They had called Juan Manuel Fangio the “Old Man” for quite some time and never was Fangio more aware of the difference in his age and that of the other drivers as when they headed into the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix. Three days before, in the Mille Miglia, Alfonso Portago and Edmond Nelson and nine spectators had been killed in a horrific racing tragedy. Looking through the field Fangio saw that some of his fellow drivers were more than a generation younger than himself. This was a fact that he would speak of in later years commenting “They called me the Old Man and I suppose I was …they could have been my sons but they did not have the experience in racing I had.”
So as the day dawned bright and clear, the tragedy of the Mille Miglia cast a heavy shadow over the field. The teams made their way to the pits and made ready their magnificent machines as the day began. As race time drew closer, people filled the stands, balconies, and boats that surrounded the famed circuit, filling it with a vibration that was tangible in the air.
The race started slowly, Moss started off in the lead on the first lap, with Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn, and Fangio behind him. On lap four, chaos ensued when Moss shot straight through the chicane when he braked too late and hit the barrier, sending debris flying over the circuit and into the oncoming traffic. Collins couldn’t brake fast enough and plowed into the barriers alongside Moss. Tony Brooks braked hard and was hit squarely in the back by Hawthorn’s Ferrari, furthering the wide spread of mechanical carnage as it slammed into the wreckage of Collins’s car. Fangio, utilizing his vast amount of racing experience, had wisely given himself more room and was able to slow and weave his way cautiously through the chaos to open track.
Brooks, who was the only one involved in the wreck able to continue, charged after Fangio. Wolfgang Von Trips was also in the mix, chasing both Fangio and Brooks like a man possessed. On lap 96 , with only nine laps to go, Von Trips engine blew and Jack Brabham, who had been racing after Von Trips inherited the place. The moment was short lived, however, as Brabham’s Cooper also lost its engine. Fangio and Brooks continued to battle at the front, the chaos behind them having little effect on their push for glory.
The end of the race found Fangio unstoppable and the legend took the checkered flag in the most famous race in Formula 1 with a flourish. The race had started with chaos that led to carnage that led to one of the great battles in Formula 1. As Fangio took the victory, any question of his age was answered and the Master stood where he belonged, on top of the podium.
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