In a dramatic move before just before Christmas, the three leading figures in Sotheby's car…
British driver’s great victory in the German Grand Prix. Sensational fire in the pits
For the first time in fifteen years, a British driver has won the laurels in a full-scale Grand Prix race. Capping all his previous exploits, Richard Seaman, with a Mercedes-Benz, defeated the cream of Europe’s drivers in the German Grand Prix on July 24th at the Nürburg Ring.
Seaman’s victory was due to that steady, unruffled style of driving which has made him famous. Averaging 80.61 m.p.h. for the twenty-two laps (311.6 miles) of the race, he also put up the fastest lap in 10 mins. 9½ secs. at 83.71 m.p.h. The record for the circuit still stands to the credit of the late Berndt Rosemeyer, who in practice last year lapped in 9 mins. 46 2/5 secs., averaging 86.9 m.p.h., and in the race put in a lap at 85.6 m.p.h.
A sensational incident occurred at the end of the sixteenth lap, when von Brauchitsch’s Mercedes, then in the lead, caught fire at the pits. Amidst scenes of great excitement the blaze was extinguished, and von Brauchitsch, showing great courage, proceeded in the race.
* * *
Throughout the practice period the sun had shone gloriously, and the Sunday of the race dawned equally fine. It was not surprising, therefore, that a record crowd of 350,000 spectators gathered early to watch the sports-car and motorcycle races which preceded the big event of the day. These events are usually part of the Eifelrennen, which this year had had to be cancelled.
The preliminary races were interesting enough, but little need be said here. In the 2-litre sports-car class, the event was dominated by flocks of B.M.W.s, but in the 1,500 c.c. class British cars with German drivers scored several successes. M.G.s were second, fourth, and sixth, and an H.R.G., handled by the well known German driver, Hillegaart, was third.
For the Grand Prix a splendid entry had been received, though a Mercedes victory was regarded as almost certain. Fastest time in practice had been made by von Brauchitsch at 86.6 m.p.h., with a time of 9 mins. 48 4/5 secs., only just over 2 secs. longer than Rosemeyer’s effort in practice last year The four Mercedes drivers, von Brauchitsch, Lang, Seaman, and Caracciola, bad all recorded considerably better times than their rivals, and Seaman’s best was 10 mins. 1½ secs. (84.83 m.p.h.). This shows how much he has learnt since last year, when his best lap was in 10 mins. 12 3/5 secs., with a faster car as well.
The two official Maseratis had been scratched, but in their place appeared two of the new Alfa-Romeos, entered by the Alfa Corse, and driven by Farina and Biondetti. Two of the blue French Delahayes were also there, with Dreyfus and Comotti, but although one of the new single-seaters had been taken out in practice, for the race both the Delahaye drivers had two-seater cars, which, though fast, were of sports rather than Grand Prix type.
As the brightly coloured cars, glittering in the sunlight like showroom models, were wheeled out to the start, a big ovation was given to the new leader of the Auto-Union team, none other than Tazio Nuvolari himself, always a favourite at the Nürburg Ring. In practice he had done well with his still unfamiliar Auto-Union, being the only driver to approach the times of the Mercedes team. Müller had recovered sufficiently from his accident at Rheims to drive another of the Auto-Unions, and the team was completed by Hasse and the famous Hans Stuck, who has emerged from his retirement to help his colleagues in their necessity.
The rest of the field, twenty cars in all, was made up by a number of privately owned Maseratis and Alfa-Romeos, including A. B. Hyde’s green Maserati, which has appeared at Nürburg before, driven by T. Cholmondeley-Tapper. Tense excitement prevailed as the cars were arrayed on the grid. Nuvolari’s name was on everybody’s lips. Would he give one of his famous fighting displays, and challenge the Mercedes supremacy?
The din of screaming engines rose higher and higher. There was a bang as the starting maroon exploded, an enormous puff of white smoke, and the whole atmosphere seemed to shudder as the mass of cars got away together. Lang got ahead with his Mercedes, and behind him was Seaman. The English driver had made a good start. He was clearly distinguishable from his team-mates by his helmet in the English green, and the radiator grille, too, was picked out in green, a pretty compliment to his nationality. The radiators of the four Mercedes were all in distinctive colours, to enable the pit control to recognise the separate cars.
Eight white cars led the field past the crowded Terrassenplatz, on the return road behind the pits, with Nuvolari well up, and the others following the flying Mercedes as best they could. One after the other they swept round the Tribunenkurve, and down the valley to the Hatzenbach corner, where they were lost to sight amid the dark green pine trees.
