1957 Italian Grand Prix: A True Nobleman Stands Amongst Two of F1's Most Noble By: Jeremy McMullen
The sea of spectators overwhelming the circuit would be a truly awe-inspiring sight to behold. The vast majority of this horde was there to celebrate the car adorned in red finishing in the top three. The car's driver, a true royal, would stand amongst the crowd as if standing amongst adoring and loving subjects. For the first time in his career, Wolfgang von Trips would be able to count himself amongst the elite of Formula One.
Wolfgang von Trips had been born into a noble German family in 1929. He would grow up in a large castle on extensive grounds. However, he would also grow up within earshot of the mighty Nurburgring and would be an impressionable young man at the time of the mighty Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz.
When von Trips started his racing career at the conclusion of World War II he would start out racing on two wheels but would quickly switch to four. His first major focus would be in sports car racing where he would be immediately successful. In his second major sports car race in the 1.6 category von Trips would score a 2nd place result in the Nurburgring's Eifelrennen. Throughout the rest of the 1954 season he would score one more podium result and a 5th place in the Grand Prix of Berlin.
These results would allow the Count to fulfill an ambition from his youth. In 1955, von Trips would earn a couple of drives with the mighty Mercedes-Benz team in their new Silver Arrows the 300 SLR. And at the Tourist Trophy race in September von Trips would partner with Andre Simon and Karl Kling to finish 3rd overall. Unfortunately, this was also the same year of the Le Mans tragedy. As a result, von Trips' time with German manufacturer would be short-lived.
Prior to earning the drive with Mercedes-Benz, von Trips had been driving for Porsche. After Mercedes withdrew from motorsport, Wolfgang returned to Porsche and would partner with Richard von Frankenberg, another Count, to drive to a 5th place overall finish and 1st in the 1.5 class at the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans. This would set the stage for the German Count rising to the status of Italian nobility.
By the end of the 1956 season, von Trips was driving for Scuderia Ferrari in sportscars and was set to make his debut in front of the Tifosi at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, in his first attempt at the Italian Grand Prix von Trips would not endear himself to his loyal subjects and would take the first step toward the doghouse with Enzo.
During practice for the race, von Trips would lose control of his Lancia-Ferrari D50 and would crash heavily. The result of the crash was so catastrophic to the car that it could not be repaired in time for him to qualify, and therefore, start the race. Therefore, von Trips' first Formula One race would see him fail to start.
Von Trips would learn from the disappointing experience and would be poised for a much better '57 season. Heading into the first round of the Formula One World Championship, which was the Argentine Grand Prix, Wolfgang was still a junior member of Ferrari's Formula One team, and therefore, had to deal with issues of shared drives and the like. This would come into play in the first round of the season when von Trips had to share one of the Ferrari's with Italian driver Cesare Perdisa. The situation would be further complicated when Peter Collins retired from the race early on despite having led the race at one point. As a result, Wolfgang would be delayed in taking over the controls of the car in favor of Collins getting back in the race. Unfortunately, the delay in switching drivers would only further strengthen Fangio's control over Collins in the Ferrari. Therefore, Collins would only drive the car for 35 laps before he handed the car to von Trips. In spite of all of the driver changes and the delays associated with them, von Trips would perform well to finish just 2 laps down in 6th place.
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Loss of concentration and focus can be absolutely detrimental to a driver, and yet, this would be something von Trips would again have to contend with at the Monaco Grand Prix a few months later.
A pile up on the 4th lap of the Grand Prix of Monaco would find von Trips promoted to the 3rd place spot behind Fangio and Tony Brooks. Unfortunately, the accident would take out two of Ferrari's prime drivers, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. This would make for a very interesting, and no doubt, frustrating situation for von Trips.
In that day and age of Formula One it was a regular practice to have the leading driver on a team take over the car of a fellow teammate if he retired early due to mechanical issues or accidents. Sure enough, Hawthorn wanted to get back into the race, and von Trips in 3rd place certainly offered Hawthorn his best opportunity and recovering and earning a top result. Therefore, Wolfgang would pull into the pits and would be forced to hand his car over to Hawthorn.
Hawthorn would complete just a few laps before he decided to return to the pits and hand the car back to von Trips. While this was a novel gesture toward his teammate it was also bitterly disappointing as it would cost von Trips his 3rd place.
Von Trips would gain the position back after Carlos Menditeguy spun off the circuit. It seemed very likely Wolfgang was on course for his first podium result in one of the most important races on the World Championship calendar. However, just 10 laps away from the finish the engine would totally seize causing von Trips to plow into one of the barriers. The race was over. The podium had been lost. But would it have been had Hawthorn not taken his car away from him for those 3 laps?
Over the next four rounds of the World Championship on European soil von Trips would not have a ride and would not be present at either of the rounds. This would be due to some rather serious injuries he had suffered during the 1000km Nurburgring race. However, when the team packed up and headed to the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza for the Italian Grand Prix on the 8th of September they would pack four cars and von Trips, who would be fit by then, would have one all to himself.
When the team arrived in Monza and began to unload the team would unload its four cars. One would go to Mike Hawthorn while another would go to Peter Collins. Then there would be one for Luigi Musso and a final one for Wolfgang.
Since the Monaco Grand Prix, the Ferrari team had been using its updated version of what was truly just a D50. Known as the Lancia 801, the car would struggle for pace compared to the Vanwalls and the evolved Maserati 250Fs.
