We presumably all agree that motor racing is dramatic, and its history intriguing. But the latter aspect is not always clear. While it’s fact the London papers gave the results of Brooklands meetings and often full race results, they were less likely to report foreign events, unless a driver had been killed. SCH Davis of The Autocar only heard of the fatal accident to Zborowski in the 1924 Italian GP on the radio, and only because the famous Count was the victim…
The 1938 German GP provides an example of the problems historians face. This was regarded as the most important race of the year, 312 miles at the Niirburgring. The second stop of von Brauchitsch and Seaman decided it and Seaman won. After nearly four hours, his average was 80.71mph, finishing over 3min before the next Mercedes, shared by Caracciola and Lang. It had been decided by the one horrific pit-stop. This has been variously reported as follows; but what really happened?
1. “…Brauchitsch’s tank was overfilled, slopped over and at that moment he switched on and a mechanic engaged the portable starter. The engine spat back and instantly the tail of the Mercedes became a mass of flames, rising swiftly above the two-tier pits. Brauchitsch, struggling to release his detachable steering wheel, was hauled bodily out of the cockpit by Neubauer and rolled on the ground to extinguish his burning sleeve, while the fire-fighting squad went into action just as Seaman restarted, pulled out through the flames and smoke, and tore away into the lead. Brauchitsch climbed back in and pluckily rejoined the race, to a mighty roar of cheering.”
2. “My (Seaman’s) mechanics were so busy looking at this fire they somewhat forgot about me (he had come in on the same lap and was close behind the burning Mercedes) but I shouted Hey! And then they pushed me out of the way and I put the wheels on full left lock. The engine started, and, ducking as I went past the flames, I got away.”
3. “Seaman’s car had come in behind the burning car. Lindemaier was to restart it and in doing so the back of his overalls caught fire. However, he carried on as if nothing had happened. He had not the slightest intention of losing the driver one precious split-second.”
4. “Neubauer ran to the second Mercedes and told Dick not to hassle von Brauchitsch (who had complained Seaman was slip-streaming him too closely), saw the fire and dragged von Brauchitsch out of the cockpit and helped beat out his overalls. Seaman, conforming to the letter of Neubauer’s instructions not to challenge Brauchitsch, sat in the pits watching the fun. ‘God, is the man out of his mind?’ roared Neubauer ‘Go on Seaman, take off. What are you doing?’ Seaman replied deadpan, ‘You said not to chase von Brauchitsch.’ “
5. “I (Neubauer) walked to the Englishman and said ‘For my sake, Dick, leave Brauchitsch alone for today’. In a low voice he said ‘all right, Sir’. After the fire on Brauchitsch’s car was out I gave a sigh of relief and glanced round to make sure no further damage had been done. To my astonishment I saw that Seaman’s car was still standing at the pits. I was over there like a shot out of a gun. ‘Holy mackerel’, I roared, ‘what are you standing there for? Why haven’t you started?’ He gave me an engaging smile: ‘I thought I was to let Brauchitsch keep his lead’ he said, with a tremendous show of innocence. ‘Stop thinking and drive’ I shouted…”
The choice of what really happened is yours!