• European Grand Prix 1956

Collins generosity helps Fangio to title

Martin Williamson September 2, 1956
Stirling Moss hunts down Juan Manuel Fangio at Monza © Getty Images

For the first time in five years the drivers' championship went down to the last race. Juan Manuel Fangio needed to finish only fifth or better to secure his fourth crown, while Peter Collins and Jean Behra needed to win and also take the extra point for the fastest lap and hope Fangio failed to score any points.

Fangio advised team-mates Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso to conserve their tyres and allow him to set the pace; he would then ease off and allow one of them the glory of a win in front of their home crowd; they ignored him and set off at full pelt.

The Vanwall of Harry Schell again surprised everyone by leading for a while until forced to retire, leaving Moss, Fangio and Collins to fight it out. Fangio's hopes faded when his steering arm snapped, and he had no choice but to sit in the pits for 15 laps as his mechanics frantically worked on his Ferrari. Musso pitted and was ordered to hand over his car to Fangio - he refused and resumed his battle with Collins and Moss.

Behra's title chances ended with a steering problem, and then the three leaders all pitted within a few laps. "When Collins came in," Fangio said, "he saw me stuck there, and without being asked he got out of his car and offered it to me to finish in. That was a fantastic gesture. My anxiety and misery gave way to joy, so much so that I threw my arms around him and kissed him. After that I finished second to Moss, and that was enough."

Collins later explained the reason for his action. "All I could think of was that if I won the race and the championship I would be an instant celebrity. I would have a position to live up to. People would make demands of me. Driving would not be fun any more, so I handed the car to Fangio. I am only 25 years old and have plenty of time to win the championship on my own." Within two years he had joined the depressingly long list of Ferrari drivers killed racing.

Musso, meanwhile, dropped out with a steering fault and Moss had to nurse his car round the final laps with almost no fuel and a badly-worn tyre to secure the win.

"[Fangio] now has a right to be considered one of the greatest drivers of all," noted Autosport. Enzo Ferrari, despite the arguments which raged all season with the champion, said: "I think it unlikely we will ever see again a champion capable of such a sustained series of success."

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo