TeamsDr Ing F. Porsche KG: 1958 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
While the spectators present would be enraptured with Fangio's incredible march back to the top to take a remarkable victory around the twists and turns of the Nurburgring, many would keep track of a couple of silver-colored sportscars that would more than hold their own against other Formula 2 single-seaters. Porsche's foray into grand prix racing had begun. A year later, things would begin to get really serious.
At the 1957 German Grand Prix, Porsche would be going up against smaller single-seater Formula One and Formula 2 cars. In spite of their obvious drawbacks, the Porsche sportscars would do well with Edgar Barth claiming the win in Formula 2 and finishing the race 12th overall. A second Porsche, driven by Umberto Maglioli, would run well at the beginning of the race, but would ultimately fall short with engine trouble. Still, Porsche appeared on target to make a considerable impact on grand prix racing just as it had in sportscars.
Despite the success within the Formula 2 category in the German Grand Prix, Porsche would continue to put its emphasis into designing and building sportscars. However, there would begin work on a single-seater grand prix that would become available within a couple of years. Not having a single-seater ready, Porsche would have to rely upon stripped-out sportscars to take on the single-seater grand prix cars. The company would have a pretty good candidate when it introduced its RSK, a follow-on to the widely popular and successful 550.
The RSK would be much more neat and tidy in its appearance and design. The aerodynamic look would help Porsche to routinely fight well above its weight class. This would be important in a Formula One World Championship event.
Porsche's main focus in 1958 would be in sportscars and the team would again perform well throughout the early part of the season. A class victory in Sebring and in the Targa Florio would serve as early highlights to the season. In fact, it would be hard to beat Porsche at any of the sportscar events as they would produce the car to have within the 1.5 class, as would be demonstrated by more class victories in the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers and then in the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.
One of the men right at the heart of the class victory at Le Mans would be Edgar Barth. Barth had made a name for himself in the early part of the 1950s driving in Formula 2 cars for EMW. Sadly, the political tensions between the Soviet Union and the rest of the western world caused Barth to become isolated in East Germany with very little opportunity. However, in 1957 he would emigrate to West Germany and would end up scoring the Formula 2 victory in the German Grand Prix a short time later. Heading into the 1958 season, he would be there ready to help Porsche's endeavors in sportscars and in grand prix racing.
While the performances in sportscar racing were well known, the strong performance in the German Grand Prix in '57 also opened the eyes of many when it came to the small Porsche sportscars taking part in Formula 2 races. A handful of people would begin to turn to the Porsche sportscars precisely because they could be used in both types leading to simplified setups and costs. Even the factory Porsche team would turn its attentions to Formula 2 events to further develop its single-seater program. One of those events would come only a couple of weeks after Le Mans.
The Formula One World Championship had kicked back in gear in May and had featured no less than four rounds within the span of a month. Following a short break for Le Mans the World Championship would be set to resume at the fast Reims circuit on the 6th of July. That same day, there would be a Formula 2 race. Many of those that would take part in the Formula One race would also take part in the Formula 2 event. However, the factory Porsche team would not take part in the French Grand Prix. Instead, the team would enter the 2nd Coupe Internationale de Vitesse.
Though the Porsches often fought above their weight class, around the 5.15 mile Reims circuit the 1.5-liter machines would surely lose out to the Vanwalls and Ferraris. However, the Coupe Internationale de Vitesse would be an entirely different animal seeing that it would be limited to 1.5-liter Formula 2 cars. In this case, the new RSK could not only compete, but could actually win.
The race would not be an easy test given that it would be contested around the 5.15 mile circuit just outside of Reims. Having straights more than a mile in length and some very fast esses in between, there would be a large portion of a lap of the circuit in which the driver would be pushing the upper limits of the handling and top speed of a car. In addition, the hairpin turns leading onto the Route Nationale 31 straight and concluding it would put heavy pressure on a car's brakes and transmission. This meant the 30 lap event would be a severe test for any car and driver.
The Porsche certainly appeared to be one of the favorites at the conclusion of practice. Jean Behra would be behind the wheel of one of the RSKs and he would end up on pole. This was an achievement in its own right since Porsche would have just one car going up against a whole field of open-wheel single-seaters. It would be an even greater achievement considering Behra out-qualified Stirling Moss in a Rob Walker Cooper, the same team in which he had taken victory in the Argentine Grand Prix back at the start of the year.
