Fangio Wins European Grand Prix for Mercedes-Benz
Adenau, August 1st
This year the German Grand Prix was given the title of the Grand Prix of Europe, a rather meaningless name that each year the F.I.A. gives in turn to the major event run by the countries who organise rounds in the World Championship series. Giving this title to the German Grand Prix seemed to put the Automobile Club von Deutschland into chaos, for normally the events held on the Nurburgring are models of good organising, but this year the organisation overstepped the mark and out-organised even themselves. So complicated was the system of passes and armbands that it is to the credit of the mechanics and drivers only that the racing took place at all. Coloured armbands seemed to be changed every few hours and completely free movement was utterly impossible, so that anyone interested in doing an honest job of covering all aspects of the 1954 German Grand Prix had to waste unnecessary time fiddling their way about.
Another serious mistake the organisers made was to run two National sports-car races and three International sports-car races at the same meeting as the Formula 1 teams who were competing for world honours, with the result that the very restricted paddock and pit space was overcrowded. Many problems would be solved if organisers would take a leaf out of the Belgian book and devote their whole energies to running the Grand Prix, as is done at Spa. However, to get under way with practice, which started on the Thursday before the race, only Maserati and Ferrari teams were out and the weather was decidedly dull. Ferrari were still sticking to their 1953/54 cars, the new short-chassis ones being discarded for the time being, until there was sufficient time to do some really serious and detailed testing. They had four Formula 1 cars and a 750S sports car to use for training, the sports car having a 2 1/2-litre engine fitted and the opportunity being taken to do some testing preparatory to the 1,000 kilometre race at the end of the month. With Farina still out of action Ferrari had signed up Taruffi to take the fourth car, along with Gonzalez, Trintignant and Hawthorn. All the chassis were of the 1953 pattern and Gonzalez and Hawthorn had the new engines, as introduced at Rouen last month, with the further modification of having the twin magnetos mounted vertically in front of the engine as on the 750S sports engine. In fact the crankcases were identical to the sports engines, even having the flange on the timing case for mounting a dynamo between the two magnetos, as illustrated in last month’s Motor Sport. Trintignant had a normal 1953/54 car, as did Taruffi, the latter’s being the car which won at Caen the previous weekend. All the team drivers were taking turns with the sports car in between using the single seaters, but with the dull weather and it being first practice no fast times were being recorded.
The Maserati team were in their usual state of uncertainty, Ascari wisely deciding not to drive, as the last two attempts had proved so ludicrous, though Villoresi was prepared to have another go, having nothing to lose. There were four red de Dion Maseratis present, the drivers being Villoresi, Marimon, Mantovani and Mieres, though the last two were privately-owned, but were looked after and controlled by the factory. After some persuasion Moss agreed to accept factory support for this event, which meant that the car had to be painted red, but mainly that the factory were now behind him in the event of mechanical trouble. After his last two races, at Silverstone and Caen, Maserati were beginning to realise he was no flash-in-the-pan and a green Maserati in front of their own red ones did not look good. As a concession they agreed to let Moss keep the nose cowling of his Maserati painted green, even though it clashed horribly with the rest of the car which was hurriedly painted red. The factory cars of Villoresi, Marimon and Mieres were all fitted with a new oil system, with the tank mounted in the extreme tail of the car, instead of under the carburetters. This was an attempt to reduce the oil temperature and the resultant frothing in the tank and it appeared to be successful, though the mass of piping running along the side of the tail looked very Heath Robinson. Marimon had a brand new car, the latest to be built, with a new type of heavily-riveted petrol tank and the car of Mieres also had this fitting. Now that Moss had factory support he was given some new bits for the engine and as a result his car was not ready in time for the first practice so he was allowed to put in some laps on Mieres’ car, as also did Villoresi.
