Ignoring ‘the call’
Team orders are a frequent source of debate in modern F1, but such controversies have raged for decades
As reverberations persist from Red Bull’s Malaysian Grand Prix wrong-way-around 1-2 finish, consider for a moment the 1937 Monaco GP. No two-way radios then, just increasingly frantic pit signals and increasingly disapproving body language — which means plenty of it — from Daimler-Benz team manager Alfred Neubauer.
Without radio there was no possibility of debate, no “What about Multi 21?” from the aggrieved predecessor of Mark Webber that day — Mercedes-Benz number one driver, Rudi Caracciola. The naughty boy ignoring team orders was Manfred von Brauchitsch, hardly a slip of a lad like Sebastian Vettel — but certainly another fine example of a self-possessed, ruthlessly ambitious German racing driver in whom the sportsmanship part of the chip has apparently never been installed.
The psychological problem with these people is that once race-rage has been activated in those blessed with extreme levels of combative talent, they become more driven than driver. As ‘Lofty’ England once remarked to me, “The silly buggers simply cannot help it…”
Consider that long-gone 1937 Monaco GP. Perhaps to a greater degree than Red Bull Racing 2013, there had been friction bubbling for some time very near the surface within Mercedes’ driver team. Caracciola then aged 36 was the established, accepted but now beginning to age number one, while Brauchitsch at 32 had long played second fiddle, and it grated. “Browk” was the nephew of Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch, a favourite of Hitler’s, then head of the Fourth Army Group and soon to be appointed Commander of the Heer the entire German Army. Brauchitsch’s aristocratic self-esteem was near high-tide and although Caracciola’s roots were decidedly middle-class his family ran a hotel in Remagen on the Rhine these two senior drivers generally gravitated together within the team. They were Mercedes’ longest-serving star drivers. In succession they had felt increasingly threatened, and then quite literally outclassed, by engine mechanic-turneddriver Hermann Lang and by English newcomer Dick Seaman, most decidedly a privately wealthy public school toff.
But at the time of that Monaco GP, neither Lang nor Seaman could drive, the German stricken by influenza while the Englishman was recovering from his German GP collision in which Auto Union driver Ernst von Delius had been killed. Seaman himself had broken his nose and thumb and suffered cuts and contusions. So drivers of the third and fourth works Mercedes-Benz W125s at Monte Carlo were Goffredo Zehender and Christian Kautz.
On race day, Caracciola led the Grand Prix initially from Brauchitsch and the Auto Unions of Rosemeyer and Stuck. The Mercedes duo drew some 15 seconds clear of Rosemeyer, before the exuberant young ex-DKW team motorcyclist rushed back onto Brauchitsch’s tail only for his Auto Union to career into a trackside barrier. This elevated Kautz’s Mercedes into third place, while Brauchitsch began throwing his car around in huge power slides to catch Caracciola. He broke the lap record on lap 21 and Caracciola responded, “pushing hard” as Vettel and Webber would say, though the Aussie today would almost certainly add an unnecessary “yeah”. Brauchitsch was leading when Caracciola made a 3min 15sec pitstop to cure misfiring.
But once back in the fray, Caracciola simply blasted around Monte Carlo, determined to recatch Brauchitsch.
On lap 55 he unlapped himself, then ripped into his team-mate’s advantage. On lap 69 Brauchitsch stopped for fuel and tyres. But while he was stationary a front brake seized and had to be freed. Brauchitsch finally rejoined only just in front of Caracciola.
It was at this point that a ferocious bare-knuckle duel erupted between the German pair. Caracciola was lungeing and sniping to get by, Brauchitsch using all the road, the kerbs and more to stay ahead. Each time past the pits, Neubauer furiously signalled Brauchitsch to let Caracciola pass. Caracciola was shaking his fist, Brauchitsch pointedly ignoring him. Even Caracciola’s mechanics got in on the act, frantically waving Brauchitsch down, while his own mechanics grinned quietly and sat on their hands…
Neubauer’s complexion shaded from red to purple as Brauchitsch not only ignored the ‘slow’ and ‘change places’ signals but stuck out his tongue at the portly team manager as he hurtled past the pits. Brauchitsch knew that Caracciola needed another tyre change and on lap 80 he finally let his team leader through, before re-inheriting the lead as Caracciola made his inevitable stop next time round.
Deflated, the outcome decided on track, Neubauer shook his head and accepted the inevitable; Caracciola likewise. Manfred von Brauchitsch cruised home to win this most charismatic Grand Prix for MercedesBenz, with Caracciola second and Chris Kautz third in the W125s ahead of the leading Auto Union, co-driven by Hans Stuck and the bruised but unabashed Bernd Rosemeyer.
Brauchitsch had disobeyed express team orders, and was given the hard stare by both Neubauer and Caracciola but their disapproval went little further. A celebrity German racing driver in Germany’s prime works Grand Prix team had led home Mercedes’ 1-2-3 domination of the Monaco Grand Prix. In fact the team’s two longestserving drivers would remain united in circling their wagens against the ever more serious threat from blue-collar Lang and top-hat-and-tails Seaman. Like Sebastian Vettel, however, Brauchitsch had friends with influence in high places.
In Vettel’s case it has been Helmut Marko, but von Brauchitsch’s influence could easily trump that. Through his uncle it extended to Adolf himself
Game, set and motor race?