While the heart of the crowd would certainly be with their fellow countryman driving the Porsche, there would be more than a few that would believe the real favorite to be Moss in the Cooper.
The sight of a Brit driving a British car was obviously perfect. The sight of a Frenchman driving a German car undoubtedly ruffled some feathers. Nonetheless, Behra would take his place on pole leading up to the start of the 30 lap race.
Moss would be fast right from the very beginning. As was his way, Stirling would be flying in the early going of the race. He would take the Cooper and would set what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. The time would be more than two seconds slower than Behra's qualifying effort and would seem to bother the Porsche driver very little.
The pace wouldn't be too much of a bother as Moss would have to finish first to take advantage of his pace. And that would prove impossible when, after 11 laps, the oil pressure in the Cooper would suddenly drop off causing Moss to retire from the race. Behra would be pestered by Peter Collins in a Formula 2 Ferrari Dino 156. However, Jean would take over the lead of the race and would manage to pull out an advantage over the Ferrari.
Once again, the Porsche would show its quality. Behra would push the RSK, but the car would respond every time with no hint of any weakness. Behra would use the reliability and speed of the RSK to his advantage. He would pull out an insurmountable advantage over Collins and would cruise to victory winning the race by 20 seconds. George Wicken would complete the podium finishing in 3rd place more than two minutes behind.
Again, Porsche would demonstrate its superiority. Going up against cars that would be considered its equals, or even greater, the Porsche would come out on top and would demonstrate the factory efforts were just getting stronger and stronger.
Following the success in Reims in the early part of July, the factory team would wait and prepare for its next race coming up a month later. This time, instead of racing on foreign soil, Porsche would be at home. The team would make the trip to the northwest, about a three hour trip from its factory in Stuttgart, to the small village of Nurburg. Scattered all throughout the German landscape there would be prominent players in the automotive industry. Cities such as Stuttgart were major players within the industry. However, hidden away amongst the tree-covered Eifel Mountains would be another famous name within the automotive world. Perhaps no track in the world conjures up so many images and emotions as the Nurburgring. And, in early August of 1958, the infamous circuit would serve as host for the German round of the Formula One World Championship.
Amidst the pastoral scene would be a castle sitting high atop one of the tallest hills in all the Eifel Mountains. Built during the Middle Ages, Nurburg Castle would serve as an important landmark during the period of the Counts of Are-Hochstaden. In the 20th century, the castle would serve as an important landmark to motor racing fans indicating they had arrived at the lair of the 'Green Hell'.
Over 14 miles in length, the Nurburgring's Norschleife was beloved and feared at the same time. Difficult to get right and nearly impossible to perfect, the 'Ring', perhaps more so than any other track in the world, fought back against drivers and seemed alive with each lap. Constantly changing back and forth and up and down, drivers not only fought amongst each other for victory, but appeared to be in a boxing match with the circuit at the same time. Even the great Fangio spoke of the circuit as something barely able to be conquered. However, the Argentinean would prove that it could be done with his performance the year before when he came back from nearly a minute behind to win the grand prix. In that effort Fangio would say he stayed right at the very edge throughout the last half of the race and felt that he had finally conquered the circuit when it was all said and done. But, he would also make it clear that he thought he would never be able to perform like that at the circuit ever again.
One year on, Fangio would be gone from Formula One. However, the German Grand Prix would still offer a Formula 2 race running concurrently with the Formula One race. This offered Porsche the opportunity to pit its stripped-out sportscars against Formula 2 and Formula One cars.
Porsche would enter just one car in the 15 lap World Championship race. The RSK would be driven by the man that had come through to take the class victory the season before. Edgar Barth would be back behind the wheel ready to see just what he could do. His task would not be very easy in '58 given the strengthening of the Coopers and the new Ferrari 156 Dinos.
In practice, the task would appear to be even more difficult. Mike Hawthorn would take the pole with a lap of the 14 mile circuit in 9:14.0. The rest of the front row would all qualify with lap times quicker than Fangio's pole-winning lap of a year ago. Phil Hill would be at the wheel of one of the Dino 156s and his best would be only about 35 seconds slower than Hawthorn's effort and this would put Hill on the third row of the grid in the 10th position. Ian Burgess would prove second-quickest in Formula 2 and his time would be just under 10 minutes. Therefore, a big gap developed amongst the fastest and the rest within the Formula 2 field. Thankfully for Porsche, Barth's best would be just a couple of seconds slower than Burgess' time. At 9:57.2, Barth would find himself just a row back of Hill in the 13th position overall. He would be amongst the fastest of the Formula 2 runners, but this was just practice. Porsche would need their famed reliability and speed if it had any illusions of repeating its performance from a year ago.
