Classic victory in the German G.P. Von Brauchitsch’s proverbial bad luck. Disappointment of vast crowd
There have been many examples of the glorious uncertainty of motor-racing, but none more striking than the last lap of the 1935 German Grand Prix. To the 250,000 spectators who lined the Nurburg Ring a German victory was a foregone conclusion, and yet Nuvolari snatched the lead from von Brauchitsch half a lap from the finishing line to give Italy a completely unexpected triumph.
Naturally the Germans regarded their own Grand Prix as the most important event of the season, and their preparations were correspondingly thorough. Five Mercedes-Benz were entered and four Auto-Unions. In practice there were actually eight Mercs at the Ring, three of them spare cars. The Auto-Unions had been completely overhauled in order to cure their mysterious overheating trouble, and Dr. Porsche and Willy Walb were quietly confident. The chief foreign opposition came from the Ferrari Alfa-Romeos, 3.8-litre monopostos with Dubonnet front-springing. The field was completed with five Maseratis, a 3.3 Bugatti, a 3-litre Alfa-Romeo, and a brace of 2-litre E.R.A.s which thus gave Britain a stake in a big Grand Prix race for the first time for many years.
The Mercedes-Benz team arrived at Adenau on Tuesday night, and the next morning saw Herr Neubauer’s well-known cabriolet at the Ring, punctual as ever. Only the second-string drivers were ordered to report for duty, Hans Geier, quiet and reliable, Lang, and the new man Gartner, rather phlegmatic. It was interesting to observe Herr Neubauer at work, methodically perfecting every detail of his organisation but never being too busy to keep an eye on the rest of the cars on the track, clicking his watch when a rival driver was putting in a fast lap. The Auto-Union drivers arrived at about 6 o’clock, first Stuck and his wife in their beautiful black-and-silver 12-cylinder Horch coupe. Hans stopped at the pits for a chat with von Delius and Prince Leiningen. Rosemeyer went out with a racing car, but only did a few laps and did not stop for adjustments.
Thursday saw the pits a hive of activity. Rosemeyer was lapping at a terrific pace, attired in shorts. He did not wear a helmet. Paul Pietsch, an Auto-Union reserve, was handling his car quite nicely. Stuck put in some calmly efficient laps. At noon Caracciola rolled up in his magnificent cabriolet. Neubauer barked at him: “You’re late. It’s twelve o’clock.” Carratsch smiled innocently, “Is it? I thought it was ten.” Neubauer grumbles “Well, we won’t argue about it. Get into your car.” In the afternoon Rudi was driving so well that his chief soon forgot all about his breach of discipline. In an adjoining pit we heard another quarrel, this time between the Hungarian, Laszlo Hartmann, and his tyre suppliers. The latter wanted him to change his tyres before going out again, but the Maserati driver complained that they had only done three laps. They both got very worked up, but the tyres were changed in the end.
The Alfas and E.R.A.s appeared on Friday. Delius did several laps in the afternoon, and then failed to arrive at the pits. Between the Breitscheider Kurve and the Bergwerk station he had crashed on a corner cut into the side of a hill, skidded into the bank, turned round several times, and then wrapped himself round a tree which saved him from rolling down a steep incline. Only the back axle of the E.R.A. was damaged, but in spite of chartering a special aeroplane the spare parts arrived too late for the car to be repaired in time for the race. When the driver walked back to the pits he was greeted with derisive shouts from his friends. ” You’re like a little dog, Ernst, you can’t keep away from the nearest tree!” Delius took it all in good part and pleaded that he isn’t an ace yet. He said he had often wondered what a crash was like, and now he knew. Raymond Mays, on the second E.R.A. looked a bit too careful, but he was playing for safety and wanted at least one E.R.A. in the race.
The Alfas looked good, and we were told that they had the big engines and improved brakes. Chiron was complaining about the steering. Everyone was disappointed that the new Maserati and Bugatti were not at Nurburg. All day long a great discussion raged as to the best method of deciding the starting positions. The authorities wanted to grade the cars in the order of their acceleration capabilities. The drivers were against this, however, on the ground that the corner soon after the start would complicate matters anyway. Eventually it was agreed to draw lots.
On Saturday morning, practicing was in full swing, and we took some interesting times as the cars rounded the Breitscheider Kurve. Von Brauchitsch was the fastest in 14.4 seconds, then came Stuck and Fagioli 14.8 seconds, Varzi 14.9 seconds, Caracciola and Pietsch 15 seconds, Nuvolari 15.2 seconds, Lang and Chiron 15.4 seconds, Etancelin 15.8 seconds, Delius 16 seconds, and Taruffi 16.2 seconds.