Franchitti fast and fighting fit
Is it true that modern drivers have an easier life than their predecessors? Some facts and figures suggest otherwise
Dario Franchitti is a most unusual front-line racing driver. The four-time American Indycar Champion and three-time Indy 500 winner shows every sign of being properly grounded and absolutely one of us. In fact he’s a thoroughly good bloke. For a current racing driver he displays remarkable interest in, and knowledge of, the drivers and cars that far preceded him. He and I worked together recently at the Revs Institute’s 7th annual Connoisseurship Symposium at the Collier Collection in Naples, Florida, and as one of the attendees said to me “You know, that Dario is really somethin’ — a genuine car guy…” You get the picture?
So it was that one particular cameo occurred, with the still highly active, hugely competitive, multiple Indy winner standing between a 1925 122 cubic inch centrifugally supercharged Miller track racer and a 1927 1500cc Grand Prix Delage, and explaining some of the loads experienced by today’s contenders in their Dallara DW single-seaters.
I’m pretty sure Dario’s candid insight was a telling revelation to some of the “modern drivers are cosseted kids” brigade among his connoisseurial audience. I’d asked him to comment upon the contrasting demands of Miller-type track racing versus Delage-type road racing, although of course one or two board-track and Indy-bred Millers did venture onto road circuits in their day, while GP Delages (including the one to his right) wound up at Indy.
Dario had just returned from his mandatory daily gym training session, positively glowing with (frankly sickening) fitness as he recalled the road-race qualifying sessions last year at Mid-Ohio. “Our Dallaras don’t have power steering and, after qualifying, five or six of us up front were standing together, and we all looked just totally knackered by the effort, soaking with sweat and absolutely drained.
“I’d been complaining to our engineers for some time that steering loads in these cars are borderline on some road courses, and this time I asked specifically that they compute the loads from the data they record, just to see how high those loadings really are.
“It was an absolute eye-opener. Average steering load worked out at about 30Ibs in each hand, peaking at 50Ibs over certain compressions and bumps — so imagine lying back there in your seat, arms outstretched, and lifting 30-50Ibs with every significant steering input. Then add the effect of putting 150Ibs of force into the brake pedal four times a lap (at that track) while your shoulder and neck muscles are reacting to the effective weight of your head and helmet under 4g load, which means another 60Ibs or so.
“And then you have to sustain those kinds of load for two hours or more. I believe that current Formula 1 cars generate higher forces in the brakes and g-loads on your head and neck but at least they have power steering. So that’s why we spend so much time out on the ‘bike and in the gym!”
And in the likeable Scot’s case — boy, has it paid off.
Can modern racers keep on running?
Technology has its upsides in performance terms, but might not be an aid to longevity
At the Naples Symposium, the long-term future of modern-era racing cars was deeply debated. Michael Bock, head of Daimler-Benz Classic, presented a thought provoking paper in which he explored the useability — or immobility of current cars in 25, 50 or perhaps 100 years time…
Considering the dependence of modern formula, endurance and DTM cars upon computer hardware and software programs, this becomes a particular area of concern. Michael highlighted several unknowns, mainly involving the volume of industrial investment and support necessary to enable and sustain such technologies, and their likely irretrievable obsolescence tomorrow. If preserved cars are to be maintained in runnable condition, it is prudent — and could be critically decisive — to preserve the ancillary computer hardware and software. And quite apart from the electrickery involved, adequate mechanical preservation over decades will certainly pose new problems. The durability of modern alloys used in current racing engines is in some areas unknown, unproven and largely unexplored.
A concerned, posterity-conscious manufacturer such as Mercedes is addressing this, albeit low-priority, problem. Plainly, any measures adopted for long-term concerns won’t trouble designers seeking short-term gain. If you win next month, who cares if the car remains usable for future generations?
But such factors as ultra-violet degradation of exposed carbon composite components have already been addressed, and it is significant that some McLaren-Mercedes museum cars have already had their all-composite suspension members replaced by hybrid look-alikes in which a steel core bears the load, with a composite shroud to mimic the proper appearance. Food here for plenty of thought… and concern for future collectors.
And there’s another intriguing aspect to the long-term running future of current racing cars. Dario Franchitti was asked his expert opinion. Unless specialist tyre technology provides down-graded rubber to tailor today’s cars to the amateur private owner/collector of tomorrow, he foresees deep trouble. “The problem,” he says, “is that until you get enough heat into the tyres to generate adequate grip, today’s Indy and F1 cars are effectively an accident looking for somewhere to happen.
“In essence they just don’t have any grip until the tyres reach working temperature, and I doubt many future amateurs will be able to drive hard enough even to warm their tyres to the point where they begin to achieve the car’s designed performance. We had a very experienced historic driver try one of our Indy cars and he got caught out because even he wasn’t heating up the tyres sufficiently — and the car spun on the straight”.
I mentioned this to Gordon Murray of Brabham, McLaren and future-car fame, and he recalled his own experience of driving his Formula 1 Brabham designs up to the 1979-80 BT48. “Despite understanding the requirement and being pretty experienced, I couldn’t warm the tyres enough to generate optimum grip,” he says. “Once at Ricard we were involved with some filming. The crew asked for another few laps, but the drivers had left so Herbie Blash obliged, took out the car and spun off.
Why didn’t Gordon drive his cars after the BT48? “We ended up with no tall drivers, so I took 3in off the later cars’ wheelbase. It meant I wouldn’t fit!’ This reminded me of a debate we’d had in the early ’90s, about taking a McLaren F1 production car to attack world speed records at Bonneville. The notion in part was that a hot-shoe might drive in the centre, with 7ft tall Gordon in one passenger seat and yard-wide me in the other, to demonstrate the F1’s versatility. Regrettably, it didn’t happen.