Mercedes domination overshadowed by Le Mans tragedy
Mercedes, Fangio and Moss dominated the season, but the appalling tragedy at Le Mans, which cost over 80 lives, overshadowed absolutely everything. Mercedes later announced that it was withdrawing from grand prix racing. June 11, 1955, is perhaps the blackest day in motor racing history. More than 80 people were killed when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes crashed into the crowd during the early laps at Le Mans. Grand prix stars Fangio and Hawthorn were both peripherally involved in the incident, which had major repercussions for the sport. The grands prix in France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain were all cancelled. In fact, motor racing would never return to Switzerland.
Less than a fortnight earlier Alberto Ascari, who had won the drivers' title in 1952 and 1953, was killed while testing, and in the same week Bill Vukovich, who had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1953 and 1954 crashed died while leading the race. Rarely has there been a worse period in any sport.
The German team went into the season with morale high. Neubauer had signed up Moss to partner Fangio, and now had two top-level drivers in his Silver Arrows. Maserati signed up Jean Behra to replace Moss, while Mike Hawthorn left Ferrari to drive the patriotic Vanwall. The season opener in Argentina was run in sweltering conditions which saw Fangio score a comfortable victory. He was one of only two drivers able to go the full distance solo, as each of the three pursuing cars were shared by three drivers apiece as the energy-sapping heat took its toll.
At Monaco Ascari was in the headlines, after flipping his car into the harbour. He escaped with minor injuries. At the time he was leading, for Fangio and Moss had both retired their Mercedes. Trintignant proved a popular and surprise winner, ahead of the Lancia of Eugenio Castellotti. Four days later Ascari was killed in a bizarre accident at Monza, while testing a Ferrari sports car. Lancia announced its withdrawal from the sport, regrettably before the D50 had been able to fulfil its initial promise.
Mercedes bounced back at Spa, where Fangio and Moss ran one-two with ease. Castellotti was allowed a final fling in a Lancia - as a privateer - and ran third before retiring from racing.
The following weekend came the Le Mans tragedy and, despite the outcry, the grand prix circus reconvened at Zandvoort just a week later. Fangio and Moss scored another Mercedes one-two, chased by Musso's Maserati. By now Hawthorn had given up on the Vanwall project, and his return to Ferrari was rewarded with seventh place.
The British Grand Prix moved to Aintree for the first time, and Mercedes scored a crushing one-two-three-four. This time Moss headed home Fangio, with Kling and Taruffi following on. It was Stirling's first win, but for years people wondered if Fangio had allowed him to take the glory at home. At the back of the grid in a little Cooper was a rookie called Jack Brabham…
With all the cancellations, only the Monza race remained to be run, this time on the banked circuit. After Moss retired, Fangio headed Taruffi in another Mercedes one-two finish, with Castellotti third in a Ferrari. Fangio's third title was already secure, with Moss a distant second. But both men would be hit hard when Mercedes announced its withdrawal.
A hugely significant result came in a non-championship race held at the end of the season, when Tony Brooks took his Connaught to victory at Syracuse on Sicily. This famous victory was the first major British win of the World Championship era.