On Friday it looked as though everyone was going to turn out for practice, but then the skies opened and torrential rain fell so that no one was inclined to practise more than necessary. The Ferrari team took turns in getting wet in the single-seater, and keeping dry in the sports car. Moss was out in his own car, as was Schell, while Rosier and Manzon were out in their private Ferraris. Mercédès-Benz at last made an appearance, Kling and Hermann going round in one of the streamlined cars, but there was still no sign of any new Mercédès-Benz cars. What might have developed into an interesting practice period was completely ruined by the awful weather conditions and once more no fast times were recorded, though the 10-minute mark for a lap was being approached, which was quite good considering the weather conditions. Saturday morning, the last practice period saw a very different state of affairs, for the weather was warm and dry and conditions were good for high-speed motoring. The fastest lap ever turned on the 22.81 kilometres of twists and turns was set up in 1939 by Hermann Lang with a time of 9 min. 52.2 sec., a speed of 138.5 k.p.h. and bearing in mind that last year Ascari got down to 9 min. 56 sec. with a 2-litre Ferrari it seemed pretty reasonable to suppose that the 1954 Formula 1 cars might approach Lang’s record. Mercédès-Benz at last produced their single-seaters, which were mechanically identical to, those described last month and seen at Silverstone, but the streamlined bodywork had been cut away and wrapped as close as possible round the existing frame tubes. This resulted in a rather gormless-looking single seater of vast width, the only real improvement over the Silverstone cars being that the driver could now see the wheels. Three of these single-seaters appeared, to be driven by Fangio, Kling and Lang, with Hermann in one of the original streamlined cars. Ferraris were still out and about as were the Maseratis, while Bira also appeared with his blue and yellow car. There were four Gordinis, Behra on the five-speed model and Frere and Bucci on the other two official cars, with Pilette supporting them with the Belgian-owned Gordini. The single-seater Veritas, driven last year by Hermann, was being driven by Helfrich and had been renamed the Klenk-Meteor, the ex-Mercédès-Benz sports-car driver still being its owner. During the morning, practice really got under way and Fangio was the first to break 10 minutes for a lap, then going faster and faster until he got down to within fractions of the record and finally he did one searing lap in 9 min. 50.1 sec., easily beating the pre-war record and rather giving the lie to all the nonsense talked about how badly the swing-axle cars were handling, for a time like that needed more than just a good driver. Hawthorn was the next closest, with 9 min. 53.3 sec. and only these two succeeded in getting below the 10-minute mark, though Moss missed it by decimal points, he being easily the fastest Maserati driver. While all this fast lappery was at its height it was heard that Marimon had crashed just before the Wehrseifen bridge. This was on the far side of the course and news was slow in reaching the pits, so Gonzalez jumped into the sports Ferrari and went to find out what had happened. When he returned he carried the terrible news that Onofre “Pinocchio” Marimon had died a few minutes after crashing. Many were the tears that were shed for the likeable young Argentinian for he had always been so happy and cheerful, friendly to everyone and liked by all those who knew him. It wasn’t so much that the Grand Prix field had lost a good driver, nor that the Argentinians had lost a fellow countryman, but that everyone had lost a good friend. With this terrible blow all enthusiasm for practice dwindled and most of the drivers lost interest in going fast, the morning ending on a very sad note.
Since Friday afternoon the crowds had been flocking to the Nurburgring, many thousands of them camping, for the Eifel mountains are thickly wooded and ideal for such activities, and by Sunday Midday a crowd of 300,000 was estimated to be spread around the 22 kilometre circuit. For some obscure reason best known to themselves the organisers lined the cars up on the grid in rows of three-two-three-two, whereas for years they have had four-three-four-three, the starting area being amply wide enough for even six cars abreast. Fangio, Hawthorn and Moss were in the front row, on Mercédès-Benz, Ferrari and Maserati, respectively, and the sight of the two English boys alongside the acknowledged “master” was most encouraging for the many English people present. In the next row were Hermann and Gonzalez, the young German having recorded a brilliant 10 min. 01.5 sec, with the streamlined Mercédès-Benz. In the third row was Frere, another brilliant piece of practice recording 10 min. 05.9 sec., with the Gordini and alongside him was Trintignant, the third place on this row being left vacant as poor Marimon should have been there. The rest of the 20 starters lined up behind, Lang being in row five, and Kling right at the back as he had done all his training on the cars of the other drivers in the course of testing, so consequently had not recorded any official times. As a gesture to the memory of Marimon the Maserati team withdrew their other official entry, that of Villoresi, but Mantovani and Mieres both elected to run their privately-owned cars. All Ferrari hopes appeared to be centred on Hawthorn, but as the flag fell Gonzalez made a meteoric start and was amongst the front row within a few yards. Fangio, making full use of the Mercédès-Benz five-speed gearbox, drew ahead of Moss and Hawthorn, but with a fierce snatching of second gear Gonzalez got ahead of his countryman and led the field round the Sud-Kerve hairpin and back up the leg of the circuit behind the pits. Hermann Lang had not hung about and as the twenty cars streamed round the North Curve, to start the first lap the order was Gonzalez, Fangio, Moss, Lang and Hermann, with Hawthorn leading the remainder. By the time they got to Breidscheid, roughly half-way round the first lap, the order was unchanged, but already Pilette had stopped with a broken front suspension on his Gordini. As the leaders reached the final straight Gonzalez was still leading, but along the straight Fangio got past and it was the ugly squat Mercédès-Benz that appeared first over the brow leading onto the starting area, but the red Ferrari was not far behind.
