MMIM Hall of Fame
Alfred 'Friedl' Neubauer.
Ever heard of the athlete Emil Zatopek or the painter Zdenek Burian? The founder of genetics Johann Gregor Mendel maybe? Surely you have heard of Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst. Well never mind they don't have much to do with motor cars anyway.
Nový Jičín, or Neutitschein, however, does. All the aforementioned names are connected to what is now the Czech Republic; and the Czech Republic has a lot to do with cars. Everyone has heard of Ferdinand Porsche, the world-renowned designer and constructor of ground breaking automobiles. He was Czech and so was another innovator who has had an equally huge impact on the motor racing world. If it makes you feel any better even the locals of Nový Jičín themselves were surprised when the news of this long lost son being born there was revealed by local museum historian Radek Polach.
The legendary Alfred Neubauer; "The Man of a Thousand Tricks", and one of the most dynamic and domineering personalities of the Grand Prix racing era was a Czech. He was the sort of character that combines all the regular F1 team managers and moguls we know today, rolls them up into one big ball and then adds another dimension of passion on top of that.
Neubauer is arguably the most innovative team manager motor racing has ever seen. An unmistakable man festooned with stop watches, usually holding a red and black flag, a strangely jolly figure he stood out from the apparent total order of the disciplined Mercedes-Benz team working around him. But if Mercedes didn't win, all Neubauer's conviviality evaporated and a thorough post mortem of events would begin immediately.
As you might have guessed from the introduction there is a little confusion about the Birth of Alfred Neubauer. For years Ostrava was listed as his birthplace but the Czeck National Archives in Opava clearly record a small town in North Moravia called Neutitschein as his birth place. Back then Moravia was a province of Bohemia and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; until the end of World War One in 1918 when so many borders and nations names changed. Neutitschein is today called Nový Jičín and is situated on the spurs of the Carpathian Mountains in the Moravian-Silesian region, around 25km south-west of Moravska Ostrava (the Czech Republic's 3rd biggest city), and 150km northeast of Brno, famous for it's motor sports history and race circuit.
Equally misquoted is the date of his birth. Many sources cite 29th of March, Easter Sunday, 1891 as Neubauers birthday but as Deputy Head of the Regional Museum of Nový Jičín, Radek Polách, discovered, this is not the case :-
"This information we investigated and..... checked...... to our surprise that Karl Alfred Neubauer was actually born on 22nd of March 1891 in Nový Jičín"
The first born son, and only child, of Karl (sometimes named Charles) and Marie Neubauer was baptized as a Catholic on the 9th of April (a Thursday?) his Godparents being Franz Wiesthal and Marie Subal also from Neutitschein.
Karl Alfred Neubauers birthplace of 725/5 alley Kober (today called Ztracená ulice) no longer exists having been lost in the redevelopments of the late 20th century. It was actually the house of the clothier John Wiesthal, father of Marie Wiesthal-Neubauer.
Family and early Life
The Neubauers were a poor Czech-German family. Neubauer's father, Karl Neubauer (1851-1905) was a master carpenter capable of undertaking any work from building and decorative jobs to furniture and cabinet making. But Neutitschein was known for its millinery and hatting industry, meaning Karl had to seek work where he could find it. Fortunately the Nesselsdorfer wagon factory of Ignaz Schustala was just 6km away so Karl could get work there.
Baby Alfred quickly became known to family and friends as Friedl, meaning “A man of peace”, though he must surely have roared like a compressor and disturbed the sleep of his parents. Attending elementary school in Neutitschein, then secondary school in and Opava, Neubauers childhood was hard. His mother Marie Wiesenthal-Neubauer (1859-97) passed away when he was just 6 years old putting a great deal of pressure upon his father Karl. It is know that in 1904 the family was living in a house at Sophie ring 4 (today Štefanikova ulice), generally considered a poor part of town.
Early in life the young boy developed an interest in the then highly unusual means of transportation: the automobile. Growing up in a town of hatters it might be puzzling that Neubauer should later record that even as a small boy :-
“petrol already ran through my veins”
This passion for machinery is usually attributed to seeing his first automobile, a Benz, come through the town when he was just a boy of seven; but there are other contributing factors to Neubauers fascination with the motor car.
Firstly; the carriage and wagon works where his father Karl worked expanded in 1897 and added the modern horseless carriage to it's product list. Schustala's factory built the very first Austrian automobile (produced under the name "President"), and a year later the first truck rolled out of the factory gates. Many years later this plant would become the “Tatra-Werke” in Nesselsdorf, now called Kopřivnice.
Surely Karl the carpenter must have talked to his son about these new modern wonders, certainly the young Alfred went with his father to the works and saw them being built. Not only did the construction and preparation of the vehicles fascinate Alfred but he also spent a lot of time observing the development the motor car.
The second factor that affected the young Alfred was also related to his fathers work. Karl did some work for a very wealthy Neutitschein family by the name of Hückel. At the end of the 19th century the Neutitscheiner Hückel hat factory was the biggest in Europe and was known worldwide. The company had a fleet of vehicles and the Hückel family garage had two steam cars and a prestigious Benz.
When Alfred accompanied his father to perform some carpentry work at the Hückel family home he met Fritz Hückel (22-6-1885/12-1-1973). Fritz was 6 years older than Alfred but they would became close, and life-long, friends. Once introduced to the chauffeurs the young Neubauer was soon learning more of the mysteries of early automobiles, it is said Alfred had an innate mechanical ability.
Later in life Fritz Hückel became a racing driver and passionate supporter of the sport. Alfred Neubauer was a great lover of Hückel head wear but also acquired a habit of celebrating victories by throwing his hat under the wheels of his winning machine. Luckily this friendship with Fritz Hückel meant the race director never had to worry about a supply of hats!
It might have been fate that the car that rolled through Neutitschein in 1898 was a Benz, life already marking out the path the young Alfred was intended to take. But Neubauer did everything he could to further the cause. He was totally engrossed in all things cars, nothing else interested him, including schooling! He enthusiastically collected everything he could find about cars. When he was a ten year old Alfred Neubauer bombarded the few European car factories with requests for catalogues, brochures and information. Alfred Neubauer had already decided that cars would be his life, it is said that his father and other local carpenters built Alfred, and the local children, small wooden cars which they raced against each other. The seeds of the Neubauer/Mercedes-Benz legend were already sown.
Alfred was 14 when his father died in 1905 leaving him to make his own way in the world. He joined the Military Academy at Traiskirchen in Vienna and later graduated from the Artillery School to join the Austrian Army. As a Cadet Neubauer received a good technical education but he wasn't the best student, there was rather a large interest gap between the howitzer and a gasoline engine. "Österreichische Automobil-Zeitung" the Austrian automobile newspaper, was studied much more closely than the Artillery manuals!
Ever the realist Neubauer's less then heroic answers in the classroom did not bode well for the field of battle. When asked by an instructor :-
"What comes to mind first when you go into a position with your battery ?"
Neubauer retorted :-
So much for the adventurous idea of securing a clear field of fire!
In 1911 ensign Neubauer joined the 1st Franz Josef Artillery Regiment. During the Hajmáskér manoeuvres Lieutenant Neubauer's lack of Military understanding was unmasked and he was saved only by his mechanical and technical abilities. Alfred had been sent up to the head quarters to obtain orders for the entire battery when he came across the C.O. in a broken down vehicle. Without thought for his military duties he climbed off his horse and set to work with a spanner. The "Broken clutch" was, in due course, repaired and a satisfied mechanic trotted innocently back to his camp. When he got there evening had fallen and Artillery were still waiting for their orders!
After messing up these beautiful imperial manoeuvres Neubauer was up in front of his colonel for punishment; but instead he was encouraged to transfer to a new unit. As it happens Austrian high command were looking officers for the newly created mechanised artillery batteries.
Through 1912 Neubauer not only drove the Artillery tractors but his great ability for organisation shone to the point that he become a transport officer and started developing the artillery motor pool. The Austrian artillery were in the early stages of motorization and Alfred Neubauer wasn't about to miss his chance to work with his beloved automobiles. The engines used in the artillery tractors were from the Austro-Daimler company and they had a certain Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) working for them.
Then the world fell apart after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1914. As the horrors of World War I began Alfred Neubauer was an officer/driver in the 1st Austrian motorized battery consisting of model 1 30.5cm mortar howitzers (produced in the Škoda Works in Pilsen, now called Plzeň). For two and a half years Neubauer served on the front lines with the Austrian Imperial artillery, leading two motorized mortar batteries in the south-eastern front.
On the 1st of January, 1917, the much decorated lieutenant was called to the "Commission to acquire special artillery vehicles". Neubauer liaised with Ferdinand Porsche at Austro-Daimler and together they created new motorized gun carriages for heavy artillery.
Now out of the combat zones Neubauer honed his organizational abilities to a fine pitch running the motor pools and maintenance facilities for the motorized units. As the war went on he moved to the Austro-Daimler works at Wiener-Neustadt in order to better facilitate the movement of the vehicles from the factory to the front lines. He remained in this position until the time of the armistice. Neubauer's friendship with Porsche was another that would become life long, both as collaborators and protagonists, but always with respect.
When the First World War ended the Czechoslovak Republic emerged and took over the land of Neubauer's birth. The Czechoslovak government citizenship bureaucracy being what it was Neubauer spent ten years trying to sort out his nationality.
After WW I
As he had made several contacts at Austro-Daimler, and had a good relationship with Ferdinand Porsche, it is not surprising he joined them when the Austrian Military disbanded. By 1919 he was manager of the Automobile Test Department at the Austro-Daimler plant in Vienna, the famous Wiener-Neustadt facility. However, fate was to step in again and move Neubauer toward his place of fame.
Count Alexander "Sascha" Joseph von Kolowrat-Krakowsky was a wealthy American-born Austrian of Bohemian-Czech descent, he founded the first major film studio in Vienna; “Sascha-Film” and he was also an enthusiastic “automobilist”. His dream was to create a "people's car", a "Volkswagen", a small, affordable practical car for the masses. To design his "Sascha-Wagen" the Count approached Ferdinand Porsche and Austro-Daimler, which meant Neubauer tested the prototypes and helped develop the product.
As the Count was funding the project he was of course involved, inspired by the Bugatti type 13 Porsche and Count Kolowrat-Krakowsky came up with the idea of making a sports version of the of the little 598kg, 1.1Ltr, "Sascha" car. According to Neubauer the Count was a big, joyful man with a voice that "made the window frames jingle", and he was capable of making drastic decisions. On one occasion he employed a midget as a riding mechanic to save weight! One wonders if his 'style' wasn't an influence on Neubauer as his description of the count might equally be applied to Neubauer himself in future years.
Count Kolowrat-Krakowsky's "Sascha" car was ready in 1922 and it was thought that entering it in the 1922 Targa Florio in Sicily would be a nice advertising opportunity. The first Targa Florio was held in 1906 and till 1922 had mostly attracted Italian entries. In 1922 the Targa was becoming legendary so much so that the 1922 running was perhaps the most anticipated race of the season. It was to have the largest entry list of any race in 1922, was to see the German works teams and drivers return to motor racing for the first time after WWI and would be noted for being the first race to include a car with a supercharged engine. More than that it would provide the first meeting of two of the legends of motor sports; Enzo Ferrari and Alfred Neubauer.
As for the "Sascha" team, who would drive the nimble "voiturettes". Neubauer's story of the selection meeting has his usual air of embellishment. Apparently the Count announced the team starting with the first car which was to be raced by professional driver Lambert Pöcher; the second by Gregor 'Fritz' Kuhn. At this point Neubauer nervously asked the question:
"And the third car will be raced by you, Count Kolowrat?"
The Count replied,
"No, my dear Neubauer"; "You will of course race the third car."
For the purposes of his story Neubauer neglect to mention the fourth "Sascha", entered and raced by the count himself. Incidentally the cars were distinguish by the use the four suit emblems from a pack of playing cards, an idea honoured by the Porsche team on the new 908/03's for the 1970 Targa Florio.
In a flash of inspiration that indicated the great man's organisational ability Neubauer insisted that the cars loaded onto the ships in Naples harbour last of all, in order that they would be the first off the ship when it arrived in Sicily! On arrival in Sicily Neubauer must have been awestruck, especially when he found himself amongst all his childhood heroes at the Grand Hotel Termini.
Another of Neubauers stories about this race is that during practice the drivers had gone around the course with brushes and paint to mark their braking points and notate the direction and degree of the turns. There ended up with so many paint marks, shapes and numbers on the stones and trees that it was soon impossible for the drivers to recognize their own markings.
Neubauer had thought he could rest on the long coast straight after the twisty mountain sections but during practice he found the road so uneven that it needed all his concentration just to keep the car on the road.
The race was run under clear skies on the 2nd of April, 1922. As an extension of Count Kolowrat's advertising gimmicks Neubauer, accompanied by his mechanic Georg Auer, was actually entered in the GP class which meant the #46 car would be fighting against machines with up to four times as much power. He was to start last of all with little chance of catching the bigger cars, or many of the smaller cars who had started over the preceding hours at 2 minute intervals; this was a race against the clock for Neubauer. In fact he never saw another competitor for the whole race and was relieved to make it to the pits at the end of each lap. As it happens he had no choice but to enter the pits each lap as his cars tyres were invariably torn to shreds. This is when Neubauer realised that the racing driver was often :-
"the world's loneliest human being".
That was Neubauers 1st major international motor racing appearance and on the face of it finishing 19th overall doesn't seem much of an achievement, especially being 59:04.6 after the winner, Italian Count Giulio Masetti on Mercedes. But, Neubauer was the fastest of the three finishing “Saschas”, and his average speed was actually only 8kph/5mph less than the fastest car. Remember, too, that just finishing in one piece was an achievement, only 26 of the 42 starters managed that feat and Count Alexander Kolowrat wasn't one of them.
All things considered the result was rather good for the Austro-Daimler “Saschas”. Gregor Kuhn, #3, finished 22nd and Lambert Pöcher, #2, was 24th. They were 1st and 2nd in the 1.1Ltr class, one of the cars being timed at 89mph (143.23km/h) over a measured kilometre. The cars were agile and reliable, just what the ordinary motorist would desire. And so it was that Neubauer took his first steps into a fledgling career as a racing driver; the racing bug had bitten.
Later in the year the Sascha team attended the Schwabenberg race in Hungary. This was actually a hill climb up the Sváb-hegy track and one source says Neubauer was the overall winner. Information on these races is very sketchy but records for the race on the 10th of October 1922 regularly record the overall winner as Rützler, driving a Steyr, and the Austrian Josef Wetzka was 2nd overall, driving a 6-cyl Austro-Daimler touring car, which took the best sports car prize too. However, it remains entirely possible that Neubauer won the 1100cc class driving for “Sascha”.
When Austro-Daimler encountered financial difficulties towards the end of 1922 the “Sascha” project was abandoned, much to the annoyance of Ferdinand Porsche. At a heated board meeting Porsche couldn't sway the financiers so he walked out of the meeting and resigned.
1923. Mercedes beckons.
Having walked out on Austro-Daimler Porsche walked into the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft at Untertürkheim in Stuttgart; and he took Alfred Neubauer with him. Porsche replaced Paul Daimler as Technical Director because Daimler had left the company, Neubauer's job was head of the Mercedes test and development department but he continued to hold aspirations as a racing driver.
Daimler-Benz was not founded until 1926 but Daimler sports cars had carried the "Mercedes" name since 1900 so the Mercedes-Benz link was forged in the Neubauer story, he would remain with the company for all his working life staying loyal through thick and thin. Neubauer, soon to become affectionately known as “the big man”, also kept meticulous records as he went so the companies racing history was as accurate as could be.
France and Italy were doing well in motor racing but Mercedes had been struggling when Porsche and Neubauer arrived. Ferdinand Porsche thought to resurrect an original Gottlieb Daimler theory for increasing the power of the combustion process by compressing the charge prior to induction, an idea Paul Daimler had also evaluated for use in aircraft engines and tried on the 1922 cars that would soon become the Mercedes 6/25/40 PS. Porsche addressed the practical application of the compressor in conjunction with a new 2Ltr engine, and found the compressor gave an abundance of power.
The racing formula then being a 2-litre formula meant Neubauer saw the Untertürkheimer compressors giving the new Mercedes racers a distinct advantage. He immediately started organising a new team of designers, engineers and mechanics to race the new engine in the new racing formula where the fixed displacement was the measure used for classification.
Three cars were entered for the Indianapolis 500 that year coming home 8th, Max Sailer, and 11th, Christian Werner. Christian Lautenschlager crashed out in turn one after completing just 14 laps. The cars ran reliably and looked ripe for development.
Neubauers racing year was mostly built around hillclimbs and at that years Semmering hillclimb he raced a Daimler up to fifth overall which was actually a very creditable achievement.
The continued development of the 1923 car resulted in the 2Ltr, 4-cylinder, supercharged Grand Prix Mercedes PP which made it's debut at the 1924 Targa Florio held on the 27th of April, 1924.
The tortuous mountainous course would again test the skills of Alfred Neubauer with it's narrow roads, steep ravines and 7,000 turns. A lap was 108km and the Targa Florio was to be run over four laps; and to run concurrently with the Coppa Florio which required the drivers complete a 5th lap; 540 kilometres in all.
The DMG team included Christian Werner, Christian Lautenschlager and Neubauer, with Ferdinand Porsche riding with Neubauer. It was a huge victory for Christian Werner who took the Targa win in a time of 6:32:37hrs before going on to win the Coppa Florrio in a time of 8:17:1.4hrs, and taking the fastest lap of 1h34m59.8 (68.20 kph). Lautenschlager was second in class and Neubauer third, a triple victory for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG). Neubauer was actually 16th overall in the Targa and 13th in the Coppa. All in all a wonderful triumph for Mercedes and plaudits rained in. The teams telegram to Stuttgart caries the conveys the news as follows :-
“Overall result Werner wins Targa and Coppa Florio, also Coppa Caltavuturo for shortest time from start to that place, also Coppa Villa Igiea for lap record, also Grand Gold Medal of King of Italy, ditto Motor Club of Sicily, also all prizes awarded by Palermo Merchants’ Chamber”.
“Class result Werner first, Lautenschlager second, Neubauer third, Mercedes team wins Coppa Termini for best factory team.”
The landslide of success was largely to the impeccable preparation undertaken. The Parisian magazine “Auto” announced in it's report that :-
“The Mercedes cars were built as they needed to be for the race course in Sicily: short wheelbase, correctly positioned centre of gravity, special attention to comfortable seats for the drivers (such as a cushion of coarse-grained leather to prevent sliding). The Mercedes vehicles also boasted two precious qualities that even non-experts are likely to have appreciated: a quite wonderful road-holding ability and a steering mechanism that puts little load on the front axle and is therefore very soft and extremely precise.”
Another factor cited in the success is that the new Mercedes car were painted red not German racing white. It was well known that the enthusiastic Italian crowd were prone to obstructing the differently coloured foreign cars, even to throwing stones at the drivers, while cheering on any red Italian cars. Whether this is really a factor in Mercedes triple victory remains up for discussion but one thing for sure was the advantage of the compressor for the racing car. Soon the whole automotive industry would be clamouring to produce such a thing. The British magazine "The Autocar" reported on the new Mercedes car saying :-
"This Mercedes product represents a new era in the history of motoring."
Neubauer's racing year continued at the Klausen hill climb held on the 17th of August, 1924. The Klausen was a particularly long climb of nearly 14 miles, has some very acute hairpin bends and blind corners. Trying to learn such a circuit is almost impossible but knowledge of Alpine Passes can help the drivers gain an edge. Experience, skill (and lack thereof), count for a lot on the Klausen hill climb, so when Alfred Neubauer made second fastest time he must have been very pleased.
The following month Neubauer entered the Semmering hill-climb held on the 14th of September 1924, near Vienna, in Austria. Christian Werner set fastest time in a Mercedes, his time was 6m55.6s for the 10km run. Otto Salzer had a Targa Mercedes but refitted with a 4.5 litre engine taken from 1914 GP car boosted by an additional supercharger. Neubauer was third overall and mortified to find he was almost 40 seconds slower than Werner. Being a supportive fiancée, Hansi, informed Alfred that he drove :-
"like a night watchman",
Neubauer started to reconsider his abilities as a racing driver.
Alfred Neubauer's last appearance on a circuit was the 1924 Italian GP were he was a part of the DMG team with Christian Werner, Giulio Masetti and Count Louis Zborowski. It is an interesting point that this race marked a debut for Mercedes in that Neubauer and Werner had conceived of an idea to help reduce the wear on the racing cars. Up to this point the cars were driven to the location of a race, serviced and raced. But from now on Mercedes cars would be carried to the races. A Renntransporter was built upon the chassis of the stock Daimler 24/100/140hp, it wasn't an elegant vehicle but it was effective. A similar idea would be used in 1954 when “the Blue Wonder” was built.
As for the Grand Prix of Italy, held on the 19th of October 1924, this Monza outing ended very sadly for Mercedes. The Mercedes M72/94 GP cars ran well but fortune did not smile. On lap 43 Masetti ran out of fuel out on the circuit and on lap 44 Count Louis Zborowski left the track at the Lesmo Corner, hit a tree and was killed. The great car designer, racer, adventurer and railway enthusiast was gone at just 29 years of age. Neubauer pitted on lap 66 and after being informed of the Count's condition was withdrawn from the race. Werner was similarly withdrawn when he pitted on lap 68.
Neubauer still raced hillclimbs though. At Baden-Baden, Klausen and Semmering he managed placings but nothing spectacular. Having not made a habit of winning races Alfred Neubauer finally accepted that being a racing driver was not a realistic route to fame. He stood down from competitive driving and directed his attention to his job as a department head. But, within that role he found another direction which would define his life. His experience as a driver and passion for Motorsports saw him push his way into a new title as manager of the Daimler competition department, better known to the workers as that of 'Rennleiter'. Neubauer's main job was to head up the Daimler test and development department and as his racing ambitions started to die away he wasn't entirely enthused by his work. However, his organisational skills were not lost on the Daimler-Mercedes board and he was actively encouraged to organise the Mercedes racing team as well as his other job.
He headed the 'Rennabteilung', or racing division, from the end of 1925 until the end of 1955. It was a position in which he excelled, no one before him had taken the role to such extremes of orderliness and organisation, he controlled all things off, and on, the race track. This would be the manner in which Mercedes-Benz would become an almost unbeatable racing force and Alfred Neubauer would become a legend of motor sport.
The merger between Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie was completed in 1926. It was driven by financial reasons and resulted in Daimler-Benz AG, the sports cars to remain under the Mercedes banner and Neubauer was administratively responsible for them as race director. Now that he was no longer driving he turned his attention to being the best manager he could be, and he was a far better manager than driver. It wasn't long before the results could be seen in the 'Rennabteilung'. During the following 30 years or so Alfred Neubauer would become an increasingly large, and instantly recognisable, figure in motor racing circles.
This robust Sporting Director not only knew how to organise work loads; he had unequaled skill as a talent spotter, was an excellent strategist and psychologist, had invaluable insight into the problems faced by the drivers and was inspirational in his tactical thinking. Neubauer was undoubtedly the founder of modern racing team management.
His previous experiences of isolation while driving in a race turned his mind to solving problems encountered during a race, particularly from the drivers point of view. He came up with a system of coloured flags to inform drivers of events on the track and to convey his tactical racing thoughts.
Neubauer also recruited top quality German drivers like Rudolf Caracciola to race for the team, a move which would see the young German win at the German GP that year, and teach Neubauer some more important lessons.
1926 German GP was held on the ultra fast, and dangerous, AVUS circuit on the 11th of July 1926.
Neubauer introduced his coloured-flag pit-signalling system allowing him to tell his drivers when it was better to maintain a steady pace or of the need to press home an advantage.
Driving under the most appalling conditions the gruelling and rain soaked race was won by Rudi Caracciola; much to his surprise! Caracciola had actually won the race by several minutes, at a speed of 134.98kph/83.89mph, but was completely unaware he had taken his first major victory for Mercedes. He was just happy that he had completed the treacherous contest which had seen many accidents including that of Adolf Rosenberger who crashed into one of the marshals' huts and while he was thrown clear and survived the three occupants of the hut were killed. For the record Caracciola was followed home by the NAG of C. Reicken in 2nd and W. Cleer's Alfa Romeo in 3rd; and Mercedes would dominated the next two German Grand Prix as well.
Brilliant tactician that Neubauer was, his engineering of this victory being proof that he could see the overall race situation very clearly and he had the ability to control his drivers on track, he was still concerned that Caracciola had not known his actual position and time distances to his competitors during a race.
Believing his drivers had a better chance of unleashing their full potential if they knew their position, speed, the race distance (and other particulars) during the race Neubauer began searching for a more answers. He was inspired to devise a system of hand signals and pit boards to transmit this information to the drivers. Taking his ideas to his superiors “Don Alfredo” was delighted to find he had a willing supporter in the CEO of Daimler-Benz, Wilhelm Kissel. Kissel was not only a racing enthusiast but fully understood the marketing value for the road car business of a successful racing program.
By the time of the Solitude race Neubauer's hand signals, reminiscent of baseball signals, were fully developed and positively complimented the pit signal boards and coloured flags. Most importantly the driver now had a way to talk to the pits himself. Generally they were actually rather simple, circling the right index finger in the air asked the remaining number of laps, a finger pointed forward asked how far to the car in front and pointing a thumb to the rear asked the distance to the car behind. More signals allowed the driver to express his need for fuel or tyres at the next pitstop. Beyond organizing the Mercedes team of three cars, and ensuring the cars were just as the drivers wanted them, Neubauer assigned a crew for each car. He drilled the pit crews so that whatever the servicing needs of the car might be everything was organised and could be completed as quickly as possible. Neubauer was making motor racing even more of a 'team' sport. This remarkable attention to detail paid huge dividends during the 1930s Grand Prix and later Formula One eras but all the methodology was hammered out in these 1926-31 sports car racing years.
was held on a 22.3 km long track through the forests to the west of
Stuttgart near the Castle Solitude. Generally better known for
motorcycle racing on the 12th of September 1926 it was the car racing
that would make the news, the Solitude races marked a turning point.
Mercedes-Benz were there and Neubauer tried out his innovative system
for the first time, with some interesting developments.
As Neubauer stood beside the track waving his hands and flourishing flags the chief steward approached him and demanded angrily that he leave the track side immediately. Neubauer remained inflexible while the steward complained that his peculiar antics were irritating and over stressing all the other drivers. When Neubauer explained that he was “The Rennleiter”, the chief race steward laughed out loud and responded: "Are you mad? I'M the Rennleiter". Nevertheless from now on Alfred Neubauer took his place beside the track flag in hand and stopwatches around his neck. In fact his indications to his drivers on the starting grid became so important all drivers watched him rather than the officials, there is even a black and white photograph which shows Neubauer in front of the grid holding 4 fingers up to signal four seconds to start; and everyone looking at him, not the starter! From that day forward any race without “Don Alfredo” could not have been very important.
As for the race? Well, first lets set the scene. There were only six racing cars on the rain soaked grid that afternoon, four entries failing to take the start. Many of the expected international participants had chosen to take part in the more established, and prestigious, Semmering hill climb in Austria, which was being held on the same day. Daimler-Benz AG had split their forces sending Rudolf Caracciola to Semmering and bringing Christian Werner and Otto Merz to Solitude.
Werner and Merz were to drive the latest version of the 1924 GP Mercedes-Benz, originally a two-seat design. The engine was capable of producing 170hp at 7000 rpm from it's 8-cyl, 1980cc unit which had DOC and four valves per cylinder. It also had the large Roots type blower constantly running at the back of the engine. Despite being able to run at up to 200kph (125mph) it was generally considered an ill handling car.
The race started at 1:15 pm, not by the sound of a starting pistol but by a thunder clap as the rain became a storm which soaked track and spectators alike and meaning the much better supported sports car race held in the dry that morning would be a much faster race. At the end of the first lap Werner's Mercedes led his team mate Merz' Mercedes by almost 30secs. They were followed by the NSU's of Klöbe and Seifert and Friedrich's Pluto. At the end of the second lap Werner had a problem which resulted in Merz taking over the lead ahead of Kimpel's Bugatti and Klöbe's NSU. The rain was providing huge problems for all the drivers and by lap five Kimpel was leading with Klöbe 88 seconds behind him and Merz over one minute behind the NSU. Werner had slipped back to 5th place and Friedrich's Pluto had disappeared with engine problems. With several pit stops for new brake shoes holding up Kimpel, Merz regained the lead on lap eight, and Werner was closing in again; even establishing the fastest lap (@ 13m23.3s) on lap 9. At half distance the two Mercedes were securing their position at the front, the Bugatti spun at the Schatten corner on lap 12 then
Seifert's NSU suffered a lurid skid at the Ramsel Corner and the other NSU driver Klöbe skidded into the sandbags at Eltingen. Then Mercedes struck real problems when Werner's race was halted by a transmission problem on lap 13. Merz pressed home is advantage and by the end of lap 15 he had almost 15 minutes lead over Kimpel's Bugatti and Seifert' NSU.
When the chequered flag fell after 20 laps Otto Merz Mercedes won in a time of 4h50m24.4s, an average speed of 92.148 km/h (57.261 mph). George Kimpel was second in the 2L Bugatti (5h05m06.4s) and Felix Seifert was third in his 1.5L NSU (5h13m30.4s). No one else made it to the finish.
If you thought race tactics, choosing specific drivers for specific races, driver pairings, "horses for courses" gears and final drive selections, controlling race pace, rapid pit work and two way communications between pits and drivers were all modern items, now you know different! Little wonder these systems and communications methods have been adopted for races worldwide.
Through 1926 and 1927 changes were afoot at Mercedes-Benz. The financial woes that had combined Daimler and Benz now resulted in the curtailment of their Grand Prix racing programme and Neubauer was faced with trying to build up the companies racing reputation with limited resources. The unexpected result of this decision was one of Porche's, and Mercedes', most successful designs.
When Rudi Caracciola won the rally styled Tour of Germany driving a Mercedes 24/100/140 touring car it was decided to use that models 7.2Ltr 6cyl engine in a sports car design. Supported by Mercedes-Benz CEO Wilhelm Kissel, Neubauer worked with Ferdinand Porsche on developing the new racing sports car, the Supercharged S class Mercedes-Benz. These cars were large; described as "locomotives" or “the white Elephants” they were also reliable, strong, well behaved and fast. Porsche's ceaseless tinkering producing successors in the form of the "SS" ("Super-Sport") and the SSK (super-sport-short) which Neubauer and the young Rhinelander Rudolf Caracciola campaigned across Europe. Competing against much lighter Bugattis and the Alfa Romeos the SS serially recorded victories in the sports car classes. For Grands Prix events the car was simply stripped of any and all unnecessary parts to lighten the car and it still won. Otto Merz winning the 1927 German Grand Prix and Rudi Caracciola having occasional Grand Prix outings in 1928 and 1929 with an SSK.
Mercedes-Benz now had a street-legal racing machine and the 'S' class would remain a Mercedes-Benz range staple to this day, fully vindicating Wilhelm Kissel's decision to support Neubauer and Porsche.