The vast crowd settled itself again, and announcers at various points round the course began to tell in excited accents of the passage of the cars through the mountains. The scream of an exhaust, rapidly increasing in volume, was heard in the distance, and Lang’s Mercedes shot into sight, leading Seaman by secs. Seaman himself had a good lead over Caracciola and von Brauchitsch, while the first Auto-Union, that driven by Hasse, was already, after a single lap, 40 secs. behind the leading Mercedes.
Three of the Auto-Unions went by, with Farina’s Alfa just in front of Stuck, but where was Nuvolari? Some while later the Italian champion appeared, and there was an excited buzz of comment as he went by, for the tail of the Auto-Union was seen to be damaged, and was streaked with oil.
Just above the Brünnchen, where cars were descending rapidly after the heights of the Karussell, Nuvolari had endeavoured to clean his windscreen from oil thrown back by another car, and had run off the road. The gearbox was damaged, and after another lap he had to retire, to the enormous disappointment of the crowd. Thus part of the story of Rheims was repeated.
At Nürburg, however, there were plenty of other cars to keep up the interest, even though three more machines gave up on the second lap, Comotti’s Delahaye with trouble in the gear change, Berg’s Maserati with a defective fuel pump, and, unfortunately for the Italian hopes, Biondetti with one of the Alfas. Worse still, on the third lap, two more Alfas retired, those of Farina and Taruffi.
The field was thus much depleted, but interest was maintained at fever point by the speed of the leading Mercedes, chased by the remaining three Auto-Unions. Von Brauchitsch lapped at 81.67 m.p.h. on the second round, and passed Caracciola, coming by only 7 secs. behind Seaman, who himself had closed up to within 3 secs. of Lang.
On the third lap there were several sensations, apart from Farina’s retirement, for the scarlet helmet of von Brauchitsch was in front of Seaman’s green, while Lang was missing. He appeared after Caracciola had gone through, and drew in to his pit.
The Mercedes mechanics got busy with their new apparatus for testing faulty plugs. This consists of a hand magneto, with a lead which can be rapidly run round the set of plugs, and an indicator which moves if one is not firing. With twelve plugs to test, this saves a lot of time, and Lang got away after a short stop, now behind the three Auto-Unions.
Von Brauchitsch, having passed Seaman, had got the bit between his teeth, and on the fourth and fifth laps respectively averaged 82.97 and 83.21 m.p.h., drawing away from the field. Seaman, well away from Caracciola, replied on the sixth round with the best lap of the day, at 83.71 m.p.h., but on this same round Lang had to stop again for plugs to be changed.
In spite of the brilliant weather, the course was not in ideal condition for fast laps, since in practice Farina’s Alfa Romeo had spilt a lot of oil between the Karussell and the Brünnchen, and after a great deal of practising, and the preliminary races which preceded the Grand Prix, the surface was slippery. Lang’s trouble with oiling up plugs was partly due to this, a trouble escaped by von Brauchitsch because he always drives so fast in any conditions, and by Seaman because of his steady methods, which won great praise.
What of Caracciola? The master driver was not feeling too well, having trouble with his stomach. Von Branchitsch refuelled and changed tyres in 43 secs. at seven laps, and got away still third, and well ahead of the Auto-Unions. On the eighth lap Seaman and Caracciola both came in. The former got away in 52 secs., but after work had been finished on the latter’s car, Caracciola paused while a drink was handed to him, and before starting off told Neubauer, the Mercedes manager, that he was not really up to the stern drive. A few minutes later Lang came in again, this time for fuel and tyres. Neubauer did some quick thinking, and in a trice had Lang out of the driver’s seat, and Walter Baumier, one of the spare drivers, into it. It was so quick that Baumer had to get out again to get another seat cushion, as he is much shorter than Lang.
No sooner had Baumer set off, in his first race for Mercedes-Benz, than Neubauer sent off mechanics in the other direction, urging them with his flag towards the long straight, to signal to Caracciola that he was to come in, for Lang to take his place.
” Caratsch ” must have missed the signal on the following lap, but on the tenth lap he drew in, not without relief, and Lang took over. ” Caratsch’s ” car was still well up, whereas No. 14, which Lang had previously been driving, was about seven minutes behind, and out of the hunt.
Arriving fourth, after Lang had got away in his new machine, Hasse refuelled on the tenth lap, this being the first stop made by the Auto-Unions, who were running through with one refuel against two by the Mercedes. This was the quickest refuel and tyre stop of the day, and as Hasse got away in 32 secs., the equipe was loudly cheered.
