1958 German Grand Prix: So Close Never Felt So Good!
June 6, 2012 by Jeremy McMullen
On the 19th of July, at the 11th RAC British Grand Prix, Roy Salvadori would climb to the 3rd step on the podium. It would be the greatest result of his career in Formula One and it would be a most exuberant moment for the man from Dovercourt joining two other Brits on the podium of their home grand prix. However, it would be the race just two weeks later that would provide Salvadori with one of his greatest, and most disappointing, moments in Formula One.
Salvadori's World Championship debut would come at the 1952 British Grand Prix. In that race, the Anglo-Italian would come away with a very solid 8th place result. However, after that race, Roy couldn't beg, borrow or steal a race finish.
1953 would be just the second year in which Salvadori took part in a World Championship race. Whereas in 1952 Salvadori would only take part in the British Grand Prix, 1953 would see the man from Dovercourt take part in no fewer than five World Championship rounds. Unfortunately, while driving for the Connaught factory team, the 1953 World Championship would be filled with nothing but bitter disappointment. In fact, it was so bad that out of the five races there were a total of 338 laps of racing. Roy would only manage to complete 100 total laps and would fail to finish every single event.
Unfortunately, over the course of the next three seasons it would barely get any better. Were it not for some success in Formula One non-championship and sportscar races, Salvadori's racing career would have been on life-support needing a miracle just to continue. Besides an 11th place result in the Italian Grand Prix in 1956, the bad results just kept coming in Formula One. Then, in 1957, Salvadori's hopes would be renewed when he managed to guide a Cooper T43 to a 5th place result at the British Grand Prix. Just like, after years of wandering in the wilderness, Roy had finally found his way. And in just his third race finish ever in Formula One, he would come away with 2 championship points. This would serve as a springboard for a remarkable 1958 season.
1958 would not start out especially better or different than the previous seasons. At the Monaco Grand Prix in May Salvadori's race would barely make it past halfway before gearbox issues brought it to an end.
However, Salvadori's best result in a Formula One World Championship race was right around the corner. At the fast Zandvoort circuit Roy would take his Cooper T45 and would start from 9th on the grid. Then, in the race, Salvadori would drive smart and fast and would manage to push his way ahead of Mike Hawthorn to finish in 4th place, by far his best result in the World Championship.
1958 would continue to shape up to be a mighty different year for Salvadori. Instead of retirements, he would manage to finish races. Even if he wasn't in the running for points-paying finishes, Salvadori would manage to bring his Cooper home time and time again.
Then came the British Grand Prix. And after such a horrible history in Formula One, to stand up there on the podium with fellow Brits Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn, was truly one of the most spectacular moments of relief for Salvadori's bitterly frustrating single-seater career. What helped to make the day truly special would be the fact Roy had started on the front row of the grid for the race and had managed to remain right there throughout the entirety of the 75 lap race. And for a man that couldn't even finish a race for years, to leave Silverstone inside the top ten in the driver standings was not only epic, but also, very vindicating.
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The fight was well and truly between Ferrari and Vanwall. The Ferrari squad comprised of Brits Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn were locked in a spirited duel with the Brit pairing of Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks driving for Vanwall.
The organizers in charge of the German Grand Prix would allow Formula 2 cars to run alongside the Formula One cars. This would make for a larger field. In total, twenty-six cars would qualify for the 15 lap, 212 mile, race.
While Salvadori would like to be embroiled in the battle between the Ferraris and the Vanwall the simple fact of the matter was that this race would take place at the infamous Nurburgring. Therefore, in many ways, Salvadori's greatest battle, especially given his history of non-finishes, would be against the circuit itself.
Initially designed and built as an alternative to the seemingly more dangerous road races that took place on public roads around the area, what its creators managed to produce was a circuit every bit as dangerous as any public road course, just better contained. Boasting of well more than a 170 corners and constant elevation changes and blind corners, the circuit was actually more scary than battling wheel-to-wheel with another competitor. Only a very few would ever come to be considered Ringmeisters, most did what they needed and then got out as soon as possible.
In the face of such and daunting and formidable circuit, Salvadori would set to work trying to follow up, and improve, upon his British Grand Prix result. Mike Hawthorn would go on to prove that Roy would not take the pole for the race. That honor would go to the Yorkshire terrier. Hawthorn's fastest lap around the circuit would be a 9:14.0. This time would end up being exactly a second faster than Tony Brooks in the first of the Vanwalls. The second of the Vanwalls, driven by Stirling Moss, would end up third-fastest nearly six seconds slower than Hawthorn around the 14.1 mile circuit. Peter Collins would make it an all-Brit front row as he was two seconds slower than Moss around the circuit in his Ferrari.
Salvadori would make it five Brits in the first six places as he would take his Cooper-Climax T45 to a lap time of 9:35.3. Being twenty-one seconds slower than Hawthorn around the circuit would still give Roy a second row starting position. He would start 6th on the three-wide second row, in between Wolfgang von Trips and Maurice Trintignant in another Climax-powered Cooper.