By now Neubauer had been living in Germany for some time and after a lot of time and paperwork the matter of his nationality was finally being sorted out. If that sounds silly we have to remember what a tumultuous situation Europe had been in since around 1900.
Neubauer was from a Czech-Austrian family and spoke both Czech and German throughout his life. These were the official languages of of the Czechs and in 1891 no one took national affiliation that seriously, all were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the time of his birth Neubauer was a citizen of the Danube monarchy. After the First World War the citizens of Nový Jičín were considered members of the new Czechoslovak Republic; but Neubauer had been living in Austria, and later Germany so his application for Czech citizenship wasn't accepted. He then applied to the then German Empire but things did not go smoothly there either and it took from 1918 to 1928 for Alfred Neubauer to attain a nationality. After all he wasn't a German by birth and his parents were Austrian and Czech. Basically Neubauer attained citizenship through naturalisation due to living in Germany for the prescribed time.
On the racing front the bulky SSK sports cars enjoyed some success in Grands Prix run to free formula rules. Rudi Caracciola was becoming a star and Mercedes were the team to beat. They triumphed in the 1928 German Grand Prix and their battles with Bugatti and AlfaRomeo would become legendary.
Then came the Wall Street crash and the great depression of 1929. Mercedes-Benz officially dropped out of racing and Neubauer was back to the test department. But Neubauer continued to run low-key programs with the SSK's, at Le Mans and in the occasional Grands Prix in 1930 and 1931, as well as providing unofficial support for Caracciola, Boris Ivanowsky and Henri Stoffe. Neubauer also introduced some new drivers around this time including Manfred Von Brauchitsch and Hans Stuck.
That year the final 'S series' racing sports car was delivered, the SSKL (super-sport-kurzleicht or supersport short light), it featured a supercharger that was engaged when the throttle was fully depressed, now Rudi Caracciola would become almost unbeatable. Rudi Caracciola purchased one of the 5 racing SSKLs and entered races as a privateer. But Neubauer was still there unofficially supporting him. Caracciola won the 1929 RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards and was third at Monaco were the huge SSKL put in a superb performance around the streets that were eminently more suited to the small and nimbly Bugattis.
In his private life Neubauer was delighted to marry his “Hansi“. Josefa Romana Ortbauer was married to Alfred Neubauer in Vienna. His joy was tempered by the culture clashes developing from the 1926 Daimler and Benz merger which led his good friend Porsche to fall out with the management over design philosophy. Porsche left the company that year but both the 500k and 540k road cars, influenced by the S series cars, would be great sellers for Mercedes-Benz.
As a sign of Caracciola's growing importance to Mercedes-Benz consider this. He won 11 competitions in 1927, built on that each year and would go on to be European Championship in 1935, 1937 and 1938. So Neubauer's clandestine support of Caracciola was as important to Mercedes as it was to Rudolf himself. The SSK "White Elephant", a reference to it's size, power and white colour scheme more than anything else, shed of over 125 kilos of weight by drilling not only the chassis but anywhere that would not compromise the safety of the car. The 7Ltr 6-cyl' overhead camshaft engine of the SSKL (Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht or super-sport-short-light) now produced 240hp at 3,300rpm, push the accelerator fully down to kick in the compressor and that figure rose to 300hp, making top speed up to 235 km/h.
With all the improvements Rudolf Caracciola couldn't help but win, but that is to forget the contribution of Neubauer. He may have had to use less people now but he was able to pick the cream of the crop. His mechanical team were still drilled to almost military perfectionism and his tactical skills gave the Caracciola-SSKL-Neubauer combination a real winning reputation for Mercedes-Benz to sell cars off of.
In those days the toughest endurance race was the Italian Mille Miglia, and the group wanted to win it. The 1,635km race from Brescia to Rome and back crossed the Abruzzo region and continue along the Adriatic coast to Ancona before heading back to Bologna to Ferrara, Treviso, and finally to Brescia. Italian drivers always seemed to hold an advantage as they knew the route. Some Italian manufacturers had as many as 50 cars in the race, and countless depots and mechanics positioned along the route to support the Italian makes. Mercedes-Benz on the other hand were officially out of racing and Neubauer only had a small number of mechanics to support Carraciola and his co-driver Christian Werner. Caracciola did at least have some experience of the route having driven the race the year before and secured 6th place overall and a class victory.
On the 12-13 April 1931 Mercedes-Benz and Rudolf Caracciola made history. Starting at 15:20hrs in Mercedes W06 RS #87 car Caracciola rose to the challenge:
"I sat behind the wheel for 16 hours, we thundered across the length and breadth of Italy for 16 hours, following the beam of our headlights through the night, driving into the blinding glare of the spring day."
The real secret to Mercedes success in the 1931 Mille Miglia was Neubauer’s organization. In a master stroke of planning Neubauer worked out a system of "shortcuts" which he and the mechanics took to repeatedly criss-cross Italy to reach each staging post before Caracciola arrived there. This meant not only were the team mechanics there to help refuel and service the car but Neubauer was able to keep Caracciola up to date with race news and positions and advise him accordingly.
Of course once Caracciola left on the last stint there was no way for him to know that Tazio Nuvolari had dropped out or that he had overtaken Giuseppe Campari. So Carraciola went through all manner of tortures in his efforts to win the race. At the line he finished with a time of 16hrs, 10mins and 10secs; an average speed of 101.1km/h. It was the first time either a non-Italian driver or manufacturer had ever won the Mille Miglia, more than that it was the first time that anyone's average speed exceeded 100 km/h. But once again due to the nature of the Mille Miglia race system Caracciola didn't know he had won.
Caracciola recalled in 1934 that when he crossed the line a jubilant Alfred Neubauer was dancing :-
"Neubauer was very excited, beside himself, leaping about and dancing a completely insane Indian dance of joy. What was going on ...? I do not understand ... not yet ... but then dawns works:. I won a thousand miles - the first and to date only time that a foreigner with a foreign car was winner ".
Everyone was overwhelmed by the race result, whether excited Germans, embarrassed and utterly dejected Italians or simply motor racing fans. The only other 'foreigners' to win the race on the full course were Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in 1955, again in a Mercedes. As well as the race prizes the Mercedes-Benz driver received a gold medal from the King of Italy and a cup from the Automobile Club of Germany to recognise this victory.
But the SSKL was not just strong in Italy. Although the clutch failed on Caracciolas SSKL at the Monaco GP on the 19th of April 1931, he won the 312km, Eifel Rennen at the Nürburgring on the 7th of June. The forty lap race produced a terrific Mercedes-Bugatti duel, which Caracciola won in a time of 2h50m47.2s, an average speed of 68.1mph.
Victory then followed for Rudi Caracciola and Mercedes at the German Grand Prix, also held at the Nürburgring on the 19th of July, 1931. 100,000 spectators turned out to watch the race which became a wet race and Caracciola's vision was severely impaired by the spray from Fagioli's Maserati in the early laps. He eventually passed at Schwalbenschwanz corner and move away in the lead leaving Chiron's Bugatti running second. As the track began to dry from around lap 6 Chiron began to close on Caracciola in the heavier Mercedes. When the Mercedes SSKL needed a pit stop the team completed it in a record time and kept Caracciola in the lead. Despite Chiron's Bugatti closing late in the race, at a rate of 15 seconds a lap, Caracciola won by more than a minute
At the Avusrennen on the 2nd of August, 1931, Caracciola won by 3 and a half minutes, ahead of the German Bugatti Team T51 Bugatti of Heinrich-Joachim von Morgen, with Manfred von Brauchitsch third for Mercedes. The lap speeds attained were over 190kph which means on the straights the leading cars were travelling at well over 200kph.
The came the Masaryk Grand Prix at Brno (CS) on the 27th of September. Caracciola fell foul of an accident on lap 2 while avoiding a terrible crash which had felled a temporary pedestrian bridge. Although he got going again a shock absorber had been damaged and on lap 11 it led him to hit a stone road marker which span his car out violently. He was lucky to escape from a that crash unhurt.
Along with the above success Carraciola also won eight hill climbs in his SSKL, including five wins in five races to defend his title in the sports car category of the European Hill Climb Championship. If it has been sounding a little like a Caracciola biography rather than an appreciation of Alfred Neubauer please remember the big man was always there in the background directing and supporting affairs to provide Carraciola with the basis for this Mercedes powered winning spree.
Neubauer had, by 1932, spent almost 14 years with Mercedes-Benz, longer if you include his Daimler-Benz connections through Austro-Daimler, and he was a company man. Motor racing was deeply ingrained in him by now though and with Mercedes having abandoned their racing programme a situation arose that almost saw Neubauer reunite with his old friend Ferdinand Porsche; at Auto Union!
The stories that surround this are contradictory, but it is tantalising to wonder what might have happened if Neubauer had ended up working with Porsche and Bernd Rosemeyer instead of being at Mercedes during that period of the 1930s when the German firms dominated Grand Prix motor racing. Certainly Neubauer must have been bored to distraction, sitting at a desk deprived of his “toys”. So when Auto Union's Manager Baron Claus Detlof von Oertzen offered Neubauer a contract to be Auto Union racing team-manager in November 1932 he was inclined to accept it, some even attest that he did indeed sign the said contract. It would have been amazing if this man with who had Mercedes running through his bones like the letters in a stick of rock had actually done so.
It is known for certain that AutoUnion was searching for a new team-manger at the time and approached both Neubauer and Willy Walb; Mercedes men well known to Porsche, who was designing the P-Wagen for AutoUnion, from his time with Mercedes-Benz. According to Neubauer he even wrote a letter of resignation to Daimler-Benz the evening after his meeting with Klaus von Oertzen (managing director of Auto Union). He goes on to say that :-
“24 hours later Dr. Kissel, our Managing Director, asked me to go and see him. He came towards me as soon as I opened the door of his office, an anxious look on his face. 'My dear Neubauer,' he said, almost pushing me into a vast leather armchair.
'What in heaven's name has come over you? You're not seriously thinking of leaving us.'
'I'm afraid so,' I muttered.
'But why? What's the matter?'
My eyes wandered for a moment to the picture that hung behind Kissel's desk. It was a portrait not of President von Hindenburg or of Kaiser Wilhelm but of Rudi Caracciola. 'It's racing that's the matter,' I said. 'I'm only half-alive without it, an office desk doesn't suit me.'
Dr. Kissel gave me a long, earnest look. 'You shall have your racing,' he said solemnly. 'I promise you that, while I have any say here, we'll be building racing-cars again, as soon as it's economically possible.' My heart lifted. Then I realized with a shock of alarm that I had already signed a provisional contract with the Auto-Union.
'Let me see it,' said Kissel.
He read through it quickly. When he saw the salary they were offering me he raised his eyebrows. Then he folded the document carefully. 'Please leave this with me,' he said. 'I'll arrange it somehow. As for your salary, you can earn as much with us as the Auto-Union have offered-and a bit more. As from today.' I was lucky. I could at least afford to wait till motor racing became economically possible' again.
Of course that is Neubauer's story and while it is most unlikely that Dr Kissel could afford to lose such an obviously talented racing team manager, especially to arch rivals at Auto Union, it is decidedly unlikely that Neubauer ever had any intention of leaving. There are those who insist Mercedes-Benz were already planning a return racing, and Neubauer knew this to be the case; after all he might not have been 'Rennabteilung' but he wasn't unemployed, so he must have heard all the company gossip and rumours. Perhaps this story masks his own plan to force the hand of Kissel into returning to racing sooner rather than later.
Whatever the truth of the situation Alfred Neubauer remained at Mercedes and six months later Willy Walb signed a contract with Auto Union and left Daimler-Benz.
With the promise of a Mercedes-Benz return to GP racing Neubauer spent 1933 building the foundations of a new team. Hans Niebel would lead the design team and naturally the big man wanted to build the driving staff around his great friend Rudy Caracciola, the man who more than any other had kept the Mercedes name at the forefront of racing during the companies official absence.
Neubauer's plans were severely disrupted when Caracciola fell victim to an horrendous accident at Tabac corner during practice for that years Monaco GP. Terribly injured Caracciola climbed slowly out of his badly damaged Alfa Romeo Mozna, but as he stepped to the ground he collapsed, caught by Louis Chiron who had stopped just behind him. That was when Rudi realized how seriously things had gone wrong. He had a compound fracture of the thigh and some facial injuries. The fracture required repeated operations to his hip and it appeared for some time that Caracciola's career was over. But “Don Alfred” new the importance of keeping Caracciola's spirits up and assured him that he would always have a place on the Mercedes team.
Alfred Neubauer travelled to Caracciola's chalet in Lugano in November 1933 intending to sign him for the 1934 racing season; if he was fit. When Neubauer challenged Rudi Caracciola to walk he did so laughing and smiling. But his right leg had healed 5cm (2inches) shorter than his left, producing a noticeable limp.
Neubauer was not fooled at all; but he still offered Caracciola a contract for 1934 provided he prove his fitness in testing at the AVUS track early in the next year. Caracciola agreed and went to Stuttgart to sign the contract however, the journey wore him out to such an extent that he spent most of his time lying on his hotel bed recuperating.
In the mean time Neubauer still had a job to do for Mercedes and he chose Manfred von Brauchitsch and Luigi Fagioli as team drivers, the later proving a somewhat controversial choice.
The developing political situation was also to play a part in the German motor racing teams sporting ambitions. Herr Adolf Hitler felt that it was important for the greater glory of the Third Reich, and Germany as a whole, that all sports were exploited; as a self professed motoring enthusiast racing seamed a natural showcase for this avowed German superiority. As such the Nazi regime sponsored both Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union between 1934 and the outbreak of World War 2.
Hitler's obsession with Aryan superiority came at a price. While cash was given the cars would have to carry logos and the Nazi party instigated it's own department for motor racing. The National Socialist Motor Corps (Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps, NSKK), existed from 1931 to 1945 and took over publicity and organisation in order to promote German motoring superiority in the best light. It was interfering and overbearing; and expected all German racing drivers to join; and by expected we mean insisted, as did they! From 1934 the NSKK was headed by Adolf Hühnlein who attended all the races with a body of officials and marching standard bearers, all with total expectation of a German victory and accepting no excuses. While Neubauer bought with him a real presence and great success through hard work, there was something tragically comical about the NSKK's posturing and expressions of winning as a right, but there was nothing comical about the power they could bring down on descenting people.
In February1934, Caracciola was hit by another tragedy when is wife Charlotte died while skiing with in the Swiss Alps, the party she was was hit by an avalanche. Initially Caracciola withdrew almost entirely from public life and agonised over whether to retire from motor racing completely. Both Alfred Neubauer and Louis Chiron were crucial to Rudi Caracciola's recovery and return to racing. Louis Chiron arranged for Caracciola to drive a lap of honour before the 1934 Monaco Grand Prix on the 2nd of April. Later in April Carraciola tested the new Mercedes-Benz W25 at the AVUS track, these experiences persuaded him to return to racing and, despite his injuries, he was cleared to race.
With the influx of money in place, Mercedes-Benz planned an all-out assault on GP racing, which started with the introduction of the Hans Niebel designed W25. At the Avus Rennen in late May Mercedes practice times compared unfavourably to Auto Union's and Neubauer withdrew the Mercedes team for “technical reasons” from the race. It seems an error in the fuel supply systems occurred and it could only be corrected back at the factory. Neubauer also went so far as to suggest the cars should not race again until the French GP at Montlhéry on the 1st of July, missing the Eifelrennen completely. This idea did not go down at all well; to miss the German races was unthinkable to the political regime and in simple terms if Mercedes did not run at the Nürburgring, Neubauer would have been out of a job.
According to Mercedes-Benz-historian Dr. Josef Ernst, Alfred Neubauer took the matter personally and went all out to ensure the W25 cars would be ready. According to team mechanic Herman Lang the cars finish had to be perfect and a lot of lead based filler putty was used to smooth out the surface before the paint finish was applied. Mercedes-Benz boss Kissel also stated that the team worked hard to ensure every detail was perfect.
This meant the actual race debut of the W25 would be at the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring 3rd of June 1934. However, the Mercedes W25 cars were very nearly excluded from the race, an incident later transformed by Alfred Neubauer to explain why the German cars abandoned their traditional racing white and turn a near disaster into another triumph.
Neubauer wrote in his memoirs that during scrutineering for the Eifelrennen the W25 cars were found to exceed the new GP rules 750kg maximum weight limit excluding tires and fuel. As the cars are hand built it is entirely possible that there might be a weight differential which may range up to 751 or even 752kg. Neubauer goes on to record that he came with the ingenious idea to remove the white paint from the body panels, Manfred von Brauchitsch confirms the idea although says it was a joint one that occurred in conversation between them.
Either way the mechanics stayed up all night carefully scrapping off all the paint and polishing the exposed bare metalwork. Next morning the cars were checked again and found to be under the legal limit, thus declared free to participate in the race. The Silver Arrows were born.
While the result of this race is known fact the rise of the 'Silver Arrows' (Silberpfeil in German) story is disputed. As the race was run under 'Formula Libre' regulations there was no need for the cars to conform to the 750kg weight limit. That said it is reasonable to argue that Mercedes knew weight would be critical for the coming GP races and that the 750kg target still had to be met.
The autobiographies of Neubauer (1959) and von Brauchitsch (1964) both repeat the paint-stripping story as does a later (1980s) interview with then team mechanic Hermann Lang and verbal confirmation from much respected Mercedes engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut, despite the fact that he wasn't actually with the team until 1936. Hermann Lang, (1939 European Champion for Mercedes-Benz) was racing mechanic for Fagioli in 1934 and he is report in "Racing the Silver Arrows" book as recalling:-
"It was decided to pull down the colour, and we started grinding the car. should look perfect, ... so a lot of putty was applied. Presumably it was more of a filler that brought our cars over the weight limit. When it was all down sanded back, we covered the cars with a thin layer of aluminium colour. From then on they were always silver"
Unfortunately he doesn't mention the actual colour of the original paint.
Further more German cars had been running in silver for some time prior to this event. Mercedes own press release for the new W25 GP car described it as "ein silberne Pfeil", a silvered arrow, as early as the 1st of March, 1934.
Auto Union's record car had run earlier at AVUS under the name of 'silver streaker'. Auto Union also ran it's cars at the Avusrennen in May in silver-grey. The Mercedes cars were reported as 'silver-seaters' (though this may well be a translation error) and the Ullstein newspaper "BZ" printed that as the competitors cars were unloaded at the AVUS circuit the Mercedes-Benz racing cars were delivered in "painted silver".
Doug Nye's research proved that even as early as 1932 a Mercedes had run in silver paint. Radio commentary of the 1932 AvusRennen includes Paul Laven (Germany's Murray Walker of the day), describing Brauchitsch's Mercedes-Benz bursting into sight saying: "Hier kommt der silberne Pfeil." Von Brauchitsch was actually driving the 7.1-litre Mercedes-Benz SSKL which had raced there the year before but this time the 270hp car was wearing an effective, but unsightly, streamliner body; painted silver. This car was actually prepared in just two weeks by Vetter in Cannstatt and not an actual Mercedes team entry.
Some sources argue that the W25 cars were never painted white in the first place. However in a test drive in March 1934, the record holder Ernst Henne crashed dramatically at the Nürburgring. A picture of the wreck in Chris Nixon's book "Racing the Silver Arrows" clearly shows the wheels of the very bent W25 painted white. Just because the wheels were white doesn't prove the car was though.
German journalist Eberhard Reuss produced the 1999 testimony of 1934 team mechanic Eugen Reichle: "The cars had never been painted white, so there was no paint to grind off."
Caracciola is also on record as describing the W25 as a white racing car when he tested it to prove his fitness. In his biography "My World" he recalls : - "The car was there, small and white."
Hungarian press photographer Zoltán Glass working for Berlin newspaper "Berliner Tageblatt" also photographed a white painted W25 Mercedes-Benz in practice for the Eifelrennen. The images were thought to be lost but Glass, born a Jew, left Germany in 1938 and went to work in London. His life's work ended up in the British National Media Museum in Bradford. A series of negatives were discovered there which not only show a white car but also later images from the race where one you can clearly see that the white paint was sanded away, and some of the wheels were still white.
Mercedes boss Wilhelm Kissel later stated that :-
"Through effort it all has become possible for us to make at least two cars ready for the Eifel race. For Fagioli and von Brauchitsch”. “In training the Mercedes race car a few laps went in white".
A Stuttgart symposium's review of the contemporary factory photographs reveals something different. They found that photo's used as evidence that early W25s were painted white were actually heavily retouched and the original negatives showed plain evidence of a silver finish.
The general consensus is that Neubauer was more likely to have embroidered the story rather than to have lied. Apparently the metal was coated with a kind of oven bronze silver coating, light and easily smoothed for better aerodynamics, the “putty” mentioned by Lang. It is conceivable as Lang also said that this added to the weight of the car so it appears that if the cars were ever stripped, it was of silver paint - and the leaden filler beneath it - not white paint.
Neubauer was an inflexible perfectionist when it came to the racing team and the cars so how had this oversight occurred, who knows? Neubauer's reputation was vigorously defended by his biographer, Harvey T. Rowe who recalled that during his interview in 1958 he had asked Neubauer only one question. Rowe wistfully recalling :- "I never did manage to ask a second question". The great man then began a torrent of recollections into the microphone and didn't pause until the tape ran out!
Whatever the truth of the Silver Arrows story von Brauchitsch's superb handling of the silver grey car produced a famous victory, the cars were thereafter always silver and the name “the Silver Arrows" was a common term for the German cars; Mercedes and Auto union; a name still used today for the Mercedes F1 cars.
Caracciola did make the start for the French GP at Montlhéry on the 1st of July. However, non of the Mercedes W25s of Caracciola, Fagioli & von Brauchitsch, or any of the Auto Unions finished the race, clearing the way for a clean sweep of Alfa Romeo 'tipo B' machines. Most disappointing for the German propaganda machine as well as Neubauer and the team.
Great things were expected for the VII Großer Preis von Deutschland (7th German Grand Prix) on the 15th of July at the Nürburgring six weeks after the Eifelrennen. After the humiliation of the French race, and now in front of an enthusiastic German crowd, this really was must win event for both Silver Arrow teams. But the event did not start well, both the German teams lost drivers to ill-heath and had to draft in replacements. Hans Geier was summoned by Mercedes to substitute for Henne who was sick only for von Brauchitsch to crash in practice and add to the teams driver crisis. At Auto Union it was zu Leiningen who fell ill and Ernst Burggaller who stepped up.
Once the race actually got underway the teams set off to please the home crowd. Stuck leading with Caracciola pressing hard right behind him. This fierce battle saw the lap record fall several times before Caracciola passed Stuck on the outside of the Karussel on lap 13. The stress of the chase had taken it's toll on Caracciola's car and he fell out of the running leaving Fagioli to chase Hans Stuck with the Alfa of Louis Chiron running in third.
Geier brought his Mercedes home a creditable fifth although mechanical problems forced out all the other German cars the Auto Union - Mercedes 1-2 finish soothed the Nazi contingent as well as pleasing the crowd. Rudi Caracciola had also proved to everyone he back to being a powerful force which people underestimated at their peril. All of which went a long way to putting a smile on Neubauer's face.
In very hot Italian weather on the 9th of September Caracciola resumed his chase of Stuck. And the pair entertained the Monza crowd for 59 laps. At that point he was overwhelmed by the pain in his leg and handed his car over to teammate Fagioli. Fagioli won the battle and Mercedes had another victory with Auto Union this time taking the 2nd spot. If Neubauer was pleased with Fagioli at this point it wasn't to last. A fortnight later in Spain the Fagioli passed Caracciola against Neubauer's orders. Mercedes took a strong 1-2 result but Neubauer was far from happy with Fagioli.
At the end of the 1934 season Mercedes had won four Grand Prix and Caracciola had taken first at the important Klausenpass hillclimb. The Germans had set out their stall for the coming years were the only Grand Prix wins Neubauer's team missed were scooped up by the Auto Union race team. It should be mentioned at this point the involvement of the Nazi Party did not actually influence the many talented designers, mechanics and drivers that created the racing victories. Nor does it infer that they agreed with or supported the Nazi's. The accomplishments of the of the Silver Arrows teams should remain undiminished by the political situation of the era. Neubauer was one of the very few people who (in the right company) dared to take the mickey out of Herr Hitler.
There was however a sad end to the year when talented designer Dr Hans Niebel died, Otto Schilling stepped into his place.
In 1935 Hitler's meddling in the racing teams increased when he told Adolf Hühnlein, head of the NSKK, that only German drivers could drive in German teams. Alfred Neubauer ignores Hitler's instructions and continues to hire the best drivers available; his loyalty is to Mercedes not the Nazi Party.
The new 3.99ltr, 460hp, W25 was now a technological marvel attended by white coveralled mechanics who looked more like laboratory assistants than vehicle mechanics. The cars were lovingly tended with the engines having electrically heated blankets, all the lubricants being heated before introduction to the engines and the fuel was a cocktail of chemicals later used to power V1 rockets in the Second World War.
Next to the other cars still wearing their national racing colours the German Silver Arrows looked awesome to the 100.000 spectators inundating Monaco. Once practice for the Monaco GP started everyone else joined the crowds in awe as the power of the cars saw the opposition simply left behind when the Mercedes shot up the rise to Beau Rivage. Caracciola shattered the previous lap record in a time of 1'56"6. The fastest Alfa Romeo P3 in the hands of the great Nuvolari only manage 1'59.4"; basically 3 sec's a lap slower!
According to Philippe Etancelin, “If you are passed in the tunnel by a Mercedes it sounds as if they are cutting the tunnel in half with a circular saw.”
In the race the Mercedes cars of Fagioli and Caracciola set off at an infernal pace. Von Brauchitsch's gearbox failed on the first lap but Fagioli set a new race lap record at 2’02”, then 1’58.6” followed by 1’58.4”. By 10 laps distance the Alfa's of Dreyfus and Nuvolari were more than 30 seconds behind and the strident overwhelming noise of the Mercedes compressor engines announced to everyone that the Mercedes cars intended to win.
Then Caracciola started losing ground and his engine gave up. Seeing the tactical situation Neubauer ordered Fagioli to slow down to 2’06”, and then 2’08”, a lap to protect his car and bring home the victory.
Mercedes won more than half the Grand Prix in 1935 with the W25s becoming hard to beat. Rudi Caracciola and Luigi Fagioli won 10 major races between them.
1936 Mercedes found their greatest rival was no longer from France or
Italy but was the Horch, DKW, Audi and Wanderer association called
"Auto Union". Their Ferdinand Porsche designed rear-engined
racing car was more than novel, it was 20 years ahead of its time;
and in the hands of former motorcycle racer Bernd Rosemeyer it was a
winner. Of the four European championship races held that year the
Rosemeyer/AutoUnion combination won three, leaving little room for
Mercedes to shine despite their new car.
The 1936 Mercedes was 25cm shorter in the wheel base and included a transverse gearbox and a de Dion rear axle which helped make it a smaller car. So small that the rather tall Manfred von Brauchitsch could not fit into it properly. But that wasn't the only problem for the team, the new 5.6ltr V12 engine known as the DAB might have produced 600bhp but it made the car seriously overweight. In time the designers managed to squeeze it in under the weight limit but in doing so made the car so unruly it was almost undrivable. Mercedes returned to the straight-eight ME25 unit but increased it to 4.7ltr capacity and 450bhp. These engines had to be built and put into the new cars in a hurry, testing and development was limited and reliability proved an issue. The Mercedes W25K gave Mercedes their worst season ever.
A new young engineer called Rudolf Uhlenhaut was drafted in to help Schilling sort out the car for the next season and it was a great move on Neubauer's part. It turned out Uhlenhaut was also an exceptional driver, some say as good as the works team drivers, and he soon found the problems in the W25. Basically the chassis was too week and the springs too stiff so what suspension there was was in the frame not in the springs and shock absorbers. In one high speed test Uhlenhaut lost a rear wheel off the W25 and the car continued as though nothing happened. He later explained :-
"it was like driving a motorcycle with a sidecar!"
Neubauer's continuing drive for Mercedes success also had a downside on the human front. The rivalry of Caracciola and Fagioli was getting out of hand and the Italian driver was being openly critical of Neubauer's successful racing strategies. In his role as race director at the GPs Alfred Neubauer had repeatedly ordered Fagioli to reduce his speed and hold station behind Carcciola to keep a safe result for Mercedes.
While Neubauer expected relentless discipline in the team this whole situation was too much for Fagioli and the Italian left the Untertürkheimer team at the end of the season. There are many stories of how and why Fagioli left Mercedes. Certainly he was frustrated because like all racing drivers he wanted to win. Neubauer was equally frustrated that Fagioli wasn't a 'team player' so the parting of the ways was inevitable. It must be said though that Fagioli was a talented driver and very capable of winning, Neubauer saw that talent but he didn't bank on the temperament.
Neubauer continued to antagonise the Nazi officials too. The financial package might have seen 400,000 marks paid to Daimler-Benz AG and Auto Union but the money came with strings. The Nazi regime's interference became evermore invasive and irked Neubauer more and more. For instance the NSKK officials, or “army worms” as Neubauer called them, Hitler attached to the team now had to be ferried about by aeroplane, which was maintained almost exclusively from the Untertürkheimer coffers.
In a move even more likely to upset the Nazi's than the hiring of Fagioli, Neubauer hired Dick Seamen, an exceptional young English talent, for the 1937 season.
Neubauer actually had to persuade Adolf Hitler to give Mercedes permission to keep Dick Seaman which goes against Neubauer's late 1950s memoirs when he oddly dismissive of Seaman's remarkable early career. In Neubauer's version Seaman only got a test drive because he had come along to the Nurburgring with his friend Christian Kautz for Kautz' test. The chances of Neubauer being unaware of Richard Seaman's exploits in a 10-year old Delage during 1936 are pretty slim. But he insisted in telling the story thus :-
"There remained only the tall, fair haired Englishman whom Kautz had brought with him," he wrote "I saw no harm in letting him try his hand. But as soon as he started I realised that this young man had real talent. His first lap was excellent; his best lap time was 10 mins 03secs. Only then did I learn something of his history."
Quite how Neubauer forgot he had personally sent a telegram to Seaman inviting him to the tests in November 1936 is a typically Alfred.
Talking of Neubauer's knack for spotting budding champions, and disregard of rank or status, he offered Hermann Lang, a mechanic, the chance to race a Grand Prix car for 1937 too. Something that was most upsetting to the more aristocratic von Brauchitsch.
If the 1936 W25k had been a troublesome car then the new W125 was the opposite and the lessons learned during the pre-season tests would set the stage for a period of success for Mercedes that other teams could only dream of and only Mercedes would equal in the next 50 years.
The winning started (and so did the intra-team rivalries) at the Tripoli GP, held at Mellaha on the 9th of May, when newcomer Hermann Lang upset the upper class Caracciola/von Brauchitsch drivers by winning the race. If that upset Caracciola then imagine how he felt when a frustrated Luigi Fagioli, now driving for German rivals Auto Union, threw a wheel hammer at him!
On the 30th of May the team wrangling intensified when Lang, the ex-mechanic, won the prestigious Avusrennen in Berlin. Niether Caracciola or von Brauchitsch finished but this mattered little to the Prussian aristocrat von Brauchitsch, his simmering resentment continued to grow.