In third place was Moss, in full command of the situation, and following came Lang, Hermann and Hawthorn, the last two in close company, then Behra, Trintignant, Mantovani and Kling, the fourth of the Mercédès-Benz team having worked his way up from last position on the grid to 10th place in one lap.
Nineteen cars completed this first lap and, with a standing lap in 10 min. 01 sec., Fangio and the Mercédès-Benz were out to make up for the Silverstone debacle. Half-way round the second lap Moss dropped right back and eventually stopped, his Maserati had broken a big-end and wrecked the engine, so once more fate was against him just when he was in a position to get into the thick of the battle. This let Lang into third place and he was driving magnificently, all his old form returning now that he was back in a Grand Prix Mercédès-Benz after 15 years. At the end of lap two Gonzalez was still sandwiched between the two silver German cars, followed by Hawthorn leading the streamlined Mercédès-Benz driven by Hermann. The fourth car of that team was still working its way through the field driven by Kling, and a stopwatch showed that he was gaining on Fangio. Behra stopped to find the cause of a misfire in his Gordini, but a change of plugs made no difference and he went on again. Meanwhile, round the course, the order of the leaders was unchanged, though Kling was now within striking distance of the end of the factory runners and by the time they appeared past the pits at the completion of the third lap he was in close company with Hermann and Trintignant. Mieres now stopped to investigate a fuel leak on his new Maserati and having found it he retired forthwith, while Taruffi arrived well behind schedule, driving on a flat rear tyre. While he was at the pits Ferraris took the opportunity of changing both rear wheels and also topping up the fuel tank, for there had been indications that the Ferrari cars could not go through non stop. The race this year had been lengthened to 22 laps from the previous 18 which now gave a full 500 kilometres, and at Rouen recently they had to refuel in 480 kilometres. Behra was in once more for another futile plug change and he spent most of the rest, of the race doing laps on five-cylinders and stopping at the-end of each one.
Halfway round the fourth lap the rear axle on Hawthorn’s Ferrari gave out and he was forced to retire, it clearly not being a good day for the English drivers, thus letting Kling into fourth place. All three single-seater Mercédès-Benz cars were new going beautifully and Gonzalez was virtually surrounded by them with the result that he began to lose ground and, as they completed lap five. Lang moved up into second place as they sped along the final straight. The plump Argentinian had not been feeling much like racing since Marimon’s accident and now that the Mercédès-Benz team were pressing him he lost much of his interest in the race so before the end of lap seven Kling had caught and passed the Ferrari. This produced delighted cheers from the crowds who had been waiting for many years to see Mercédès-Benz cars 1-2-3 on the Nurburgring and now they were in full command, Lang being 15 seconds behind Fangio, Kling in third place 32 seconds behind the leader, with Gonzalez 3 seconds behind him. These four were way ahead of the rest of the field, which was being led by Trintignant, for Hermann was in trouble with a broken fuel pipe and retired at the pits. During his rapid progress up into third place Kling had recorded the fastest lap in 9 min. 59.3 sec. and he was still gaining on Fangio, driving with such speed and ruthlessness that showed he was complete master of the car. Frere had anxious moments in his Gordini when a stub axle broke and he lost the wheel, brake drum and brake pipe, but fortunately it was on a straight part of the course and he was able to come to rest without further damage.