From the beginning of the week the little village of Adenau had been tremendously busy, for most of the drivers were staying at the Eifeler Hof hotel. Autograph hunters were in their element, and they fairly besieged the hotel, back and front. The crowd only had eyes for “aces,” and even the Crown Prince himself passed unnoticed, drinking some red wine in a café. On the night before the race the village was a-bustle continuously, thousands of spectators passing through on their way to the course, beside which they snatched a few hours sleep in the open. Everyone hoped that Hitler would make a surprise visit, but they hoped in vain.
After two months of fine weather it was bad luck that it should change on the very day of the race. Heavy clouds loomed overhead, threatening rain. The Mercedes-Benz were the first cars to arrive at the pits, coming from the Forsthaus St. Hubertus, near the Castle. They were covered with sheets to keep out the rain. Hartmann arrived next, followed by Mays. At ten minutes past ten there was a stir as four Auto-Unions appeared. They all did a warming-up gallop. Ten minutes later the Mercs did the same. Then the Nazi and German national flags were run up the flag pole, and everyone stood and saluted—all except Chiron, who did a little dance!
Promptly at 11 o’clock the 20 starters obeyed the signal to start, and presented a magnificent spectacle as they roared and howled away from the line. Red, amber and green lights were used instead of a flag. It was raining hard. Caracciola had been placed in the fourth row, but before they were clear of the stands he had worked his way to the front, in line with von Brauchitsch, Nuvolari and Balestrero. Raymond Mays was just behind him. Stuck had been allotted a place in the front row, and the crowd had hoped to see him make his usual lightening getaway. Instead, he stalled on the line, as did another Auto-Union driver, Pietsch. After a moment’s delay they tore after the field.
There is an excellent system at Nurburg Ring of keeping the spectators in touch with the progress of the cars round the course. Caracciola led the whole way, and covered his first lap in 12 minutes 7.4 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the second man, Nuvolari. The order of the rest was as follows: Fagioli, Rosemeyer, von Brauchitsch, Chiron, Brivio, Varzi, Taruffi, Lang, Geier and Stuck. But this was not to be the settled order, and on the second lap a “general post” took place. “Carratsch” was still leading by the same margin of 12 seconds, but now Rosemeyer, the new Auto-Union star, was lying second Von Brauchitsch was third, Fagioli fourth, Chiron fifth, Nuvolari had dropped to sixth, Varzi was seventh, Lang eighth, Taruffi ninth, Geier tenth, Stuck eleventh and Pietsch twelfth. Mays’ E.R.A. was at the tail of the field, as was only to be expected of a 2-litre car. At the end of the second lap he pulled into the pits for plugs, as did Etancelin.
There was no material change on lap 3, but Fagioli passed von Brauchitsch and Stuck was making up ground. Already two cars had retired. Balestrero charged off the road in his Alfa-Romeo, without personal injury, and Brivio, who replaced Dreyfus at the wheel of a Ferrari Alfa-Romeo, broke his differential. Rosemeyer had drawn 5 seconds closer to Caracciola, and it looked as though we were going to see a repetition of their duel in the Eifel race. Sure enough on the fourth lap Rosemeyer was now only 4 seconds behind Caracciola, in spite of the latter lapping in 11 minutes 34 seconds. He hurled his goggles at his pit as he flashed past at 200 k.p.h. Stuck was also driving very rapidly, saving 22 seconds in this lap as compared with the last.
Lap 5 saw the gap between the leaders increased to 6 seconds, and now came the first sensation. Louis Chiron, an uncannily popular figure at the Ring, was seen crawling round the Mercedes-Kurve, and shortly afterwards walked into the pits. His Alfa-Romeo had developed gear box trouble. His retirement shuffled the order, after the leaders, to Fagioli, von Brauchitsch, Nuvolari, Varzi, Stuck, Lang, Geier, Pietsch and Ruesch.
The Caracciola-Rosemeyer duel came to an end on the next lap when the latter stopped at the pits. The right-hand rear wheel and brake drum were changed, a mass of earth falling to the ground as this was done. Willy Walb says “Where have you been, Berndt? ” It appeared that Rosemeyer had skidded into a bank early in the race and had slightly damaged his back axle.