The European Championship season actually got off to a slow start for Mercedes with Auto-Union leading them home at the Eifelrennen and again at the Belgian GP; although Caracciola netted second at the Eifelrennen with von Brauchitsch and Lang securing third on the respective occasions. Squeezed between these races was the 1937 Vanderbilt cup and Auto-Union won that too, Rosemeyer forcing Seaman to accept second place for Mercedes.
The pressure on Mercedes to win at the Nürburgring was huge. Having missed out in the Eifelrennen winning the German GP was essential. In practice for the German GP Bernd Rosemeyer stunned the pitlane on the 17th of July, his Auto-Union setting a time of 9m46.2s. Caracciola’s Mercedes best time to that point was 10m5s, over 18s slower!
The story goes that Rosemeyer suggested to Neubauer nobody could beat his time and even offered a prize of 2000Marks for any driver who could get a lap time under 9m 50s. Neubauer accepted the bet and ordered Hermann Lang to go out and beat the limit. Neubauer and Rosemeyer watched from the pits and as Lang approached Neubauer stopped his watch and showed Rosemeyer a time of 9m 49s! The startled, and not a little agitated, Rosemeyer set of to the timekeepers only to find Lang's actual time was 9m 52.2s, even more upset he then ran back to the chuckling Neubauer who had cunningly stopped the watch before Lang got to the line. ‘Don Alfredo’ might have lost the bet but he was still a happy man, he recorded in his memoirs “I knew how important it can be to get your opponent rattled…”
The event must have been quite a talking point as not only did Rosemeyer later give Neubauer white linen helmets but around 34 years later Ferry Porsche gave a present to Neubauer on his 80th Birthday. It was the stopwatch Porsche senior had been timing the Auto-Union cars with that day, it was set upon an engraved black marble base with the hands placed for all time at 9m46.2s.
When all the times were set Rosemeyer had, as expected, taken pole position. But second fastest was Herman Lang and that was not expected; particularly by the aristocratic von Brauchitsch. His simmering dislike of the low born ex-mechanic who beat him at the Avus rennen boiled over when he was out qualified by almost 3 secs. Von Brauchitsch, who considered himself a Nürburgring expert, was apoplectic and it took all of Neubauer's skills to calm him down. This might have been the start of the Caracciola and von Brauchitsch anti-Lang alliance that would rear it's head again in Italy.
If the gamesmanship was one side of Neubauer it was the only tool he would employ in order to secure victory for Mercedes. At the same meeting when von Brauchitsch crashed one of the Mercedes Neubauer was immediately in contact with Stuttgart demanding a replacement car be delivered by special transporter capable of a top speed of 120kph; and that it be followed by and empty truck in case the transported broke down! Neubauer could be a monster when he needed to be but he got results.
On race day, the 25th of July, Rudi Caracciola won the German GP. Von Brauchitsch was second beating Rosemeyer back into 3rd place. What should have been a very joyful result was tempered by the accident Richard Seaman had with Ernst von Delius on lap six. They had been battling for honours between the two German teams when they collided and were put out of the race. The 25 year old von Delius was to die from a thrombosis resulting from his injuries.
If Neubauer had been relieved when the fiery Luigi Fagioli left Mercedes at the end of 1936, then it was only a temporary respite in the intra-team complications. At Monaco an almost unthinkable act of rudeness occurred that would seriously sour the relationship between the ‘Fat Controller’ and Manfred von Brauchitsch.
Mercedes Monaco GP story is set against several rather unrelated stories which were converging uncontrollably. Caracciola was team leader and Neubauer’s obvious favourite but he was still hampered by his injuries and von Brauchitsch believed he was quicker and deserved victories. Lang was absent from Monaco due to a bout of influenza and reserve driver Christian Kautz stood in meaning the rivalry between the two regular drivers would be driving the team.
Caracciola was also embroiled in another situation. His long-time friend Louis Chiron had been courting Alice ‘Baby’ Hoffman but when he turned down Hoffman’s offers of marriage she started seeing Caracciola and they were married on 19th of June, 1937. The Suave Monégasque Chiron was furious at what he saw as a public snub and was plotting with his ‘new best friend', von Brauchitsch. Louis had joined Mercedes-Benz to be an ally and bulwark for Caracciola against Fagioli, but things were now a bit different.
In practice the reserve driver, Christian Kautz, had ignored an ‘In’ sign and crashed on the extra lap. Neubauer reprimanded Kautz in no uncertain terms, setting his usual precedents for discipline. Little did he know his more senior drivers would flout his orders to a much greater, and more public, extent in the race itself.
On the 8th of August Auto Union’s only real hope in the GP lay with Bernd Rosemeyer. When he crashed into in the sandbags at the Gasworks Hairpin, before even 20 of the 100 laps had been completed, the stage was set for the Mercedes fraternity battle. Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch would now exploit all the performance advantage of Rudi Uhlenhaut’s W125 design and fight it out for the victory.
In Neubauers mind nothing could be allowed to interfere with the smooth running of the team and everyone should dutifully play their part for the best 'Team' result. With von Brauchitsch leading Neubauer waved his flags to order Manfred to let the Team leader (and Neubauer's favourite) through for the win. Von Brauchitsch increased his pace!
Monaco was already a circuit deemed unsuitable for 1200bhp GP cars, yet Neubauer, risking life (or more possibly limb), took to the track to wave his flag and restore team order. Manfred von Brauchitsch continued to ignore him and the pair thundered past Neuubauer side-by-side. Motor Sport magazine would later report that :- “Von Brauchitsch was driving superbly and seemed to be putting more effort into his work than all the others.”
Eventually von Brauchitsch did acknowledge Neubauer’s message; he looked at Neubauer and stuck his tongue out! Ten laps of all-out war ensued on track, Rudi Caracciola twice attempting to slither down the inside of von Brauchitsch at Sainte Dévote only to be beaten back by von Brauchitsch's devil-may-care defence. The emotional von Brauchitsch tended to race for the moment, Caracciola was more conservative nursing his tyres, ekeeing out mpg and as a result won more races. But now the pressure was on him
The pressure finally told when Caracciola’s engine went off song midway through the race. He spent 3min 15sec in the pits for a new set of spark plugs added to the usual refuel and new rear tyres, Von Brauchitsch now led by a lap. Caracciola was now fired up and on lap 76 set a fastest lap almost 12sec faster than the 1935 race (1936 being incomparably due rain). He closed in on Manfred who, confident of success, happily waved Caracciola back onto the lead lap. As pride often comes before a fall von Brauchitsch next went horribly wrong, while reports say a front brake jammed on the furious Manfred insisted that the meddlesome Neubauer had deliberately hampered his stop. Whatever the truth von Brauchitsch re-emerge from the pits with only a slender lead over the charging Rudi Caracciola.
On lap 80 Caracciola passed von Brauchitsch when Manfred handed Rudi the crown of the road and let him pass. Whether Manfred had a change of heart and decided to stay on Neubauer's good side, or whether this was a tactical trick, is debated widely but as Caracciola pitted just two laps later the cars positions were reversed putting von Brauchitsch back in the lead.
At the finish the Mercedes team could finally relax. Von Brauchitsch took a rare victory and all the desperate racing had not robbed the team of a certain one-two. Manfred von Brauchitsch and second-placed Rudi Caracciola were all smiles on the podium, even though reserve driver Kautz grabbed an excellent third place Neubauer remained annoyed with von Brauchitsch.
The incident certainly had an impact on the relationship between von Brauchitsch and Neubauer although there was no dispute between the two drivers. Neither von Brauchitsch or Neubauer were particularly keen on the other with Manfred later describing the relationship between the three men thus :-
"We [Carraciola and von Brauchitsch] ate a lot and drank a lot together," "We had the same interests. But after Monaco, Neubauer didn't speak to me anymore, and I began to suffer small, inexplicable problems with my cars."
Mercedes awkward driver issues continued at the Swiss GP, held at Bremgarten on the 22nd of August, as Lang recovered returned from illness. The result was a Mercedes-Benz 1-2-3, Caracciola winning but followed home by Lang then the uptight von Brauchitsch.
At the Italian GP at Livorno Rudolf Caracciola realised that Von Brauchitsch’s melodramatic feud with Lang could be of use to him in keeping Lang off his tail. While Caraciola was on the verge of becoming the European Champion Lang refused to give way to Caracciola during the race until Neubauer gave Hermann Lang a serious telling off during a pit stop; even then Lang only let Caracciola win by an unsubtly small margin. The result on the 12th of September was a Mercedes 1-2 for Caracciola and Lang but von Brauchitsch didn't finish due to mechanical problems.
For the 1937 Czech Grand Prix known as the Masaryk Grand Prix held at the Masaryk Circuit (a 29.1 km long course in what is now Brno) Alfred Neubauer was back in the lands of his birth. One might wonder if his ability to speak the Czech language, and his contacts with Czech racers and their teams, facilitated the Mercedes involvement with this race. The race was on 26th September and after more than 437km it was Mercedes again taking the laurels, Caracciola first from von Brauchitsch in second.
So 1937 was a successful year for Neubauer and Mercedes-Benz, despite the driver problems, but Neubauer might well have been a little nervous about the coming year.
1938 was one of those times when the powers that be exercised their right to curb the power of the racing machines. Keeping the speed of the highest level racing machines in check has been a recurring problem since the earliest days of organised motor racing and it continues to this day. The 750kg formula gave way to an engine size formula in which supercharged engines from 666cc to 3000cc were pitted against normally aspirated engines between 1000cc and 4500cc. The cars weight was dependent upon it's engine capacity following a linear scale between 400kg and 850kg.
The Untertürkheim engineers developed a new package that was instantly as fast as their previous 750kg car, the W163 used it's 480hp engine to hit a maximum top speed of 400kph, and the competition organising bodies plan to reduce dangerous racing speeds was blown away before it began. Mercedes would win 13 Grand Prix in the season and a half up to the outbreak of World War two. But more than that the ongoing speed record battle with Auto-Union continued unabated.
Daimler-Benz came up with a radical new speed record design to rival those designed for Auto-Union by the great Ferdinand Porsche and Neubauer's organisational skills were the guiding force behind the whole adventure. The new car was revolutionary in having what we now call ground effects. In short the ground clearance was so small a vacuum was created under the car and helped it gain grip and stability. However no one should think that Neubauer's corporate ambition would have him gamble with the life or death of his drivers and at this time when power exceeded grip Neubauer's ethical standing reached its actual limits on the 28th of January, 1938.
During speed runs on a closed section of the Frankfurt - Darmstadt autobhan Rudolf Caracciola set a fastest time in the Mercedes-Benz of 432kph. Caracciola described the incident as follows:-
He (Neubauer) says: "'Will you really not try again?' 'No' 'I (Caracciola) say.' 'And why not'?' urged Neubauer 'It is too windy on the track and it has still frost on the left. 'Neubauer comes very close to me.' 'In an hour Rosemeyer will appear here', "he says emphatically. '' He wants to try to get your record again ... '
"It is a shock for a moment, I see! '” Like a picture in front of me. Two steel armored prehistoric animals that race against each other until one has to leave the track' “No, I do not go', I say."
An hour later, the blonde-National Hero Bernd Rosemeyer achieved on the record car of the Auto Union at the first attempt nearly 430 hours kilometers. At the second attempt, he was on a short section of the course, and without the slope or trees was left to side wind, caught by a squall. Thus ended the life of Bernd Rosemeyer.
Carraciola's top speed of 432.7 kph remained the record, Neubauer understood Rudi's stance and wouldn't push him beyond what the driver saw as the limit for that day. His response to the death of Rosemyer is also touching. Many years later when Neubauer's diaries went on sale it was found he noted the death of Rosemeyer with a simple cross alongside his name.
Neubauer loved his drivers but was generally a always the person in command and had the last word. Apparently the only time Neubauer was left speechless was after the incident in the 1938 Nurburgring GP. The Mercedes pair of Manfred von Brauchitsch and Dick Seamen were leading with the Englishman hounding the German all the way. When the cars pulled in for a pit stop von Brauchitsch complained to Neubauer: "Seaman sits permanently in my neck that makes me crazy!". Afraid that the team could loose a secure double victory Neubauer rushed to Seamen and told him "Let this time Manfred lead the race to the end. We will pay you back at the English Grand Prix".
As von Brauchitsch car was restarted it burst into flames and Neubauer himself pulled Manfred from the burning car. He then turned to see that, incredulously, Seamen was still just sitting there. He ran to Seamen demanding to know why he hadn't rejoined the race. "For God's sake, why do you not drive off yet!" Dick Seamen grinned and replied “Sir; you gave me very clear instructions not to over take Manfred under any circumstances.”
Neubauer was dumbfounded as the laughing Seamen roared out of the pits and went on to take the race victory.
Sadly this is another of those myths that Neubauer embellished over time, and that others readily bought into. Even Caracciola retells it in his autobiography “A Racing Driver's World”. Film footage of the incident indeed shows Neubauer pull von Brauchitsch from the cockpit, and turn to look at Seamen. By that time Seamen's car had already been pushed away from the incident and the starter motor is being fitted. By the time Neubauer could move towards Seamen's car Dick was already roaring away and not a word was exchanged between them.
What is fact is that few expenses were spared by Mercedes-Benz racing department under Neubauer's direction. For instance during practice for the British Grand Prix, a hole was discovered in one of the welded water jackets of an engine. Neubauer ordered a specialist welding expert be flown from Stuttgart to England. The welder completed the job in three minutes and flew back to Germany almost immediately afterwards.
The 1939 season started with the usual early races held in April. First the popular round the houses race that took place in Pau, France, where Hermann Lang won it for Mercedes. Next up was the much vaunted Tripoli GP held on the 7th of May.
Like many others the Italians were fed up of the Germans winning all the Grand Prix so they hit on the idea of holding the Tripoli GP under voiturette regulations knowing that Mercedes-Benz did not have a voiturette car with which to compete. Italy was doing very well in this category with both Maserati and Alfa-Romeo having winning cars available. Neubauer saw this as a deliberate attempt to shut Mercedes out of the race and duly ensured the Daimler-Benz Board were outraged by the perceived snub. Neubauer had actually know about this rule change situation since the 1938 Italian GP (the 11th September, 1938, to be precise), when the president of the Italian sports federation told him the news with what Neubauer later described as a "honey sweet smile". The special meeting of the Daimler-Benz Board was held 4 days later and 3 days after that Neubauer had the permission he needed to set up a secret project tasked to produce three 1½ ltr cars that could compete in the Tripoli GP; they even had permission to work 24hrs a day if required!
One can only guess the consternation felt by the organisers when they received the official entry from Mercedes for a two car team at the race. It is known that there were a lot of telegrams sent back and forth while the organisers confirmed that Daimler-Benz understood the rules and that the would actually have two eligible cars at the race on time.
This was actually a fair point in that the development period of a top flight racing car can be several years in the process, in this case Mercedes-Benz designed, tested and produced two new cars in just eight months. Caracciola's car was actually tested at Hockenheim prior to embarkation to North Africa but Lang's car was finished on the ship on the trip across the Med'. Actually the two cars were different but mostly in the ranges of what we today call “set up”. Caracciola's was set up for higher acceleration and had 15.5mm torsion bars and quick steering ratio. Lang's was engineered towards higher top speed, had 16mm torsion bars and a slower steering ratio. To tell the cars apart on the race track Caracciola's car was identifiable by a white ring around the radiator while Lang's car featured a dark blue one.
Pre-race practice saw Neubauer busy smoothing some feathers and ruffling others. Villonesi set fastest time on Friday and no one could beat it in the Saturday sessions leaving the Mercedes team in crisis. Neubauer, worried about the 52 degree track temperatures, sent Lang out to do some fast laps to scrub a set of tyres so they could stand up to the race temperatures and last that bit longer. Caracciola saw Lang go out and lost his temper with Neubauer. Insisting he was the number one driver and angry at what he saw as Neubauer trying to fix Lang in front of him on the grid he promptly turned around and walked off screaming he had had enough. At that point Neubauer realized Lang had disappeared too. He found Lang comforting his distraught wife in a palm grove behind the pits, she had reached the limit of her patience with Caracciola's jealousy and demanded Lang never race with him again; and Lang agreed. Her anger extended to Neubauer too and recognising the situation Neubauer deferred to Mercedes' director Max Sailer who managed at least to persuade Lang to continue driving. Lang went back out and set the fastest time of the day 3m42.35s and put himself second on the grid. However, the troubles resurfaced when Neubauer revealed his race tactics at a meeting of the Mercedes team held that evening. His plan was to send Lang off at full speed on the scrubbed tyres and break the opposition. Caracciola, on new tyres, was to take it easy and do a short pit stop just for fuel capitalising on the oppositions mechanical failures. Caracciola then thought Neubauer was planning to put Lang out of reach and demanded scrubbed tyres too. Neubauer then lost his temper, there were no more scrubbed tyres and carried on to remind Caracciola that it was his own fault he didn't have a set of scrubbed tyres as he had walked out on the session. Once again it fell to Max Sailer to calm things down and remind both drivers they were responsible for ensuring eight months of work in the factory had not been in vain.
On the 7th of May 1939 the Tripoli GP was almost ready to run when Lang realised the starting procedure was confusing. Oddly the event was to be started both by lights and by Marshal Balbo waving a flag. He asked Neubauer which was the official system and for once Neubauer didn't have the answer. He rushed away to find out and reappeared frantically pointing to the lights. As everyone else was looking at Marshal Balbo's flag when the lights changed Lang made "his best start ever". The flag fell a second or so later and off went the others amidst screams of false start and other protests from the Alfa Corse team. Neubauer's reply, as if he had known all along, “Just blame yourselves for not knowing the rules”.
At the finish line the Mercedes W165 cars took fist and second places. Lang had been in a position to actually lap Caracciola but decided, perhaps wisely, not too. Neubauer stood by smiling as the Italians astonishment gave way to bitterness. The two cars, built in just eight months, went back in their boxes and were never raced again. They ended up sitting out World War Two in Switzerland titled as the private property of Rudolf Caracciola, but after the war they were confiscated by the Allies as enemy property. I'm sure the Italians felt the same way, and would have loved to do the same, when the wheels stopped turning at Mellaha. For the record Lang won from Caracciola, which can't have sat well with Carraciola.
The next race for Mecedes-Benz was the Eifelrennen just two weeks later at the Nürburgring. Auto Union had no less than six drivers at the race and Mercedes were out in force with five cars. One being the new two stage supercharger engine car which only Lang would drive. Both Caracciola and von Brauchitsch doubted its reliability. As a special treat for the German fans Mercedes organised a special lap of honour for their 1.5 litre cars driven again by Lang and Caracciola.
The race didn't count towards the European Championship but was another example of the dominant form of Hermann Lang and Mercedes in the 1939 season.
Post race the Mercedes team was embroiled by the simmering driver troubles again. The long term and once very close relationship between Neubauer and Caracciola finally broke down completely. The next day a meeting was held between Caracciola, Mercedes manager Dr. Kissel and engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut.
Caracciola made accusation after accusation, the team was favouring Lang, sabotaging the pit stops, filling the tank with 300 litres of fuel when only 100litres was needed thus making his car heavy, for giving the best engine to Lang, for bad tyres, grid positions and engines during the last seasons, and on and on. Whatever else was said Carraciola continued on the driving staff, as did Lang, and Neubauer remained the racing team director.
Throughout his many years in the sport Neubauer’s favourite driver was undoubtedly Caracciola even though Rudi was never completely fit again after those terrible leg injuries at Monaco in 1933. As his skills slowly ebbed away he was invariably outpaced by Lang and Neubauer fully understood what was happening but did all he could to keep Caracciola in the Mercedes-Benz team and winning races. It was the least he could do to repay the enormous contribution Caracciola had made to Mercedes’ success. Years later Karl Kling confirmed Neubauer had shown favouritism to Caracciola, whether Caracciola appreciated what was done on his behalf or not Kling said :-
“Lang was often not allowed to drive as fast as he could. You could write a novel about what went on in those times…”
When the GP des Frontières came around on the 25th of May Bugatti once again took the honours, this time in the hands of Maurice Trintignant but more upsetting for Mercedes was the fact that Hans Stuck took an AutoUnion to victory in the Bucharest GP that same day. Mercedes spirits were lifted at the Kahlenberg hillclimb in Austria on the 11th of June 1939 when Lang won the event.
Then came Spa Francorchamps and the Belgian GP held on the 26th of June 1939. This was to be a torrid affair, not just because the weather kept raining on parts of the track and leaving the drivers to work out the safe braking distances and lines at every corner on every lap but also because the spray made visibility almost impossible and it hung in the trees like fog in many places. Lang battled with Müller for many laps before waving Caracciola and Seaman through to try their luck at passing the obstinate AutoUnion. Caracciola spun off at La Source while trying to overtake Müller and after many laps trying Seaman passed the AutoUnion to take the lead just as Müller slowed to go into the pits. From that point on Seaman went faster and faster pulling away from everyone else.
On lap 22 Seaman pushed too hard at club corner and span off the track. The tail of his car hit a tree which sent him into a second tree at full broadside. The car hit the tree at the cockpit area and the car bent around the tree causing injury to the driver and knocking him out. This might have been survivable but for the saddle fuel tank hose rupturing and gushing fuel out to not only soak Seaman but to splash onto hot exhaust pipes which ignited the fuel immediately. Seaman was sat in the flaming inferno for around thirty seconds before marshals from the La Source hairpin arrived to release the steering wheel locking mechanism and pull Seaman out of the car. The British driver suffered third degree burns across much of his body and died later in hospital.
Lang saw what had happened to his team mate and stopped briefly to inform the team. He himself was badly shaken by what he had seen and would rather have not continued to race. Neubauer dispatched Mercedes team doctors to do what they could for Seaman and Lang returned to the fray. He won the race for Mercedes but the celebrations were muted. That evening there was no Mercedes team party, most of them went to the hospital to see Dick Seaman. He did recover consciousness enough to speak in English and in German to his wife, and to explain the circumstances of his accident to Neubauer; he had been at fault he said, not the car. Seaman lapsed back into unconsciousness and passed away shortly after midnight.
Neubauer was one of many who were deeply affected by the tragedy. The Ardennes would be a deadly access point for Germany when World War Two kicked off in earnest but here and now it had already claimed one of Britain's brightest young men, the ironies can't be missed that he was driving a Germany car and that Germans wept for him. That night Neubauer made his usual small but touching annotation in his diary; “Seaman †”. He must have pondered on the fact that the last fatal incident for the team had been at AVUS 1933 when Otto Merz lost his life; 6 years was a long time between incidents in the motor racing world of that time.
At the next race, the 1st GP des Remparts Angoulême on the 2nd of July, Raymond Sommer won for Alfa-Romeo. It was a non-championship race and new to the calender so neither Mercedes or AutoUnion were in attendance. One doubts that either German team would have raced their anyway as the twisty circuit might not have suited their cars. At least the other teams got a chance for a race win.
Just a few weeks later at the French GP at Reims-Gueux, 9th of July, Hermann Paul Müller won the Championship event for Auto-Union followed home by Georg Meier in another AutoUnion and their third car came home 6th in the hands of Hans Stuck . This should have been a battle Royale but things didn't work out that way. Mercedes were reeling from the loss of Seaman and here Caracciola was put out of the race by an accident and both remaining cars went out of the race with engine failure. But Neubauer had everything back under control for the German GP back at the Nurburgring.
The Nürburgring is still Germany's most famous circuit and pre-war it was just as important to Mercedes and AutoUnion as it was to the Nazis. Alfred Neubauer knew this importance and wanted Mercedes back in the winning circle. It started well enough with Lang being unapproachable on track and taking Pole position. He had even beaten Rosemeyer's pole time from 1937 with a 9m43.1s lap. But AutoUnion were making a fight of it. Neubauer had watched Nuvolari consistently setting exactly ten minute laps and worked out that the AutoUnions could go ten laps before changing tyres, thus his Mercedes drivers would have to drive at least 7 seconds a lap quicker for ten laps in order to compensate for the 60 seconds it took for a pit stop. He set about coaching his team for the task. He sent them out to lap as quickly as possible and check on the tyre wear, Lang managed four laps before needing new tyres, von Brauchitsch and Caracciola could manage 6 laps. Mercedes took all three front row places on the grid with Lang, Von Brauchitsch and Caracciola in that order. The start didn't go to plan though and it was a race made all the more difficult by wet and dry areas around different parts of the circuit, Lang suffered engine failure having already stopped once for a plug change. Paul Pietsch took the lead from Lang after his early pit stop, much to the consternation of the crowd. Certainly Pietsch was a German, but he was driving a Maserati 8CTF for the Italian team! It didn't last too long though and German order resumed when Nuvolari took the lead in his AutoUnion. It looked like AutoUnion's day for a while as Mercedes cars fell by the wayside; von Brauchitsch retired with a leaking fuel tank and Heinz Brendel had an accident. Nuvolari fell away and the other AutoUnions all stopped bar Hermann Paul Müller who came in second to a thundering Caracciola in the last remaining Mercedes. Neubauers tyre plan strategy and Caracciola's supreme wet weather driving skills paid dividends giving the veteran German his last, and 6th, victory in the Großer Preis von Deutschland. So all's well that ends well.... not quite, after the race Rudolf Uhlenhaut went over Langs car with his team of engineers and could find nothing wrong with it.
When the Swiss GP was held on the 20th of August 1939 war was inevitable and looking back this last championship accredited race seemed to be a declaration of intent from Germany. The fourth Championship qualifying race and the fourth German victory, Hermann Lang being the fastest man around the Bremgarten track. The race result actually started an argument between the German teams. According the the rules as at the start of the season Hermann Paul Müller should have been crowned champion for AutoUnion, but these rules had been superseded and Mercedes claimed the Championship for Lang as he had the greater number of race victories. The situation remained unresolved for decades but Lang was the Nazi's preferred driver and they came down on the side of Mercedes and Lang too. As it happens when the situation was clarified regarding the rules (years after the war had ended) Lang was officially recognised as the European Champion driver for 1939.
The next race held was the Yugoslav GP, at Belgrade, on the 3rd of September 1939, two days after military hostilities started in Europe. Mercedes had started their journey to the race on the 25th of August with their own enormous fuel tanker as a precaution in case of having to get back home under their own power. After 1400km of driving the team started preparations for the race, amidst ever growing worries about the war. Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang were driving for Mercedes, Tazio Nuvolari and Hermann Paul Müller drove for AutoUnion. Von Brauchitsch had arrived by air via Belgrade airport on the 30th of August and made his first journey around the track to inspect the conditions. Tram lines and cobble stones meant he was not impressed. When practice around the 3km course finished that evening, of the three drivers who did venture out it was Lang who was fastest. Everyone was aware of looming war and on the streets of Belgrade the feeling was so tense that the Germany drivers stayed within the confines of their hotel, forgoing their normal tourist style activities. Early on the 1st of September every one woke to the news of the German invasion of Poland. Lang even drove out of town and up a hill to get better radio reception to listen to the news.
After much discussion the organisers decided the race should go on and they pleaded with the Silver Arrows to stay. As it happens it was not up to Alfred Neubauer or the AutoUnion officials to decide, Adolf Hühnlein of the Nazis motoring wing held sway on such things and in the interests of furthering German dominance ordered the Silver Arrows teams to remain and race. It was a good thing for the organisers as their losses without the attractions of the German cars could have been most considerable.
For qualifying only the four German cars made any impact. Nuvolari had only arrived the evening before and lacked track time so was slower than the others, even von Brauchitsch who was “still drunk from the previous evening". Alfa-Romeo's cars never arrived and the British teams, who had been advised a month earlier by the Foreign office to avoid European travel had heeded the advice, so the field was extremely thin.
It was thinner still on race day when the news of the British declaration of war was made. Lang recalled that "All of us lost every inclination to race but Neubauer returned from our embassy with the news we must keep calm and start." However, von Brauchitsch was nowhere to be found having departed for Belgrade Airport. He had bought a ticket for Vienna and was apparently sitting on the plane when a furious Neubauer caught up with him, hauled off the plane and dragged him back to the race. Only later did Neubauer find out that von Brauchitsch was heading for neutral Switzerland to stay with Rudolf Caracciola and not for Germany. Von Brauchitsch was a member of a military family and was certain to be compulsorily invited to join Hitler's war efforts, something he didn't agree with. Given Neubauer himself was not a lover of the Nazi's one can only wonder if his actions would have been different had he known Manfred was heading for a neutral destination. Neubauer himself did hint that:- "I was the biggest bully bringing Manfred from the Aircraft. His deputy, Bäumer, would have raced straight home."
In the end just five cars took to the starting grid on the afternoon of the 3rd of September. The four German cars and an old 2.3-litre Bugatti T51 driven by local entry, Bosko Milenkovic. One wonders if Milenkovic might have been a late entry to help fill the grid as he did no practice or qualifying laps at all. The race started at 4.45pm in front of a crowd of between 75,000 and 100,000 people. Mercedes were 1st and second on the grid but it was the von Brauchitsch who took the lead with the others in their predictable positions following. Lang and von Brauchitsch started to battle each other for the lead much to Neubauer's concern. The Fight between the Mercedes was allowing the AutoUnion drivers to keep pace with them and Neubauer was soon giving signals for the two Mercedes drivers to hold position and race as a team. Much to Neubauers consternation the two drivers ignored him and continued to fight amongst themselves.
During the 7th lap a stone was thrown up by von Brauchitsch' car and it went through Lang's windscreen and shattered both the lenses in his goggles. Lang described the incident as “Suddenly something hit me and everything went dark, [It] not only shattered my autoscreen but also both glasses in my goggles. My eyes were full of splinters". With his eyes on fire and blood streaming down his face Lang got his car back to the pits. While the car was taken over by Walter Bäumer Mercedes doctors set to work removing the glass splinters from Lang's eyes.
The race just seemed to go down hill from there for Mercedes. On lap 16 von Brauchitsch spun and stalled and in his efforts to restart was narrowly missed by the ever superb Tazio Nuvolari as he sped by in his AutoUnion. When von Brauchitsch did get going he was soon harrying Bäumer in the other Mercedes which ended with Bäumer hitting the straw bales and going out of the race.
The second half of the race saw the harsh conditions starting to take their toll. Von Brauchitsch came into the pits with his tyres totally destroyed, soon after him the leader, Nuvolari pitted for the same reason. Milenkovic stopped for maintenance and had a lengthy stop because he couldn't get his radiator cap off. Eventually Nuvolari won by 7.6 seconds from von Brauchitsch with Müller a further 23 seconds back. Milenkovic was still trundling around at the end of the 50 lap race and was eventually flagged in to stop, 19 laps behind and counting. Von Brauchitsch was then disqualified for illegally moving opposite to the direction of travel after a spin.
As for the trophy presentations there was no real celebration. During the final laps the news that the French had declared war on Germany came though, now everyone just wanted to get home. Neubauer called this race excursion the greatest folly of his life. The Belgrade Grand Prix also fell victim to politics, it was all but airbrushed out of history by the communist government in Yugoslavia after the war. It was a race dominated by drivers from fascist countries and had involved King Peter II in the ceremonies, none of which sat well with the communists view of how history should be.