Using the power from his Vanwall, whose founder actually had a close relationship with Enzo Ferrari, Stuart Lewis-Evans would go on to take the pole for the race with a time of 1:42.4 and at an average speed of just over 125 mph. Stirling Moss would end up three-tenths of a second slower in another Vanwall and would start 2nd. Tony Brooks, also driving a Vanwall would make it a clean sweep of the first three starting positions. Had the team a fourth car in its stable it was likely the team would have swept the entire four-wide front row. Instead, Juan Manuel Fangio would take the final starting spot on the front row with a time seven-tenths of a second slower than Lewis-Evans. This would make the front row a sea of British Racing Green with one lonely machine adorned in Italian Racing Red.
Among the Ferrari foursome, von Trips would be the second-fastest around the 3.56 mile circuit. His time of 1:45.5 would place him on the third row of the grid in the 8th place spot overall on the grid.
The day of the race, almost as usual, would be sunny and dry, but it would also be very hot. The whole weekend had proven to be torridly hot, and yet, the cars would begin to be rolled out onto the grid in preparation for the 87 lap, 310 mile, race. Being that the race would take place on home soil, the Ferrari cars had been loaded back up on the transporter and taken back to Modena for some final preparations. The transporter would return the next day in time for the cars to be unloaded and finally tuned in preparation for the race.
The scene as the cars took their places on the grid was simply electric. Noted former drivers as Luigi Villoresi and Maurice Trintignant could be seen around the main straight prior to the start of the race. Tightly packed spectators fought and stretched to peer down toward the grid awaiting the start of the race. The engines began to come up to full-song, and then they would be off!
Moss would fly into the lead while Jean Behra also came up from his second row starting position to be fighting for one of the top spots as well. As the cars approached the Parabolica corner that lead around to the main straight, it was still Moss leading ahead of Behra with the other two Vanwalls following closely behind in 3rd and 4th. Running down through the field, von Trips would be found in 10th place after the first lap of the race, but it was a long way to go and Wolfgang would be looking comfortable, steady and strong.
Moss and Behra would battle for the lead throughout the first few laps of the race, but then, Fangio would get in gear and would end up taking over the lead of the race for a few laps. Wolfgang continued to run well inside the top ten throughout the first-third of the race. He would be in good position as the incredible heat would begin to take its toll on the field.
Luigi Piotti would be the first out of the race. His event would last just 3 laps before the Maserati engine blew. Jo Bonnier would be the next out of the race when his engine overheated after 31 laps. Then it was Harry Schell's turn after 34 laps. One-by-one they began to fall. By the 50th lap of the race Stuart Lewis-Evans and Jean Behra would join the others out of the race. And when Peter Collins retired his Ferrari after 62 laps because of a broken cylinder block, von Trips would find himself comfortably running around the top five and climbing even higher.
Fangio would drop back to follow along behind his old former teammate and friend Stirling Moss. Tony Brooks had long since faded along with Luigi Musso. The incredible pace and the incredible heat had caused a large amount of disarray and overturning within the field. Mike Hawthorn would seemingly survive a lot of the upheaval and would be running in the 3rd position ahead of von Trips. Wolfgang was certainly taking the race easy and would be more than a lap behind heading into the final 15 laps of the race. But still, he was running strongly, and in such heat, it was likely there were still some more surprises to come before the end.
Although he himself was more than a lap behind, von Trips had been running strongly enough in the 801, which obviously lacked the straight-line speed of the Vanwalls, to have a healthy margin in hand over Masten Gregory.
Moss had pulled away from Fangio. Fangio seemed pleased to let his old teammate lead the way and would not press. Of course, he was likely holding position waiting for a rerun of the 1954 Italian Grand Prix when Moss had the lead in hand and the engine failed with less than 10 laps remaining in the race.
A failure would take place, but it would not be Moss. Von Trips had been on course for his first podium result at the Grand Prix of Monaco before Mike Hawthorn threw a wrench into things by not being able to make up his mind whether he wanted to race in von Trips' car or not. Well, at the Italian Grand Prix, von Trips would be rewarded for his sportsmanship.
With only a handful of laps remaining in the race, Hawthorn would be seen peeling off into the pits. The crew would set to work feverishly around his car's engine. A misfire had developed and it would found that it resulted from a split fuel pipe. This delay in the pits would end up dropping Hawthorn out of 3rd place all the way down to 6th by the end. But the problems would result in von Trips being promoted to 3rd place in the running order.
Moss would be unbeatable in the heat. He would prove to be too much even for Fangio as he would languish along well behind the Brit as he set about completing the final lap of the race. After two hours, thirty-five minutes and three seconds, Moss and Vanwall had done it. The first all-British combination had beaten the Italians on their own soil. Forty-one seconds later, Fangio would come across the line to take 2nd place and remain the only one still on the lead lap with Moss.
Von Trips was still running in 3rd place as he set about on his final lap of the race. As he headed off toward the Curva Grande for the final time, Moss was just coming across the line to take the victory. Two laps, and nearly a minute and forty seconds later, von Trips would come through to take 3rd place. It was his first podium in Formula One and would take place in no better setting than in front of the Tifosi.
It would be a great day despite what had been a relatively frustrating weekend for Scuderia Ferrari. And though he would be much maligned and considered unlucky at the famed Italian circuit, there would be no doubt to the fact that on the 8th of September in 1957 von Trips stood amongst some of Formula One's greatest at one of the greatest circuits in the world. He was noble in title, and now, in deed.
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'1957 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1957/f157.html). 1957 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1957/f157.html. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD5vy7YObXo. '1957 F1 Italian Grand Prix @ Monza (Full Highlights Show)'. Youtube. September 8, 1957. Web. 1 May 2012.