The year was 1953 and the German Grand Prix was held at the Nurburgring, or the “Green Hell” as it was later known, a maze of corners in a lap that measured around 23 kilometres. Leading the world championship was Scuderia Ferrari’s Alberto Ascari , who had so far won in Argentina, the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain. He arrived in Germany on 33.5 points, while the second placed man, his team-mate Mike Hawthorn was on 16. The title was therefore in his grasp and one more win would clinch it. Since the previous year, the series was run using the less powerful and less expensive Formula 2 cars and it meant that no fewer than 34 cars were entered, the biggest number ever in the history of Formula 1, even more than at Indianapolis which traditionally features a field of 33.
Ascari and his 500 dominated qualifying, being the only driver to break the 10 minute barrier. His pole time of 9’59”8 was 3”9 faster than second placed Juan Manuel Fangio , the Argentinian driving a Maserati. Scuderia drivers were also third and fourth: the expert Giuseppe Farina, world champion in 1950 and the young Hawthorn, who was 12”8 off pole. The gap between the fastest, Ascari and the slowest, Germany’s Ernest Klodwig, was a massive 2’24”8, an eternity!
At the start, Fangio was quickest off the line, but halfway round the opening lap, on the descent at Breitscheid, the number 1 Ferrari came alongside and then pulled away. Crossing the line at the end of the first of the 18 laps, 410.58 km race, Ascari already led the Argentine by ten seconds. Not far behind, Hawthorn upped the pace, still with Farina on his tail and on the second lap both men then managed to get ahead of the Maserati.
At the end of lap 4, Ascari led Hawthorn by 42 second, but just before the start of the next lap, as he went over a bump in the road, the right rear wheel came loose on his car, just as he was travelling at over 200 km/h down the short Tiergarten straight. Miraculously, the Italian managed to keep the car under control and come back to the pits. The Scuderia mechanics managed to send him on his way again just four minutes later, in tenth place.
Not long after, Fangio got ahead of Hawthorn again, but as they tussled, Farina was able to pass both of them on lap 8. Ascari was on a charge, desperate to win and set the fastest lap of 9’57”1, almost three seconds quicker than his qualifying lap. However, on lap 9, his car developed a problem and so, team-mate Luigi Villoresi was called in to hand over the number 4 car to Ascari. The Milanese driver went even quicker and on lap 12 set a mind-blowing lap time of 9’56”0, only two tenths slower than Fangio’s record from two years earlier, set in the much more powerful Formula 1 Alfa Romeo.
Farina pulled out a gap of over a minute on Fangio, with Hawthorn third. Ascari’s fightback ended when a huge cloud of white smoke poured from the exhausts and he had to slow down, eventually finishing eighth. It was Farina’s first win with Scuderia Ferrari, but it was also the last in his extraordinary career. For Ascari, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but his lead in the championship was still significant and his second world title was only slightly delayed.