Neubauer wrote in his diary for Septemer 3rd, 1939, “War with England and France,’. What now?”. So ended a most remarkable era for Mercedes-Benz. Under Neubauer's leadership Mercedes was the most successful racing team between 1934 and 1939 time and again providing the pinnacle of automotive technological advances. The team won 58 percent of the events they entered, 32 major victories and claimed the European drivers Championship for Rudolf Caracciola in 1935, 1937 and 1938 and for Hermann Lang in 1939.
Racing did continue in Nazi influenced territory and the Nazi party continued to fund the Silver Arrows until 1941. Germany even won the 1940 Mille Miglia when the BMW 328 “touring” of Bäumer and Huschke von Hanstein set the fastest time. As much as the Nazi propaganda machine tried to impress the world, even going so far as to adding the SS logo to Bäumer's overalls in a photograph, the world was no longer watching.
The second world war imposed itself on Daimler-Benz as the tanks and soldiers of The Third Reich imposed Nazism on the cobblestone roads of Europe. Once again the factories and staff were given over to war and the dominance Mercedes-Benz had enjoyed over the race track was now expected to be translated to a new demonstration of industrial power, engineering brilliance, and physical prowess; in War.
As the human urge for devastation and despair once again took over Neubauer and racing team members spirited away most of the team cars to places deep within Germany and hopefully safe from Allied bombs and sabotage teams. Unfortunately they did not foresee the invasion of Soviet Union troops and the cold war divisions that resulted in many of these cars being lost for years.
Mercedes-Benz Automobile plants were transferred to military production and Alfred Neubauer worked as a foreman at the Untertürkheim works. As a respected man of position Neubauer somehow maintained his "bon vivant" lifestyle even as Germany descended into ruin. He trod a very thin tightrope performing mocking pantomimes and biting parodies of Adolf Hitler and other Nazi Party officials at dinner parties. Had any one of these guests let this secret be known to the authorities these indiscretions would surely have resulted in Alfred Neubauer visiting a Gestapo interrogation cell.
In 1944 the Allied air raids focused on industries in the Stuttgart area and two Daimler-Benz factories. the Unterturkheim factory and Sindelfingen factory were completely destroyed. In the late Autumn of 1945 Mercedes-Benz was scarcely concerned with motor racing, now the task facing all German people and manufacturers was that of survival. While Neubauer battled to get the Unterturkheim plant rebuilt and back into production the job facing the parent company was a huge one, money was non-existent and the workers were starving. So even Neubauer, legend or not, was laid off by Daimler-Benz. Of course the great man was not forgotten and as soon as things started to turn around managing director William Haspel recalled Neubauer to a job in workshop organization at the Untertürkheim plant.
“The fat controller” was back, but he wasn't controlling the racing department......
Mercedes return to Racing 1950
While some people say Neubauer had his glory years with Mercedes in the 1930s other would argue the best was yet to come. Just five years after almost total destruction Mercedes-Benz was once again considering participation in motorsports.
Motor racing resumed as soon as WWII ended (some say racing was happening in the south of Italy while the fighting was still going on in the North of the country) but the Germans weren't exactly welcomed. The International Automobile Federation feared a continuance of the post war all conquering silver Arrows but in truth so little of the pre-war racing machinery had survived the devastation and scrap drives that races were held to formulas somewhat different to the massively powered compressor driven cars of the '30s and the Germans were suffering like everyone else.
Ferrari and Maserati were therefore initially the dominant racing force by dint of their pre-war voiturettes being the best designs available but Gordini, ERA and Talbot cars ran in mixed fields and at least kept things colourful. Slowly some semblance of organisation returned and the racing community came up with a new formula to hold Grand Prix races to; the new Formula One.
Meanwhile at Mercedes-Benz the company had just about rebuilt itself (courtesy of many of the factory workers pitching in to clear the wreckage of war and rebuilt the assembly lines for nothing more than food) and the board were keeping racing manager Neubauer pacing the second floor of the principal building as little more than a myth-encrusted museum piece occupied with test and development management roles again.
On a quiet day in 1950 Chairmen of the Board Dr. Willhelm Hapsel came to Neubauer and asked him one simple question; “Would you be interested in setting up a new Race Department?”
Hapsel had played a decisive role in expanding the commercial vehicle division, relocated the passenger car production to Sindelfingen and increased the export orientation of the company. Together with "Don Alfredo" Hapsel persuaded the rest of the board members to created the beginnings of the return of Mercedes-Benz in motor racing.
This wasn't going to be easy though. Initially Mercedes-Benz sought to return to Grand Prix racing and in a marketing exercise thought a trip to the South American continent might help them ease back into racing and promote the Brand there too. Expectations were high as preparation was made for this "expedition," the term Neubauer used for such racing adventures, and three of its remaining W154 cars were entered in two events in Argentina. The races were the Premio Ciudad de Buenos Aires at Constanera on the 18th February and the Premio Eva Peron on the 25th February at the same circuit.
Neubauer selected prewar star Hermann Lang, emerging star Karl Kling and an Argentinian Mercedes-Benz dealer by the name of Juan Fangio to drive the cars. The cars were given new superchargers and carburettors amongst a largely engine based upgrade and the package was tested at the Nurburgring; this was not a simple publicity stunt but a serious effort by the Rennabteilung.
At this time the services of the brilliant Rudolf Uhlenhaut and long time Rennabteilung regular George Scheerer were not available and Mercedes racing confidence was about to take a big blow. Although Mercedes' three cars lined up on the front row of the first race Froilan Gonzalez thrust his two-litre supercharged Ferrari right in among the silver cars and fought them tooth and nail until he past Lang and took the lead on the 23rd lap. When Gonzalez was slowed by a fuel leak and had to make a pit stop Lang resumed the lead. By the 38th lap Lang was caught and pushed back into 2nd, Gonzales led the final seven laps. Lang, Fangio, and Kling were 2nd, 3rd, and 6th and the writing was on the wall.
Seven days later there were Mercedes cars on the front row of the grid again and at the drop of the flag Fangio shot off of pole position and into the lead. Then engine troubles slowed him and by lap 16 he had stopped for good. Lang took over the lead but was soon passed by Gonzalez and struggling to keep pace with the Ferrari waved Kling past to take up pursuit. As Lang fell back Carlos Menditeguy came past and soon forced his Maserati past Kling into second place before setting off after Gonzales Ferrari. Sadly for Carlos a problem with the switch to the auxiliary fuel tank stopped the Maserati before the finish.
The Rennabteilung did a commendable job under the circumstances to rectify some of the problems noted in the first race which allowed Kling and Lang to take 3rd and 4th places.
For the second time in successive weekends Gonzalez and his Ferrari 166fl beat the Mercedes, and it stung! But in a way this set back did the world, and Mercedes a favour. Clearly these old rehashed W154/163 cars would not be up to the job and the despite more tests with the old W165 cars at the Nurburgring the realization that any foray into Grand Prix racing would require a new car was beginning to dawn. In fact the announcement of formula changes for the 1954 F1 season forced Mercedes to rethink the situation anyway. Added to this was the fact that the Mercedes racing depart could no longer just throw money at their problems, they had to work within strict financial constraints with an eye on marketing possibilities too. Neubauer and the Rennabteilung saw that a new opportunity beckoned and took up this as a challenge.
If Stuttgart’s Silver Arrows dominance had appeared broken it was really just the growing pains of a team adjusting to the new post war racing scene. Rudolf Uhlenhaut was brought back in and the team of engineers set to work in an entirely new direction; sports car racing.
Legendary sports cars would follow, but the assault on the top tier of motor racing, Formula One, would be several years down the road. For now Mercedes had to work with virtually no money and parts from the road car department. As it happened Neubauer, Ulenhaut and co' were able to cobble together some war surplus materials, parts from the passenger type 300 car, and a little genius, to came up with the 300SL, or 300 sports light.
Mercedes-Benz's first post war victory was at Bremgarten for the Bern GP. Kling won in the new 3.0 L16 300sl coupe. This was followed by victory for Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess in a sister car at the 24hrs of le Mans, Kling having been stopped by electrical problems. Victories at the Carrera Panamericana also fell to the 300sl with the Coupes 1st and 2nd, and an open roadster driven by John Fitch doing very well until being excluded for a rule infringement.
In a very short time Neubauer had steered Mercedes-Benz from the brink of humiliation to the winners circle and Mercedes star was rising.
Rudolf Uhlenhaut was not only a remarkable engineer but a driver more than capable of holding his own against the teams actual racing drivers. This gave him a great insight into the developmental needs of a particular car. No surprise then that the 300SL took a relatively short time to produce or that it was so good when it hit the tracks. Under the leadership of Alfred Neubauer the "Flugelturen" or "Gullwing", designated the W194, went from original company agreement to build a new sports car, in June 1951, to Press presentation of the prototype car in March 1952. In time the Mercedes-Benz 300SL would take on legendary status, be the most successful sports car in the 3ltr class for 4 years and become a huge seller for Daimler-Benz.
The 1952 Mille Miglia was the first fanfare of a new era of “Silver Arrows”, and while Neubauer continually pressed Uhlenhaut for many mechanical and detail changes to the new cars, most were not implemented in time for the race on 4th of May. Neubauer did his part though, masterminding not only the logistics of getting the team to Brescia but also assembling a new organizational machine to ensure that during the race the cars were never too far from assistance.
The "thousand miles" of Brescia is a nerve-racking event on every level and given it was the first event for the new cars one might have thought “Don Alfredo” would be nervous too, but not a bit of it, Neubauer was in his element. Mercedes main competition would come from the Ferrari of Giovanni Bracco although Bracco wasn't an official Ferrari entrant. In fact Bracco's financial situation was so poor his budget didn't even stretch to spare tyres! Kling was leading at Roma as the rain fell because Bracco was hampered by tyre issues. In Florence Bracco was two minutes behind Karl Kling's Mercedes but he was swearing to his co-driver, Alfonso Rolfo, they “would be leading by the time they reached Bologna”. While Rolfo reputedly supplied Bracco with shots of brandy Bracco himself drove like a demon, and when the official Ferrari entries had all fallen out the Scuderia finally decided to lend a hand to Bracco. By Bologna Bracco was 1min' ahead of the #623 300sl of Kling and Klenk who had lost an agonizing 6min's due to a hub knock-off that needed excessive persuasion to undo. Unfortunately the #626 Mercedes of Lang and Grupp hit a roadside obstacle and was put out of the race with rear axle damage.
On the last leg into Brescia Bracco streatched his lead and finished four minutes ahead of Kling in 2nd place. Enzo Ferrari said Bracco's drive was "the most spectacular success of all my racers" and years later a German journalist wrote that “Kling never quite recovered from his Mille Miglia defeat at the hands of the hard drinking Bracco and his Ferrari”.
Needless to say Herr Neubauer was far from amused but he was happy for Rudi Caracciola who brought the #613 Mercedes 300sl home 4th in what has been described as masterful performance by the veteran. If 2nd and 4th were not acceptable to Neubauer it was promising and any thoughts of superiority Ferrari, or anyone else, had would soon be banished by the mighty silver machine that was Mercedes-Benz.
A few weeks after the Mille Miglia Mercedes took four cars to Bern for the Swiss Sports car Grand Prix held on the 18th of May, 1952. They tore through the 131.4km to finish 1st (#18 Kling), 2nd (#20 Lang) and 3rd (#22 Fritz Riess). Carraciola crashed the fourth car, #16, when the rear brakes locked up and he hit a tree; he was seriously hurt and this proved to be his last race.
The next outing was for the 24hrs of Le Mans held over the 14–15th of June, 1952 at Circuit de la Sarthe. This event was always an important event for all the sports car manufacturers and Mercedes were no different. In an effort to gain an advantage under braking Neubauer came up with the idea of an air brake panel mounted at the rear of the roof. Despite being unable to perfect the idea in time for Le Mans it is an example of the lengths Neubauer and the Rennabteilung would go to in search an advantage, and it was used a few years later on the 300SLR cars. The 300SL cars did, however, have modified doors to aid faster driver change overs and Neubauer set out detailed plans for the race and contingencies for any problems that might come up. One of which was the unexpectedly high tyre wear encountered with the Continental tyres the team used.
The Kling/Klenk Gullwing #21 was leading the race when it's generator failed, the two drivers now took to hiding with Continental tyres crew in trying to avoid the withering glare of their boss, Neubauer. The 'Rennleiter' was already worried as the Talbot-Lago of Pierre Levegh (actually Pierre Eugene Alfred Bouillin-Levegh but that's a story for later) was running in the lead until late on when it finally succumbed to it's high oil consumption and broke a rod.
Lang and Riess swept into the lead in the #22 Mercedes, followed by Theo Helfrich and Helmut Niedermayr in the #20 Mercedes backing them up in second, to give Mercedes a memorable victory. The result also served notice to all in the Motorsports world that Mercedes-Benz were back, and back at their best.
If there were any doubters left they were squashed completely when the cars made their next appearance. On the 3rd of August Mercedes presented the Gullwings for the 15th running of the prestigious Grosser Preis von Deutschland sports car race at the Nurburgring. Mercedes had been working hard on developing the cars and the engines with the result being the unveiling of an open top roadster version, of the car with the latest supercharged version of the M194 straight-six now called the M197. To test the designs Mercedes had one of the cars driven from the Stuttgart factory to the Nurburgring, were it ran 12 laps of the Nordscheife, and back to Stuttgart; and the car ran perfectly throughout.
As for the race, the same perfect performance continued and the four open top Mercedes racers filled the top four places. Hermann Lang winning at an average speed of 129.000 kph in the #21 car. Karl Kling, 2nd #24, Fritz Riess 3rd #22 and Theo Helfrich 4th #23 made up the finishing order. Neubauer's drive, attention to detail and meticulous planning were paying off for Mercedes. The new bodywork gave the 'Rennabteilung' options to tailor the team to the needs and problems any particular race track or prevailing weather, no one else in Motorsports was anywhere near planning to this level!
Late in 1952 the team returned to the Americas, this time for the Carrera Panamericana. This race was a truly gruelling event and it was only undertaken after a lot of persuasion and lobbying from the Mexican Daimler-Benz dealers. Run over five days of competition covering 3111.121 km/1945 miles the competition was large and varied; and even in November Mexico is hot, although this would turn out to be one of the least of the teams trials.
In his usual style Neubauer had the 'Rennabteilung' totally prepared. As well as the four race cars the convoy of Teutonic vehicles included two military style cargo trucks carrying a mountain of spares (including 300 Continental racing tires), five passenger cars to help move the 35 support personnel and additional odds and ends and an airplane so Neubauer could marshal race events from the air.
After the race Neubauer actually wished he had doubled the size of the expedition! The Mexicans must have already been wondering if they were being invaded, but this all shows the depth of Neubauer's commitment to preparation. This included several days of exploration and route preparation during which a list of notes were made to aid the drivers in their progress. This idea was to have far reaching effects not only for Mercedes but for all rally racing participants.
When the competition started in earnest on the 23rd of November 1952 Mercedes four participants were Karl Kling with Hans Klenk navigating the #4 300sl Gullwing coupe, Hermann Lang with Erwin Grupp in a similar Gullwing wearing #3 and John Fitch and Eugen Geiger in an open roadster carrying #6. The fourth entry was really a PR machine and general team runabout driven by journalist Gunther Molter who was also assisting Neubauer as and when he was needed.
By the time The race got to Mexico City Neubauer's plan was starting to play out. Bracco's Ferrari was suffering and on stage seven the Ferrari's differential gave up and put him out of the race. At the end of the event Lang and Klenk won in a time of 18h51m19.0s, their car sporting the "buzzard bars" in front of the windscreen that it wears to this day. Lang and Grupp came in second in a time of 19h26m30.0s. The Fitch/Geiger roadster was running third until it was disqualified for receiving outside assistance when suspension and tyre problems caused them to source local help.
As well as the terrific driving display this victory was due in no small part to the significant contribution of "Don Alfredo". He clearly agreed and enjoyed the success to excess. The Home of the Mercedes-Benz Representative in Mexico was ransacked by Neubauer who shed his usual hat for a sombrero and sat in a rocking chair sporting a guitar and doing his best impersonation of a Mexican folk singer.
So far the 300sl Gullwing design had won four of the five races it had entered and finished second in the other. A remarkable set of results for a car thrown together in a few months and largely based on road going sedan!
With the FIA having made the move to a new World Sports Car Championship there was no manufacturer's sports cars championship in 1953. Daimler-Benz was refocusing their attention towards F1 and a new sports-car to meet the new WSCC regulations with an eye to launching an attack on that series in 1955.
The 'Rennabteilung' had proved their ability to adapt with the 300sl and while this car was now moved on towards becoming a production car, something it was never meant to be, the new F1 and sports racing cars were conceived. Such was the task in hand for 1953.
The Daimler-Benz board were actually hesitant to commit to a full F1 programme so the W196 F1 car didn't turn a wheel until December 1953 and even then it was just in the factory yards in a simple instillation test without any bodywork.
The first real prototype test was in held in February 1954 and while 1953 had not seen the team at the circuits Neubauer was very busy indeed.
Herr Neubauer redirected the teams attention with his usual synchronicity, but the balance of power was subtly moving more towards Herr Doctor Engineer Uhlenhaut. Uhlenhaut was the design genius with an ability to drive a racing car as well as most of the actual driving staff. At the circuit Neubauer held sway over the racing tactics and organization but at the factory it was Uhlenhaut the mechanics answered to. This team had now grown to a racing department of some 500 personnel; at the time most companies racing departments consisted of perhaps a dozen staff at most.
As for the 300SLR sports car it was a development of the F1 car, not the previous 300sl Gullwing, as evidenced by it's model number W196S; and it was all a huge amount of work to undertake in a relatively short period of time.
The first real prototype test of the W196 F1 car was in held in February 1954 and the importance of preparation was now needed more than ever. While pit stops had been a integral part of the pre-war planning through the early 1950s pit stops were becoming less and less frequent, in some cases cars could run the whole race distance without stopping at all, clearly other factors were now taking on higher levels of importance and Neubauer was the master of the seemingly unimportant details that others ignored.
During the tests of the W196 prototype at Hockenheim Neubauer was determining the ultimate fuel tank aiming for a fuel consumption rate of 35Ltrs to cover 1000km. In testing it was found to be 40ltrs and this represented the cars rolling to a stop 48km short of the finishing line. Herr Doctor Engineer Uhlenhaut was despatched back to Stuttgart to oversee the fabrication and positioning/mounting options for additional fuel tanks within the cars.
Neubauer's haranguing of the staff extended to the teams suppliers too, most notably Continental, to ensure deadlines were met and that product standards remained to the high standards of the Rennabteilung, as well as the specifications thereof.
Furthermore, Neubauer was detailing prevailing weather conditions for the circuits, noting rainfall levels and wind directions. Drivers now received a folder prior to each race containing the weekends schedules, the hotel reservations and menu choices, even the access roads to the track and marshalling points and any safety/escape areas around the circuit itself. Keeping the drivers comfortable and happy was now just as important as keeping them in line!
And the mechanics had their roles scrutinised too. When the car went past the pits there were mechanics especially assigned to check certain areas of the cars in detail. While one man was checking the front wheels/tyres another was checking the rears, another would be listening to the engine sounds and another to the exhausts, yet another would be observing the driver for his signals..... everything was monitored and analysed.
After a 15 year absence from the Grand Prix scene the Mercedes-Benz return was nothing short of a sensation. As mentioned Neubauer was developing his role further and the appearance of the Rennabteilung at the circuits was something akin to an "expedition". Huge volumes of equipment and personnel under the scrutiny of this organizational mastermind meant nothing was left to chance; only Mercedes were likely to be able to magically produce a replacement windscreen should one be shattered by a stone. All this meant the new silver Arrows should once again be as superior as they had been in the 1930s, and nothing less would be acceptable.
Neubauer's driver choices were fairly predictable for the most part. The pre-war favourites were mainly retired but Germans Karl Kling, Hermann Lang and Hans Herrmann were already on staff so there were no surprises there. However, Neubauer scored a coup when he signed 1951 champion Juan Manuel Fangio, although it took some wrangling to capture him.
Gianni Lancia was desperate to land Fangio for F1 after being delighted with Fangio's 1953 sports car performances and not least as Lancia were trying to launch their new F1 car, the famous D50, and who could possibly be better to drive that than the greatest post war driver. The sports car performances were not lost on Neubauer either and with the 300SLR being due in 1955 Mercedes were keen to grab him for that too.
Lancia had actually offered Fangio a contract before Neubauer got to him so some careful negotiations were needed, especially as the new W196 car would not be ready for the first few races of the 1954 season and clearly missing races would be a handicap to any ambitions Fangio might have to become champion again. Neubauer had to negotiate with Fangio in Italian, the only language they both had in common, and offered him some options. Fangio could sit out the season for an agreed sum of money or be allowed to drive for other marques as a free agent until required by Mercedes under a lesser retainer fee. Fangio, knowing Mercedes pre-war record, was quick to weigh this against his desire to be champion and choose the latter option. Fangio raced for Maserati in the early races of 1954 and Mercedes from the French GP in July. By seasons end Fangio's gamble was proved correct, his early points for Maserati helped give him the drivers championship and Mercedes car had been the all conquering machine he expected it to be.
Neubauer later said of Fangio :-
“I knew I had an exceptional driver and although we never defined the order of the finish in a race, he had the ability to take any suggestions without hurt feelings”.
Also notable amongst the 1953 driver meetings was the name of Stirling Moss. Moss' father and his manager Ken Gregory, approached Neubauer regarding Stirling being considered for a Mercedes drive in 1954. Neubauer's response was understandable and in the end correct. To that point Moss had been driving for HWM, and other lesser British teams, and while giving an exceptional account of himself could hardly be put in a top flight F1 car without further investigation. Neubauer suggested that the the young Stirling Moss be put in a good F1 car so as to be seen in representative equipment. Moss was always really keen to drive British cars but accepted he had to make his mark, he drove a Maserati 250F1 in 1954, on occasion giving Mercedes-Benz a scare too...... Neubauer signed Moss up for 1955 without hesitation.
The W196 F1 design was as cutting edge as it could be in 1954. After two years of running the drivers world championship to Formula two regulations the new 2.5-litre unsupercharged (or 750cc supercharged) F1 era began and Alfred Neubauer, and Mercedes-Benz, intended that the firms returned to Grand Prix racing would see the new Silver Arrows as superior as they had been in the 1930s.
Uhlenhaut did extensive research into the engine options considering the power range for a competitive engine needed to be 250 to 300bhp (190 to 220 kW). In 1939 Mercedes' 2-stage supercharged 1.5-litre motor gave 278bhp (207kW) at 8,250 rpm. If Mercedes halved that engine they could only expect around 139bhp (104kW). However, the engine development team were able show they could achieve 390bhp @ 10,000rpm from a 0.75 litre supercharged motor if they ran the the pressure at 4.4atm, although driving the supercharger stole around 100hp. The real problem was that this configuration drank 2.3 times more fuel than a naturally aspirated engine to develop the same power. Clearly that would require more pit stops , or carrying extra fuel and weight.
Since the 1920s all previous Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix engines had been supercharged so a move towards naturally aspirated engine would be a significant shift in philosophy. But as naturally aspirated motorcycle racing engines of that era could develop 115bhp/l (86kW/l) at 9,000rpm Mercedes engineers decided that the 2.5-litre engine was the correct choice.
Building on the knowledge obtained by the Daimler-Benz engineers who refined the high-performance DB601 V12 engine, used in the Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter aircraft of WWII, Ulenhaut and his team worked with Bosch engineers to adapt a direct fuel injection system for their new straight 8 engine of 2,496.87cc capacity. Direct fuel injection had worked on the 300sl racing cars and the benefits had been clear to the team. Mercedes-Benz also included the use of desmodromic valves, Instead of a cam to open and a spring to return them, the 16 valves were opened and closed by positive action of mechanical linkage operated by four short camshafts. Drive for the valves was taken from the centre point of the engine which was essentially two four cylinder engines put end to end. The short cams and desmodromic linkage allowed the engine to be revved much higher than an engine with conventional long cams as the short ones didn't bend under heavy loads. These innovations gave a considerable advantage over engines that used conventional carburettors.
Furthermore, Mercedes-Benz collaborated with Esso to produce that most advanced fuel technology F1 had ever seen. This fuel, labelled RD1, was an exotic brew of 45% benzol, 25% methyl alcohol, 25% high octane petrol, 3% acetone and 2% nitro-benzine. Ulenhaut's team had aimed for 340bhp (250kW) at 10,000rpm from their engine and at the 1954 French GP their exceptionally advanced engine produced 257bhp @ 8000rpm, they pushed this to 290bhp at 8500 rpm within the year.
If all this wasn't the most technologically advanced F1 design ever Mercedes even experimented with variable length inlet tracts in an effort to maximize the motors drivability in as wide a power band as possible, although this wasn't included in the final production engine.
The cars chassis followed the 300sl idea being a space frame design made up of welded small diameter aluminium tubes, it had light weight and exceptional rigidity. To give a better front/rear weight distribution balance the engine was mounted longitudinally behind the front axles moving it towards a “front mid-engined” layout. In order to reduce the cars frontal area and height the engine was canted over at 37° to the right moving the drive shaft away to the left.
Power was fed through a sub-shaft and a prop-shaft to the five speed gearbox which was built “in unit” with the differential. The use of a five speed gearbox was another innovation that would prove to be a distinct advantage over Mercedes rivals, who generally still used four speed gearboxes.
Braking was achieved through huge extra wide diameter drums which were mounted in board and operated by short half shafts, with two universal joints per wheel, as the drums (equipped with fins for a so-called 'Turbo-cooling' effect), were too big to fit in the 16" wheel rims. This shaft system would also have been preferable if the design team had gone ahead with the idea of four wheel drive. Other advantages to the system are the reduction in unsprung weight and moving the weight more centrally to aid balance and handling.
Suspension was by torsion bars fitted inside the chassis tubes with dual wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear. An anti roll system was included to help reduce the swing axles from raising the front of the car under cornering forces. This consisted of a system of off-centred rods linking the hub to the opposite side of the chassis crossing one-another over the centreline.
The W196 was plagued by “snap-oversteer” throughout it's life but, sparing no expense, Mercedes worked tirelessly to find a solution. This was mostly achieved by varying the wheelbase lengths, and body styles, for specific tracks. In the end there were three wheelbase lengths (92, 87 ½ and finally 85 inches), and two body styles although none really solved the handling problems but did help in other areas allowing Mercedes to ultimately be successful.
Mercedes continued their theme of ultimate technology usage with the cars bodywork. Using ultra-light Elektron magnesium-alloy, which has a specific gravity of 1.8 which is less than a quarter of iron's 7.8, weight was kept to a minimum. Using a 1/5th scale wooden model in the wind tunnel of the Motor Research Institute at Stuttgart Technical College Mercedes created an all-enclosing streamlined body shell which exploited a loophole in the new GP rules. For high speed circuits this sports car styling proved very effective but at the twisty tracks the drivers found the hidden front wheels hampered their ability to position the car for corners. To counter this a more conventional open wheel body work style was developed.
The opinion that really counted was that of the drivers and later Fangio described the Mercedes RW196 as
"… a bit difficult to drive, with a tendency for snap oversteer", and "not so nice to drive as a Maserati 250F, but you were almost sure to finish. So the Mercedes was incredible in that way."
Moss agreed and was later recorded as saying :-
"I'm surprised that the Merc' wasn't a little bit easier to drive, because it wasn't. It was a driver's car, but not an easy car to drive."
After all the unceremonious hard graft on the design and production of the car, the cataloguing of the many details of the circuits and the driver negotiations, the time came for the RW196s debut. The 1954 French GP was held on the 5.2 mile (8.3km) temporary road course of Reims Champagne. The XLI Grand Prix de l'ACF would be a sensational event, 40 years and one day after Mercedes had humiliated Peugeot in 1914. This time the competition wasn't from French cars but from the Italian cars of Ferrari and Maserati. The result was the same though, a crushing 1-2 victory for Mercedes-Benz in front of 300,000 fans.
From the moment the streamlined cars were unveiled they were the talk of the meeting, and the signs of the race result were there from the early stages of the meeting when Fangio broke the 200km/h barrier and received a prize of 50 bottles of champagne. He then took pole position and at the end of the 315 mile race on a wet, overcast, 4th of July, Fangio led Karl Kling home in a time of 2h42m47.9s. Mercedes also enjoyed the fastest lap of the race set by Hans Hermann set at 2m32.9s on lap 3. The Ferraris could not keep up with the pace of the Mercedes and in an effort to do so José Froilán González had to retire after 12 laps and Mike Hawthorn's Ferrari 553 blew up in spectacular fashion on lap 9.
Design engineers Drs. Nallinger and Uhlenhaut were ecstatic as was Neubauer. All the hard work in all areas had come to fruition in the very first competitive race. At that point in time Mercedes “Rennabteilung” was on top of the world and everyone else was scratching their heads on how to keep up. Then came the VII RAC British GP at Silverstone.
Getting the “Rennabteilung” to Slivertone took a mammoth effort which started on the 9th of July. This task was first delayed by a day at the factory as only one of the two cars had completed it's ground up overhaul by the due date. Stripping a car and engine down to it's component parts, inspecting and replacing any worn items and getting it all back together is quite a task and with the French and British GPs being just two weeks apart and travel logistics of the 1950s were nothing like they are 60+ years later.
Neubauer befriended road and air haulage companies, customs officials and the Mercedes-Benz agents in Britain to get his expedition smoothly through the journey. Inevitably there were delays getting the huge party through the British customs system not least because the party was bigger than that which was written on the paperwork. Paperwork that detailed the registration numbers of the four trucks (carrying the cars, spares and even workshop lathe, milling machines and all kinds of repair equipment) and the names of eight engineers and drivers, thirteen fitters and five accompanying persons. Given the time delays Neubauer decided any further parts or personnel should travel by air.
As usual Neubauer had all the details all worked out. Everyone new their roles and the lengths of each stage of the journey, where the team was staying each night and that carrying more than ten pounds sterling or equivalent exchangeable foreign money was inadvisable.
The big man himself drove Karl Kling to Silverstone in a car-caravan combination starting on Monday, July 12th. The Mercedes convoy arrived at "Alcock ''s Garage" in Brackley, some 15kms from the converted former U.S. Army airfield of Silverstone, on the Thursday of 15th of July. While the mechanics stayed in Brackley with the cars Neubauer, Fangio and Kling went on to meet the teams “brains trust” at their quarters in Waddesdon.
The route to the Silverstone circuit was lined with posters highlighting the “Mercedes Story" and the press carried stories of the Reims 1-2 victory and the "destruction of the pride of Italy" but right from the first practice it was clear that the car was not suitable for the flat, twisty, circuit marked out only by grass verges and barrels. On the Thursday evening conversation, in a mixture of Italian and Spanish, revolved around Fangio's concerns about the problems positioning his car for the corners when he couldn't see his front wheels.
Problems continued in Friday qualifying as it became clear the Mercedes RW196 was a real handful and even Fangio was having difficulties competing with the lighter open wheeled Ferraris. Fangio did take pole position by second from González in the Ferrari. Kling could only manage 6th on the grid, 3.1 sec's slower than Fangio's time.
That night the mechanics worked at "Alcock's Garage" not only to remove the damage caused by hitting the marker barrels but also to fit new exhausts that had been brought up from London by British Mercedes agents to give the cars more power.