The circuit and the ground would be dry headed toward the start of the race. However, there was an overcast sky covering the area. But while the overcast skies did not promise rain, they would be an unfortunate foreshadowing of events to come.
It was Sunday, August 3rd, and the two o'clock start was rapidly approaching. The roar of the engines would begin to come up to full song, and then the cars would roar away to start the 15 lap epic journey around the Norschleife. Right away, Stirling Moss would make a fast start and would lead the race throughout the first 3 laps. Initially, during the first lap, Brooks would make it a Vanwall one-two. However, before the end of the first lap, Hawthorn and Collins would get by Brooks for 2nd and 3rd behind Moss. Salvadori would slip back at the start but would remain inside the top ten.
Moss would be flying throughout the first couple of laps of the race. However, the Vanwall would not be able to handle the pressure and would eventually give up the fight as a result of magneto troubles. He would be joined out of the race by Hans Herrmann driving a Maserati 250F. This would make it seven cars out by the end of the 3 laps. It would only get worse from there. Jean Behra and Harry Schell would both retire from the race in their BRMs. This would make it twelve out of the race.
But then, on the 10th lap of the race, the looming overcast would become well understood. While Salvadori was pushing hard to make his way up toward the front of the field, Tony Brooks would make a move in his Vanwall to slide by Collins in his Ferrari to take over the lead of the race. Collins would respond by increasing his pace and driving even closer to the edge. Unfortunately, he would overstep that edge. Collins would lose control of his Ferrari. And as a result, the car would roll a number of times throwing Collins clear of the car but into some bushes. When the emergency crews reached Collins he was found to have serious head injuries, as well as, other terrible injuries to his body. Collins would be airlifted to a local hospital. Joining Collins at the hospital would be his wife of 18 months and his good friend Mike Hawthorn.
Hawthorn was right behind Collins when the accident happened. Hawthorn would carry on a short distance before apparently suffering from 'clutch' issues. He would immediately leave the circuit and would be by the side of Collins when he passed away.
All while Collins was losing the battle for his life, the battle for the German Grand Prix would go on unabated. Brooks would be in a class unto himself with Moss, Collins and Hawthorn out of the running. All that would be left would be the fight for 2nd place. This would prove to be a titanic battle between Salvadori and Cliff Allison driving a Lotus. The two would battle and battle. Salvadori seemed to have the edge but could not take anything for granted given the way the day had been going. Therefore, he would not give an inch. He had 2nd in his sights and wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers, not if he had something to say about the matter. Unfortunately for Roy, Allison wouldn't let go either. This enthralling battle would entertain the tens of thousands gathered around the circuit.
It seemed the battle would go right down to the wire. However, Providence, this day, would smile on Salvadori. Still with laps left to run, Allison would have to come into the pits due to some kind of problem with his Lotus. This would allow Salvadori to escape into the distance with 2nd place firmly in his grasp.
Brooks would be all by himself as he appeared from the wilderness. He would carry on through the remaining miles to take yet another victory for Vanwall. He would end up crossing the line nearly three minutes and thirty seconds ahead of Salvadori in 2nd place. Five minutes and eleven seconds would be the gap back to Maurice Trintignant, in another Cooper T45, in 3rd place.
Salvadori delivered. He needed to improve upon his 3rd place at the British Grand Prix and he would end up doing just that. Of course, it would be helped by the unfortunate death of Peter Collins. But while Collins death would be tragic, his death would breathe life into Salvadori, who had long languished, barely alive, in World Championship racing.
Just like that, Salvadori was climbing up the championship standings. Coming into the race, Salvadori was sitting 9th in the championship standings. When the Cooper team packed everything up and set out from Nurburg, it had two drivers 5th and 6th in the championship standings. Salvadori would find himself in 5th place while Trintignant would be 6th. What was more, Salvadori and Trintignant would help Cooper maintain its 3rd place position in the Constructors' Championship standings.
All of a sudden, Salvadori would find himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Oh, the teams and the drivers he was used to. It was the race finishes and the results that he was not. All of a sudden, Salvadori was in the midst of a championship fight. And while the title would be a long shot and practically out of reach, just to be inside the top ten fighting to finish inside the top five would be like a championship title for him. And all of a sudden, after years in which just finishing a race would have been good enough for Salvadori, a 2nd place result now would be both fantastic and disappointing all at once.
Salvadori would continue his string of successful races going throughout the remainder of the 1958 season. Though he would not achieve the victory he needed to improve upon his World Championship best 2nd place, he would still pull out a 5th place at the Italian Grand Prix, which would help him to finish the year 4th place in the standings with 15 points, just one ahead of the deceased Peter Collins. What was more, Salvadori's 15 points would ensure that the top five positions in the Drivers' Championship standings would be occupied by British drivers.
Now that Salvadori had been finally allowed to show his brilliance behind the wheel of grand prix car, and be rewarded for the effort, it was time for him to begin to continually deliver and mount whatever challenge he could toward the 1958 World Championship. That meant he needed to continue to improve. And coming to the Nurburgring that is exactly what he longed to do.
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