THE GRAND PRIX RACES OF 1938
THE SEASON FINISHES WITH PROSPECTS OF EXCITING EVENTS FOR 1939 1938 season of Grand Prix racing started off with the highest expectations of international competition, then developed into a series of victories for one marque, and, finally, ended with
the supremacy of that marque challenged, and with good hopes of some close racing next season. In spite of the rosy prophecies flying about last spring, this course of events was only what was to be expected in the first year of a new formula. Designs Were untried, and new firms were entering the lists. Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union were bound to have a flying start, through the accumulated experience of their successes during the 1984-87 formula, but the latter firth had received a serious set-back through the untimely death Of
their star driver, Berndt Rosetneyer, in February, while attempting records on the Frankfurt Autobahn. During the 1937 season Auto-Union had won many victories, but on only one occasion had any other of their drivers except Berndt Rosemeyer scored a success, when Hasse won the Belgian Grand Prix. Muller was still a cadet,
recently recruited from motor-cycle racing, and Stuck was already a .veteran, more inclined than ever to retire from the hard field of Grand Prix racing. Faced by the experienced team of Mercedes drivers, all quite capable of
beating the world’s best, and still at full strength, it was no wonder that AutoUnion lagged behind in the first few months of the season. A real challenge to the German teams was expected from the French manu facturers, once supreme in Grand Prix events, and this was borne out by the result of the first race of the season, at
Pau, where Delahaye was the winner, and Caracciola and Lang, taking turns in the first of the blown 8-litre Supercharged Mereedes, could do no better than second. Big hopes rested on the Delahayes, for it had already been proved that the cars had considerable speed through Dreyfus’ performance at the close of the previous season in winning the million-franc prize for beating the lap record at Montlhery, and indeed averaging 91.07 m.p.h. for 100 kills. over the circuit routiere. This was a fine performance, but it was not generally appreciated that the record which was broken was one which had stood since the French Grand Prix of 1934, the first year of the old Formula, to the credit of the early type Alfa Romeos. The German ears, only just produced, experienced much trouble in that race, and never had another oppor
tunity over the unrestricted circuit routiere, owing to the introduction of chicanes in 1935, and the limitation of the event to sports-cars in 1930 and 1937. Delahayes followed up their success at Pau by winning the Cork Grand Prix, in which neither of the German teams started, but when they met the full force of Mercedes (Seaman excepted i at Tripoli in May, they were heavily defeated, and
throughout the rest of the season could not maintain their early promise.
Discussion continued for some time as to whether the 3-litre supercharged or the 41-litre nnsuperchaxged cars, ranked equal by the formula, were the better types, but there is now little doubt upon the point. It must be remembered, however, that nothing like the amount of technical research which has been lavished upon the 3-litre supercharged type has been spent upon the unblown engines. The Delahaye racing programme is run by a private concern, the Ecurie Bleu, under the auspices of M. et Mme. Schell, and their resources are in no way comparable to those of Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. The Delahaye prospects received a had blow when the Automobile Club de France refused to allot to them any share of the 1938 national fund for the construction of racing-cars, on the ground that they had scooped the pool in the previous year. Since Delahayes have been the only French firm consistently to support Grand Prix races this year, the action of the French club seems rather hard As a protest, indeed, Delahayes were not run in the French Grand Prix at Rheims, and a one-sided race resulted in a hollow victory for Mercedes. The new .Auto-Unions made a disastrous first appearance, both cars retiring after the
first hp. French participation was limited to two sportsAype TalbotDarracqs, the S.E.F.A.C., and a 3-litre supercharged Bugatti. This last, driven by ‘Minnie, had appeared at Cork, and was a real good-looker, of which much was expected. Retiring early at Rheims, it was seen no more in Grand Prix races, and Bugatti’s policy remains as Sphinx-like as ever.
The next Grande Epreuve–as the principal races of each country are called— was the eagerly awaited German Grand Prix, and R. J. B. Seaman appeared for the first time in the Mercedes team. His great victory is now a matter of history, and there seems no doubt that next year the British driver will be ranked on a par with Caracciola, Nuvolari, and the other Continental aces. The German Grand Prix was also notable for the beginning of the revival of Auto-Unions, who had brought in as team leader the great Nuvolari himself. Nuvolari had actually handled an AutoUnion on one previous occasion, at Berne in 1937, but in that event was quite unable to cope with the unfamiliar layout of the rear-engined car. The maestro
was still not at home in the Auto-Union in the German Grand Prix, and ran off the road on the first lap, but he later took over lquller’s car and finished fourth. Two races in Italy followed, the Coppa
Ciano and the Coppa Acerbo. AutoUnions did not start in the former, and .a sensation occurred when von Brauchascii, who finished first for Mercedes, was disqualified for having been pushed off by the spectators when he skidded into the palisades. This left Lang the winner, and the sole Mercedes finisher, while Alfa-Romeos, with an improved type Of car, took second, third and fourth places. In the Coppa .A.cerbo again only one Mercedes finished, Caracciola scoring his first victory of the season, and while Alfa-Romeos were again second and third, a new challenger appeared in the 3-litre supercharged Maserati. This car, driven by Villoresi, actually made the best lap of the race, passing the German cars one after another. Thus the new Maserati fulfilled its promise shown in the Tripoli race, when Trossi (not Lang, as reported
at the time) put up the best lap at 185.96 m.p.h. After this early success it had been lying dormant, and is now a recognised “dark horse,” with great speed but for the present lacking reliability.
Mercedes returned to all-conquering form in the Swiss Grand Prix, scoring another one-two-three victory, with Caracciola first, Seaman second, and von Brauchitsch third, and Seaman also made the fastest lap. In the Italian Grand Prix, however, Nuvolari had mastered the technique of the Auto-Union, and won the Grande Epreuve of his own country in’ great style. Four Mercedes and four Auto-Unions started, but only one of each team finished, Nuvolari winning and Caracciola and von Brauchitsch, taking turns, scoring third place. AlfaRomeos were second and fourth, and Trossi’s Maserati, carefully driven, fifth. Finally, Nuvolari came to Donington, and little more need be said here of his magnificent driving, proving that again, at nearly fifty years of age, he can lay claim to the title of the world’s best road-racing driver. Muller, too, showed great promise in this race, and AutoUnions can now look forward to the 1939 season with far more sanguine prospects than had appeared possible
in the middle of the summer. Their cars finished the season with, apparently, greater acceleration than that of the Mercedes, and they have at least two drivers who will not be reckoned amongst the ” also-rans.” Mercedes, too, have no reason to lose confidence through their defeats in the last two races of the season, for it was only to be expected that, after a series of unequalled successes, there must come a lull some time. During periods throughout the summer, moreover, Caracciola was not enjoying the best of health. He
is still but thirty-seven years of age, however, and will not easily render up his title of ” Europameister.” It is unfortunate that Great Britain will not, after all, be represented by E.R.A.s in next season’s formula events,
but, in the lack of Government or other financial support (not forgetting the efforts of the E.R.A. Club), the wisdom of the decision cannot be doubted. There is still some hope that the sixteen-cylinder 3-litre supercharged TalbotDarracqs will assist the Delahaye efforts for France next season, though prospects of a works team of Bugattis do not appear
bright. Italy, on the other hand, has excellent prospects for 1939, if the AlfaRomeos can find a little more speed, and the Maseratis a little more reliability.
To sum up the 1938 season, Mercedes won six races, and both at Pau and in the Italian Grand Prix, though beaten, put up the fastest lap. Auto-Union won two races, and Nuvolari also made best lap at Donington. The remaining two Grand Prix races were won by Delahaye.