A large crowd would assemble around the Nurburgring in eager expectation of the start of the German Grand Prix. The large field would assemble on the grid and the drivers would soon take their places. The flag would drop and the large crowd would come to its feet to watch who it was to lead the way into the south curve. Moss would be the man at the head of the field. He would be followed by his Vanwall teammate Tony Brooks. Barth would get away well at the start and would be battling for position throughout the first lap of the race. While Brooks would find the handling of his Vanwall not to his liking, causing Hawthorn and Peter Collins to move ahead, Barth would be fighting hard to lead the way amongst the Formula 2 runners.
At the conclusion of the first lap it would be Moss leading the way. Hawthorn and Collins would follow along in 2nd and 3rd place while Barth would make his way through the first lap to cross the line just inside the top fifteen.
Barth would lose a stop or two over the opening couple of laps, but this would be nothing to the loss Moss would suffer. After leading the race through the first three laps, Moss would suffer misfiring and would end up falling out of the race altogether. This allowed Hawthorn to move the lead before Collins took over the position.
Things would settle down with Collins leading the way ahead of his Ferrari teammate. Some good battles would be going on in the middle of the field with Bruce McLaren battling with some of the Formula One cars for position. Barth would suddenly find his way and would recover to jump up the running order. After about three laps of running, the Porsche sportscar would be finding its legs and Barth would be just outside the top ten. Just ahead of him would be McLaren and Hill in their Formula 2 cars. Barth was close, but was still just far enough back to not be able to challenge.
Tony Brooks would find the handling in his Vanwall to be much better once the fuel load went down. He would suddenly be fast and would be quickly hauling in Hawthorn and Collins. Brooks would quickly get by Hawthorn and would line up a pass on Collins later on in the lap. Brooks would flash by Collins and this would catch Peter off guard. Trying to respond, Collins would push hard and would be on the ragged edge. Tragically, he would push too hard through a tricky section of the track. He would slide off the track and would end up being vaulted into the air. Peter would be thrown out of the car and tossed into some nearby trees. Hawthorn would witness the whole event and would know what it meant. Hawthorn would pull into the pits and would retire right then and there.
At the same time as Collins' fatal crash, Barth would be on the move. Perhaps as a result of the chaos and sheer performance, Edgar would leap up the running order. He would be by hill and would be next in line behind McLaren in the Formula 2 field. Barth would be running in 6th place with only a few laps remaining in the race. Had they counted, some championship points would be out there for Barth if he could just reel in Bruce over the last couple of laps.
Brooks would have no one chasing him after Collins crashed and Hawthorn retired. He would be able to cruise to the victory having put together a comeback of his own. Crossing in a little more than two hours and twenty-one minutes, Brooks would take the victory over Roy Salvadori by more than a couple of minutes. Maurice Trintignant would finish in 3rd place a further minute or so behind.
The only real battle on the track would be for Formula 2 honors. Bruce McLaren held onto the position. Going through the Karussell for the final time, there would be mere seconds between himself and Barth. Edgar would be pushing with everything he had. There would be a few miles remaining. A slip by McLaren and the victory would be lost. Heading onto the long straight leading up to the start/finish straight, it would still be McLaren in the lead, but there was still a chance for Barth.
Had then been another lap or two left, Barth may have had enough time to pull off the pass for the victory. Instead, the two men would flash over the line with McLaren taking the victory by six seconds over Barth in 2nd place. The two men would finish 5th and 6th overall.
Despite losing out on the victory, Porsche would again demonstrate its quality chasing hard to the very end. The performance and the reliability suggested Barth could have taken the victory had the race been another couple of laps. Nonetheless, the stable from Stuttgart demonstrated it could compete against any type of race car.
The German Grand Prix, as it had been the year prior, would be the only foray for Porsche in the Formula One World Championship. However, like the race in Reims in early July, the factory effort would still look to take part in a Formula 2 race here and there. And, toward the end of September, there would be a race ideally-suited for the RSK.
