Racing car: Mercedes W196
Return of a legend
Everyone interested in grand prix racing has been awaiting the appearance of the new Mercedes-Benz with great expectations, remembering the peak of perfection that the 1939 grand prix cars had reached.
With Herr Uhlenhaut still in charge of design, and Alfred Neubauer as team chief, it was reasonable to expect the 1954 Formula One team to be the equal of any of its rivals, and also the season of racing with the 300SL sportscars in 1952 was an obvious practice for both design and organisation departments of Mercedes-Benz. The thoroughness with which the sportscar field was attacked, with well-earned results, gave indication of what one might expect when the grand prix team was finally put in action.
Keeping to their promise of three cars for the French GP at Reims, the Mercedes-Benz team made their first public appearance in a race on July 4, and achieved the result of first and second, which positions were held from the fall of the flag to the finish, while the third car set a new lap record before retiring when third. Clearly Mercedes-Benz were on form, and these racing cars, which could beat Ferrari, Maserati and Gordini on their first outing, were worthy of close inspection.
The general shape of the cars, with all-enveloping body, is already well known to readers of Motor Sport, but what that body conceals is what interests. Taking the power unit first of all, this is a straight eight-cylinder of 76mm bore and 68.8mm stroke, giving a capacity of 2496cc and running up to 8500rpm. The engine is mounted on its side, some 20 degrees from the horizontal.
Many readers have already complained that Motor Sport is too pro-German, but personally I feel that July 4 witnessed the beginning of a new era in grand prix motor racing, similar to that witnessed in 1934 at Montlhéry, when from the point of view of technical interest the current Alfa Romeos and Maseratis were made to look obsolete.
The 1954 grand prix Mercedes-Benz sets a new standard, but in fairness I would say that I saw a similar standard, for its time, in 1949 when I had a first private look at the BRM. Unfortunately, it was obvious that the conception was beyond the capabilities of those concerned, as has subsequently been proved, but it was just as much a landmark in the development of the racing car. But after the Reims result this year, it would seem that this landmark in the development of the racing car is going to stay, unlike that of '49. --- DSJ