The XX Großer Preis von Deutschland was the eighth race of the 1958 Formula One season, and featured a mixed grid of Formula 1 and Formula 2 cars, though the F2 cars were not eligible for points.
By 1958 Nürburgring was the established home of the German Grand Prix, having hosted the race on every occasion it was held, apart from the inaugural event in 1926. As minimum race lengths were reduced to 300 kilometres or two hours, the German GP was reduced from 22 laps to 15.
Scuderia Ferrari arrived at the track a day early, so their drivers, Hawthorn, von Trips and Phil Hill managed some unofficial practise running.
BRM were making their first appearance at Nürburgring and would no doubt have liked some unofficial practise too, but their drivers were unavailable. Although Behra and Schell knew the circuit well, the team had no experience of the requirements regarding springs, shock-absorbers, anti-roll bars, steering geometry and so on. It would prove to be a steep learning curve for the team
Stirling Moss set the early pace in the Vanwall on the first official practise day, but the next day Hawthorn set a blistering lap to take pole in his Ferrari. Brooks in the other Vanwall took second place and pushed Moss down to third. Collins and von Trips took fourth and fifth places for Ferrari, whilst Jack Brabham took a creditable tenth place in his F2 Cooper.
BRM struggled. Harry Schell qualified eighth, whist Jean Behra bent the chassis of his car in a crash, and driving the spare car could only manage twelth place.
The fearsome Nürburgring track was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. The "Green Hell" as it was nicknamed by Jackie Stewart, is a huge 20.8 km long circuit with an elevation change of over 300 metres.
The track has had several configurations over the years, with the original Gesamtstrecke (whole course) being a massive 17½ miles long. The full track was used for the last time in major racing events in 1929, and the 14 mile long Nordschleife (North loop) then took over as the default layout for the German Grand Prix up until 1976, including the 1958 German Grand Prix.
The circuit was boycotted by Formula One drivers in 1970, leading to much work in trying to make the circuit safer by taking out bumps, smoothing out sudden jumps, straightening the track, reducing the number of corners, and installing safety barriers. But this did not overcome the circuit's most obvious problem, it's length. The track required five or six times as many marshals and medical staff as a typical F1 circuit, and changeable track and weather conditions around a lap meant that by its very nature, the Nordschleife was impossible to make safe in its old configuration.
The Nordschleife did not host another German Grand Prix after 1976.
The event did return to Nürburgring in 1985, it just wasn't the Nordschleife that was used, it was a newly built, much shorter track, the GP Strecke, or Grand Prix course. But that's another story.
Nürburgring Nordschleife Scalextric Track Plan
Footprint :- 10.18 x 6.50m
Lanes :- 2
Lane Length :- 33.62m
Track :- Scalextric Sport
XX Großer Preis von Deutschland
There was a certain amount of confusion before the race, as Brabham, Herrmann, Bonnier, Ruttman, Graham Hill, Allison, Goethals and Naylor had not completed the required minimum of six practise laps. It was finally decided that the eight drivers could start, but from the back of the grid.
As the race started, Stirling Moss sped off the line in his Vanwall, and began to set a pace that nobody else could match. His second lap was a new record, and the two Ferraris of Hawthorne and Collins in second and third had already fallen some way behind. Brooks was on his own in fourth place, and then came Schell, Behra and Allison scrapping for fifth.
By the start of the third lap Moss had established a clear 17 second lead, but unfortunately his car did not last another lap, and cruised to a halt with magneto problems. By the end of lap four, 10 of the 25 starters had already retired.
Moss's retirement left Ferrari team mates Hawthorn and Collins out in front with a clear lead over Brooks in third. But Brooks was now catching the two leaders quickly. Soon, all three cars were battling for the lead, with the Vanwall being faster through the corners, and the Ferraris being quicker on the straights. The leaders swapped places several times until Brooks finally managed to get ahead and establish a small gap.
But on lap 11 disaster struck. Peter Collins overcooked a corner trying to catch Brooks, and flew off the road in full view of his team mate Hawthorn. Collins was taken to hospital with severe head injuries from which he later died.
This little scrap that ended so tragically had been motor racing at its best and the three of them had completely outpaced the remainder of the runners so that when Brooks went by on his own at the end of the 12th lap he was nearly 3min ahead of Salvadori, who was in second position.
With three minutes in hand and just three laps to go, all Brooks had to do was nurse his car home to take the victory, and close the gap on Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship, which he managed successfully.
Such was the rate of attrition in the race that only 11 of the 25 starters actually finished, and six of those were Formula Two cars, leaving just five F1 finishers. Neither Behra nor Schell got to the end of the race for BRM.