The weather on race day was cold and raining, but Neubauer was unconcerned as Mercedes and Fangio were considered the "master-Renner" even in the rain. However the neurotic steamroller that was "Lord of the racecourse" was brought to a halt by the British fans and autograph hunters and dozens of racing programs were enhanced with the flourishing hand of Alfred Neubauer; yes, a German was that popular in post war Britain.
On the 17th July the fifth round of the 1954 F1 Drivers' Championship was a 90 lap, 263.43 mile race, was run in cold, rainy conditions. The British fans turned out in great numbers to see of Mercedes could repeat their French GP performance. Fangio and Kling were the only Silver Arrows on the grid while there were 3 Ferraris and Nine Maseratis (including Stirling Moss' 250F). José Froilán González in the Ferrari shot away into the lead from the start and Fangio followed. Kling struggled from the start and slipped back to tenth place and Fangio hit several marker barrels leaving scars on both sides of his car and slowing him down to the fourth place.
At the pitstops Fangio tried to explained that he had to hold the gear shift lever in place as the transmission is not working correctly. Sadly he wasn't understood due to the language difficulties and Neubauer being elsewhere festooned with stopwatches trying to keep up with the race developments. Neubauer wasn't the only one keeping track of the times though Karl Klings wife was also logging the times and she was in tears recording her husband's slow drop through the field.
José Froilán González lead from flag to flag with teammate Mike Hawthorn in the second Ferrari giving the Scuderia Ferrari a 1-2 victory. Onofre Marimón brought his Maserati home third with Fangio fourth and Kling seventh for Mercedes. Seven drivers all set the equal fastest lap time of 1:50. So Fangio, González, Hawthorn, Marimón, Ascari, Behra,& Moss were all awarded 1⁄7th of a point.
Silverstone was a bitter disappointment for the team and Neubauer, in a very poor mood, started the autopsy straight away. The engineers and technicians including the Chief designer and Engineer of the testing department, Drs. Nallinger and Uhlenhaut, all had a part to play in overcoming the issues brought up during the race weekend at Silverstone. As well as the issues with positioning his car Fangio was concerned about the snap-oversteer and handling problems. Equally important was Kling's complaint that the Ferrari engine clearly had better acceleration out of the low speed corners than Mercedes RW196 because it had more torque in the lower rev' range.
Mercedes discovered the streamlined body had more issues than just the lack of visibility of the wheels, on the winding roads of circuits like the Nürburgring this bodywork was unstable and prone to catching the crosswinds. Having spawned the idea of the streamliner during the usual fascinating struggle that the engineers always have imposed upon them by the ever-changing "racing formulas" Mercedes designers found a flaw in their process and now had to undo this grand design plan and come up with a more conventional open wheel body; in a very short space of time.
When the RW196 cars rolled off the transporters for the XVII Großer Preis von Deutschland at the Nürburgring an open wheel car appeared. It looked rather unfinished and “slightly hurried” and, in contrast with the carefully sculpted streamliner bodies, unrefined. Contemporary reporters described the new model as ‘unhandsome’.
The sixth round of the 1954 F1 Drivers' Championship would run over the 14.173 mile (22.810km) Nordschleife of the Nürburgring, a place later called the green hell and generally considered the most complex of circuits. Adding to this worrisome place the race was lengthened from 18 to 22 laps to bring it in line with the usual 500km race distance of the other Grands Prix.
Fangio, Kling and Hermann Lang drove the new open wheel cars and Hans Herrmann piloted a fourth Mercedes RW196 still in the streamlined body form. Fangio was on pole position from the Ferrari 625 of Hawthorn. Fangio's pole time of 9m50.1s, in chassis #00006, was two seconds faster than Hermann Lang's 1939 supercharged 3litre Mercedes lap record! Stirling Moss was third on the grid in his privately entered Maserati 250F, Moss was not only giving a clear indication of his abilities in a top flight car but he was now carrying the hopes of Maserati after the official factory team and several other Maserati drivers withdrew from the event after the death in Maserati team driver Onofre Marimón in a crash at the Wehrseifen during practice. The Maserati left the circuit on the down hill kink, plunged down the embankment, somersaulted and killed the young Argentinian instantly.
The race day of 1st August 1954 was dry and sunny and when the flag fell González led but he was soon passed by the Maestro Fangio, Karl Kling and pre-war legend Hermann Lang. Hawthorn, Moss, Paul Frère and Roberto Mieres were all fairly early retirements due to broken axles.
Kling and Lang battled closely until Lang lost control of his car and span out of the race at the Hatzenbach. Hermann also span the streamliner out of the race which was his final Grand Prix appearance.
Gonzalez was so upset by the death of Marimón he gave up the race after 16 laps handing his car over to Mike Hawthorn. While Hawthorn tried to hall in the too Mercedes cars, Kling was catching Fangio with Alfred Neubauer going berserk in the pits! Kling did pass Fangio but broke a transmission mounting which led to a protracted pit stop for repairs. That promoted Hawthorn to 2nd place and in the late race drizzle he held off Maurice Trintignant who took third. Only ten of the original 23 starters finished the race.
The result was the first home victory for Mercedes in 15 years and Fangio's winning time of 3h45m45.8s made this the longest F1 GP in history. It also set him up for winning the Championship at the next race as he now had more than twice the points of nearest rival José Froilán Gonzalez. Kling claimed fastest lap of 9m55.1s for Mercedes.
Up next was the XIV Großer Preis der Schweiz at the 4.524 mile Bremgarten circuit. This was the seventh round of the drivers championship and could decide the title outcome of Fangio won. José Froilán González took pole with Fangio beside him so the two title protagonists were set up for the fight.
As the field splashed around on the 22nd of August, 1954, Fangio moved into the lead with Moss soon passing González for second place and pushing hard to catch Fangio. But Hawthorn was soon putting pressure on Moss and this pair put on a furious patriotic spectacle as they duelled. This was the real entertainment of the race until Moss' Maserati was stopped by and engine failure with Hawthorn in the Ferrari joining him in retirement with fuel feed problems. Fangio dominated the 66 race lapping everyone up to González in second place and heading him home by over a minute. Hans Herrmann brought his Mercedes home third (which would turn out to be his last podium), but Karl Kling did not finish due to fuel system problems. Fangio's winning time was 3h00m34.5s and he set fastest lap 2m39.7s on lap 34.
Mercedes RW196, chassis number 00006, had carried Fangio to his second drivers title, with two races still to run, and in scoring his twelfth GP win here Fangio regained the record for the most victories from Alberto Ascari. Clearly there was much for Neubauer and the team to celebrate although this would turn out to be the last F1 race to be held in Switzerland as the disastrous 1955 Le Mans crash prompted the Swiss government to ban all forms of motor racing.
Moving on to the XXV Gran Premio d'Italia held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and the team looked to further dominate Ferrari and with this in mind Fangio's pole time of 1m59.0s was a good sign on the high speed circuit.
After 80 laps of the 3.915 mile circuit on a that sunny September day Fangio had converted the pole position into a victory. Mike Hawthorn finished second for Ferrari and Umberto Maglioli and José Froilán González had to share a Ferrari to get third place. Fangio's winning time was 2h47m47.9s although González set the fastest lap of 2m00.8s on the second lap of the race. Sadly the other Mercedes cars finished as they had at Bremgarten, Herman fourth 3 laps down and Kling retiring.
The last GP of the 1954 season was the Spanish GP held on the temporary street circuit of Pedralbes, Barcelona. The sunny Spanish track saw the debut of the eagerly awaited Lancia D50 which Ascari promply put on pole position with a lap time of 2m18.1s for the 313.966 mile course. The brilliant design used the off-set 90degree V8 engine as part of the chassis (pre-dating the Lotus 49 concept) to give stiffness with weight reductions. In it's own way it was as advanced as the Mercedes and had great potential for the future.
On the 24th of October, 1954, the 80 lap XII Gran Premio de España started well for Lancia but Villoresi retired his D50 on lap one with brake trouble and Ascari's D50 was put out on lap 9 because of a failed clutch. This allowed Harry Schell to lead until his Maserati suffered transmission problems and span him out. Trintignant took over the lead in the Ferrari until it's gearbox broke and Moss's Maserati overheated, along with several others who had their car's radiator ducts blocked by flying newspapers. Hawthorn and Fangio battled for the race lead but Fangio's Mercedes was losing oil and slowed him to third place when Luigi Musso hustled his Maserati through into second place. Hawthorn-Musso-Fangio was the order at the finish with the Lancia of D50 having set the fastest race lap of 2m20.4s on lap 3.
Once again a circuit was hosting its last race as the spectator-lined street circuit of Pedralbes couldn't meet the safety requirements after the Le Mans disaster and abandoned.
The return to F1 had been a great success with Fangio taking the title and the cars recording 5 pole positions, 4 fastest laps and 4 wins from the 6 races they contested. Neubauer's role was evolving as he was reaching the autumn of his career, the races were changing and the chief designers and engineers were taking over aspects of Neubauer's influence. But 'Don Alfredo' remained the driving force behind the team and still defining new areas of racing that should be studied as affecting the cars chances of winning; the result was Mercedes-Benz domination of the Grands Prix races, just as it always was and just as Neubauer and the Daimler-Benz board expected.
1955 was a season of triumph and a disaster, not in equal measure, with some true wonder thrown in for good measure. Having signed Stirling Moss onto the driving staff Herr Neubauer now had to contend with the youthful antics of both Moss and Hans Herrmann who occasionally strained his patience breaking point. These young stars shared a room in Argentina and, knowing of the team managers discipline requirements for drivers to be in bed by 10pm, took it in turns to stay in the room and answer Neubauer's nightly telephone call. In reassuring “Don Alfredo” that both drivers were in bed and about to go to sleep the other was able to slip out and sample the Buenos Aires night life.
Neubauer had a soft spot for Moss and actually considered him the best sports car driver of the post-war, setting him above Fangio because of his “greater finesse and versatility”, something very much in demand as Mercedes brought the new 300SLR into the battle for the 1955 Sportscar Championship.
Other drivers who would feature for Mercedes in 1955 were André Simon and Pierre Levegh though not necessarily for the reasons they might have hoped for.
As "The Man of a Thousand Tricks" moved his circus tents from venue to venue this dynamic man pulled out all the stops in pursuit of victory. This time his team produced a stunning transported to deal with any high speed emergency transport needs. Now known as the “Blue Wonder” this captivating vehicle, 6.75m long by 2m wide, was powered by the same engine as the 300SL sportscar mounted in lengthened tubular frame from the sports model. Components like doors, bumpers, lights, wings and some of the interior parts came from other production models and the whole lot moulded together to form an aerodynamic transporter capable of 175kph. This vehicle must have added even more pressure in the minds of opponents who can't have helped but wonder how they could compete with the finances Mercedes could bring to bear.
After Daimler-Benz retired Mercedes from motor racing at the end of 1955 the “Blue Wonder” was used an an exhibition vehicle in America before returning to Stuttgart and spending ten years in the Daimler-Benz test department. For some unknown reason in 1967 Engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut ordered the vehicle to be scrapped. Many decades later Mercedes-Benz built a replica transporter from original plans and archive photographs.
This wasn't the only “wonder” that Mercedes-Benz would create during 1955 and Fangio, Moss and Neubauer must have been relishing the thought of the coming racing season having at their disposal the improved RW196 and it's sports car derivative the 300SLR.
History was going to be made.
1955 Argentine GP
The first race of the season was the III Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina held at the permanent facility of the Autódromo Municipal Ciudad de Buenos Aires. As the F1 regulations went into their second season all the teams had been able to improve their machinery, Lancia's D50 looked impressive and performed similarly, Maserati further developed the 250F and Ferrari was working on both the Type 625 and the 553. Mike left Ferrari to drive for the Vanwall team and the driver field included three world champions (and one who would be champion a few years later).
In January the southern Hemisphere is in it's summer and the weather at the 2.431 mile circuit was depressingly hot. Mercedes entered four cars, Juan Manuel Fangio (car # 2), Karl Kling (car # 4), Stirling Moss ( #6), and Hans Herrmann (#8); but the chances of them all finishing were slim. At the end of qualifying the cars appeared to be quite evenly matched with a representative from each of the big four teams being on the front row.
González put his Ferrari on pole for the 4-3-4-3 line up with a lap time of 1m43.1s. Ascari's Lancia was second fastest alongside the Mercedes of Fangio and Behra's Maserati. Farina's Ferrari sat at the head of the second row but just 0.7 of a second covered the first five cars.
In blistering heat on the 16th January the 233.376 mile race was started and at the end it would produce some of the most unusual facts in F1 history. Fangio delighted the local by bursting into the lead from third on the grid, chased by Ascari and a fast-starting Stirling Moss (flying off the second row!), González and Farina followed in their wake. Ascari soon passed Fangio and a hard charging González passed them all to take the lead. Other incidents on Lap 1 saw the Maserati twins of Behra (#16) and Menditéguy (#24) hit each other putting Menditéguy out on the spot, and an accident for Pablo Birger (Gordini #40) ended his race too.
The race at the front remained close until Ascari crashed out on lap 22. His team mate Villoresi had already gone out of the race due to a fuel leak and taken over the Lancia of Euginio Castellotti, while Ascari waited to take over that car from Villoresi, Villoresi crashed it and ended Lancia involvement.
Cars had continually to fallen foul of accidents and mechanical problems; Behra accident damage put him out, Kling crashed and the transmission on Élie Bayol's Gordini failed putting him out. Uruguayan privateer Alberto Uria Uria (Maserati #30) stopped with no fuel on lap 22 and Moss' #6 Mercedes was stopped by a fuel system failure on lap 29 and he took over Herrmann's #8 car. 10 laps later Moss handed the #8 Mercedes to Kling, who drove it into 4th place at the finish.
The pits started to fill up with drivers; which was just as well as the Drivers were starting to feel the effects of the stifling heat. When an exhausted Farina pitted Umberto Maglioli took over the car. González then came in and the revived Farina took his car back into the fray. Even the local Fangio was forced into the pits to get a drink of water which allowed both Schell and Mieres to go ahead of him although the exhausted Schell was soon handing his car over to over to Jean Behra, and Mieres Car let him down putting Fangio back in the lead. González, now back in his own car after both Farina and Trintignant had done a stint in the #12 Ferrari, hounded Juan Manuel Fangio until he crashed and effectively put an end to any thoughts he had of winning. He did get his car back to the pits and pass the car on to Farina who brought the Ferrari home in 2nd place.
This was the “busiest” of F1 races and with of all this confusion over from 16 driver substitutions even Neubauer's head must have been spinning. While only Mières and Fangio drove the whole race and didn't swap cars the other exchanges led to the bizarre situation where Nino Farina and Maurice Trintignant both finished in second and third places.
Fangios winning time was 3h00m38.6s and also set fastest lap of 1m48.3s on lap 45. González, Farina and Trintignant shared the second placed Ferrari with Umberto Maglioli, Farina and Trintignant sharing 3rd place for Ferrari. Kling, Moss and Hermann shared RW196 #8 to finished fourth and the other solo driver, Mières, brought his #18 Maserati 250F home fifth place.
The 96 lap contest was also held in the hottest recorded race conditions, 40°C (about 104°F), although this temperature has twice been matched Dallas 1984 & Bahrain 2005, it has never been beaten.
As a result of his leg rubbing on the chassis frame which was being super heated by the exhaust pipe Fangio suffered severe burns to his leg. These wounds took 3 months to heal and Fangio carried the scares for the rest of his life. Fortunately the next race was not until late April so the necessary healing time was available.
1955 Mille Miglia domination
This next race would provide some of that “wonder” I mentioned, the Mille Miglia of 1955 is revered to this day as an outstanding piece of driving by Stirling Moss. But the story isn't that simple, Moss wasn't the only Mercedes hero that day and none of the record setting would have been possible without the driving force of Neubauer behind the scenes.
The 22nd running of the Mille Miglia was the 3rd round of the 1955 World Sportscar Championship and the debut for the Mercedes 300SLR. Having already missed two of the qualifying rounds Daimler-Benz were determined to win the race and insisted Neubauer spare no effort or expense to win the race.
The Mille Miglia is a race against the clock rather than a race against the other competitors. With an entry list of 661 cars in 12 engine size classes for Grand Touring Cars, Touring Cars and Sport Cars the competition is not just varied but huge. All the major sports car manufacturers were there except Lancia who had chosen to focus solely on their F1 GP program.
In preparation Neubauer had the Rennabteilung bring three 300SLR cars built solely for the purpose of reconnaissance and practice and Four brand new 300SLR cars for the actual 992.332 mile race. As the race runs entirely over public roads from Brescia to Rome and back none but the most dedicated Italian drivers with their local knowledge understood the course. As such reconnaissance for the Mercedes team was of paramount importance and something Mercedes-Benz had done before. Mercedes had used reconnaissance based pace notes in the Carrera Panamericana so the basic idea was not exactly new. But, contrary to popular myth it was Stirling Moss and John Fitch who came up with the idea of the “roller” pace notes. They had originally been partnered to drive together, and when Mercedes decided to support the 300sl entries Alfred Neubauer moved Fitch over to drive one of the new 300sl entries.
Jenks jumped at the chance to ride along with Moss and built the roller box for the pace notes roll, Fitch had met the German journalist Kurt Gesell and invited him to be co-driver. Although Gesell had never taken part in racing before he was invited to ride along and together Fitch and Gesell set about their reconnoiter of the circuit. They only had time and resources to create a book style pace note set. Their system centred around a simple series of Xs' as danger ratings. One X for mildly dangerous, in that it could cause minor damage to the car, up three X meaning serious damage that would cost time for repairs to be made. Four X was actually for dangers to their own lives rather than to the car. Poor Kurt Gesell spent most of the race in a state of terror; the 300sl was meteoric compared to the old road car they had used for the exploratory runs. Fitch received his warning notices interspersed with regular utterances of “Mein Gott” as Gesell repeatedly felt sure they were about to die.
When the first car rolled of the start ramp on the 30th of April 1955 the pressure went on and while some kept their heads others seemed to forget everything but being first. Although even when you have finished the Mille Miglia course it could be several hours before you knew you had won. Moss and Jenkinson couldn't really be said to have “local knowledge” of the route even though this was the time in the event for Moss and he had spent several weeks with 'Jenks' accumulating course data for the pace notes. It would be these notes that would be key to maintaining Moss' level of confidence.
As for the competition Eugenio Castellotti was on a mission with his 4.4ltr Ferrari 121LM. He set off at as blistering a pace as his massively powerful engine could provide regardless of any risk of damaging it. Castellotti drove like a demon, sliding his car through corners and leaving clouds of dust and long black tyre streaks in his wake. In trying to extract more performance than the engine could maintain Castellotti predictably broke the Ferrari on the coast down to Pescara, he had been two minutes ahead of Moss/Jenkinson. This retirement was followed by that of a team mate of Castellotti's, Marzotto. Marzotto had been flying at 174mph when his Ferrari threw a tyre tread. In an fantastic piece of skill he kept the car on the road and stopped to make a tyre change, only to find the spare was different size to the others on his car thus forcing him to abandon.
That sort of error was something Neubauer simply wouldn't let occur and it was another of Neubauer 's superbly efficient team that helped Moss snatch the lead from Piero Taruffi who was shattering all previous Mille Miglia records in a Scuderia Ferrari 118 LM Scaglietti by averaging 130mph on the sprint down to Pescara. There was a tiny gap between Moss and Taruffi on arrival at Pescara but as the teams set to work refuelling the cars it was the well drilled Mercedes crew that put in 18 gallons of fuel in 28 seconds and got Moss and Jenks away in the lead. 62.5 miles later the two cars arrived at the next checkpoint in L’Aquila on the route through the mountains, and Moss was now 35 sec's ahead. Herrmann, Taruffi, Fangio and Kling was the order at that point meaning the Mercedes 300SLR cars were running 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th.
Jenks reading of the roller notes was giving Moss all the information he needed as he confidently rounded blind corners and flew (literally flying around 200ft on one occasion) over blind brows. By the time he reached the next main stop, in Rome, Moss was 1m15sec's in the lead having covered the stretch from L’Aguila to Rome 1hour6min's.
In worrying moments for Fangio he saw time slipping away as his engine developed problems. The mechanically knowledgeable Fangio reported his concerns to the mechanics in Rome who, strangely, dismissed his claims. Mercedes were definitely not having an easy ride, Kling crashed avoiding spectators on the way into Rome. He ended up against a tree and suffered broken ribs. Moss kept his mind focused on the next section, often considered the most challenging one, through the mountains from Rome to Siena. Keen to disprove the old adage of ‘He who leads at Rome never finishes' Moss set out in a determined frame of mind, by the end of the 140mile run to Siena Moss extended his lead to 5m40sec's over Hans Herrmann with both Perdisa and Taruffi having retired.
During the 44mile stage from Siena to Florence Moss pulled out a further 8 seconds over Herrmann but Fangio was really struggling. When the mechanics there checked on the unhealthy noises coming from the 300SLRs engine they found Fangio's car was running on 7 cylinders due to a fractured fuel injection pipe.
There was no let up from Moss over the remaining stages and he repeatedly set fastest time after fastest time as the stages counted down. Fangio struggled on and Herrmann crashed out but Moss just kept going until he crossed the finish line in Brescia at 17:29 on the 1st of May, 1955.
Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson shattered the Mille Miglia race record time by over an hour and established what is still considered Mercedes' greatest sports-car performance. The two Englishmen were fêted by the Italian fans, surrounded by their mechanics and team mates and captured for posterity in that wonderful photograph of the giant figure of Neubauer standing between Moss and Jenkinson, towering over them with his arms round the two smaller mens shoulders. Neubauer's face is a tableau of pride, joy and affection for these “chicks” that had headed what was an amazing set of results for Mercedes.
Often overshadowed by the achievement of Moss and Jenks is the performance of John Fitch and Kurt Gesell. Fitch was only 84 minutes behind Moss' racing sports car in what was simply a road car with the bumpers taken off. Fitch's 300SL Gullwing was only three minutes off the race winning time of the 1954 Mille Miglia winner, Alberto Ascari, who had driven a thoroughbred racing Lancia D24 to a time of 11hr 26:10.
Further more there were five Mercedes in the top ten overall finishers, an astonishing result for Daimler-Benz and a show of utter domination which astonished the Italians, and the rest of the world alike. And, Moss claimed the “Index of Performance” too, something usually only won by the smaller capacity cars.
There were 534 starters, only 279 were classified as finishers.
Stirling Moss remains the only Englishman to have won the prestigious event.
Mercedes top ten finishers were :-
1st overall was Moss/Jenks 300 SLR 10:07:48.00 1st in class S+2.0
2nd overall was Fangio 300 SLR 10:39:33.00 2nd in class S+2.0
5th overall was Fitch/Gesell 300 SL 11:29:21.00 1st in class GT+1.3
7th overall was Gendebien/Washer 300 SL 11:36:00.00 2nd in class GT+1.3
10th overall was Salvatore Casetella 300 SL 12:55:08.00 3rd in class GT+1.3
What is only briefly captured in the race reports is the contribution of "Mr. Efficiency” and the support team. Neubauer had kept in touch with the race just as he had done in previous Mille Miglia races and ensured that every possible eventuality had been considered and a contingency plan put in place for it. Moss and Fitch indeed drove masterfully but they were without doubt aided by the professionalism of the rest of the Mercedes backup team, from the carefully placed spaces and fuel to the swift and accurate handling of tools and equipment. These tasks were the principle responsibility of Alfred Neubauer, and he excelled at it.
1955 Monaco GP
Of course “past performance is not an indicator of future results” and this old adage was proved right when the F1 circus rolled into Monte Carlo in 1955. Having run the 1952 Monaco Grand Prix for sports cars and not held a GP 1953 and 1954 the return of the Grand Prix teams was eagerly anticipated. Officially the XIII Grand Prix Automobile de Monaco, also given the honorary title of Grand Prix d'Europe, the 100 Lap race would mix triumph and tragedy, excitement and disappointment.
There was a large entry list despite the fact that only 20 cars could take to the grid. Mercedes-Benz brought four cars including two new short wheelbase cars for Fangio and Moss. The engine in Fangio's car was mounted slightly further forward in the chassis to aid front end grip a little and when Moss tried it he thought it was better than his car and worried about it all weekend. Hans Herrmann had an older long wheelbase car. Moss noted in his diary that :- “In practice I tried J.F.’s car, and did 1:41.2! My own best was 1:43.8 in my car, his is better in the corners and faster.”
Ferrari had been struggling to design a new more powerful two-cylinder 2.5-liter engine on the premise that it would be stronger and have more torque, things that are desirable for the long race on the very twisty Monaco circuit. However, when the motor was tested at Maranello it tore the test bed apart. Forced to scrap that idea Ferrari gave two Harry Schell and Piero Taruffi Supersqualo 555s and the older Tipo 625s for Farina and Maurice Trintignant. There was little optimism amongst the Ferrari personnel as everyone expected Mercedes to romp away with the race.
It was usual practice for all practice laps to count towards qualifying but at Monaco in 1955 an actual qualifying was held during the first practice. The days leading up to the race contained several incidents that were later given more importance due to incidents that occurred in the race.
Fangio smashed Rudi Caracciola's 1937 lap record, set in a supercharged 5.6-ltr Mercedes W125, when his #2 RW196 short wheelbase car set what would be the pole time of 1m41.1s. A lap time a full 5 seconds quicker than Carraciola's 1m46.5s from 1937. This feat was later matched by Ascari in the Lancia D50 during Saturday practice and thus put Fangio and Ascari 1-2 on the grid. Moss put his Mercedes #6 on the outside of the three car front row. The grid was set as a 3-2-3-2 format would include several Maseratis as well as the Lancias, Ferraris and Mercedes.
Talking of Mercedes Hans Hermann had a huge accident in practice and was lucky to survive. Hitting the wall on the way into Casino Square Hermann suffered six breaks in his right thigh and dislocates the hip, his pelvis was broken too. Scared that the car could burst into flames at any second the severely injured Hans Hermann dragged himself away from the wreck on his elbows. The incident put Neubauer into damage limitation mode again and he sought out André Simon who was to race his private Maserati and persuaded him to take the spare Mercedes on the track instead. Simon put the spare Mercedes, #4, on the fourth row of the grid beside Trintignant in the Ferrari 652. Further down the grid Mike Hawthorn debuted the Vanwall in it's first World Championship event.
Moss recorded in his diary that Thursday night that "My best was 3rd, 1:43.4. Ascari 1:42 and Fangio 1:41.4! Old record was 1:45 (Carrac!). The ratios are not good and are being changed. Bed at 10 p.m.”. He went onto record “Poor Hans had an accident. He has hurt his leg and ribs.”
Practice for Moss was also enlivened by a pretty girl at the Station Hairpin. On each lap Moss waved to her and eventually they manage to signal each other and meet up later. That evening Moss took the young lady to the Ali Baba Club where, on returning to their table after a dance, the couple found a written note on table. It ready, “Der Moss must in der bed be, mitout mein frau. Neubauer.” Moss knew it wasn't the hand writing of Neubauer and on glancing around the room saw the grinning face of his Mille Miglia partner, Denis Jenkinson!
It wasn't all fun though, during the Saturday Moss, Fangio and the very superstitious Ascari did a track walk together. Alberto Ascari was scared of the number 8 as his Father Antonio Ascari was killed in an Alfa Romeo P2 carrying the #26 (2+6=8). Now he found himself on the grid between the #2 and #6 Mercedes. Already on edge when the group came to the chicane one of the drivers noted that “Whoever touches here, goes into the water,” Ascari immediately reacted by looking for something wooden to touch.
Another quirky fact was that Antonio Ascari was 13,463 days old when he died, Alberto Ascari was 13,462 days old that Saturday.
On the 22nd of May, 1955, the flag fell to start the Monaco GP. Fangio led the others away and into the first corner but Castellotti, flying off the second row of the grid passed him on the run up the hill to Casino square. Fangio soon reasserted his control and pulled away leaving Castellotti and Moss to negotiate who should be in second place. Moss didn't take too claim the place from Castellotti after 5 laps so the Mercedes duo, nicknamed “the train” were already asserting a strangle hold on the race. Meanwhile Behra was making his Maserati a point of concern for the Lancias of Ascari and Castellotti.
At ¼ distance Ascari usurped third place from his argumentative young teammate and the running order settled as Fangio, Moss, Ascari and Castellotti. Farina was put out of contention when he damaged a wheel and had to stop for a replacement. By lap 24 the #4 Mercedes of Simon was put out with engine trouble and when Fangio set fastest lap of the race 1m42.4s, with Moss on his tail, Neubauer was frantically signalling them to ease up so as not to over stress the engines and give away the 1-2 result.
On lap 40 Fangio and Moss were heading Behra (Maserati), Ascari (Lancia), Trintignant (Ferrari), Mieres (Maserati) and Perdisa (Maserati). Now, Neubauer might have been right about protecting the engines but it was a broken axle/transmission problem that forced Fangio to park his car on lap 50. This left Moss with a comfortable 1 lap lead from Ascari and a determined Jean Behra in third as Castellotti had to pit with a slow puncture because of a deflating tire. However, Behra was starting to experience issues with his Maserati.
Douglas Rutherford recorded that :-
“The big Maserati flag went out to stop young Perdisa, circulating hopefully in sixth place. He came in, braking hard, stared in amazement at the pit staff and Behra gesturing for him to get out of that cockpit quick. Orders is orders. Perdisa jumped out, Behra jumped in and gave the second Maserati the gun. Perdisa shrugged, climbed into the thrashed Maserati, pulled his goggles down and drove away to do the best he could with it. But the Monaco gremlin liked young Perdisa. It was he and not Behra who figured when the final results came out.”
One assumes Moss must have been feeling on top of the world, recently winning the Mille Miglia and now leading at Monaco, but as often happens pride comes before a fall and fate intervened. On the 80th lap a minor problem in his car's sophisticated valve train slowed the #6 Mercedes engine and after trailing smoke and oil around the circuit from the tunnel and along the harbour front back to the pits the car had to be retired. Moss later recalled :-
“If it had been now, I would have won,” How? “The race then was 100 laps—now it’s down to 80 laps...”
Unfortunately Ascari's lead was very short lived, he was at Casino Square when Moss retired and never got to pass the pits to see he was in the lead. The #26 Lancia D50 failed to negotiate the chicane coming after the tunnel, the very place he, Fangio and Moss had discussed the day before, hit the hay bales and sandbags which flipped the car and driver over the barrier and created their less than elegant dive straight into the harbour. Apparently the famous actor and comedian Peter Ustinov was watching near the chicane and saw Ascari exit the tunnel then disappear. It was only when he saw the huge plume of water, followed by the spray and bubbles, that he realised what had happened.
One can only wonder if Ascari was any the wiser too. Fortunately the D50 had a commodious cockpit allowing him an easy egress from the sinking car. Bruised, shocked and with a painful nose, Ascari popped to the surface and the anxious crowd were soon shouting and pointing “There he is!” as blue helmet with a darkly streaked face underneath it came into view. Alberto Ascari tore off his helmet and started swimming towards the rescue boat and the divers who hauled him aboard.
