By the mid-1950s Porsche was beginning to really assert itself in sportscar racing. The introduction of the 550 in 1953 would signal the beginning of success in sportscar racing that continues to this very day. However, Formula One was something else entirely, but, in 1957 an opportunity would present itself.
Porsche would really begin to gain traction in sportscar racing when it introduced its 356 in 1950. The model would be popular with a number of customers and, by sheer numbers, the model began to dominate its class. But there was more the company believed it could do and one of its next models would prove that over and over again.
The 550 Spyder would be immediately successful for Porsche. One of the intriguing aspects to the car was the simple fact it didn't necessarily fit any particular category. Though powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cam engine, the car achieved performance that exceeded its class quite easily. However, the car didn't quite have the performance to compete with the bigger sportscar prototypes. Nonetheless, that is where the model would do most of its fighting.
Heading into the 1957 season Porsche was on the verge on some very important decisions. Porsche was beginning to show interest in Formula 2 and Formula One in addition to his sportscar aims. Therefore, the 1957 would be an important one as the Formula 2 category would be the perfect place in which he could contest using an evolved version of the 550RS sportscar.
At the time, regulations in Formula One were not so well defined as to prohibit a sportscar from taking part in a race. Formula 2 would have even fewer restrictions. Therefore, Porsche 550RS sportscars would begin making appearances in Formula 2 races all throughout the 1957 season. The cars would be updated to make them more competitive in the open-wheel formula. All unnecessary weight would be stripped from the car to help it increase its handling and top speed. Still, the car was bigger than the rest of its Formula 2 rivals and this brought it competitiveness into question.
However, Christian Goethals would enter his own Porsche 550RS at the 1st Coupe Internationale de Vitesse held at Reims, France on the 14th of July. Using the power of the 1.5-liter engine, Goethals would come away with a 5th place result. This would encourage the Porsche factory team to look to an event coming the following month.
The Porsche 550 RS had proven itself in tortuous events in the past. Umberto Maglioli and Huschke von Hanstein shared the drive to take the win in the 1956 Targa Florio. A similar 550 RS would go on to win the 12 Hours of Reims a couple of months later. Then there were class victories at Sebring, Nurburgring and Le Mans in 1957 that would prove the abilities of the car. Therefore, the 550 RS would not be a car easily beaten in Formula 2. Furthermore, the opportunity that presented itself in early August of '57 would be rather similar to the arduous tests of Le Mans and Sebring. The event would be the German Grand Prix and it would be held on the 4th of August at the infamous Nurburgring circuit.
Porsche had some reason to be confident coming into the race. Edgar Barth and Umberto Maglioli had partnered to win the 1000 Kilometer race held at the circuit earlier in the year. The lap times would be similar to the other Formula 2 cars entered in the race, and they certainly had proven their reliability having dominated to take the victory in a 1000 kilometer race.
In many ways, the Porsche 550 RS had been built for races like the German Grand Prix precisely because of the nature of the circuit. The Nurburgring would be the closest Formula One would come to the Mille Miglia, Le Mans or even the Targa Florio. These events were Porsche's main focus. He had designed and built cars intended to dominate at such events that featured nothing but twisting and turning, diving and climbing. And this would more than adequately describe the nature of the Nurburgring. Even its sheer size fit the narrative. At 14 miles in length, just a single lap felt as though car and driver were taking part in the Mille Miglia or Targa Florio.
In total, there would be nine Formula 2 entries in the field for the German Grand Prix. Out of those nine, three would be Porsche 550 RS Spyders. The Porsche KG factory team would enter two of them. Umberto Maglioli would drive one of the spyders while Edgar Barth would be behind the wheel of another.
Umberto Maglioli had made his Formula One debut back in 1953 driving for Scuderia Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix. At the wheel of the then new 553, Maglioli would come away with an 8th place finish.
The only appearance for Edgar Barth in Formula One would come at the very track he would be attempting to tame in the 550 RS. Back in 1953, Barth would take part in the German Grand Prix in an EMW, the East German equivalent to BMW. At that time Formula 2 regulations were enforced in the World Championship and this enabled a number of privateer Germans to take part in their home race.
Following the race in 1953, Barth would find himself, rather unwillingly, embroiled in the ever-worsening political situation. Able to move to West Germany, Barth's racing career would begin again.
Though Porsche would be readying to take part in its home race, it was far from the main attraction. Coming into the race, Juan Manuel Fangio was but a win away from his fifth World Championship. What's more, Vandervell had just come through to take the first victory for a British manufacturer in Formula One. So there were a lot of story lines heading into the weekend. Nonetheless, amongst the Formula 2 field, the Porsche entries would draw more than novel interest from spectators.
Brilliant weather would greet the teams heading into the weekend. In addition to the weather, the track surface would also be redone ensuring lap times would be far below the lap record broken by Fangio the previous season.
Fangio would demonstrate his championship-winning qualities in practice as he would absolutely destroy his lap record from the previous season. Posting a best lap time of 9:25.6, the Argentinean would end up being some 16 seconds faster than his previous fastest lap. Faster than Mike Hawthorn by nearly three seconds, Fangio would have an easy pole. Jean Behra would barely miss cracking the nine minute and thirty second barrier but would be more than quick enough to capture 3rd place on the grid. Peter Collins would round-out the front row in another Ferrari.
