Caracciola in England: the Mercedes-Benz team leader gives side-lights on present-day racing
There are many thousands of motor-racing enthusiasts in this country who have never been able to spare the time to see a Grand Prix race abroad, and it was an excellent idea on the part of the Mercedes-Benz company to bring over one of the racing cars which have been so successful all over Europe during the past two years, and to exhibit it in their new showroom at Park Lane. The occasion was celebrated by giving a "teaparty "to representatives of the motoring press. The guest of honour was Rudolf Caracciola, who had come to London straight from Paris after having received the Gold Medal of the A.I.A.C.R., as the most successful racing driver of the year.
During the course of his speech Herr Caracciola referred with pleasure to the splendid reception which had been accorded over in Ireland when he raced in the 1929 T.T. race and also at Shelsley Walsh, at which it will be remembered he won the sports-car class. He always looked forward to racing in England once again.
Speeds of course had risen enormously since those days, he went on to say, but the driver's outlook had not changed much even though the racing car built under the 750 kg. formula is capable of 200 m.p.h. Every competent driver calculates his chances before the start and drives accordingly, and thanks to independent springing it is very little harder to hold one's course at a speed of 200 m.p.h. than it used to be at 130 m.p.h. in the old days. At the same time luck must still play a considerable part in the final result.
As an example of the way things worked out he dealt with his experiences in the Spanish Grand Prix this year, in which the Mercedes team finished first, second and third.
The starting positions were settled by drawing lots and he had the misfortune to be placed in the last row. The tactics he follows are always to get in front as quickly as possible, thus forcing his rivals to drive all-out in order to keep at grips with him. The acceleration of modern racing cars is so tremendous that this is extremely difficult to accomplish if the car is not well placed.
As it happened, he got off the mark in fine style and roared up to the first bend at a great pace in company with three other cars. None of the drivers looked like giving way till the last possible minute, but a chance Mistake on Caracciola's part settled the issue. Confusing the position of the pedals for a moment with those of his 5-litre touring car, he stepped firmly on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and shot up to the corner at such a speed that the other drivers took fright and let him past. Luck or skill kept the car on the road and after three laps he had moved up to ninth place and further fast and steady driving brought him into the lead.
"Apart from incidents like the accelerator one" Herr Caracciola continued, "we have had very few awkward moments, but there are bound to be some at the speed at 'which the cars travel. One of the worst was when I was making an attempt at the World's Hour Record on the Avus track. The car was running quite happily at just over 200 m.p.h. along the nine kilometre straight when suddenly there was an appalling noise and the car started to jump about as if it had gone mad. I realised at once that a rear tyre had gone.
" The car was travelling at 340 feet a second on a 20 foot road, and if I had been asked what chance there was for the driver to escape alive under these circumstances I would have said 'impossible.' In an emergency like this, one simply acts by instinct, and somehow or other I kept the car on the road. It was kilometres before I brought it to rest, and people who had seen and heard the accident were amazed to see the car and myself undamaged."
Following the reception, a MOTOR SPORT representative interviewed Herr Caracciola and obtained his views on a number of questions which are much to the fore in racing circles at the present time. The first of these, naturally, was to ask what alteration he thought ought to be made in Grand Prix formula.
"Increase the weight limit to 400 kg." was the reply. " We've got plenty of speed for all present-day circuits, and the extra weight would go to building stronger chassis and strengthening other parts of the car which are near the limit. With these alterations the 1935 cars would be perfectly safe in the hands of experienced drivers. I don't see any reason for cutting down the capacity to 1.5-litres.
" At the same time it is extraordinarily difficult to find drivers who are fit to handle these light and very fast cars. Next year we shall have the same team, Fagioli, von Brauchitsch and myself, though Fagioli I think would like to return to Italy if he could get a suitable car. Lang has done quite well, but he is not as fast as the best of the French and Italian drivers, and poor Geier was badly shaken up in that crash when he was practising for the Swiss Grand Prix.
