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MONACO GP 1956—MOSS BEATS A FANGIO TAG TEAM

JUAN MANUEL FANGIO and Stirling Moss are legendary race car drivers. Fangio’s record five Drivers’ World Championships, 1951, 1954–1957, held up for 46 years until the Michael Schumacher era. Moss is regarded as the greatest driver not to have won the championship; this, despite his obvious talent. 

Above, Juan Manuel Fangio, 1911–1995, Argentine race driver extraordinaire. Image from 1952. Below, Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss, 1929–2020, British race car driver extraordinaire. Image from autoweek.com.

Teammates for a Season. In 1955, Fangio and Moss were teammates driving the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz W196. Of the 12 grands prix during 1954-1955, Fangio won eight, Moss took one.

Then They Were Competitors. With Mercedes retired from GP racing in 1956, Fangio drove for Ferrrari, Moss for Maserati. 

The season opened with the Argentine Grand Prix. The Ferrari of Luigi Musso and Fangio won, Musso’s car taken over by Fangio when his own developed a pesky fuel pump. It was an oddity (and part of team strategy) back then that such tag-team activities were permitted. Moss retired his Maserati with engine failure on lap 81 of 98. 

And Then Came Monaco. Bernard Cahier was there for R&T: “Only a few short weeks after the excitement of the Rainer-Kelly wedding, the tiny principality of Monaco barely had time to recover its calm when the streets were filled again with noise.”

This and the images following from R&T, August 1956.

“Only 16 cars are allowed to enter the Monaco race because of its small course (2 miles),” Cahier noted, “but they were top cars…. Two of the Ferrari-Lancias were of the latest type, having well-streamlined body with side tanks no longer being separated from the sides of the car.”

Cahier observed that the Maserati 250F cars of Moss and Jean Behra “had new redesigned head using new 10 mm plugs instead of 14 mm ones. Power was lowered from about 280 to 250 bhp and acceleration in the lower gears was infinitely better, a most important factor on the Monte Carlo circuit.”

Indeed, this proved beneficial at the start: Fangio had put his Ferrari first on the grid, with Moss’ Maserati next to him.

Moments after the start, with Ferraris of Fangio and Castelotti running second and third; Moss’ Maserati had already gone by.

“At the end of the first lap.” Cahier reported, “Moss’ lead was so impressive (several seconds) that everyone rose to their feet and cheered the young man from Britain. After long seconds, which seemed an eternity, the roaring pack appeared led by Fangio, Castelotti, Shell (Vanwall), Musso, Collins and Behra.”

“As the World Master went by,” Cahier reported, “we observed that hard look of his early days on his face and could feel the storm in the air. This storm was not long in breaking, as at the end of the third lap, Fangio spun out on a patch of oil and in the process of avoiding him, Shell and Musso went charging straight into the hay bales damaging their cars for good.” 

“In the next few laps, Moss, driving superbly and cooly, was conscientiously piling up fractions of seconds lead each lap. In opposition with the calm Moss, Fangio was driving like a demon, taking many chances.”

Fangio’s Ferrari shows the damage of encountering a hay bale.

Fangio’s First Mount Falters. “On the 40th lap,” Cahier wrote, “Fangio was forced to stop with a worn out clutch. Disgusted, he jumped out of his car and, after some adjustment, Castelotti took over and started again, one lap behind the leader.”

With 60 laps remaining, Peter Collins had the only Ferrari within 60 seconds of Moss. “A ‘Go all out’ signal was given to him,” Cahier said. “It was indeed a formidable task for him and with beautiful driving, he cut Moss’ lead down to 36 seconds.”

Tag-Team Tactics. Then, Cahier wrote, “… his pit judged Fangio could do better. Collins was given the signal to come in and Fangio leapt into this car and was off again in one of the memorable pursuits seen in the last few years of racing…. Catching Moss was a wonderful challenge to him and he was actually smiling as he began this fantastic chase.”

A Mental Game. “For Moss,” Cahier said, “there were two alternatives. He could try to match Fangio’s break-neck speed and risk breaking down for good, or he could try to maintain his safer speed even though losing time each lap. He found the latter solution to be the wiser although an unleashed Fangio, driving at his maximum, makes any solution arduous and dangerous. Fangio was breathtaking!”

Fangio takes du Bureau de Tabac at speed in his er… Collins’ Ferrari.

“Moss, however, imperturbable and sure of his lead, doesn’t change his speed,” Cahier wrote, “the man must have nerves of steel to accomplish this.” 

Moss’ pit tells him that his lead over Fangio is down to 28 seconds.

Fangio clips off seconds and “when at last Moss’ car is in sight, it is to see Stirling raise his arm and take the victory flag.”

Stirling Moss and Prince Polignac stand to attention for God Save the Queen.

And where were Prince Rainier and Princess Grace? They were still on their honeymoon in Spain. ds 

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