Nuvolari was now the sole Alfa representative left in the race, and he proceeded to show his mettle by being the first driver to beat 11 minutes for a lap. His time was 10 minutes 57.4 seconds, and this feat brought him into third place. The astonishing Rosemeyer capped this with 10 minutes 55.1 seconds. Nuvolari was going like the wind, and on the tenth passed Caracciola to take the lead. The crowd were speechless with incredulity. For two laps he led, and then came the fateful refuelling stop. Caracciola, Rosemeyer and von Brauchitsch all stopped too, and for a few minutes the pits were a concentrated strip of activity. The Mercedes-Benz organisation was perfect, the fastest being von Brauchitsch in 47 seconds. Fagioli took 51, Geier 52, Lang 55 and Caracciola 1 minute 7 seconds. Among the Auto-Unions Stuck was the most rapid in 49 seconds. Varzi and Pietsch took 1 minute 12 seconds, and Rosemeyer 1 minute 15 seconds. What a contrast in the Ferrari pit! Nuvolari was more agitated than we have ever seen him, and confusion reigned supreme. Eventually he got away again after a stop of 2 minutes 14 seconds, but that extra minute had set him back to sixth place.
Von Brauchitsch was now leading, and the German crowd settled themselves down to enjoy their triumph. To their amazement Nuvolari pulled right up on the 13th lap to second place, devouring Fagioli, Rosemeyer, Caracciola and Stuck as though they were a bunch of novices! This was almost superhuman driving, but even now no one seriously thought that the Italian menace was a real one. At any moment we expected to hear the news that the Alfa-Romeo had burst, but no, lap after lap Nuvolari appeared, driving at a fantastic speed.
Von Brauchitsch was fully alive to the danger, but he was not going to be deprived of his long-awaited victory this time. He, too, became inspired by the occasion, as if sensing that this race would go down in history as a classic. He broke Rosemeyer’s lap record with a time of 10 minutes 30 seconds! And Neubauer made no sign to hold him back. Carratsch was now third, Stuck fourth, Rosemeyer fifth, Fagioli sixth and Varzi seventh. Achille was not in form, probably owing to ill-health. Rosemeyer had been delayed with a broken petrol pipe, and Fagioli stopped to adjust his rear shock-absorbers. The E.R.A. had developed misfiring after von Delius had taken over for a few laps, and was finally withdrawn.
But now the fight for the lead completely absorbed the attention of the crowd. The gap between the silver and red cars was timed by thousands of watches on every lap. Here are the official figures:13th lap 1 minute 9 seconds; 14th lap 1 minute 26 seconds; 15th lap 1 minute 27 seconds; 16th lap 1 minute 17 seconds; 17th lap 1 minute 3 seconds; 18th lap 47 seconds; 19th lap 43 seconds; 20th lap 32 seconds, and as they went past the stands at the beginning of the last lap there was 35 seconds between them.
So that was that. Not even Nuvolari could hope to wipe out that lead, and the crowd cleared their throats to give von Brauchitsch his thoroughly deserved ovation. As a matter of interest they looked at the board which gives the leaders halfway round the circuit. What’s that? Number 12 leading, impossible! There must be a mistake. While they were still telling each other that there was nothing to worry about a red car swung into sight and Nuvolari crossed the finishing line. At first there was a deathly silence, and then the innate sportmanship of the Germans triumphed over their astonishment. Nuvolari was given a wonderful reception, all the more praiseworthy when a national victory had seemed a certainty.
But what had happened to von Brauchitsch? Here was Stuck being flagged second, Caracciola third, and Rosemeyer fourth. At last he came, crawling into the pits with a burst tyre, utterly crushed by his disappointment. We are not exaggerating when we say that von Brauchitsch was weeping. His brother, who manages his timing and pit work, put his arm round his shoulder and led him away, and with him went the sincere sympathy of 250,000 spectators, to say nothing of his fellow drivers and above all Nuvolari himself.
It had been a memorable race, and the sight of Nuvolari hanging on to the Merc for lap after lap, with a car 20 m.p.h. slower, is one which will live in the memories of all who were fortunate enough to be present. Nuvolari is the master.
22 laps of 22 km. 810, 501 km. 820.
1. Nuvolari (Alfa-Romeo) 4h. 8m. 39s., 121.200 k.p.h.
2. Stuck (Auto-Unfon) 4h. 10m. 18s.
3. Caracciola (Mercedes-Benz) 4h. 11m. 3s.
4. Rosemeyer (Auto-Union) 4h. 12m. 518.
5. Von Brauchitsch (Mercedes-Benz) 4h. 14m. 17s.
6. Fagioli (Mercedes-Benz) 4h. 15m. 58s.
7. Geier (Mercedes-Benz) 1 lap behind.
8. Varzi (Auto-Unton) 1 lap behind.
9. Pletsch (Auto-Union) 2 laps behind.
10. Ruesch (Maserati) 2 laps behind.
11. Zehender (Maseratl) 3 laps behind.
12. Ghersi (Maserati) 3 laps behind.
Also Ran: Lang (Mercedes-Benz), Etaneelin and Hartmann (Maseratis), Brivio and Balestrero (Alfa-Romeos), Taruffi (Bugatti), Mays (E.R.A.).