The cause of Ascari's accident remains unclear. Did something on his car break?, Did he loose traction on oil left behind by Moss' Mercedes? Or was he distracted by the wildly cheering and waving crowd who knew he was in the lead even though he didn't, did fatigue and distraction cause a momentary lapse in concentration? What ever the cause the he spent the night in the hospital and the Lancia became the subject of a photograph as it was recover from 25ft of water in the Bay of Hercules.
Earily Alberto Ascari was killed four days later testing a Sports car at Monza. This continued the parallels with his fathers life as Antonio Ascari also survived an awful crash just four days before his death in the French GP of 1925. Both were the same age to the day when they died as a result of motor racing accidents and both died on the 26th day of the month.
As the race entered the last 20 laps it was the 38 year old veteran Trintignant in the lead driving an old Ferrari that a little while before had been gathering dust at the back of the Scuderia's factory. As Castellotti and Perdisa chased him, in the Lancia and Maserati respectively, it was the Frenchman that took a most unlikely win by 20sec's, from 5th on the grid. I wonder what Behra thought about Perdisa beating him; in his own car?
Moss was still classified as 9th,19 laps down. In his diary entry written that night his recollections of the day/race go as follows :-
“Up at 10 a.m. Mucked around. Light lunch and then the race. Start at 2:45. I took the lead and waved J.F. past then Castalotti nipped by (half tank of gas). I re-passed and from then on Fangio 1st, S.M. 2nd & we gained +30secs. Fangio then broke & I lead until the 81st lap, when I broke whilst 1:38 ahead of Acari! Who went into the harbour! O.K. Later called at the hospital, saw Hans & Alberto & then reception at Casino. Bed at 3 a.m.”
The investigation into the failures in the Mercedes engines discovered all the cars suffered from the same weakness in the desmodromic valve system, which of course was remedied asap; under the watchful eyes of Neubauer and Ulenhaut of course.
A week, the 29th of May ,1955, later Neubauer took the Mercedes Rennabteilung to the Nürburgring for the XVIII Internationales ADAC-Eifel-Rennen Nürburgring, a 22lap blast around the 22.810 km Nordschleife. I some ways the event was a warm up for the Le Mans 24hrs in June so Fangio, Moss, and Kling gave the 300SLRs another run out.
The Mercedes 300SLRs ran beautifully with Fangio, not only took pole in a time of 10m00.1s but went on to win the race in a time of 1h44m52.900 which is an average speed of 130.4kph. Moss was right behind him and also set the fastest lap 10m10.8s (or134.800kph), and Kling came home 4th with Marsten Gregory driving a Ferrari 750 Monza was the interloper in 3rd.
1955 Belgian GP
Seven days later the team were back on the GP bandwagon again. This time for the Belgian GP, or to give it it's official title the XVII GROTE PRIJS VAN BELGIE, at the 8.774 mile (14.120 km) Spa-Francorchamps circuit. This was the fourth race counting towards the world drivers championship which Maurice Trintignant was currently leading courtesy of his win in Monaco. Neubauer, Fangio and the Daimler-Benz board wanted Fangio back on top.
Everyone was rather muted after the Ascari incidents but In practice it was Euginio Castellotti who set the pole time of 4m18.1s. Lancia team had withdrawn as a mark of respect for Ascari after his death so Castelloti entered the D50 as a privateer. Fangio and Moss took up 2nd and 3rd slots on the grid. Interestingly although Harry Schell set a grid time his Ferrari 555 was given over to teammate Maurice Trintignant for the race.
The 36-lap race was was held on the 5th of June, 1955, and proved to be somewhat of a Mercedes demonstration run. Fangio in the #10 car lead away and Moss' #14 was soon passing Castellotti for second place. The Mercedes pair simply drove away from everyone else. Jean Behra crashed badly in his Maserati on lap 3 and Castellotti's Lancia D50's gearbox expired after 16 laps, putting an end to any serious competition. Kling Battled with Farina over third and fourth places until Kling's #12 Mercedes suffered a mechanical problem and retired on lap 22.
Fangio and Moss finished 2 minutes ahead of third place Farina. The winning time being 2h39m29 and the fastest lap of 4m20.6s was also set by Fangio. All was well for Neubauer, Fangio and Daimler-Benz with Fangio now clearly leading the championship on 19 points, Trintingnant was demoted to second in the championship again on 11&1⁄3 points.
Le Mans 1955
The 11th of June 1955 would be a watershed in motor sports and an event that would, in conjunction with other deadly events have around the world, have ramifications still felt in motor racing to this day. The season had already seen the loss of several drivers including Alberto Ascari and Bill Vukovich (who died in a crash at the Indy 500 while on route to a third consecutive Indy win) but the Circuit de la Sarthe was about to witness something that, even in a Europe hardened by war, was shocking and heartbreaking. Alfred Neubauer certainly felt the effects, as did Mike Hawthorn and Lance Macklin, There was to be a clear ending to the joie de vivre era of motorsports and a new dawn for the organisers responsibility towards safety.
Neubauer was as confident as ever when the Rennabteilung arrived at le Sarthe for the 23rd Grand Prix d`Endurance les 24 Heures du Mans held over the 11th and 12th of June, 1955. The fourth round of the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship welcomed around 250,000 spectators to witness the European classic on a circuit that was practically the same as it was since the first race in 1923, a place famous for it's high speed straight and tight corners amongst it's 8.38-mile length.
If the Monaco result was disappointment then the Eifelrennen and Belgian GP victories had put the team back on a high. Daimler-Benz brought all their considerable skills, money and resources to bear in their efforts to win the Le Mans in 1955. A race that was considered likely to be the best since the end of the world war two. 87 entries were registered for this event although only 70 arrived to try and qualify for the 60 slots available in the race. Billed in the British press as "a United Nations of motor racing" all the big sports car manufacturers, Mercedes, Ferrari, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Gordini, Cunningham, Lotus, Porsche et al were represented and a monumental battle between Mercedes and Jaguar was highly anticipated.
Neubauer had the Rennabteilung enter three new cars and he changed his ideas on driver pairings. Usually Neubauer put his fastest drivers as lead driver in separate cars but for this race he decided to partner his two best drivers, Fangio and Moss, in the same car, the #19 300SLR. The second pair was Pierre Levegh with John Fitch, in 300SLR #20, and Karl Kling and André Simon drove the third car carrying #21.
This really was an all star line up for the time and although Pierre Levegh was not a regular member of the Mercedes team he was a huge hero in France. Especially considering his fantastic effort in 1952 when he drove solo, and in the lead for much of the time, for over 22hrs until mechanical trouble put him out of the race. His departure gave that race victory to Mercedes so Alfred Neubauer thought it would be popular, even diplomatic to offer Levegh a drive. Just ten years since the end of the 2nd World War it was also probably expedient to consider the feelings of the French spectators too. Pierre Levegh's real name was Pierre Bouillin, he used the name Levegh in honour of his uncle, Alfred Velghe, who raced under the “nom de course” Levegh. This was an anagram of Velghe and sounded like his mother's maiden name Lévy. Alfred Levegh won several big race at the turn of the century until his career was cut short by respiratory problems aggravated by racing through the dust and fumes of the time.
In the week before the race John Fitch was invited to take dinner with Pierre and his wife at their hotel. Levegh told his Mercedes co-driver that “a victory at Le Mans had long been his most cherished ambition”. Despite Fitch's poor French and Levegh's total lack of knowledge the two were able to communicate surprisingly well. Both were looking forward to the race.
The new version of the RW196S, as it was a derivative of the F1 GP RW196, was a 300SLR with a difference. Expert analysts of the time considered them the best sports cars in the world. But they were heavy compared so some of their opposition and their in board drum breaks, huge as they were, were of questionably adequacy so the engineers at Mercedes dusted off their 1952 idea of an air brake. A hydraulically-actuated flap was formed as part of the rear deck of the car, operated by the driver via a lever in the cockpit. It is also worth remembering at this point that the bodywork was fabricated out of highly flammable, but ultra-lightweight, magnesium alloy. This was especially important in the braking zones at the end of the the Mulsanne straight or going to the White House corner where Jaguars disc brakes gave them a distinct advantage.
When the flag dropped Castellotti got away fastest and his Ferrari 121LM lead the first lap with Hawthorn chasing in the 'D' type Jag'. Fangio had jumped into his cockpit and caught his trousers on the gear lever, the ensuing seconds lost getting himself free meant he was a little way off the two leaders. In his usual way Fangio hunted Castellotti and Hawthorn and the the three started to live up to the great expectations of the crowd. The three men traded record tap times until Castellotti's Ferrari started to slow, this was the earliest signs of the mechanical issues that would put all the Ferrari 121LMs out of the race.
Hawthorn and Fangio went past the Ferrari and maintained their blistering pace, battling hammer and tongs for over two hours. This was to go down as one of the epic duels in motor racing history, with multiple lead changes and Hawthorn setting the fastest race lap on lap 28, it was 4m06.6s, a speed of 196.963 kph. In the heat of this battle Mike Hawthorn, in his efforts to keep ahead of Fangio, had been ignoring pit signals to stop for fuel. This was to have dire consequences, not for Jaguar or Hawthorn, but for other drivers, and hundreds of spectators.
In the third hour Hawthorn's #6 Jaguar was in dire need of fuel. The pits at that time were not divided from the track so it was a particularly dangerous place when it was busy. On lap 35 the leaders started making their first pit stops and as Hawthorn came onto the pit straight he passed the #26 Austin-Healey 100S driven by Lance Macklin. Hawthorn then caught sight of the frantic signalling from his pits.
At the last moment Hawthorn decided to pit and moved abruptly across Macklin's path, braking hard to enter his pits but still going so fast he overshot his box by 50-75 meters. Reversing isn't permitted in the pits so the Jaguar staff waved Hawthorn on for another lap as behind him a scene of utter devastation and confusion was developing and trying to push the Jaguar back into it's pit was just too dangerous.
As Hawthorn had swerved across the path of Macklin and suddenly slowed, a surprised Macklin attempted to avoid hitting the Jaguar. He stayed right for a moment, raising dust from the side of the track with its right wheels, but his car had drum brakes and could not stop as quickly as the Jaguar fitted with Disc brakes. As the spaced closed Macklin had to turn toward the centre of the track. The Austin-Healey went into a slide and initially appeared out of control as it crossed the centre of the circuit but Macklin held it and regained direction, slowing in the process. Macklin's actions had been to avert an accident in the pit area that could have had devastating effects. Sadly his actions had exactly the results he was trying to avoid as he was unaware of the other cars now in the vicinity.
The Mercedes cars of Levegh and Fangio who had been chasing Hawthorn now found a much slower Austin-Healey in their path. Levegh was acutely aware that Fangio was behind him and about to take the lead, as such he didn't want to slow Fangio down. The 300SLR of Pierre Levegh, travelling at over 150 mph, was now closing on the Austin-Healey rapidly. Levegh was going at least 75mph faster than Macklin and probably realising he couldn't avoid hitting Macklin's car thrust his arm into the air as a warning to following drivers. Levegh very nearly avoided the crash, but at approximately 18:25 the Mercedes just hit the left rear wing of the Austin-Healey.
Seeing Leveghe's warning hand Fangio, in the #19 300SLR, had just enough time to dodge all the cars and carry on. Fangio believed Levegh saved his life and later told “Life” magazine that he was very grateful to Levegh for his warning despite the fact that racing at 125mph, "he had no chance to do so himself”. Fangio never forgot Levegh.
Levegh's 300SLR right front wheel rode up the left rear wing of the Macklin's Austin-Healey and the Mercedes was launched into the air. Macklin's car slid out of control across the track ricocheted off the pit wall and went back across the track to the earth banking, the Austin-Healey had hit three people injuring two and killing one. Macklin was uninjured but his car was very badly damaged.
All this was happening in seconds right in front of densely packed spectator areas and grandstands protected only by advertising hoarding banners, a few hay bales and an earth bank. There was insufficient security and organisation so as the accident unfolded confusion and panic started.
Levegh's Mercedes flew in a shallow arc until the rear hit the earth bank sending the 300SLR into an end over end tumble. As it somersaulted it catapulted Levegh onto the track and shed it's front axle, engine and bonnet, hurling them through the mass of spectators, some of whom were standing on tables and step ladders to get a better view of the race, and spraying fuel and oil all around. Such large items travelling at speed crushed and decapitated people, leaving swaths of destruction in the crowd and killing scores of spectators in just a few seconds. The main body of the Mercedes landed back on the earth bank beside the track and exploded as the racing fuel caught fire which also ignited the loose fuel in the area.
Pierre Levegh, his skull crushed, was killed instantly. Some quick thinking policemen tore down the fabric advertising hoardings and used them to beat out the flames on his body and dragged him back across the track to the pits wrapped in the fabric.
At first people ran from the fire and flying debris, but very quickly others could be seen running toward the burning wreck in case some body might need rescuing. Marshals and track staff attempted to put the fire out with water only to set of a chemical reaction which made the magnesium alloy body work explode sending huge flairs of white hot fire into the crowd, killing more people. As fire fighters tried to deal with the surrounding fires the smouldering wreckage burnt on for another two hours. When it did die out there was nothing left of the car but it's chassis frame.
People started to pick themselves up, start looking for the friends and family and trying to help the injured. Photo's abound of the those who were able carrying bodies away and covering them with the advertising banners, blankets and coats. Men, women and children were dead. Of those alive most look distraught and confused, feelings mirrored on the other side of the track as those in the pits climbed on top of the buildings to get a better view and understand what was happening. The drivers knew nothing of how bad things were until they came into the pits and talked to their teams. John Fitch later explained how the teams couldn't get across the race track and the very long lap meant only those in the vicinity at the time had a clue to what had happened, the others just came around to go pass a crash.
When Hawthorn came back around and saw the extent of the incident he was so upset he arrived at the pits with tears streaming down his face. In viewing the footage, and reading accounts of the accident it seems clear Hawthorn was the proximate cause of the accident and some sections of the press came straight out and blamed him. Others cast aspersions at Lance Macklin too. Most drivers considered it a racing incident.
Macklin's car was dragged back over to the pits by police and impounded by the French authorities. It was released back to the British company the following year, rebuilt and spent 42 years at a garage in the north of England
The results of the crashes were horrific. The death toll is believed to be 84 spectators and Levegh, with at least 120 injured. Footage from the 4 known cine camera angles and numerous still photos show something akin to a war zone. Ten years after the end of the 2nd World War a German machine was again coming from the air and killing French citizens, the irony wasn't lost on Mercedes or Neubauer.
As organisers, police and spectators tried to help the injured and make sense of what was happening the race continued unabated. Only 10minutes after the crash Dick Jacobs crashed near Maison Blanche and his MG EX182 turned over and burst into flames. Jacobs was badly hurt but did survive. As horrors continued to unfold the race organizers argued about what to do. In the end they decided to continue the race as there major concern was getting ambulances into the track and back out again to the hospitals. It was feared that thousands of people trying to leave the circuit would hamper the emergency services and add to the rising death toll
The Fangio/Moss car moved into the lead with a margin of several laps over the Hawthorn/Bueb Jaguar and the Kling/Herrmann 300SLR running in a solid third. After the next stops for driver changes the Jaguar was outmatched on talent and Moss led Bueb by almost two laps at midnight but the Jaguar team spotters reports on the Mercedes cars braking points was suggesting the 300SLRs brakes were loosing efficiency.
At the 2am point the #6 Jaguar had reduced the gap to one and a half laps with the #21 Mercedes two laps behind them.
Almost as soon as Levegh's accident happened Neubauer ordered one of the Rennabteilung to call the Daimler-Benz headquarters at Unterturkheim to inform the board members of the sad occurrence. John Fitch had overheard a journalist reporting the news of some 65 people being reported dead. Fitch immediately recognised the ramifications this could have had for Daimler-Benz and had a discussion in the pits with Chief Engineer Uhlenhaut about the appalling deaths and injuries advocating the team withdraw from the event as a mark of respect. As it happened it was almost a tradition for Mercedes to retire when spectators or team drivers were killed but the protocol was for the board of directors to take a vote.
As the Daimler-Benz board could not be easily assembled it took time for any decisions to be made. John Fitch continued to urge Uhlenhaut to withdraw reminding him some of the members of the Rennabteilung had been with the team when the cars raced with swastikas painted on the side. With WWII still fresh in the minds of the French Fitch remarked that :-
“In light of recent unpleasantness," Mercedes "should not win this race over the bodies of ...however many.. French people."
After several hours Neubauer was able to consult with the board and as everyone assembled it took them a very short time to assess the situation and reach the decision to withdraw the remaining 300SLR sports cars from the event. Six hours had elapsed in the mean time. There have also been some reports that this was the moment when the board decided to terminate the F1 programme, that decision had actually already been made but the events must surely have put the nail in the coffin of the F1 cars. At that time though the Sports car programme was still very much on the table with the Rennabteilung expecting to continue racing in the World Sportscar Championship through 1956 and possibly 1957.
A little after 2:00am Alfred Neubauer walked out onto the track with his flag and called his cars into the pits. The drivers retired without hesitation and a brief announcement regarding their retirement was made over the public address system. The token of respect for the victims had been made.
Shortly after the Mercedes withdrawal Rudolf Uhlenhaut went down to the Jaguar garage and spoke with Jaguar team boss “Lofty” England. Uhlenhaut suggested that Jaguar team should respond in kind, after all it was one of their cars that had started the events. "Lofty" England didn't have to report to the Jaguar factory and made up his own mind. Later England was recorded as saying :-
“I did not discuss who might have been to blame but said that I believed the organizers had been right to continue the race and that Mercedes, having continued to race for more than six hours after the accident, I could not see the point in them withdrawing, and I did not intend to pull out the cars.“
Jaguar continued racing.
Mercedes withdrawal from the race left the 'D' type of Hawthorn and Bueb with a secure lead and as darkness broke the sky was overcast with low cloud. The sad weather gave way to tears of rain at around 6am. Second place was contested by the Maserati of Valenzano and Musso, five laps behind the leading Jaguar, and the Aston Martin of Frere and Collins. That dispute was settled late on the Sunday morning when the Maserati retired.
Ivor Bueb, racing in his first event for the Coventry marque, gave the car over to Hawthorn for the last hour and Mike Hawthorn brought the #6 'D' type Jaguar through to victory. The pair completed 306 laps at an averaging a speed of 107.067mph (172.308kph) for the 2,569.61 miles (4,135.38km) covered. Second place was filled by Peter Collins and Paul Frère driving an Aston Martin DB3S, 5 laps down. Johnny Claes and Jacques Swaters brought their Ecurie Francorchamps Jaguar D-Type, resplendent in Yellow, home third.
The effects of the disaster affected various Mercedes staff and team members in different ways and stretched far beyond the Mercedes family. Just prior to the accident John Fitch was having coffee with Madame Levegh in the Mercedes trailer. On hearing the huge explosion Fitch told Levegh's wife he'd go and see what was happening. He came across a scene of devastation and chaos, and after stopping to help some injured Gendarmes and journalists returned to Madame Levegh. In his words, “I suppose my grim face must have told it all, for I didn’t have to speak. Madame Levegh nodded slowly. ‘I know, Fitch. It was Pierre. He is dead. I know he is dead.’”
Mike Hawthorn suffered bouts of depression right up to his death in 1959. Hawthorn was the victim of much recrimination based on the wildly inaccurate descriptions of the accident in the French press which published photo's of a “Disgusting” Hawthorn celebrating with Champagne after the race. A semi-official record of Mercedes team and Macklin's stories also put suspicion on Hawthorn who himself blamed Macklin and even wrote it in a book; for which he was sued by Macklin for libel.
Drivers Phil Walters and Sherwood Johnston retired from racing as did John Fitch after completing his contracted races with Mercedes-Benz. Lance Macklin, whose fitness to race (along with that of Levegh's) was questioned by the Jaguar team, also retired a few months later having also been embroiled in another fatal accident during the RAC Tourist Trophy race at Dundrod. Macklin never really came to terms with the deaths caused by the crashes.
Neubauer considered it the "Black Day" and thought's of his own retirement finally started to arise. His diary for the weekend is revealing :-
‘Saturday: Woke at seven. Sunny. Eight: tea. Nine: garage. Eleven: snacks. Eleven-forty: to the track. Four o’clock: start. Fight between Fangio and Hawthorn. Six-thirty: Hawthorn blocks the circuit, Levegh’s Mercedes hits Macklin’s Austin-Healey, and goes into the crowd. Levegh and approximately eighty spectators dead. The race goes on.’
‘Sunday: Three am: hotel, something to eat. Sleep until ten-thirty. Twelve: discussion of the funeral of Levegh. Two-forty: garage. Five: left track, heavy rain at Orleans, Troyes. Twelve: Grand Hotel, Neuvy. Dinner.
‘Monday: Six-thirty: still raining, cool. Nine: drive to Strasbourg, then Stuttgart. Dinner, too much to drink. Home, telephone call from Uhlenhaut. Bed, couldn’t sleep for thinking about the accident at Le Mans.’
Many phrases have been used to describe the events of 11th June 1955, “the greatest tragedy in the history of motorsport” is probably the most appropriate.
The accident was so horrendous and the organisation so poor that the number of the dead, usually quoted at around 84, is still questioned to this day and the number of the injured will never be known though it is now thought to be approaching 200. It took days to really start to understand what happened and photo's taken by Paul Frere were still being studied and giving more clues in the mid 1970s. In truth the accident had been coming for years and could have been much less devastating, but, as with all things it takes the awful to happen to spur people into action.
The swiftest actions are often a little too extreme and although it was perhaps appropriate to cancel some races while a review of spectator safety was carried out some countries just outright banned motorsports completely. After the death of Bill Vukovich in the Indy 500 the outcry against motor racing was almost global.
The Nürburgring race, the next round of the World Sports Car Championship was cancelled as was the legendary Carrera Panamericana, followed by France, Germany, and Switzerland cancelling their national GPs. France banned motorsports until safety at the circuits was reviewed but Switzerland went a step further instigating a ban that remained in force till repealed in 2007. In the United States the American Automobile Association abdicated it's role in sanctioning motor races saying it distracted from their primary goals, and a new organisation, United States Automobile Club, was created for the sanctioning and officiating over circuits and races.
The Automobile Club l'Ouest (ACO) and the French Government carried out investigations into the crash. The simple truth was, that while officials insisted security measures at Le Mans were above the standard required, the circuit had not evolved in keeping with the speeds of the cars; neither had the regulations governing the construction of the cars themselves.
The crowd had inadequate protection, security, marshalling and medical arrangements were poor, and the Mercedes 300SLR too easily broke into multiple parts and sprayed fuel and oil around. There were no seatbelts or roll bars to protect the drivers and the everyone's general attitude was that the sport is dangerous so take part or spectate at your own risk.
The primary cause of the accident was the fact the pit lane wasn't separated from the pit straight, which it self was too narrow. The facts of these unsafe conditions had been complained about by drivers, including Maj' Tony Rolt and others, since 1953, but the warning messages had fallen on deaf ears.
As a consequence of the spectacular accidents, prior to the 1956 le Mans race, the pit straight was widened, all hazardous areas were reviewed and the spectator areas were moved further back away from the track. It still took years, even decades, for the sport to really take safety seriously. The safety campaign didn't really gain traction until after the deaths of Lorenzo Bandini and Jimmy Clark which gave more credence to Jackie Stewart's safety campaign for better safety measures and technology for both the circuits and the cars; and even then Stewart was ridiculed by many within the sport.
John Fitch took the issue seriously though, after his retirement from racing he worked tirelessly on traffic safety devices and was the developer of the the water-filled "Fitch barrels" commonly used on high speed road junctions. This sort of inertia absorbing barrier has been adopted by motor racing circuits and adapted as needed for the differing genres and speeds.
Mercedes were now struggling in the F.I.A. World Sports Car Championship standings and it was going to take all of Neubauer's organisational skills to pull the team together and get the firm back in the Championship hunt. It wasn't going to be easy under the then points system of 8-6-4-3-2-1 for the first six drivers and the manufacturers only being allowed to count their highest finishing car and then only the the best 4 results out of the 6 races were counted.
After Le Mans Ferrari led the Sports Car championship with 18 points, Jaguar were second on 14 points with Maserati third on 11 points. Mercedes-Benz had 8 points in fourth place and Aston Martin and Porsche were equal 5th on 6 Points each. There were just two championship races left, Mercedes fate was not really in their own hands so all they could do was win and let the cards fall where they may.
1955 Dutch GP
Just a week later the Rennabteilung was back at work on the race track. This time it was for Formula One and the K.N.A.C. Dutch GP at Zandvort, the pleasant little 4.193-km track nestled in the sand-dunes. It was resurfaced and ready to run and everyone seemed to be acting as though nothing had ever happened at Le Mans. Notable absentees from the practice sessions were Lancia, still reeling from the loss of Ascari and choosing to retire from GP racing, and Vanwall. This made Castellotti and Hawthorn free agents and Ferrari quickly snapped them up to drive alongside Trintignant in three new Tipo 555, SuperSqualos.
The Race was to run over 100 laps to cover 260 miles, and attracted a select group of 16 entries which included Mercedes-Benz who had brought a variety of RW196 spec' cars. Fangio, Moss and Kling could choose any from two ultra short cars or two medium length cars, one of which had the front brakes mounted conventionally outboard rather than inboard. To facilitate this choice Neubauer had booked the track for a private test session on the Friday morning prior to official practice on Friday afternoon. As a result the drivers had time to decide and double check on what car they wanted to run and the team was well set up for practice. The three Mercedes duly took the front row of the grid in the order you might expect, Fangio (1m40.0s and 10secs faster than the previous lap record), Moss (just 0.4s behind) and Kling.
The Ferraris were on song now and running well but had to do adjustments to the ratios in the diff' to get the best out of the cars. A whole slew of Maserati 250Fs from the Officine Alfieri Maserati team and privateers too and Mieres and Musso were able to mix things up for the grid. Further back down the starting order Jonny Claes, in his last GP, was using Rosier's old Ferrari and there were three Gordinis for Manzon, Pollet and da Silva Ramos.
Race day came on the 19th of June 1955 and the weather seemed to be the only one remembering le Mans as it was cool, overcast and drizzling, making the track surface rather slippery. None the less the fifth round of the World Drivers' Championship got underway with Fangio and Moss soon getting “the train” into action and driving away from the rest of the field. The fans loved every minute of the demonstration run the Mercedes drivers were putting on, sliding through the corners in perfect harmony. Neubauer wasn't, he regularly told Moss not to follow Fangio so closely saying “What if Fangio makes a mistake? You will be in is accident!”; Moss just retorted “Fangio doesn't make mistakes”. The pair finished one-two separated by just 0.3s, despite Moss' engine starting to smoke, so you can see Neubauer's anxiousness was well founded as they had run at that gap for most of the race.
Musso's Maserati, Kling in the #12 Mercedes, Behra and Mieres all tried their best to challenge but no one really got close. In trying Kling span out and retired on lap 21. Musso ran the race in third place and finished in that position, despite a spin, but the Ferrari's were largely anonymous. Trintignant retired with a broken gearbox and the best Castellotti and Hawthorn could manage was 5th and 7th respectively.
On the podium Fangio was first to congratulate Luigi Musso on his fine drive. Fangio's winning time in the #8 Mercedes was 2h54m23.800s, Moss, #10 Mercedes, just +0.300s and Musso was 57.100s behind, everyone else was lapped! Roberto Mieres set fastest lap though, 1m48.3s.
1955 British GP
A fortnight later and the teams all met for the next GP, the British GP, this time held at the circuit laid out around the horse racing facility at Aintree on the outskirts of Liverpool. Famous for running the Grand National horse race the motor racing circuit was built in 1954 and soon dubbed ‘The Goodwood of the North’ and such comparisons with the other Horse racing turned motorsports venue. New York Times correspondent, Robert Daley, wasn't impressed. In his book, “Cars at Speed”, Daley wrote
"The British make much of the amenities of the Aintree circuit, bragging about its grandstands, its bars, its 'lavatories," and continued "It is true that you can buy scotch whiskey during a race, and usually the weather is so awful you will want to." One wonders if the RAC were happy as it was their decision to move the race from it's apparent home at Silverstone.
The VIII RAC British Grand Prix was to be held over 90 Laps of the 3 mile (4.828 km) circuit providing 270 miles of excitement for the viewing public. In truth the result was almost certainly a Mercedes victory and most likely for Championship leader Fangio. But, Neubauer and several other members of the Rennabteilung were conscious of the facts that it was still only 10 years since the end of WWII and that Liverpool had been the subject of heavy German bombings. The events at Le Mans still resonated with the Germans too and upsetting another former adversary might not be commercially expedient.
There were never any team orders at Mercedes and everyone was aware Moss was an exceptional driver as he been Fangio's wheel tracks, and right on his tail, for most of the season and no long ago won the Mille Miglia in record time. Neubauer remembered later that the comment was going around that it "...would be good for an English win to a German car for the first time a Grand Prix ... ". The idea wasn't without precedent as during the previous season at the Avus non-championship race it had been engineered for Kling to lead Fangio home which was popular with Berliners. Neubauer was also sure to have records of the fact that in the five years the British GP had been held only two British drivers had finished on the lead lap, Reg Parnell being 3rd in 1950 and Mike Hawthorn who was 2nd in 1954. It would not only be expedient politically for the Germans but also commercially for Mercedes if the Moss took his first GP victory at his home race.
If Neubauer thought it would be good for Moss to win he wouldn't give it to him on a plate. Fangio was the clear No.1 driver at Mercedes and it wouldn't do for a result to look staged. Moss would have to earn his 1st GP Win, and there were plenty of competitors who wanted to take the win instead of him.
For Practice Mercedes had four entries Fangio drove the #10 Mercedes RW196, Moss carried #12, Kling #14 and Piero Taruffi drove the #50 Mercedes. Ranged against them were Ferraris for Hawthorn and Castellotti, Maserattis were driven by Jean Behra, Roberto Mieres, Andre Simon and Lance Macklin. Vanwall were represented by Ken Wharton and Harry Schell while Tony Rolt, Peter Walker and Leslie Marr were hopefully piloting Connaught-Altas. Driving for Gordini were Manzon and da Silva Ramos. Almost unnoticed was an Australian driver Jack Brabham making his debut for the Cooper team in a Cooper-Bristol.
Moss was on form and stormed to his first ever pole position. He had fitted a shorter final drive than Fangio giving better acceleration and the younger man found it easier to adapt to the ‘back to front’ gearbox fitted with the Mercedes developed interlocking mechanism to help prevent missed gear changes. Moss' pole time was 2m00.4s and beside him on the 3-2-3-2 grid was Fangio just 0.2s adrift. Behra got his Maserati in among the Mercedes but Kling and Taruffi took up 4th and 5th on the grid. The third row of the grid saw the Vanwall of Harry Schell splitting the Maseratis of Mieres and Simon. Eugenio Castellotti was fastest of the faltering Ferrari's in 10th position and debutante Brabham just grabbed hold of the back of the grid putting the Cooper-Bristol in 25th slot.
Race day, the 16th of July, 1955, was hot and dry and everything looked set fair for a great day. The 100,000 strong crowd had high hopes for Moss and even the Times newspaper reported :-
“There is much speculation about the Mercedes team tactics, and whether these might be varied on this occasion. ... The propaganda value of a victory by a British driver in Britain is not lightly to be discarded, and Fangio's leading position on points for the world championship would not be jeopardized by his having to be content with second place today”.
