Fangio had demonstrated that the Lancia-Ferrari D50 was the car to beat at the 1956 German Grand Prix, where Stirling had qualified in fourth place behind the Italian cars in a Maserati 250F, going onto finish in second place in the race behind the great Argentinian. For the Italian Grand Prix, in much the same way that modern Formula 1 teams revise and update cars between races, Maserati produced a car that had been revised considerably. Stirling recalled that Maserati “would have to pull something pretty dramatic out of the bag for Monza” and they did. Two new 250F chassis were built, one for Stirling and one for Jean Behra, with off-set prop-shafts, which allowed the driving position, and therefore the centre of gravity, to be considerably lowered, thus improving the handling.
Aside from the Lancia-Ferrari and Maserati teams, the British Vanwall team rejoined the fray at Monza having missed the German Grand Prix, although there was no sign of the other leading British team, BRM. The Lancia-Ferrari team entered Juan-Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti, the Marquis de Portago and Wolfgang Von Trips. In practice Von Trips crashed heavily when a steering arm broke, a fault which would repeat itself, and did not start the race.
Maserati entered a large number of works and private cars led by factory drivers Stirling and Behra. Vanwall ran the local hero Piero Taruffi, alongside Maurice Trintignant and Harry Schell. Connaught sent three cars, but they were not very competitive with Jack Fairman being the fastest qualifying a lowly 15th on the grid.
Despite the improved Maserati’s, the Lancia Ferraris still proved formidable in practice over the 10km (6.21 mile) circuit which combined a high-speed oval, featuring banked curves, with the more traditional circuit layout still used today. Fangio again qualified on pole, almost a second faster than his team mates, Castellotti and Musso, who lined up beside him on the front row of the grid. Stirling qualified on the outside of the second row, alongside Taruffi's Vanwall and Behra in the other Maserati. Rain fell on the morning of the race, which gradually cleared up in time for the mid-afternoon start at 3.00pm, there was no pressure from broadcasters to start the race at 1.00pm to maximise television audiences in 1956!
Despite a good start by Stirling, the Lancia-Ferraris quickly asserted themselves in the first four places, although, happily for him, this turned out to be short lived. On the fifth lap of the 50 lap race, both Castellotti and Musso paid the price for pushing too hard too soon and their rear tyres started throwing treads. In a scene reminiscent of the current 2011 season both the Lancia-Ferrari drivers pitted for new tyres. This left Stirling in the lead from Schell, Collins and Fangio who had dropped back in his Lancia-Ferrari to this chasing group. “We became locked in quite a battle and with 15 laps gone I was only 0.6 seconds ahead of Harry” Stirling recalls.
Collins pitted for tyres from fourth place with De Portago suffering a rear tyre failure on the banking and was lucky not to have a big accident. Although De Portago hit the wall he was able to drive the car to the pits to retire with damaged suspension. The Lancia-Ferrari teams misfortune continued when Castellotti also suffered a tyre failure, crashing heavily without hurting himself.
Shortly before half distance Fangio too pitted with a broken steering arm. By this time Castellotti had been put in De Portago’s repaired car, leaving Fangio's hopes of winning the World Championship fading. Stirling in the meantime was still ahead and beginning to pull away from Schell. Behra then retired from third place, which Musso inherited. The Italian then moved up to second when Schell stopped to refuel and it was expected that when Musso pitted he would hand his car over to Fangio. The pit stop, during a rain shower, came and went, and unfortunately for Fangio, Musso refused to get out and stayed in the car.
Collins now had an outside chance of winning the World Championship with Fangio stranded in the pits. However in a remarkable sporting gesture, when Collins came in for a tyres with 15 laps to go he made the decision to hand his car over to Fangio, thus giving Fangio a real shot at winning another World title and sacrificing what would have been a second place in the Drivers Championship for Collins.
Schell, in the Vanwall, retired after 28 laps, promoting Musso back into second place on the track with Fangio in pursuit and Stirling out in front with a healthy one minute lead. The race then seemed to settle down, however with 5 laps to go Stirling ran out of fuel. Stirling recalls “I spotted (Luigi) Piotti, the Italian Maserati privateer, coming up behind and gestured frantically for him to use his car to push me to the pits”. Luckily for Stirling he understood and the Maserati’s proceeded to the pits nose to tail, with Stirling’s 250F receiving what would be in modern terms, a splash and dash. Coming out of the pits he went on to record the a fastest lap of the race in a time of 2m 45.4s at a speed of 135.5mph in an effort to catch Musso's Lancia-Ferrari. Stirling's mechanics then had to signal to him to slow down as they could see patches of canvas appearing on his tyres.
With 3 laps to go, fate intervened yet again and the Lancia-Ferrari driver suffered a broken steering arm as the car came off the final banking, coming to a stop sideways and out of control by the pits. Stirling was ahead yet again, on tyres that were down to the canvas casings, depsite this, he went onto win the race by six seconds from a fast closing Fangio in a time of 2 hours 23 minutes 41.3 seconds, at an average speed 129.73mph. Fangio’s second place, gave Stirling's former team mate yet another World Drivers’ Championship.
For Stirling, winning at Monza in an Italian car made up for loosing the 1954 race in the Mercedes streamliner, it also meant a great deal to the “tifosi”, the passionate Italian fans, who rightly viewed this victory as one of Stirling’s finest to date.
Enjoy colour film highlights of the 1956 Italian Grand Prix race below: