Juan Manuel Fangio Legendary drivers are usually most vividly remembered by their finest races; Nuvolari's 1935 Nürburgring victory, Moss' 1960 Monaco win, Villeneuve's epic 1979 Dijon battle and Senna's rain-mastery at Donnington in 1993. Many of these performances are over-shadowed by the incredible feat pulled by Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1957 Nürburgring Grand Prix. His weapon of choice was the Maserati 250F, considered by many as the definitive front engined Grand Prix racer.
Designed for the 2.5 litre Formula 1 regulations new for the 1954 season, the 250F followed the lines of Maserati's Formula 2 racers of 1952 and 1953. A simple tubular frame carried the suspension, aluminium body panels and engine. The front suspension was independent by wishbones and coil springs. The rear used a DeDion type axle, made popular by the front engined Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix racers of the 1930s. It offered similar rigidity as a beam axle, but drastically lowered the unsprung weight, greatly benefitting the cars handling and performance. All in all, this setup was far from revolutionary, but chassis design was not the engineers' top priority in the 1950's. Rather, their focus was primarily on the design of the engine.
Back to natural aspiration From the 1920s, Grand Prix engine design focussed almost solely on blown engines. Development reached a peak in 1951, with Alfa Romeo's 1.5 litre 159 F1 racer, powered by an engine which was good for a whopping 260 bhp / litre. The cost of developing and maintaining these high performance engines had spiralled, forcing many teams to pull out. Due to a complete lack of competitors, the 1952 and 1953 Driver's World Championship was runder under Formula 2 rules, rather than the F1 rules. These Formula 2 racers were powered by 2 litre, unblown engines. These regulations were taken as a base for the new Formula 1 engine rules, putting normally aspirated engines in the limelight again for the first time in almost 3 decades.
In its design the six cylinder 250F engine followed the lines of the A6 Formula 2 engine. Both bore and stroke were increased, however, to decrease piston speed the bore was increased slightly more than the stroke. Development work had proven that proper breathing was essential to get the best performance out of the engine. In the past this wasn't much of a concern, the blowers pretty much took car of that. The three twin-choke Weber Carburetors were fitted with small intake trumpets; even the length of these influenced the performance of the twin spark engine. Early in 1954 it produced a little under 100 bhp / litre at 240bhp, but by 1957 the 100 bhp / litre mark was passed with peak power at 270 bhp.
A born winner Performance of the 250F in its first two races was better than anyone at Maserati could have imagined. Both races were won by Juan Manuel Fangio. However, before the third European race, Fangio left Maserati to race for the newly formed Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team. The 250F was not able to match the outright performance of of the Mercedes-Benz and its drivers. Fangio and Moss dominated the 1954 and 1955 season, with Fangio picking up the title both years. After Mercedes-Benz' withdrawal Fangio moved to Ferrari, to race the Jano designed Lancia/Ferrari D50. With the ingenious D50, the Master scored a third title in a row. Although the 250F was not a top contender in those years, it was a popular car on the grid, with many privateers racing them.
As mentioned before, the 250F was revamped for the 1957 season. These modifications and the return of the Master, made the 250F a top contender once more. Pitched against Ferraris and Vanwalls, driven by very talented drives like Moss, Collins and Hawthorn, Fangio showcased once more what the 250F was capable of. With his characteristic four wheel drifts, he piloted the 250F to four victories and his fifth driver's title.
'57 Nürburgring Grand Prix Fangio's most notable drive was his amazing Nürburgring victory. Halfway through the race Fangio was almost a minute adrift of Collins and Hawthorn in the leading Ferraris. Collins was flying, breaking Fangio's lap record set earlier in the race. Fangio then recorded a series of laps that took most people's breath away and more importantly seconds from Collins' lead. Breaking the lap record lap after lap (he broke the lap record ten times in 22 laps), Fangio gained as much as 1 second per mile on lap 15. On lap 18 he recorded the first 90 mph lap time and by the end of the race he was close to a 92 mph lap time. With two laps to go the large lead was gone and Fangio took the lead to record his finest victory. A victory that has added a lot to both his and the 250F's legend, even though he has been much more successful with the Mercedes-Benz racers Fangio will forever be connected with the 250F. The best balanced of all front engined Grand Prix racers perfectly suited Fangio's high speed four wheel drifts.
As shown in the image gallery, the 250F is still a popular pick among racers. Various 250Fs are pictured on tracks all around Europe. Most notable is the 250F pictured in the pits of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, this is the 1957 Nürburgring winner.
One minutes adrift of the leaders. He recovered braking the lap record ten times in 22 laps. He gained 1 second per mile to win the race. That was the best race in Fangio's career and one of the most exciting in the motorsport history. It was also the victory for his fifth driver's title. Fangio is still the best.
Not only many of the original 250F's are still circulating around the tracks but also derivatives like the Piccolo version and even the one-off Tec-Mec. Furthermore the car proved to be so popular that about 10 or so additional units were put together by Cameron Miller, most of the time using original works parts, but probably also new fabricated ones. It is difficult to tell the difference between the two, and it makes a great sight seeing historic GP fields crowded with 250F's driven in anger sometimes even by Sterling Moss.