AN EASY VICTORY FOR MERCEDES-BENZ IN THE FRENCH GRAND PRIX AFTER A SPIRITED DUEL AT THE BEGINNING WITH NUVOLARI ON THE ALFA-ROMEO, CARACCIOLA WINS AT 77.39 M.P.H. WITH VON BRAUCHITSCH HALF A SECOND BEHIND. ZEHENDER (MASERATI) AN UNEXPECTED THIRD
THE story of this year’s French Grand Prix is almost a repetition of that of last year’s race, only that this time the parties were reversed and the silvergrey Mercedes-Benzes took ample revenge over their Italian rivals. For a third of the race indeed the genius of Nuvolari enabled him to hold his own on a car designed six years ago, with the best that Germany produces, only to fall out with mechanical trouble. The Auto-Unions were definitely not “au point,” while the sole representative of France was a Bugatti, only finished the day before the race and consequently not a serious rival of the splendidly prepared machines which represented the Fatherland.
The Mercedes victory was not altogether expected, in fact many people thought that the Auto-Unions, two of which were fitted with 5.6-litre engines, would win. During the period of practise Varzi recorded some excellent times, the fastest being sm. 23.3 seconds, while both Nuvolari and Chiron on the final day of practice came within eight seconds of this time. Under the circumstances there was every hope of a closely contested fight, and with a weather forecast of ” set-fair,” Paris responded freely to the call of the ” backs ” at Montlhery.
In view of the importance and prestige of the Grand Prix, it seemed unworthy of the occasion to start off the day’s programme with a series of rather unimportant motorcycle races, which were called collectively, the Grand Prix of the U.M.F. This part of the programme was however concluded by about eleven o’clock, and afterwards the waiting crowds were entertained by a procession of veteran cars, which chuffed bravely round the banked track at a full twenty miles an hour. Meanwhile the Circuit Routier was being cleaned up in preparation for the race of the day, and gangs of white clothed workmen was lined up like troupes of acrobats ready to move into position the straw bales which formed the first chicane. This consisted of only two barriers and was placed on the road-circuit some 300 yards after the Grand Stand, with another of similar construction halfa-mile further on, on the return track, while the third, which had three obstacles, was placed at the end of the road section, at its junction with the banked track which brings the cars sweeping back in front of the Grand Stands. By eleven o’cloack hordes of private cars, motor-cycles and motor-buses, not to speak of those on foot and bicycles, were fighting there way up the steep ascent to the track. Family parties complete with the day’s rations in bottles and string bags made their way into the “pelouse,” or space in the centre of the banked track, where they built themselves little shelters with blankets and branches of trees, or lined the rails guarding the tarmac stretches of the road circuit. La Potiniere, the white-painted restaurant at the end of
the sun in the pits, Caracciola rubbing chalk on his hands as he felt the supple leather of his new driving gloves. All was peace in that camp ; the driving tactics had been settled beforehand.
Robert Benoist then made his entry and was loudly cheered as he droWe round the banked circuit warming up his new Bugatti. Mechanics had been busy filing brake linings and getting it ready only an hour before, so too much was not expected on its first public appearance. The other hope of France, the Sefac, had made a brief appearance the day before, but Lehoux evidently did not consider his car fit to face the powerful opposition, and left it in its shed on the day of the race.
the stands was doing a roaring trade, with groups of race-fans in animated conversation round their little tables. The service was haphazard, but most people preferred to buy cold lunches put up in cardboard boxes, an excellent idea which might well be copied at Brooklands. After that one had to run the gauntlet of the ladies who were selling badges for the French Racing car fund, which seemed to be doing well, and so to a hard seat on the stand, which was not much more than half-full. The view from the upper tiers is magnificent, and cars can be seen intermittently for close on two miles. The sun was blazing down from a blue sky, but there was a little wind which prevented conditions from becoming too oppressive. First to arrive on the track was the Mercedes team, all spotless in the bright sunlight. Quantities of tyres, racing jacks. drums of fuel and air-bottles were unloaded from the huge lorries and piled into the pits, and squads of mechanics took off the one-piece bonnets, changed plugs, and fussed round generally, under the watchful eye of Neubauer, the team manager. The drivers took shelter from
Halfway down the pits are the Alfas driven with Nuvolari and Chiron standing by, the wizard Tazio, lean as a greyhound and looking tremendously fit in his yellow jumper and brightly coloured neckcloth can always be relied upon to do his stuff. The four-litre Maserati had not turned up so Etancelin decided not to drive, the two six-cylinder Maseratis being therefore handled by Zehender and Sommer. The race was due to start at one o’clock, and shortly before zero hour the eleven cars are wheeled to their places on the dazzling concrete, and are lined up in the customary three-two-three formation. The positions were as follows :
Varzi, Nuvolari, and Stuck, Chiron and Caracciola, Rosemeyer, Fagioli and Von Brauchitsch, Benoist and Zehender, and Sommer by himself in the back rank. With half-a-minute to go the cars were started up, all other noises being drowned by the syren wail from the Mercedes
blowers. It looked as if the mechanics were having great difficulties starting the Auto-Unions of Varzi and Stuck, and Varzi’s engine fired only as the starting flag was raised.