" I don't think there is any chance of our attacking either Sir Malcolm Camp bell's records or the long-distance ones by Eyston. Tyres are what worry me for the World's Record, and I think long-distance records are better left to people who specialise in them. I believe that Auto-Union plan to do something in November or December on the new Darmstatt Autobahn, where there is 15 kilometres of perfect surface."
The racing cars, it was learnt, will not be sold to private individuals next year. In the first place they are too complicated and difficult to tune to be of any use to anyone but the factory, and with an engine running at 6,000 r.p.m. replacements are frequent. Apart from this Caracciola reckoned that each car cost the Daimler-Benz Company some £8.000 to build, so the selling price would put them out of the question. No less than 2.5 million marks (£200,000 at present exchange rates) were spent by the racing department in 1935, one million marks of this being contributed by the German Government.
" What I want to know," said Caracciola, " is why England cannot have a Grand Prix of her own." Donington was mentioned but the trouble was that the first draft regulations called for silencers, though this rule was later abolished. The back pressure from silencer would of course make short work of the exhaust valves of the Mercedes-Benz engines. Another reason, which did not come up at the interview, was that the Daimler-Benz Company, wanted £400 starting money, which was more than the Derby Club could manage.
The MOTOR SPORT representative then endeavoured to explain Why it was not possible to hold a Grand Prix on English roads although there was no speed limit outside the towns, and furthermore pointed out that in spite of England's alleged sporting instincts the authorities here were not anxious to promote races in which English cars had no chance, though countries like Spain, Belgium and Czecho-Slovakia do not seem to feel the same way about it. "I've got a way of getting over that," said the German driver, ' I suggested to the R.A.C. Racing Committee that the regulations should include a proviso that one out of the three cars nominated by each manufacturer should be handled by an English driver." It was interesting to learn that, if a Mercedes-Benz team were entered under these conditions, Richard Seaman was the driver favoured by Caracciola, who had had plenty of opportunity of studying his style at Pescara and elsewhere.
" Remarkable cars those E.R.A.s. If they only had independently sprung wheels they would be perfect. The only other thing which they might add is a streamlined fairing behind the driver's head. We got nearly 10 m.p.h. extra speed on the Grand Prix car by doing that. Besides, if the car turns over, all you have to do is to tuck your head down and the fin protects you and saves your neck. Several of our drivers have found it useful." Apropos of small cars there is no intention at the moment of building 1.5-litre Mercedes-Benz racing cars.
" During the practice for the Swiss Grand Prix we tried for the first time the new lowered chassis and coachwork. It was a great success and with the same 4-litre engine gave us another 8 to 10 m.p.h. All next year's racing cars will be of this type.
" The maximum speed of this year's cars?—oh about 205 m.p.h. The Auto-Unions are just a fraction faster, which you would expect with a 5.5-litre engine, but our cars have better brakes and are easier to handle, and we gain on them both going into a corner and coming out The new Maserati does probably 187 and the 4-litre Alfa-Romeo 190, so they should be quite formidable next year.''
What happened at Monza? " was the next question, " A piece of bad luck," was the reply. " We generally change the brake drums before each big race, but in this case the mechanic who was entrusted with the job forgot to do this on my car and Fagioli's and the old drums just chewed up the linings. Anyhow it was a silly course. The straw bales which formed the chicanes, which I hate anyway, were so wide apart that they hardly checked your pace at all."
Caracciola still walks with a limp as a result of the accident at Monte Carlo two years ago, but the leg gives no trouble when he is driving. All the same the interview was concluded with a question about his rumoured retirement. "I haven't really thought about it yet," said "Caratsch." "All I said was that was now at the zenith of my career, and wondered whether I ought not to drop out before I get on the down-grade. As it is I look forward to driving again next year, with a car faster than ever."
This decision will bring great satisfaction to his friends and admirers who were afraid that they had seen him race for the last time. A charming, smiling, and cheerful personality who talks about his exploits with a modesty characteristic of one of the world's best drivers, he must be one of Germany's best ambassadors abroad, and it was with real sincerity that the interviewer wished him on behalf of MOTOR SPORT and its readers the best of luck in next year's racing season.