On the 21st of September, the 5 mile long Avus circuit would host a double race. First and foremost, it would be the 14th edition of the AvD Avusrennen. However, the event would also be called the 4th Grosser Preis von Berlin. All told, the race would consist of two heats of 20 laps apiece. It would be a race for Formula 2 cars, but it would also be a race for 2 and 1.5-liter sportscars. This meant a race for Porsche against the best Formula 2 cars in the world. In other words, it was the German Grand Prix…just part two.
Actually, there would be more than just Porsches within the sportscar category. Borgwards offered a respectable threat; and then there would be the OSCAs. The OSCAs would be another of the small sportscars that routinely punched above their weight. Their presence would certainly make the race very interesting.
The Avus circuit was not necessarily a traditional circuit. Utilizing the autobahn linking Charlottenburg and Nikolassee, the Avus circuit would actually undergo a number of layout changes over the course of its lifetime. Initially, when the circuit was opened in the early 1920s, the circuit would measure 12 miles in length and would feature, basically, two runs in opposite directions down the long straights of the autobahn. At each end of the circuit there would be a teardrop-shaped bend. This layout would be very fast and would end up becoming a popular choice for land-speed records.
Even by the mid-1930s the circuit would be deemed too dangerous for the speeds cars were capable of reaching at the time. However, those with the Avus circuit would be interested in making the circuit the fastest in the world. Therefore, in 1936, the north curve would be changed. A steeply-banked curve would be built. Angled at more than forty degrees, and made entirely of bricks, the curve would be incredibly fast, and very dangerous. The new curve would rightly earn the nickname the 'Wall of Death', but, the banked corner would remain a feature of the circuit for decades to come.
At the end of the Second World War, motor racing would resume at Avus. However, the circuit would be shorted to just over five miles. The north curve would be retained with its infamous 'Wall of Death'. However, the southern curve would be changed. Of course, the teardrop-shaped curve would be gone. In its place would be a slow hairpin turn that would serve as a mere turning point for heading back north.
The factory Porsche team would come prepared for the race. The outfit would have three entries in the race. Jean Behra would be one of the drivers. The other two drivers for the factory effort would include Masten Gregory and Edgar Barth.
The entire race would be broken into two heat races that would be 20 laps each. The final would be another 20 lap race that would include runners from each heat. The final results would be determined by the aggregate times scored in the individual heat race and the final.
Porsche's entries would be split up between the two heat races. Gregory would be listed in the first heat race while Behra and Barth would be listed in the second. The first heat race would be a heat of Formula 2 cars and it would see Gregory holding up his end of responsibility as he would take his RSK to victory crossing the line in a little more than 49 minutes.
The second heat race would be a race of sportscars and would include Behra and Barth for Porsche. The race would see a tremendous duel between Behra in an RSK and Jo Bonnier in a Borgward H1500RS. The race would go down to the wire, but it would be Behra pulling out the victory by a mere four-tenths of a second. Barth would be solid in 3rd place finishing the race in about forty-eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
The final 20 lap race would see three Porsches in a very strong position. The only other car splitting up the three would be the Borgward driven by Bonnier. And, in the race, it would be more of the same. Behra would be the fastest in the race setting the fastest lap and taking the victory with a rather conservative time of 48:47. Once again, Behra would have Bonnier all over his tale. Still, the Frenchman would manage to hold off Bonnier by four-tenths of a second yet again. Gregory would pick up his pace in the final race. He too would be right there at the finish. The American would cross the line within tenths of Bonnier. Barth would also have a solid performance, but he would not be in a position to improve his result.
In the aggregate, the battle for the win would be close. Behra would end up taking the victory by just a little more than a second over Bonnier while Gregory would run impressively to finish in 3rd place. Gregory's 3rd place would end up being a victory within the Formula 2 category and would be about ten seconds ahead of Barth's 4th place finish in the overall results.
Having three cars finish in the top four would be just one more fantastic result for the factory Porsche team. Just a week before, the team had managed to come through to a class victory in the Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod. Therefore, the victory on home soil would be just one more highlight to what had already been a very successful season.
The success in 1958 would confirm what Porsche believed to be true in 1957. Within the sportscar ranks, Porsche was nearly unbeatable. Competing in Formula One and Formula 2 would be something else entirely, and yet, the team had proven it was more than capable of taking the fight to the best in the world. By altering and stripping out its sportscars, Porsche was able to compete. This would lead to the Porsche brand not merely making an appearance here and there in Formula One, but becoming a consistent presence capable of stealing a victory here and there, just like its lower class of sportscars.