Next lap Müller came in for a 36 secs. stop, and amid much applause Nuvolari jumped down from the pit counter, carrying a little cushion, and took over the Auto-Union. It was Dr. Feuereisen’s reply to Neubauer’s tactics. Hans Stuck also came in, and some plugs were changed as well as tyres and the refuel, the stop taking 1 min. 7 secs.
Behind the Mercedes and Auto-Unions, a duel had been going on between Dreyfus with the surviving Delahaye and Pietsch, the German, with a 1½-litre Maserati. This latter had been showing considerable speed for so small a car, and was 4 mins. ahead of the English driver, Hyde, with his 3-litre Maserati. All these three cars had now been lapped by von Brauchitsch and Seaman, while the others who were still running at half-distance were Balestrero (Alfa-Romeo), Cortese (1½-litre Maserati), and Ghersi (Alfa-Romeo).
So one came to the momentous sixteenth lap. Von Brauchitsch arrived first, 13 secs. ahead of Seaman, and both drivers drew in to their pits for the second refuel and tyre change. Armies of mechanics leapt at the two cars. Wheels were flung about, and from the pressure refuelling apparatus arose a great hissing, while clouds of vapour went up, and then a fountain of fuel rose over the tail of von Brauchitsch’s car.
There was a staccato roar from the engine—a flash at the rear, a wicked tongue of flame ! The mechanics started back. Neubauer, never losing his head for an instant, seized von Brauchitsch by the arm and dragged him from the car. As the driver rolled on the ground fire extinguishers appeared from everywhere.
The flames spread rapidly, and the great pool on the ground went up with a roar. It was an amazing scene. Affrighted spectators on top of the pits leapt the railings, fearing that the whole place would go up. Pandemonium reigned, save where Neubauer stuck to his post. Beating at the flames with his flag, he directed operations. The jets from the portable extinguishers were reinforced by a small fire-engine, run rapidly up from the end of the pits. As the great hose sprayed its liquid on the flames, the car became snow white in an instant, and at last the blaze was quelled.
Without pausing a second, mechanics began to swab the car down, and the spell-bound spectators in the grandstand cheered madly, for the dauntless von Brauchitsch was actually climbing back into the car !
The engine started at once, then stopped. Again the mechanics applied the electric starter, and amid a roar of cheering von Brauchitsch went off, gingerly at first, then displaying the tremendous acceleration as all seemed well. He came back behind the pits travelling as fast as though nothing had happened ! So plucky an action has rarely been seen.
Meanwhile, scarcely noticed in the tumult, Seaman had got away successfully, losing little time. His car had been only a few yards from the blaze, and might easily have been involved as well. One realised now that a British driver was actually leading by a substantial margin in a Grand Prix race, and that barring unforeseen calamities he was likely to win !
Lang had gone through to take second place, having got his refuel over on the previous lap, but was nearly 4 mins. behind Seaman. Von Brauchitsch was still third, but a groan went up a few minutes later when it was announced that the plucky driver had run off the road near the Quiddelbacher Hohe, and that his effort was over.
Baumer on No. 14 Mercedes had had to stop several times again for plugs, and on the sixteenth lap the car was withdrawn. Another retirement was that of Hasse, who was now in third place. On the seventeenth lap he had engine trouble somewhere on the long straight, and ran in to the pits, though why he ran it was difficult to say.
The Englishman, Hyde, also came by no more, for he had crashed with his Maserati just after the Tribunenkurve, and the car lay sadly on its side in a ditch. Hyde was said to be badly hurt. He was on his fifteenth lap. Just as Seaman flashed past at the end of his eighteenth lap, there was a stir of cheering, and von Brauchitsch was seen to be walking in, carrying his steering wheel. The fact that this was detachable had probably saved his life when the fire broke out. Korpsführer Hühnlein hurried down from his stand to congratulate the Mercedes driver on his effort, and the crowd clapped and clapped.
As Seaman crossed the line victorious, “God Save the King” blared sonorously from the loudspeakers, and the whole vast crowd stood with right arms uplifted in salute of the British driver. “Deutschland Uber Alles” followed for his car.
1. H. J. B. Seaman (Mercedes-Benz), 80.61 m.p.h.
2. H. Lang (Mercedes-Benz), 3m. 20s. behind.
3. H. Stuck (Auto-Union), 8m. 56s. behind.
4. T. Nuvolari (Auto-Union), 9m. 32s. behind.
5. R. Dreyfus (Delahaye), 1 lap behind.
6. P. Pietseh (Maserati), 2 laps behind.
7. R. Ballestrero (Alfa-Rorneo), 2 laps behind.
8. P. Ghersi (Alfa-Romeo), 2 laps behind.
9. F. Cortese (Maserati), 3 laps behind.
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