil Hill had found trouble and dropped right back. Behind Barth, Burgess and Bueb were still going at it hammer and tongs, lap after lap, with just nothing to choose between them. Marsh still followed them, Seidel had retired and Allison kept going at the tail of the field, calling in for water each time round.
The Burb-Burgess battle came to an abrupt end after 13 laps, when Bueb came into his pit complaining of lost oil pressure. His mechanic peered into the oil tank in the tail, while Ivor sat in the cockpit blipping the throttle of the still healthy-sounding engine. Suddenly, out of the view of both of them, a jet of hot oil began pumping out from a burst pipe on the ground under the car! Ivor continued to rev the engine, whilst his mechanic still rummaged around in the tank, but all along the line of pits people were waving their arms and shouting at them, while we in the press box across the track watched helplessly through glasses. Suddenly the mechanic turned his head, saw the oil - and his eyes popped out on stalks! Ivor shut off the engine and that was that!
Salvadori had eased right up, as there was now no chance of catching Brooks, who, at the end of lap 14, was 3.5m ahead of him. Brooks took the flag to tumultuous applause and when he came round to Victory Row, he was swamped by well-wishers. Salvadori came through to a fine second place and John Cooper set off at a jog-trot to meet Roy as he came round at the far end of the 150-yard pitroad. Roy missed seeing him, and drove back on to his pit, and John had to run all the way back again! Yet when McLaren came through to a first-class win in the F2 category, John still had enough jubilation left to turn a delighted head-over-heels on the track as Bruce went by! Allison had waited a little way down the road for Brooks to go by, in order to totter in and finish with the parched Lotus.
It was not until after the prize -giving in the evening that we learned poor Peter had died. It had been a magnificent race and he would not have wished to spoil Tony's moment of glory after a wonderful drive. But the motor racing scene had lost its 'golden boy' - the irrepressible Peter Collins will be sadly missed by everyone connected with the sport.