Moss led away only for Fangio to quickly move ahead and the silver machine established the normal situation of 1-2 at the front and pulling away from everyone else. On lap 3 Moss took back the lead and at Anchor bend and Fangio later remembered thinking, “Okay, let’s see what you can do.,” and kept Moss honest up to lap 18 when he passed Moss again. Behra had recovered from a poor getaway to fight his way past Kling and Taruffi and was the only person able to get near the leading Mercedes cars until a broken oil pipe put him out on lap 10.
Moss recorded the events in his diary saying :- “Took lead at start, due to Behra's proximity. Let Fangio lead later, and at 18 laps took lead to the end”. Moss was clearly on fire and Motor Sport Magazine's race later report made it clear it was a race though :- "It was clear that if Moss was going to be allowed to win, he was going to have to work for it,"
As for the rest of the field the hot weather and attrition were taking a toll, competitors fell away with oil leaks, transmission problems and broken engines till there was hardly a hint of a threat from interlopers be they red, green or blue. In the Mercedes pit it was so quiet one of the Mercedes mechanics picked up his kit and went down the pit lane to help repair the broken oil pipe on Ken Wharton's Vanwall!
Moss slipped back into the lead on lap 26, shortly after Jack Brabham had retired his Cooper-Bristol with engine failure on lap 25. Moss was using the back markers very skilfully to open out a gap on Fangio that approached 10s just after the mid point in the race. Neubauer could see the real threat was now reliability and stepped out with his flag and ordered “Regulare’, or hold position, and shortly after ‘Piano’ meaning gently. Moss slowed as per orders and Fangio closed back up on his tail. Meanwhile at Ferrari Castellotti, who had been forced out of the race by a transmission failure on lap 16 took over the car of #16 car from Hawthorn who was somewhat unwell that day.
Fangio chased Moss around Aintree along straights and round corners with names normally associated with one horsepower transport than the four wheeled kind. The enthralled spectators, enjoying the novelty of an Englishman in the lead, hoped against hope Moss could hold Fangio off for the win. Moss himself was starting to wonder what the protocol was as his respect for Fangio was so great that he thought it wrong for him to win. The crowd still saw a great spectacle as Moss decided to go for the fastest lap, if he wasn't to win then he could have that. That goal was achieved on lap 88 when Moss matched his pole time of 2m00.4s.
Still wondering if Mercedes expected Fangio to win Moss, in his own words, "backed off on the last lap","because I wasn't sure of what we were supposed to do — but when the Old Man was still behind me at the final corner, I can tell you I gave it everything on the run up to the line!”. The scene on track at Tatts Corner as Moss having previously given Fangio the options to pass was two Mercedes going flat out, as Fangio slid a little wide Moss went full throttle for the line. They were separated by 0.2 sec's as the chequered flag fell and the huge British crowd exploded in delight.
The Guardian report of the race carries the lines:- “Moss “waved Fangio through … Fangio drew alongside him as they approached the chequered flag and then, it seemed, hung back to let Moss cross the line first … it was a sporting gesture and fair”.
Mercedes completely dominated the race but any lingering concerns about anti-German feelings were masked by the British drivers victory. Kling and Taruffi were 3rd and 4th although only Kling was still on the lead lap at the end. All eyes were now on the 25 year old Londoner, whose indisputable patriotism shown driving British cars of lesser proficiency, had now proved he had “the right stuff” and was a match for anyone driving competitive machinery.
But Moss has never been quite sure he really won the race, Moss said :-
"Don't ask me if he let me win that day, because in all honesty I don't know, and it was something we never discussed subsequently. I can tell you that there were no prearranged tactics between us, no team orders from Neubauer. Perhaps it was suggested to Fangio that he should let me win, because it was the British GP. It's quite possible. But he wasn't the kind of guy who would ever have let me know it, unlike some drivers of the recent past. He had too much class for that".
Many years later Moss did ask Fangio directly if he had allowed him to win. Fangio replied :-
‘No. It was your day.’
Fangio also later told a journalist :-
"I don't think I could have won, even if I'd wanted to. Stirling was really pushing that day, and his car had a higher final drive than mine. It was quicker."
There is no doubt the respect between these team mates was mutual and total. On the podium Moss put the laurel wreath over Fangio's shoulders and told the assembled fans :-
"Fangio, the greatest driver in the world, could easily have come up and made a different story of the race, but being the sportsman he is, Fangio has given me the opportunity of realizing my ambition to win the British Grand Prix.”
In truth one suspects Moss was aided by that higher final drive and what Nigel Mansell called “people power”. Moss had the edge on Fangio throughout the weekend and I doubt Fangio, brilliant as he was, could so consistently be that tiny margin behind Moss in qualifying and the race. Neither Fangio or Neubauer were the type to just hand Moss the win on a plate, even though Mercedes had great superiority they also knew the British fans could see through a “fix”. The only person who knew the real truth of the matter, Fangio, took that truth to the grave.
There were only 9 finishers and if the first win for a British driver at the British GP made a great day for the British fans the the real glory was Germany's. Moss' winning time was 3h07m21.2s, and in a reversal of the usual Mercedes “train” Fangio was +0.2s behind Moss. A look at the top four finishing order, says it all though. Moss #12, Fangio #10, Kling #14, Taruffi #50, all driving for Mercedes. Luigi Musso was fifth for Maserati and Mike Hawthorn's shared drive with Castellotti garnered a distant 6th place and gave the fans another Brit' to cheer.
Moss was now 11 points behind Fangio in the drivers' championship but with the cancellations of the German, Swiss and Spanish Grands Prix, no one could overhaul Fangio's lead and he took his third F1 driver's world championship title.
Kristianstad Sports car race
The next F1 GP would be the Italian GP at Monza but before the now final F1 race of the year the non-championship sportscar race at Kristianstad was to be contested. The 1955 Swedish GP was the first official Swedish Grand Prix held at the demanding 4.04mile Råbelöv circuit at Kristianstad and attracted at least 75,000 spectators and many of the best European drivers and teams now looking for races to fill the voids left by the race cancellations in the aftermath of the Le Mans disaster.
Motor racing was a fairly new sport in Sweden and all the enthusiasm and energy of the organisers was needed to cope with the influx of factory teams. The Kungl Automobile Club (KAK, Kungliga Automobil Klubben) the Royal Automobile Club of Sweden and H.R.H. Prince Bertil of Sweden worked together to organise the event, the Prince personally went to numerous manufacturers factories to facilitate their entry in the race and the event really marks the first time Scandinavian motor racing got any recognition from the rest of the motor racing fraternity.
The Råbelöv circuit was a new track which had the appearance of a square. Three sides of it were public roads while remaining side of the square was a private road where the pits were housed. The rather narrow circuit had a surface of a fine anti-skid material which suffered from becoming uneven and launched the cars airborne for considerable distances. In the wake of the Le Mans incident one might have considered the circuit unsafe for the high speed racing cars and quite how Mercedes justified racing the 300SLRs there is a question for debate. The response of some teams to the circuit was "It's a bit dodgy, but fun."
However the spectator control was perfect.
It is interesting to look at the way the different teams entries arrived at the event. Maserati sent their 3litre car by train along with, the driver Jean Behra and a mechanic used public transport. Ferrari sent a sent 4.4-litre Le Mans car by train with driver Castellotti, team manager Ugolini and two mechanics. Aston Martin's entry consisted of two cars sent by boat with the mechanics driving the cars to the circuit and the two other team personnel travelling in a Lagonda shooting-brake. The one factory Porsche Spyder was transported on a trailer pulled by a VW van while their driver, Frankenberg, drove up in his own Porsche coupé with his family. Lots of other Scandinavian privateers arrived in similar manner including one Joakim Bonnier, later to be Swedens first F1 driver.
In contrast Mercedes arrived with the blue wonder, two full body transporters and two covered lorries, the whole of the technical department and mechanics, Neubauer and the team and press staff, as well as Fangio, Moss and Kling, all in a procession of a great number of private cars. They put up Mercedes logos and banners all around their pits, put on special film shows and generally made a “big thing” of their presence. In terms of racing cars they had two 300SLRs and a spare 300SLR in case of problems. There were also three 300SL road going sports cars on the rosta.
A particularly interesting vehicle that appeared in the practice sessions was a 300SLR Coupé driven by Rurolf Ulenhaut. He had actually driven it all the way up from Stuttgart and intended to evaluate it alongside the 300SLRs driven by Moss and Fangio. The “Ulenhuat Coupé” was one of two cars built which were, in mechanical terms, the same as the 300SLR but with a body more akin to the production 300SL and with a full interior also similar to the road car. It had been intended to race these cars but Fangio and Moss expressed a preference for the open body form and the coupé cars were never raced at all.
The Swedish organisers had modelled their event on the British motor racing system, they had four classes for sportscar racing and a Formula three event too. Clearly they were attempting to race the profile of motor racing and to show that there were opportunities for people to get into the sport even if you didn't have huge amounts of money. Class One was for the top flight racing sports over 3litres like the Merc's and included a D-type Jaguar, a pair of Aston Martins works and private Ferraris as well as AlfaRomeos and Maseratis; in all 10 cars entered this class.
Moss was again faster than Fangio with Castellotti, having missed first practice because his Ferrari was delayed during it's train journey was able to put in some good times but nothing like that of the Mercedes of Moss and Fangio.
Classes 2 (series sports cars) & 3 (touring cars over 2ltrs) practised together and the factory Porsche of Frankenberg was able to set lap times faster than any of the SL cars and Mercedes were panicked into removing anything they could. Bumpers, grilles and even seat cushions, among other things, were discarded but with little effect; the Porsche remained faster!
The days racing for the GP Sverige on the 7th of August 1955 consisted of several classes of sports car races and a Formula III event to entertain the crowds. The Main event was the 32 lap race for special racing sports cars such the Mercedes 300SLRs complete with their air brakes. It really was an truly international event. Racing started with the Formula III cars followed by the Class2/3 race.
A Ferrari and a Jaguar had the front row of the grid with Frankenberg's Porsche and the 300SL of von Trips behind. When the race got underway it was the Ferrari Monza of Carlsson that went into the lead with von Trips following and Jaguar of Lincoln, Kling's 300SL and the Porsche of Lundgren in that order. On lap four Carlsson, who had already amassed a 17s lead, hit the undulating section too fast and the car landed badly throwing car into a thick hedge putting the combination out of the race, fortunately Carlsson was not hurt. Von Trips took over the lead followed by Kling and Lundgren who was doing a great job of staying with the two 300SL drivers. Lincoln in the Jaguar had a good lead in the class two contest with the Porsche keeping him honest until Lincoln made a mistake and the Jag' slid off at a corner and ended up on inverted in an adjacent field,again without serious injury to the driver.
Kling's #55 300SL took over the lead from Trips and the cars ran in team order until on lap 12 the 300SL of von Trips lost it's brakes and would have disappeared down the road to Kristianstad if his car hadn't been arrested by the straw bales without damage. At the end of the 16 lap race Kling won the GT class at an average speed 143.9 km/h followed home. Frankenberg won class 2 for Porsche.
The main event was the 32 lap race for class one racing sports-cars and was to be started with the famous “le Mans” type start. Moss was at the head of the line and led for the first lap before waving Fangio past and establishing the regular Mercedes team “train”. The start had been as expected for the Mercedes drivers but the Mercedes mechanics had a more eventful experience when the Ferrari of Castellotti delivered all it's power in a big rush. The Ferrari started a stationary spin, as the sudden influx of power surprised not only the driver but the cars rear tyres too. The spinning tyres and car had the Mercedes Mechanics going for the high jump record as they scattered to make room for the red car.
Behra got his Maserati 300s grabbed third position but was falling away at a rate of more the four seconds a lap. Castellotti past Behra on lap four just after the pits and Musy forced his Maserati passed on Michael Head's D type Jag' and Roy Salvadori overtook the Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM of John Kvarnström.
Moss and Fangio in the #2 and #1 Mercedes 300SLRs lapped everyone as the race became little more than the motor racing equivalent of “follow my leader” proving little more than a publicity run for Stuttgart's Rennabteilung. The two Mercedes drivers were actually lapping as much as four sec's slower than their practice times and the entertainment came more from Salvadori's Aston Martin' which ruined it's shock absorbers and bounced around most disturbingly, and Behra's Maserati which appeared to be doing impressions of the ski jumpers by flying at heights approaching 2ft off the ground.
The winning time for Fangio was 1h8m13.700s, with Moss just 0.3s behind. Eugenio Castellotti did manage to bring his Ferrari 121LM third but his time was 1h19m52.0s; that's over 10 minutes behind the Mercedes duo. Fangio and Moss set equal fastest lap at 2m24.50s or 162.859kph if you prefer.
Råbelöv event did prove successful enough for there to be several
more runnings in the years to come but it would never be on the level
of the Italian GP held, as usual, at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
The high speed banked circuit hadn't been used since 1933 but new
even steeper concrete curves had been built over the earlier banking
and the whole circuit renovated so that a combined circuit of road
track and high speed oval could be combined to give a 10km racing
circuit that was a huge test of man and machine. One of the new
corners was the now famous "Parabolica" formed by the two
corners of the Curva Sud being re-profiled into one continuous bend.
With all the race cancellations the XXVI Gran Premio d'Italia became the 7th and final round of the drivers championship. As Fangio had already taken his second consecutive, and third in total, title the contest wasn't perhaps as highly anticipated as it might have been. Ferrari had now taken over the Lancia D50 programme after the withdrawal of Lancia from F1, Fiat stepped in and bought the Lancia concern passing the D50s to Ferrari and in effect saved Ferrari from the problems of the 555 supersqualo and made the firm competitive again. Mercedes rolled out two of the streamliner cars for the high speed circuit as well as two open wheeled cars. Fangio #18 and Moss #16 had the streamliners while Kling #20 and Taruffi #14 drove the open wheeled cars.
Practice saw Giuseppe Farina crash one of the Ferrari-Lancias in a huge accident caused by a tire failure on the new banking. Ferrari withdrew the two D50s of Farina, who wouldn't contest another F1 GP, and Villoresi and switched Castellotti to the older 555 alongside those of Trintignant, Hawthorn and Maglioli. Not that it was of any concern to Neubauer or Mercedes who controlled practice and filled the front row of the grid in the usual order of Fangio, Moss and Kling; Taruffi was 9th fastest. One can only wonder how the team felt knowing that the F1 team would be folded up at the end of the season and rumours that the Sportscar dream might also be ending starting to circulate.
In mild weather on the 11th of September, 1955, the 50 lap race was started and Moss shot into the lead. Behind him were Fangio, Taruffi exploding from the fourth row of the grid, and Kling. When the field came round to conclude the first lap Fangio led the Mercedes train and little changed over the next few laps except for Kling muscling passed Taruffi. The laps counted down as cars flashed round the flat-out bends of the Villa Reale until Moss arrived in the pits on lap 19 to claim a replacement for his smashed windscreen. The change took just 39sec's but in an example of Neubauer's drive to maximize responses to any eventualities the next time Moss got in his Streamliner it had a new button on the dash'; it ejected the windscreen so it could be removed even more quickly and a replacement screen simply clipped into place. The change of screen hadn't been a big problem in itself but in charging to regain his place on Fangio's tail Moss' #16 streamliner broke it's engine and put him out of the race, not before he set the fastest lap of the race at 2m46.9s though. Kling was having a good run in second place when his car's prop-shaft let go, although some accounts claim it was a gearbox issue that put him out of the race. This all left Neubauer holding out the RG “regulare” board to Fangio, and a surprised Piero Taruffi, indicating they should hold position and protect their cars to the finish.
Mercedes Last F1 GP for over 50 years was a 1-2 victory and closed a two season run that had been easily as dominant a period as that of the 1930s. Castellotti brought home the Ferrari 555 in 3rd place but so far behind the Mercedes cars as to be almost in another race. Incidentally the drivers championship was a Mercedes 1-2 as well, Fangio ahead of Moss, as it had been all season. All that was left now was to see out the sports cars racing season and await the final recommendation of the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors.
It must have been a strange feeling for Herr Neubauer as his usual Autumn routine of intensely studying the coming years international race calendar was no longer needed. The board of directors at Daimler-Benz had decided the company would not compete in any form of motor-racing from the end of the 1955 season. When Neubauer had put forward his list of races for 1955 it hadn't included the RAC Tourist Trophy race. Neubauer was not only a past master at choosing what drivers to pair together for big races but also which races would bring Mercedes the maximum publicity and prestige, any starting money was merely a bonus and certainly not a factor in Neubauers considerations. He didn't think the Dundrod race had sufficient impact and chose the Carrera Pan Americana instead.
Neubauer was also a stubborn man and never changed his mind once a decision had been made, and Mercedes never raced anywhere if they didn't have the full backing of entire team and the Daimler-Benz board who where investing huge sums of money to finance the Rennabteilung and expected maximum returns for their money. As such the badgering by Stirling Moss and John Fitch to include the RAC TT race fell on deaf ears. No way would Mercedes race in County Antrim and they would not support any private entry by Moss and Fitch either.
Just when Moss and Fitch were giving up the Carrera Pan Americana was cancelled and suddenly the whole team would be available for RAC TT. Neubauer was still a perfectionist in all things so the standings in the World Sports car championship made for gloomy reading and fell well short of Mercedes, and Neubauer's, requirements. Ferrari were leading the championship, and well on course to a third successive title, with 18 points, two points ahead of Jaguar with Maserati holding third place on 11 points. Mercedes had less than half the points of Ferrari languishing as they were on just 8 points. Neubauer was sure it would take a miracle to achieve their ambition of winning the sportscar championship; but, he changed his mind over the RAC TT race. Whether it was just to keep the team together and racing one extra time as a replacement for the Carrera, or because it counted toward the WSCC, or both, isn't clear; just the fact that he changed his mind was enough.
But this threw up new issues for Neubauer, who to pair with who and what was the Dundrod circuit like. At le Mans it had been Fitch who was most adamant that the Mercedes team should withdraw. Moss had been very reluctant to retire, being in the lead and knowing this was probably his best chance to ever win the classic race, I think most of us can understand his emotions. It could have been a source of tension between Moss and Fitch but Neubauer still put them together as a team. He then put endless pressure on the pair to provide all possible information on the Dundrod track, the weather and the surroundings.
The 1955 RAC Tourist Trophy Race was in it's Golden Jubilee year and the organizers not only wanted a great race but also a safe race. With the shadow of the Le Mans Disaster hanging over the sports car world this narrow, twisty circuit made up of public roads edged with stone walls, ditches and hedges was under pressure. Running from Wheeler’s Corner in the east to Cochranstown in the west the 7.416mile circuit also had a 500ft change in elevation and really tight hairpin bends, it was most definitely not a place for amateurs or those with a nervous disposition. The rolling countryside of the circuit provided some exemplary view opportunities for fans and a seemingly endless sequence of fast sweeping turns and blind brows to give the drivers a thrilling adventure every lap. The whole event seemed to take on an air of Le Mans “je ne sais quoi” not only in the entries and similarities of the circuit style and length but also with the safety precautions promoting a feeling that “it couldn't happen here” despite the horrendous June events. With Moss, Hawthorn and Fangio all present, Mercedes now pitched against Jaguar again, and the use of the Le Mans style running start meant the similarities just kept on coming.
Dundrod was not a place to make mistakes and one look at the entry list ought to have had the organisers rejecting many of the entries on safety grounds. Such wide differences in the performances of cars and abilities of drivers on such a dangerous circuit should have been sounding alarm bells but obviously the organisers thought their new safety arrangements were sufficient. The pits were moved back away from the circuit and a huge ditch was dug in front of the main grandstand in an effort to reduce the risk of cars “flying” into the crowds. A new marshal flag position was instigated before the blind brow of Deers' Leap to warn faster cars there were slower cars out of sight beyond the brow or of any accidents equally unobservable to the driver. This excellent idea was backed up by the use of experienced marshals who were proper motor racing enthusiasts not the "local yokels" used at some other international events!
The RAC TT had been run at Dundrod since 1950 (when Moss won in a Jaguar XK120, a feat he repeated in 1951 driving a 'C' type Jaguar) and counted for the WSCC since it's inception in 1953. If the Golden jubilee wasn't enough to make this a big race the arrival of Mercedes was and this area of County Antrim west of Belfast came alive with racing enthusiasts and journalists as well as the buzz of the international teams big cars. As the 5th, and penultimate race, of the F.I.A. WSCC and the importance of the race was becoming greater with each column inch devoted to it; and those inches kept coming as motoring magazines attempted to explain that the race was now a more normal event instead of the previous timed event with it's complicated handicapping process. It also now had an index of performance competition using an equally complicated equation for those who missed all the mathematics abandoned with the change to a straight up, first past the post race.
There was somewhat of a continental invasion of Dundrod with the British teams of Jaguar, Aston Martin, MG backed up by Connaught, Lotus, Cooper and Kieft, ready to fight it out with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Porsche and the smaller French Dbs, 900cc D.K.W.s and 750-cc Panhards. In all there were fifteen manufacturers in the field. The drivers included many of the worlds best known GP and sports car drivers, there were of course the usual British sports-car drivers and more than a few comparative novices who if they weren't daunted by the whole affair; should have been!
64 entries were received split into 6 classes covering cars from 750cc to 5000cc engine capacities. 55 cars actually made practice with Neubauer's Mercedes 300SLRs in the 3000 class piloted by John Fitch and Stirling Moss in #10, Juan Fangio and Karl Kling carried #9 and the Andre Simon and Wolfgang von Trips car was #11. The 3000 class was one of the most hotly contested classes with Aston Martin DB3S’s driven by Reg Parnell and Roy Salvadori, and Peter Collins and Tony Brooks. The Officine Alfieri Maserati team, desperate to keep their own championship hopes alive were represented in the 3000 class by Musso and Bordoni with a 300S backed up by another 300S and an A6GCS. A Ferrari 875 Monza of Maglioli and Trintignant was Ferrari's hope to seal the championship while Jaguar were trying to steal it. Two 'D' type Jaguars were entered, the works car driven by Mike Hawthorn and Desmond Titterington, and the second, a private entry, for Robert Berry and Ninian Sanderson. Reinforcing the idea of this race being a “Big” event most of these top teams brought more than enough spare cars and engines, as well as personnel and spares in order to respond to any situation that may occur; perhaps they were finally catching on to Mercedes secrets of success!
Practice started with a dry afternoon session but was soon highlighting the problems of running such widely different classes of cars and abilities of drivers. As the preparation runs continued Olivier Gendebien crashed one of the 3-litre 857 Ferraris, writing it off and braking his arm into the bargain, resulting in their withdrawal and Masten Gregory being loaned out to the Porsche works outfit. Ferrari's woes didn't stop there though, the 3.4 litre car was coughing and spewing out large volumes of smoke. As the weather turned to the traditional rain that helps make Ireland so green it became harder than ever for the best drivers to put in competitive times while dodging the mobile chicanes and indecisive movements of the lower ranked drivers.
The Mercedes cars ran as well as you would expect being the same specification as Mille Miglia cars but it is interesting to note that for early practice Mercedes used two different cars for the “sighting laps”. One was one of the Le Mans cars complete with airbrake and the other was an “Uhlenhaut coupé” which von Trips had driven all the way from Stuttgart simply to get him used to being in the 300SLR layout.
The results of the melees in the rain of the mountain course was the Moss/Fitch Mercedes on pole alongside the Hawthorn/Titterington Jaguar. The Gendebien/Gregory Ferrari was recorded as third fastest but due to the crash wouldn't be able to start. Fangio/Klings Mercedes qualified fourth with the von Trips/Simon Mercedes seventh on the qualifying list.
Race day was the 17th of September, 1955, and the 5th round of the World Sports Car Championship held a grid of 49 cars ready for the le Mans style start for an 84 lap run through some of the most demanding terrain available to the RAC. The weather did it's best to add to the difficulties by being warm, but threatening rain later. Their must have been an air of nervousness at the start as this was the first actual championship race since the Le Mans disaster and despite the steps taken to learn from that everyone was aware of the dangers of motorsports and of this circuit and conditions in particular. The spectators though, they were excited and looking forward to seeing another great duel between Jaguar and Mercedes.
Things started to go wrong before the start in that the organisers lined up the cars in a somewhat random line most closely following something according to engine capacity as well as practice times, and another factor nobody seems to be able to identify. This placed the thoroughbred racing Mercedes' of Moss, Fanio and Von Trips back down the line behind the likes of the 300sl road cars. One of these 300sl cars was driven by one Vicomte Henri du Barry, who intended to drive the whole race himself and had allegedly been black flagged during qualifying when seen smoking at the wheel while trying to set a time! For consideration, Moss' fastest lap (which would have had him on pole in a normal grid) was 4m46s while that of Du Barry was 5m59s, That would have had his 300sl way back in 39th on the grid. Anyway, the vagaries of the Le Mans style start often saw the starting order change considerably in the first few seconds of a race.
On this occasion though Du Barry got away well, with Hawthorn, Moss and several others forming a group that got of to be at the front of the race with Du Barry causing a bottle neck as he acted like a rolling chicane with little intention of surrendering the middle of the road for anyone.
As the race wound it's way around the countryside of County Antrim drivers started to push themselves to make best time before the rain started. Drivers were pushing the limits of speed and safety and with the mixed up abilities within a few laps the inevitable accident occurred. If the accident was almost expected then the severity wasn't.
Moss negotiated the cars ahead of him to lead at the end of lap one. Hawthorn was driving out of his skin to put the works D-type in second place on the road and Fangio, von Trips, Behra, Walker and Musso. Surprising everyone Colin Chapman was leading all the 2-litre and 1½-litre cars, including the works Porsche Spyders in his 1100cc Lotus-Climax.
As the rain clouds gathered overhead the storm clouds rose from the race track, once again ruining the Mercedes/Jaguar duel. At Deer's leap on the second lap a gaggle of cars converged and in attempting to negotiate a slower the hopelessly out classed du Barry (who was accused of being belligerent unconcerned with the effects of his driving on the safety of others), Jim Mayers Cooper T39 went out of control, hit a stone gatepost and killed him instantly as it burst into flames. William T. Smith, also facing the Du Barry conundrum, was suddenly confronted by a wall of flames and his Connaught AL/SR ploughed straight into the wreckage of Mayer's car. A marshal ran to the aid of Smith, who had been thrown out of his car, until a St John's Ambulance crew took over. Sadly the rising star of British sportscar racing, signed by Ecurie Ecosse for the 1956 season and rated by many managers, including Lofty England at Jaguar, died a little later as a result of his injuries. A flag marshal who was waving a blue flag at Du Barry saw part of the incident before he was hit on the leg by a loose wheel. Frederik Kretschmann, who was also being overtaken by the faster cars, had a close view of the flames; so close his goggles actually caught fire.... He pulled over about 100m up the road and jumped out of his burning car to watch it consumed by flames.
Jim Russell came into the catastrophe at around 130mph, blinded by 40ft flames and thick black smoke.
“I knew I could not possibly pull up in time. Instinctively, I suppose, I pulled away from the flames and crashed into the left bank. Both my front tyres blew out and the wheels crumpled. "I was still in the car when another came spinning at me out of the smoke. I jumped over the hedge to save myself as still more cars came on. I saw several speeding through the smoke and flames."
Ken Wharton arrived at the scene a few seconds later in the Frazer-Nash but despite having a little more time than the others still couldn't avoid being caught up in the disaster. He was to suffer burns and injuries. Also caught up in the mayhem was the Lotus of Peter Jopp and the Austin-Healey of Lance Macklin, both were put out on the spot. The once jovial Macklin had now been caught up in two fatal accidents in just a few months. He was badly affected by the experiences and retired from racing soon after. Du Barry carried on his merry way without any change in his behaviour or attitude until he was black flagged and disqualified by the organisers after lap 39.
Lap 2 hadn't finished with the race yet though as the D-type Jaguar of Robert Berry and Ninian Sanderson crashed out and Richard von Frankenberg had to induce a spin in his Porsche Spyder in order to avoid the bad driving of another competitor.
The sky once again cried it's tears onto the scene of tragedy and the drivers now had another danger to deal with; Rain.
Moss had a 47s lead over Hawthorn by lap 10, with Fangio 2s behind him and closing in to pass. It took another three laps but Fangio did slip past Hawthorn into second place. Further down the field Colin Chapman was still humiliating the works Porches with Ivor Bueb in a Cooper-Climax 1100 also mixing it up with the Porsches.
Dundrod circuit was particularly interesting in that the long level section of track at the start line allowed for the cars to be electrically timed to work out their speed. Of course there was some disparity in that the fastest cars were accelerating throughout the measured kilometre while the smaller capacity cars were reaching their top speeds quite early on the straight. Hawthorn recorded 147mph and Moss 146mph and Peter Collins was able to coax his Aston Martin up to 138.2mph.
On lap 19 Hawthorn set a new course record with a lap time of 4m42s, 94.67mph average speed, although he was still not making inroads into Moss' lead. Fangio was not able to pull away from Hawthorn and let him pass back into second place, the old master happy to play the long game and keep a watching brief. Collins Aston Martin DB3s was catching Von Trips Mercedes but the young German wasn't making it easy. Elswhere in the race the Ferrari of Castellotti spun at Leathemstown crashed causing damage the left side that would take the Ferrari mechanics some considerable time to straighten out. When Castelloti pulled back out of the pits Chapman was coming along the straight and gained the benefit of a Ferrari “tow” for the next three laps.
Around lap 25 the expected pitstops for fuel and driver changes started. Hawthorn handed over to local boy Desmond Titterington returning the Jaguar to the race in 3rd place. Fangio then stopped and pass his car to Karl Kling during a stop that lasted just 1m50s, but putting Titterington back into 2nd place. On lap 26 Moss' right rear tyre let go at 130mph slewing his Mercedes-Benz across the track and from bank to bank until he gathered it up again. Going as fast as he dared Moss got the car back to the pits but the de-laminated tyre ate through the bodywork and displayed it's canvas core to the world. After 2 minutes of frantic work the mechanics had not only topped up the fuel and changed tyres but made the fractured bodywork safe enough for the car to be allowed to continue. John Fitch took over the car and set off after Titterington who had by now swooped by into the lead raising huge cheers from the Ulster crowd.
While Titterington was able to lap in times close to those of Hawthorn, Fitch was not able to get the battered Mercedes up to the times set by Moss. As the leading Jaguar pulled further into the distance Neubauer's plans seemed as tattered as the Moss/Fitch car did; and his driver pairings might well have been called into question. Peter Collins was also driving the Aston Martin to it's limits and not only went passed Von Trips but Kling too, pushing his way into 3rd place. The Ferraris looked all at sea with all three of the Astons ahead of them and an annoying green lotus riding on Castellotti's coat tails; all rather embarrassing.
The lead continued to grow so by lap 32 the leading Jaguar had a 54s advantage over the Moss/Fitch Mercedes-Benz and the Collins Aston Martin in a solid third place when he pulled in to hand the car to Brooks. Just then the engine developed a misfire and Aston Martin mechanics spent 5 minutes trying to solve the problem. Brooks did get out into the race but was hopelessly off the pace and had no choice but to retire the car. Fitch just couldn't match Titterington and intermittent rain wasn't helping and the time gap increased to over 2min's.