All the fight had now gone out of Gonzalez and he dropped farther and farther back, while Kling continued to close up on his team mates. By 10 laps, or less than halfway, Kling was within seconds of Lang and before the end of the next lap he was in second place there being now only 20 seconds separating the three silver cars. In reaching this point Kling once more set up a fastest lap in 9 min. 58.2 see. and it really looked as though he was outdriving Fangio. As they set on the 11th lap Lang was in third place and he had not gone far when it was reported that he had spun round and stalled the engine and being unable to restart it unaided he was forced to retire. This spoilt what looked like being a Stuttgart demonstration run, but having driven so well up to this point Lang was forgiven as he walked back to the pits amid much applause from the crowds, many of whom no doubt recalled 1939 when the young mechanic-turned-racing-driver Lang was almost unbeatable. While this had been happening Bucci had retired with a broken front suspension on the third Gordini, though Behra was still going round slowly. There were now only seven cars on the same lap, Schell, Bira, Rosier and Behra all having been caught by the leaders. Fangio and Kling finished lap 13 only 7 seconds apart and they were given the slow down signal, for Gonzalez was nearly 3 minutes behind them. Lang was allowed to show them the sign, which consisted of a white disc, on one side of which was Pi — Pianissimo, for Fangio, and on the other side L — for Langsam, for Kling, both words meaning “ease up” in the respective languages. Fangio responded by lifting his foot off the accelerator the moment he saw the signal, but Kling pressed on at the end of the next lap, the two squat cars screaming by side by side. As they rounded the Sudkerve Kling overtook Fangio and they set off on lap 15 with Kling in the lead. It was quite obvious that they didn’t obey the pit signal for this lap was covered in 9 min. 55.1 sec. by Kling and Fangio had remained just behind him throughout. The next time round the technical director of Mercédès-Benz gave them the slow down signal, also a very stern look, and everyone waited to see what effect it would have. Ferraris brought in Gonzalez, refuelled in 18 seconds and sent Hawthorn off in the car, much to the delight of the crowd, while the unhappy Gonzalez rested in the pits. All eyes were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the two Mercédès-Benz cars and there was much surprise when Fangio went by on his own. Nearly half-a-minute later Kling came by at greatly reduced speed and pointed at his rear suspension on the left side of the car, indicating that something had broken. Fangio was now entirely on his own and on the next lap Kling again gesticulated, but made no attempt to stop, though Trintignant, who was in fourth place, having been going along steadily and regularly, came in for a refuel. This was on the 18th lap and when Bira finished this one he too stopped at his pit for something very peculiar had happened to his steering box and the system had developed a frightening amount of play.
Fangio went by to start his 20th lap and when Kling arrived he came into the pit to attend to the broken suspension. Immediately some fifty people, comprising officials, marshals, photographers, hangers-on and people who should not have even been in the pit area, surged forward and surrounded the car; Neubauer, who had been indicating to Kling exactly where to stop by means of a flag, turned round with a roar of rage and chased the whole lot away, making vicious swipes at all and sundry with his flag. Like lightning the area around the Mercédès-Benz pit was completely clear and the mechanics and Kling could get on with refuelling and wiring up the broken torsion bar mounting. This action of Neubauer was cheered to the echo by the crowds in the grandstands for they had all paid a lot of money to see any pit stops that might happen, and invariably they see nothing more than the backs of a lot of people who are doing nothing to help the pit stop. While all this was going on Hawthorn went by into second place and Trintignant was not far away when Kling restarted. The Mercédès-Benz could now only travel at a fraction of its former pace and by the end of the 20th lap the order was Fangio, Hawthorn, Trintignant and Kling. Mantovani had been going round quietly in the middle of the field and was now in fifth place, a pit stop to refuel losing him very little time. Clearly Hawthorn could not catch Fangio, who had slowed right down and was touring in to win and when the 22 laps were completed Hawthorn was still a minute-and-a-half behind. One after another the survivors of this arduous race came home and only the first five were able to complete the full distance, and when it is remembered that a lap measures 22 kilometres the pace of the leaders will be appreciated. Although by no means unbreakable the Mercédès-Benz cars had proved that they were not so bad as some people would have us believe and in spite of the odd troubles they had more than made up for the errors of Silverstone. For an entirely new design to win two out of its first three races is something worth being satisfied with. Also, your Continental Correspondent Consumed only half of page 434 of the August issue, for after all Mercédès-Benz did set up an all-time lap-record in practice at Silverstone, just as they did at Reims and here at Nurburgring.