Amongst the Formula 2 field, the Porsche 550 RS sportscars would be quite impressive. Lapping the circuit as fast as he had during the 1000 kilometer race, Edgar Barth would end up being the fastest of the Formula 2 entries with a time of 10:02.2 around the 14 mile circuit. Overall, Barth would find himself on the fourth row of the grid in the 12th position. The other factory Porsche driven by Maglioli would start right behind Barth in the fifth row of the grid. Posting a lap time of 10:08.9, Maglioli would end up 15th overall. It would be an impressive performance in practice by the factory Porsches. Barth would be fastest. However, Maglioli's time would ensure the team had its two cars in the top three of the Formula 2 field.
Brilliant sunshine and an overwhelming descended upon the circuit on the 4th. The cars and the drivers would make their way to their positions on the grid. The start of the 22 lap race was drawing nearer. When the flag dropped to get the race underway, it would have been next to impossible to prophecy just what a special day it would be.
Powering down the shallow hill to the Sudkurve, it would be Hawthorn and Collins leading Fangio and the rest of the field. Further back in the field, the two factory Porsches would get away well and would be in good position heading into the first turn. While Hawthorn and Collins led the way, the Porsches would give way looking toward the whole of the race instead of just the run to the first corner. Both of the factory 550 RS Spyders would be running right around the 15th position overall.
At the end of the first lap it would be Hawthorn and Collins still leading Fangio by more than a couple of seconds. Barth's experience and speed in the Porsche would come through as he would complete the first lap in 13th position while Maglioli would be a second or so behind in 14th. Within the Formula 2 category, it would be Salvadori leading the way ahead of Barth and Maglioli.
Fangio would finally find his footing and would be right up behind the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins at the end of the long straight. Heading into the 3rd lap of the race Fangio would finally make his move and would be in the lead of the race. Fangio needed to be in the lead and pull away as he would start the race with half-full fuel tanks. Hawthorn and Collins would be fueled to go the distance. Fangio would trust in his ability to distance himself from the two Ferraris so that he would be able to refuel and take on new tires and still fight for the victory.
While Fangio began to pull away at the head of the field, the circuit began claiming its victims; most of which would be Formula 2 cars. Dick Gibson, Paul England and Jack Brabham would all fall prey to mechanical problems and would be out of the race before the halfway point. Salvadori would lose ground gained at the start and would be running just ahead of Barth and Maglioli out on the circuit. They would be embroiled in their own battle for victory.
Just prior to the halfway mark of the race Stuart Lewis-Evans would crash his Vanwall and would be out of the race. At the same time, Barth would make his move on Salvadori for the lead in Formula 2. Hans Herrmann would loss some positions at the same time and this would result in Barth jumping from 13th up to 10th by the 11th lap. Maglioli would find himself up to 13th, struggling to make the same kind of progress as his teammate.
While Barth was jumping up the running order, Fangio was finding his race coming undone. Stopping with a 30 second lead, he would return to the circuit 45 seconds behind Hawthorn and Collins as a result of problems during the pitstop. With a championship on the line, Fangio would begin to rattle off record laps that would absolutely astound and enthrall the crowd.
At the same time Fangio began to click off record laps, Maglioli would find his race slowing dramatically as his engine was beginning to give up the fight. This was rather surprising given the fact the car had dominated in its category at the same circuit just months earlier.
Fangio's performance would be nothing short of magnificent. Breaking his lap record just about each and every time around the circuit, the Argentinean would be closing in on the Ferraris taking seconds out of the lead each and every time around. It was clear Fangio could draw the Ferraris in with his fresher tires, but would there be enough laps remaining to take the lead and win the race?
Fangio would have more than enough time. Posting what would end up being the fastest lap of the race and a new lap record, Fangio would have the Ferraris directly ahead of him with two laps remaining; plenty of time. The fastest lap would be truly remarkable as it would be 8 seconds quicker than his own lap time from practice.
Further back, Barth continued to hold onto the lead in the Formula 2 field. Shuffled backward by Giorgio Scarlatti and Bruce Halford in Formula One machines, Barth would have a lap in hand over Brian Naylor and Carel Godin de Beaufort, his main challengers in Formula 2. Therefore, he just needed to make it to the end of the race and Porsche would secure a class victory in the German Grand Prix.
Waved home by a truly appreciative crowd, Fangio would go on to win the race having three seconds in hand over Hawthorn at the end. Collins had given up the fight once Fangio had passed him with two laps remaining. Well ensconced in 3rd place, Collins would finish the race 35 seconds behind. The only race left to reach its climax would be the battle for Formula 2 honors. Relying upon the reliability of the 550 RS, Barth would cruise to victory finishing the race 12th overall and a lap up on Brian Naylor and Godin de Beaufort.
Different class of racing, same story. Porsche would come away with a class victory, yet again, but this time it would be away from the familiar sportscar classes. Given Porsche's dedication to building superior automobiles it seemed only fitting the team would come away victorious in its very first attempt.
Given the success achieved in the German Grand Prix, Porsche would be encouraged about the future and about the notion of stepping into grand prix racing. It well and truly was a different mode of thinking. Porsche had never felt all that comfortable in grand prix racing but the Stuttgart factory would become a rather familiar sight in Formula One over the next half-dozen seasons. Porsche KG