Moss spoke with Nuebauer who now called Fitch in despite Moss only having had seven laps worth of rest. The car was refuelled and "the wonder boy" started out on his way after 2nd placed Kling and the leading Jaguar. As the rain relented for a while Moss tore into to track despite the very wet surfaces. He passed Kling and little by little reeled in the determined Titterington in the D-type Jaguar.
As lap 35 started the crowd, hushed by the earlier fatalities, remained at the circuit captivated by incredible sights of the fastest cars in the sportscar world going flat out, in terrible conditions, on narrow twisty roads. While the 2nd lap pile up would prove to be the very worst accident the RAC TT would ever witness it was arguably not the most harrowing. The racing action was about to be devalued once again. With the rain once again lashing the track conditions were treacherous. Richard Mainwaring was approaching Tournagrough when he lost control of his Elva-Climax which hit a post and bank and overturned at Tornagrough. Mainwaring was trapped under the car and apparently heard to be unharmed. Then the leaking fuel ignited and the trapped driver was burnt to death; a truly horrible way to die and an awful thing to witness.
Neubauer had set Moss free of team orders and Moss continued to attack Jaguars lead, Fangio and Von Trips battling had with the Whitehead Cooper-Jaguar the Aston Martins, Ferraris and Maseratis. And Chapman was still making the 1½ and 2-litre cars look silly in his Lotus.
Lap 39 saw the pointlessness participation in the race of Vicomte du Barry when he was black flagged for “poor driving”. Rain was particularly heavy in the pits areas through the laps numbering in the 40s, but nothing seemed to slow Moss the "rain-master” in his relentless pursuit of the leading Jaguar. Jaguar called Titterington in from that lead for fuel, oil and a new tyre. Hawthorn resumed driving but Moss was almost on the tail of the Jaguar and battle royal commenced. Moss, slipstreaming Hawthorn's car, moved into the lead on lap 56 and started building a time advantage over Hawthorn's Jaguar at speed that matched the rate of capture. Hawthorn just couldn't get near the times of Moss and found himself in a rock and hard place type situation. Should he pursue Moss flat out or defend from the pressing Mercedes 300SLR of Fangio and Kling? This dilema affected Hawthorne, who was to be the fastest lap holder at the end of the race and the gap to Moss shot up by the lap. 4sec's, 19sec's, 32sec's, then 65sec's but Moss still had to take the Mercedes in for ir's last pit stop. On lap 62 Moss pulled in and the Mercedes mechanics serviced the silver machine in a their usual slick manner. As Moss started pull out of the pits Hawthorn came past to a huge cheer from the crowd and regained his lead.
As the rain relented and the sun started to dry the track for the last 20 laps the race for the lead was becoming a procession. Moss' advantage in the rain was cancelled out and his chase after Hawthorn looked to be in vain. Interest started to turn to the other positions and classifications. The Chapman/Allison Lotus' consistency had seen them push the little car up to 12th place overall on lap 60 and they were leading the Index of Performance by several minutes. A broken oil pipe robbed the Lotus team not only of a high overall position, but also of a class win and of the Index of Performance. Lotus did fix the problem and get the car back into the race but gloss was off it for them. Other British cars still running towards the end of this gruelling event were the two Triumph TR2s, Flower and Llewellyn's Austin-Healey, the B.M.C. engined Kieft of Baxter/Trimble and the Fisher/Adams Bristol-engined one. A Frazer-Nash, piloted by Tew and Kelly, was still struggling round as was the Lotus-Connaught of Coombs and Burgess which was running on just three cylinders.
With all but a couple of laps left to run Moss, Neubauer and the Mercedes team accepted that the Titterington/Harthorn D type Jaguar had the race in the bag. 2nd, 3rd and 4th might be considered a great achievement by some, but it wouldn't keep Mercedes on course for the sportscar championship. Then everything was turned on it's head. A loud screeching signalled a car in trouble and it was the Jaguar of Hawthorn. The engine had failed and pumped oil out at such a rate the car span on it's own oil. The loudspeakers announced Hawthorn was on foot strolling back to the pits as first Moss, then Fangio and Von Trips sped past the stricken Jaguar.
As the Mercedes cars were crossing the line there was obvious delight for the Moss win. But half the crown were cheering in Mike Hawthorn and applauding his and Desmond Titterington's efforts as warmly as Moss'. Moss and Fitch had driven superbly although one might argue Mercedes were 'gifted' this win, others would counter it was poetic justice after Jaguars refusal to withdraw at Le Mans. One thing is for certain, this was the last motor race at the Dundrod circuit. When the RAC next held a T.T. event, two years later in 1958, the West Sussex Goodwood Circuit was the host.
At the end of 622.936 miles Mercedes filled the podium places and the winning time of 7h3m11s (88.32mph average speed and a new record for the race at Dundrod) gave Moss and Fitch some measure of recompense for not winning at le Mans. Fangio and Kling were second with von Trips and Simon third. It should have been a joyous moment but nobody was really celebrating; four deaths and numerous injuries revived the memories of le Mans and cast a huge shadow over the presentation celebrations. Something equally disturbed by the organisers having thought Andre Simon had taken over from Moss not Fitch and only Moss' shouts and insistence got Fitch into the circle of celebrating dignitaries. Another controversy came about in the form of Jaguar team protests about the Moss/Fitch car running with an exposed wheel in a closed wheel race. The protests came to naught but coupled to Jaguars refusal to withdraw at Le Mans left a bitter taste of bad sportsmanship and undermine the fantastic performance of Hawthorn & co.
27 cars rolled in at the finish with the Aston Martin DB3S of Peter Walker and Dennis Poore being the best placed British entry. Although Mike Hawthorn set the fastest of 4m42.0, 94.671mph/152.358kph in the Jag' it was the 1100cc Lotus of Chapman/Allison which gave the British most optimism and upheld honour for the host countries. They lost their class win by just 5sec's despite the long pit stop to repair that oil pipe.
Effectively Moss and Fitch's badgering and Neubauer’s change of mind paid off. This had been a tough race for many reasons and there was a lot riding on the outcome, so the Neubauer touch did much to win the day. From his "horses for courses" decisions on the driver pairings to keeping the drivers aware of their positions and rivals time gaps Neubauer's leadership stood out. Neubauer's control over the whole Mercedes team was bringing the Silver Arrows into contention for the sports car championship and would eventually provide Mercedes with the opportunity to leave motor racing at the very top of the sport. Ever the company man Neubauer was sure to have been aware he was providing huge advertising and promotional opportunities for Mercedes-Benz for years to come.
One race remained for the Mercedes-Benz Rennabtielung, one last throw of the dice to win the sportscar championship and go out at the very top of both Formula One and the World Sportscar championship. But an unexpected spanner was through in the works when the Daimler-Benz board of directors told Neubauer that they wanted the racing team to compete in a Venezuelan event to boost the export market in South America, That was fine in itself but it meant forgoing the Targa Florio; the last race of the sportscar championship.
Neubauer did what he did best and organised a campaign to persuade the Board, and Herr Konecke in particular, to reconsider dropping the Targa. Rudi Uhlenhaut, the drivers and many others were co-opted into this resistance movement and the board finally relented with just three weeks left for the team to prepare for the great Sicilian event.
1955 Targa Florio
Of course the great co-ordinator organised everything to the last detail and the Rennabteilung arrived at the Sicilian docks with a team that once again might have been considered an invading force a few years earlier. No fewer than eight trucks, carrying eight racing cars and tons of spares, were taken with fifteen passenger cars following to transport the 45 race staff, drivers and team managers. Herr Neubauer later said that
“I had never planned a race so carefully and thoroughly. For that 1955 Targa Florio, I drew one last time on all my knowledge and experience, all my tricks and my love of the game.”
The heritage of the Targa Florio needs no repetition here but the 39th running is particularly interesting in the Mercedes-Neubauer story. The Circuito delle Madonie Piccolo in Sicily greeted the teams vying for the championship honours. Ferrari led the Manufacturers' Championship with 19 points, Jaguar and Mercedes both had 16 points. This meant that not only did Neubauer's men need to win, they needed to somehow keep Ferrari out second place too. If a Ferrari finished second then the Championship would be a draw; and Neubauer would not, could not, accept sharing the honours.
A fantastic 65 racing cars entered for the event and an amazing 64 actually did turn up to practice and try to qualify. Scuderia Ferrari's team consisted of an 860 Monza for Eugenio Castellotti and Robert Manzon, and two 750 Monzas for the pairings of Carroll Shelby and Gino Munaron, and Umberto Maglioli and Sergio Sighinolfi. The works Jaguar team didn't enter, their honour was in the hands of a locally entered Jaguar XK120. The Officine Alfieri Maserati team was there though, and there in force with six cars to be driven by Luigi Musso, Giorgio Scarlatti and Franco Bordoni amongst others. Daimler-Benz AG entered three of 300SLRs to battle the 44.64mile (72km) circuit. Determined to steal the World Sports Car Championship title from Ferrari Mercedes paired up Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins and John Fitch with Jaguar's former driver, Desmond Titterington. Alfred Neubauer's plan was to share out the work load of the 13 lap race by having each driver run four lap stints. 581.604 miles of the Circuito delle Madonie Piccolo leads the drivers through approximately 10,000 curves in a 10 hour endurance race that rivalled the demands of the le Mans 24hrs race.
Cars were lined up and set to leave at 30 second intervals. The race might have been against the clock but there were plenty of slower cars to mix things up and more than enough opportunities to crash. An Alfa Romeo 1900 TI was the first to depart at 07:00hrs on the 16th of October, 1955. Ferrari's first contender, the 750 Monza of Luigi Piotti and Franco Cornacchia, left at 07:24:30hrs, the Mercedes cars leaving even later and that of Stirling Moss being one of the last to be released onto the circuit.
Moss set of at an astounding pace and set a new lap record, breaking the old one by two and a half minutes, and having overtaken every one ahead of him by the end of lap one. After four laps Castellotti's Ferrari was in the lead and Moss' Mercedes was in a ditch. Fangio was chasing the Ferrari as Moss got his battered car back on the track, with a little help from some spectators, and set off again in fourth place. The Mercedes cars were the class of the field though and Fangio pushed his way to the top of the timing charts with Moss moving his car up to third. Once the first set of drivers had completed their four lap stints Moss handed over to Collins and he set off after Castellotti. Kling took over from Fangio and the standings saw Mercedes in first and third place..... not good enough for Neubauer! Yet the Mercedes drivers were pushing hard. Moss and Collins pushed their car so hard every time it came past the pits it had another dent or scrape on it. Their pace remained relentless though and even when Moss, now leading slid off the side of the track again, and Collins hit the end of a wall and slid up it leaving his front wheels rotating freely in the air, the car was able to get going again and remain in the lead.
The Moss/Collins car won the event in the words of Peter Collins :-
"despite Stirling's efforts, and my own, to write the machine off!"
Moss and Collins Mercedes 300SLR, carrying #104, set a time of 9hr43m14.0s, an average speed of 96.291kph, to finish almost 5 minutes faster than the second place car. While Alfred Neubauer's hat flew under the wheels of the winning 300SLR, he had to wait and hope for the Fangio/Kling car to beat the Ferrari into second place and then it did, their time was 9hr47m55.2s. Euginio Castellotti/ Robert Manzon brought their Ferrari home third and the #106 Mercedes of Desmond Tittering and John Fitch took fourth.
Neubauer’s pit strategies, pit to driver communication and driver scheduling had done their job and Neubauer's men had delivered the Championship, Mercedes-Benz had the racing world at it's feet and this was the ending that would grace advertising pages and posters for years to come.
END of 1955
After the Targa Florio race Neubauer went off to his hotel, his mind already turning to the 1956 sportscar season. He knew Daimler-Benz was withdrawing from F1 but he could not have anticipated the contents of the letter waiting for him. Neuubauer's emotions can only be guessed at, but as he read that Daimler-Benz intended to withdraw from all forms of motor racing, not just F1, he must have had a wave of sadness, frustration and even anger flood over him.
Neubauer had just presided over the most successful season Mercedes-Benz had ever had. The team had won all but one of the F1 GPs that year and Fangio was F1 world Champion. The World Sports Car Championship had been won, thanks to the force that was Moss. Alfred Neubauer’s successful mission to win Mercedes both these titles was a feat never achieved by any other marque. Not only that the style in which it was done was stunning. The Rennabteilung of the Silver Arrows had been dominant. Moss won the Mille Miglia in a huge record time followed by Mecerdes cars filling half the top ten places, Fitch winning his class in a stunning time to provide 2 class wins. Then Mos won at the internationally renowned RAC TT and the Targa Florio.
But for Le Mans it would have been a truly glorious year; and it wasn't just the wins. More often than not Mercedes cars were in second and/or third place too.
The Daimler-Benz board announcement was made to the world at a special ceremony during the company's annual press conference in Stuttgart on the 22nd of October, 1955. Giving Don Alfredo just a few days notice of the most monumental change in his working life. In a symbolic, and rather melancholy, gesture Neubauer and Fangio spread white dust cloths, later interpreted as shrouds, over two RW198 racing cars. Neubauer clearly having tears in his eyes. This dissolution of the racing team was a business decision and probably a very clever one too, when you have just won almost everything the only way is down. Bowing out now would give advertising weight for years longer than one racing season.
Technical Director Fritz Nallinger explained that :-
“The further development of our product range makes it appear advisable to us to put these highly skilled people to work now, without over taxing them, solely in an area which is the most interesting to our many customers worldwide, namely the field of production car engineering. The knowledge and experience gained from racing car construction will benefit my employees in this work.”
Neubauer's recollections are far more emotionally driven :-
“We shock hands once more. Then they drove off, heading for who knows where – Fangio and Moss, Collins, Kling, Taruffi and Graf Trips. And that was the end of it.”
The cars went off to become museum exhibits and Mercedes racing cars appearances at the races, in private hands, slowly dwindled away. With little option but to retire form motorsports Neubauer took up another post within the Daimler-Benz organisation. But Neubauer and the exploits of Fangio, Moss (and much overlooked Fitch), hold a special place in Mercedes-Benz racing history and continue to fascinate motorsports to this day.
AMG brought Mercedes cars into touring and sports car racing in the late 1960's but Mercedes factory backed cars didn't hit the tracks again till the 1985.
An F1 comeback as an engine supplier with McLaren International in 1994 set the scene for an eventual full Mercedes Silver Arrows Rennabteilung return in 2010. But that team is not comparable to the teams of the Neubauer era. It would take the modern team more than two seasons to get their first win and the difference in sheer size between the teams of the two eras is night and day. What is the same is the attention to detail, the working out of strategies and understanding previous performance and prevailing weather conditions. Neubauer's ideas were literally decades ahead of their time and are still relevant today.
Daimler-Benz closed the racing department in 1956 and what had been a very important advertising medium for the company was sacrificed in favour of investment in the truck market. The 64 year old 20 stone Alfred Neubauer moved over to help in the Daimler-Benz museum, at Unterturkheim, where he oversaw the racing exhibits and the precious silver arrows with which he had made history.
It has been suggested that Neubauer had already past his best as the team manager anyway. His thunderous voice remained daunting but there were reports of drivers arguing, somewhat chaotic pit stops and the once “strong-arm tactics” were no longer as effective. In the later years of Mercedes Formula one Karl Kling says Rudi Ulenhaut was more important to Mercedes than Alfred Neubauer. In an interview with Andy Hallbery in 1996 Kling was asked if he thought Neubauer was a genius at strategy. He said :-
“Neubauer was good at promoting the company for sure. He would have made a very good actor.”
- “Was he a genius on strategy, and motivating the drivers? Yes and no,” - “He stood there with his stopwatches, but the important man was Rudolph Ulenhaut. He would sit in the pits, a very quiet sort of person, and tell Neubauer, ‘now you have to refuel, now you have to change tyres – and now you have to change drivers!”
But it must be remembered that Ulenhaut also served with Neubauer for some time before the arrival of Kling and was schooled in Neubaur's thinking; and being younger than Neubaur during the mid 1950s may well have been more on the ball than the more elderly Neubauer but had too much respect for him to try and elbow him aside.
Neubauer continued to attend races for several more years. Mostly out of interest but sometimes able to use his vast and detailed collection of records to give advice any privateer Mercedes competitors.
The American Titles
The Mercedes-Benz brand we growing in the US the 300SL “Gullwing” was a hit. That attracted the attention of American racer Paul O'Shea and he obtained a “Gullwing” to race in Class D, for production cars, of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Sports Car Championship. The SCCA actually only awarded titles for the individual classes but the news media added up and compared all the total points awarded to each driver and the New York Times carried the news, on the 23rd of January 1957, that Paul O’Shea was the “National Sports Car Champion” for the second year running.
Having taken the 300SL to Championship victory in 1955 ,with 11,750 points, and the 1956 title with 10,500 points, the German press had already carried the story in the 24th of November, 1956, in “Auto Motor und Sport” issue starting that the :- “American sports car champion of the year 1955, Paul O’Shea, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, … successfully defended his title again this year.”
Alfred Neubauer immediately wrote to Paul O’Shea saying “Work on the new USA championship pin for you is already under way.”
Neubauer and O'Shea had met on the race circuit and a relationship grew that saw Mercedes, through Neubauer, supporting O'Shea's racing with cars, parts and advice.... It was going against the stated withdrawal from racing but under the table Mercedes were supporting several privateers around the world to maintain the company name.
With the publicity value obvious, O'Shea was invited to Stuttgart as a guest of Mercedes-Benz from the 8th of October to the 1st of December, 1956. O'Shea was presented with the Championship pin by Daimler-Benz AG technical director Professor Fritz Nallinger, handed the keys to one of the a brand new 1957 300SL models and given tours of the museum and Daimler-Benz production facilities. He was even taken on a trip to the Monza racetrack.
O'Shea was having a fantastic effect on the Brand image in the States and the company was eager to maintain it's links with him. But they had a new model of the 300 to promote, the 300SL roadster. To this end they designed an new racing version of the roadster, the 300SLS for the 1957 season. Alfred Neubauer announced that O'Shea and the new racing car would run in the SCCA Class D “Unlimited” classification on the 27th of November, 1956. This meant Mercedes-Benz didn't have to build the required 150 vehicles to compete and also avoided being in a class that would have engines with a displacement of up to 3500cc.
The Mercedes-Benz W198 II, or 300 SLS, was announced by Professor Fritz Nallinger as “specially prepared with a high output and low weight”. While the production roadster weighed 1330kg and had a power output of 215hp the racing 300SLS weighed just 970kg and and boasted a power output of 235hp! It had no bumpers and the normal windscreen had gone, replaced by a tonneau that was faired into the body to provide a cockpit surround, with a small windscreen, and driver cooling intake. A roll bar was set behind the driver’s seat to improve safety for the driver in an accident.
Neubauer and the Stuttgart strategists aimed to capture a third consecutive SCCA title with O'Shea; and they did just that, 1957 US Sports Car Champion, Paul O’Shea.
The final years with Mercedes-Benz
From 1957 to 1965 Alfred Neubauer worked for the Daimler-Benz AG history department promoting the marque and maintaining it's traditions. Slowly but surely he was drifting toward retirement although he spent that seven years writing numerous publications devoted to Mercedes, documenting the companies history and involvement in motor racing. Made a director of Daimler-Benz Neubauer was given a large, comfortable office at the Unterturkheim works. The walls were covered in superb action photographs of his most famous drivers and the massive filing cabinets held innumerable statistics and records of Mercedes drivers. Being unwilling to trust his, or anyone else's, memory there are also carefully tabulated results and exhaustive notes on the circuits and car set ups that would surely be of invaluable use to any successor.
From 1958 Karl Kling took up role of team manager to support the numerous Mercedes-Benz privateers, including an unofficial Rally programme which Kling himself drove in. He won the punishing 1959 Algiers-cape Rally in a Mercedes 190diesel, and in 1961 won the Algiers-Central Africa Rally.
Neubauer also offered his experience and insights to the Swiss School of Motor Racing where he helped to train new racing drivers. Fully aware of the speed and power of Formula one Grand Prix cars he felt it important that all countries train their drivers to confidently and skilfully handle the tremendous power of the modern racing car.
Alfred Neubauer's well-earned retirement was spent in the small town of Aldingen, Stuttgart, where he and his wife Hansi, (Josefa Romana Neubauer), enjoyed a quiet family life. He spent his time partaking of his favourite hobby, a hobby he had reasonably enjoyed during his racing years but could now devote more time to. Eating and drinking! He loved cooking and knew almost all the best dishes from the restaurants of Europe.
Aldingen had to adjust to a seemingly endless parade of star racing drivers who came by to pay homage to the big man. His modesty would not permit him to accept it as such but he was certainly happy to maintain his friendships and be the convivial host. One such visitor was Juan Manuel Fangio who had a particularly long association with Neubauer based on mutual appreciation and respect.
A dynamic and intelligent man Alfred Neubauer remained a universally admired and respected writer. After his retirement he wrote several books about his racing career and in "Men, Women and engines" developed many thoughts, anecdotes and analysis of drivers he knew during his long career.
In May 1963 Hansi passed away in hospital in Stuttgart. Together they had enjoyed or endured victories and defeats, but this now left Alfred alone. He had a housekeeper and continued to enjoy food, so much so that in later years he chose to wear a leather apron while driving so the steering wheel wouldn't wear through his shirt which stretched across his copious paunch.
Neubauer; The Man.
Neubauer's story is inexorably intertwined with that of Mercedes motor racing team, they are symbiotic, each giving life and meaning to the other. Indeed his loyalty to Mercedes, and to his drivers, could not be questioned.
At a time when motor racing had many "characters", Alfred Neubauer stood apart. A man larger than life, in every sense of the word. Neubauer was a very big man who had a large voice to match. When at work he could be a strict disciplinarian but when it came to parties and dinners he was a most amiable host and joyful guest entertaining those present with his stories. Any language difficulties were quickly swept aside by his energetic personality and his impersonations of der Führer, Marilyn Monroe and others soon had the whole room rocking with laughter.
One of Mercedes PR staff, Erik Johnson, recalls Neubauer singing opera at a team function :-
“At one dinner he gave a rendition and all present were thankful he became a racing team manager."
Neubauer believed the Mercedes-Benz team should be treated as one big family. He insisted that team members ate together, organised everyone's routine, even to the point of telling the drivers when to go to bed and when to rise. He even created a secret racing elixir of black coffee, egg yolk, sugar, a little wine, and a few spices; which may or may not of cured a hangover but would almost certainly have convinced any driver not to get drunk before a race ever again!
For those who didn't know him, and whom he considered insignificant or superfluous to Mercedes racing success (like the Press), he was fiercely and proudly unapproachable. But for those who were important to him, and to his all-important race-winning activities, he was a very kindly soul with a good heart.
Stirling Moss fondly remembers Neubauer like this :-
"He was the most sympathetic, but hard-faced man. By that I mean that he was very strict, but he had a wonderful sense of humour. I think he really loved his drivers and took great care of them.”
He goes on to recall :-
"His attention to detail was fantastic. Before I signed for Mercedes they invited me for a test drive at Hockenheim. After a good. session in the W196 I came in with a lot of dirt on my face brake dust which had been blown into the cockpit from the inboard front drums. I was greeted by a mechanic in pristine white overalls with a towel over one arm, offering me a bowl of hot water and a bar of soap!” - "A few weeks later we flew to Argentina for the races there and after we'd been airborne for a couple of hours Neubauer went to the loo. Moments later he called out, Der Moss, der Herrmann komm!' and Hans and I turned round to see him stuck in the doorway. He insisted that we push him inside, but of course, although he was a very large man, he wasn't stuck at all. He just having a bit of fun." - “The only thing I disliked about him was he made me get up too damned early"
Despite his "dancing pumps" (as Moss referred to his enormous shoes), his baggy suits, battered, wide-brimmed felt hats, clip-board and battery of stopwatches people laughed with, rather than at, Neubauer. In fact he was deeply respected by the team members. Once he took a driver under his wing Neubauer was a very kindly man who understood how to use psychology to sooth the more temperamental drivers and smooth out the problems. However, for any who refused to obey orders or obstruct the Mercedes winning machine severe disciplinary measures would await. Neubeur's reputation as a ferocious taskmaster and superb organizer put heavy demands on others, but his rules didn't always apply to himself. "Don Alfredo" loved life and in this persona Herr Neubauer both deflated the egos of pompous Nazi officials and endeared him to hundreds of guests and followers.
An humourous Falstaff character, and true raconteur, his wonderful stories held crowds spellbound and his appetite for life was literally observed in his love of fine cuisine (Neubauer knew the best places to eat at all the racing venues) even language barriers collapsed at the feet of this larger than life persona.
On one occasion, 1939 European champion Hermann Lang remembered, at midnight during a cruise Neubauer entertained fellow passengers in his swimwear. Festooned with seaweed and algae he depicted himself as the sea god Neptune making speeches in Italian and scattering the "fruits of the sea floor" at the feet of the onlookers..... that is to say he distributed tins of sardines!
“Don Alfredo”, or "the big man", was an oddly incongruous man. A heavyweight character swinging his arms and waving flags in a hearty display of single-minded discipline, thoroughly enjoying victory, throwing hats and dancing. But in defeat all the outsized manager 's conviviality evaporated and 245lbs of Teutonic wrath could descend upon any guilty parties within the team. He was strict but fair, held few grudges and soon forgot any problems when the team was back hard at work on winning again.
Neubauer was a great judge of drivers, the Ken Tyrrell or Eddie Jordan of his day. He had his own little ways to pick them too, such as giving a new test driver a friendly pat on the back. It wasn't for encouragement but part of the test itself, Neubauer was checking if the driver was nervous and sweating! On one occasion he told the team to send Walter Bäumer out on worn tyres, his reasoning being :-
"if he can manage a lap on those tyres, he'll be our man."
He really loved racing drivers, even those who drove for the opposition were highly respected. This much was shown when his diaries went to auction at Christies for around £80,000. On the page for January 28th, 1938, Neubauer records the name of Auto Union driver Bernd Rosemeyer, with a cross pencilled alongside. He does the same for Richard Seaman, who died at 11.35pm on the night of Sunday the 25th of June, 1939, after crashing a Mercedes in the rain at Spa while leading the Belgian Grand Prix. A simple but touchingly eloquent way of recording the passing of those he considered friends.
Neubauers collections of keepsakes included armbands and posters, race programmes and countless photographs in dedicated albums and often signed by the greatest drivers of the times.
While Neubauer showed sheer brilliance at team tactics not all of his ides worked. For instance at one race he flew in a plane to get a better overall view only to find he had no communication with his drivers or pit crews with which to pass on his insights.
Don Alfredo passed away at home in Aldingen am Neckar, near Stuttgart, during the night 21stt / 22nd of August 1980; he was 89 years and 146 days old. The loss of Neubauer severed one of the few remaining links with the great days of Grand Prix racing. Being childless his housekeeper inherited his estate.
The Funeral was held on Wednesday the 27th of August, 1980 at Friedhof Aldingen, Aldingen, Ludwigsburger Landkreis, Baden-Württemberg, Southern Germany. The former chief of the Mercedes racing team was honoured by the presence of former team drivers Hans Hermann, Manfred Von Brauchitsch and world champion Juan Manuel Fangio evidenced in a famous photograph by Kurt Strumpf.
He rests beside his wife and although few people were aware of his heritage the name of his birthplace, Neutitschein, is mentioned on his grave marker.
Alfred Neubauer might be a motorsport legend but the people of his birthplace, Nový Jičín, where unaware that such a famous person had been born there. Nový Jičín Museum director Radek Polách remarked :-
"Neubauer for many Novy Jicin citizens was unknown even though there are many publications about the town's famous native sons. Formula One fans found contradictory information on the Internet: that he was either born in Nový Jičín or Ostrava, and they asked our museum to help them uncover the truth. So I turned to my colleagues in the regional archives and asked them to look into the register of births and they confirmed that Alfred Karl Neubauer was indeed born in Nový Jičín on March 22, 1891."
Radek Polách continues,
"We have made the past year a first introductory lecture on the rediscovered son of our city, as many of the local residents do not know who Alfred Neubauer. We presented him and his fate and told them that Neubauer has spoken to his death Czech. And in June this year a major exhibition to the Zerotin Castle in Nový Jičín be opened on him with the subtitle 'The man of a thousand Tricks',".
The North Moravia town is now keen to publicise this new piece of historical knowledge and indeed to remember Alfred Neubauer. An annual town festival is held in September, particularly aimed at German tourists and photographic display dedicated to the town's famous native is maintained in the Nový Jičín local museum.
Representatives of the Nový Jičín town hall have liaised with the German city of Stuttgart and the Mercedes-Benz Museum to share information on his early life.
A memorial plaque has since been placed on the house in Nový Jičín where Neubauer once lived.
In Aldingen Old Schoolhouse Museum an exhibition of Alfred Neubauer life was opened on Friday the 8th of April, 2011. This particular part of the "Famous people of the district Aldingen" series of exhibitions was followed later that year with a memorial plaque being placed on the former Neubauer house, #8 Martin-Luther-Strasse, on 31st July, 2011.
“Don Alfredo” Neubauer is one of the most charismatic figures in all of motor sport history. Mercedes racing successes of the 1930s and 1950s are primarily attributable to Neubauer and his exceptional organizational skills. During Neubauer's tenure as Mercedes team leader he brought some of the greatest drivers of the day into the Mercedes team, regardless of nationality or social standing. Mercedes-Benz won 150 major races and every big race in the world apart from the Indianapolis 500.
More than that motor sports itself was forever changed by Neubauer. His pit crews were drilled in pit stop procedures until they could change all four tyres and replenish vital liquid levels (including the driver's) at unheard of levels of speed and precision. Neubauer assigned personnel into teams to specifically look after one car and driver, just as F1 still does to this day, and he ensured that any eventuality, however small or unlikely, was prepared for. Neubauer is considered the true inventor of pit-stop strategy and driver to pit communications. He was famous for his lightning-fast appreciation of changing race situations and ability to give any necessary orders to his technicians and assistants in seconds, and to his drivers while they continued to race on the circuit. His many innovations continue on to this day and cooperation between drivers and team plays a more central role in motor racing today than ever before.
Described by Stirling Moss as,
“a man lost without racing, bluff yet sentimental, a bully when he needed to be, but always one devoted to his drivers – indeed, to all racing drivers”,
Neubauer was one of the giants who walked among us, a legend, a most singular man who combined old Austrian charm with the energetic coarseness of a Prussian sergeant. As Stirling Moss goes on to say :-
"He was an amazing character, who could have anybody snapping to attention if necessary, but would also show great thought and understanding, in relaxed moments he could have us all rolling about with laughter."
He led Mercedes in it's great successes to date, winning the Mille Miglia (1931, 1955), the Targa Florio (1955), six European and Grand Prix Championships (1935, 1937, 1938, 1954, 1955), along with wins at Le Mans (1952) and La Carrera Panamericana (1952).
So in future when you see a Skoda, Tatra, Sascha or Jawa, remember Alfred Neubauer and that the Czeck Republic has done an awful lot for the cause of motoring and motor sports.