From our Archives - Caracciola in England

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There are many thousands of motor racing enthusiasts who have never been able to to see a Grand Prix race abroad, and it was an excellent idea of the Mercedes-Benz company to bring over one of the racing cars which have been so successful all over Europe and to exhibit it in their showroom at Park Lane. The occasion was celebrated by giving a ‘tea-party’ to representatives of the motoring press. The guest of honour was Rudolf Caracciola.

During the course of his speech Herr Caracciola referred with pleasure to the splendid reception which he had been accorded in Ireland when he raced in the 1929 TT race and also at Shelsley Walsh, at which 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 even though the racing car built under the 750kg formula is capable of 200mph. Every competent driver calculates his chances before the start and drives accordingly, and thanks to independent springing it is little harder to hold one’s course at a speed of 200mph than it used to be at 130mph in the old days. At the same time luck still plays 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 lots and he had the misfortune to be in the last row. His tactics 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 modem racing cars is so tremendous that this is extremely difficult to accomplish if the car is not well placed. He got off the mark in style and roared up to the first bend with three other cars. None looked like giving way till the last minute, but a mistake from Caracciola’s settled the issue.

Confusing the pedals for those of his 5-litre touring car, he stepped firmly on the accelerator instead of the brake and shot up to the corner at such a speed the other drivers took fright and let him past. Luck or skill kept the car on the road 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 during an attempt at the World’s Hour Record at the Avus. The car was running happily at just over 200mph when there was an appalling noise and the car started to jump about as if it had gone mad. I realised a rear tyre had gone.

“The car was travelling at 340 feet a second on a 20 foot road, and if I’d been asked what chance there was for the driver to escape alive I would have said ‘impossible.’ In an emergency, one simply acts by instinct, and somehow I kept the car on the road. It was 1.5 kilometres before I brought it to rest, and people who had seen and heard the accident welt amazed to see the car and myself undamaged.”

After the reception, a Motor Sport representative interviewed Herr Caracciola and obtained his views on a number of questions which arc much to the fore in racing circles at the present time.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to find drivers who are fit to handle the very fast cars. Next year we shall have the same team, Fagioli, von Brauchitsch and myself. Lang has done quite well, but he is not as fast as the best French and Italian drivers.

“I don’t think there is any chance of attacking either Sir Malcolm Campbell’s records or the longdistance ones set by Eyston. Tyres are what worry me for the World’s Record. I believe that Auto Union plan to do something in November or December on the new Darmstadt Autobahn, where there is 15 kilometres of perfect surface.”

The racing cars, it was learnt, will not be sold to private individuals. They are too complicated to tune to be of any use to anyone but the factory, and with an engine running at 6,000rpm replacements are frequent. Also Caracciola reckoned 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. ‘What I want to know,” said Caracciola, “is why England cannot have a Grand Prix of her own.” Darlington was mentioned but the trouble was the first draft regulations called for silencers. The back pressure from silencers would make short work of the exhaust valves of the Mercedes-Benz engines.

Motor Sport’s representative then endeavoured to explain why it was not possible to hold a Grand Prix on English roads, 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. “I’ve got a way of getting over that,” said the German driver, “I suggested to the RAC 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 that, if a Mercedes-Benz team were entered under these conditions, Richard Seaman was the driver favoured by Caracciola.

“Remarkable cars those ERAs. If they only had independently sprung wheels they would be perfect. The only other thing they might add is a streamlined fairing behind the driver’s head. We got nearly 10mph extra on the Grand Prix car by doing that. Besides, if the car turns over, all you do is to tuck your head down and the fin saves your neck. Several of our drivers have found it useful.” Apropos of small cars there is no plan at the moment to build 1.5-litre Mercedes-Benz racing cars.

“The maximum speed of this year’s cars? — oh about 205mph. 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 187mph and the 4-litre Alfa-Romeo 190mph, so they should be 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 race, but in this case a mechanic 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, were so wide apart 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 I was now at the zenith of my career, and wondered whether I ought to drop out before I get on the down-grade. As it is I look forward to driving 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 season.