Michael Schumacher had two ambitions before the start of this year’s German GP, which he won so convincingly at Hockenheim. One was to prove victorious in front of the vast crowd of German spectators who were showing him so much enthusiastic support, the other was to be the first German driver to win this prestigious race for 56 years. It was that long ago since a National had scored a first place in the race.
That was at the Nurburgring in 1939, just before Hitler’s war stopped play. On that occasion it was Rudi Caracciola who took the chequered flag, after 4hr 8min 41.8sec over the 17.58-mile circuit. This race had begun as a sportscar affair, but from 1932, when it acquired proper GP status, Caracciola had won it for Mercedes-Benz in 1937 and 1939, Dick Seaman for them in 1938, after which no German driver was victorious until young Schumacher came so smoothly home this year.
Although in that 1939 confrontation seven German drivers opposed ten of other nationalities, they by no means had things all their own way. The field consisted of four two-stage blower W163 V12 Mercedes-Benz, five two-stage V12 AutoUnions, two of the latest 3-litre straight-8 Maseratis, a couple of V12 Delahayes, a Delahaye Six, two old Maseratis and Sommer’s own Alfa Romeo. Ex-mechanic Lang set the best practice lap, at a remarkable 87.4mph, and in the race led after the first lap by a rousing 27.3sec, from von Brauchitsch, both in Mercedes-Benz. But the damp atmosphere did not humour their engines and Lang was soon in for fresh plugs. This let Pietsch’s red Maserati lead, and unsettled German optimism, as did the Williams last month; but for three laps instead of for just over a fraction of a lap achieved by Damon Hill in 1995. After Which Nuvolari (A-U) caught him.
The order then settled down, as Nuvolari, Caracciola (M-B) and Muller (A-U), with new Mercedes recruit Brendel pulling out a fastest lap of 81.10mph — the Coulthard of his day? But pressed by Pietsch, he went off into a ditch, just after Neubauer had flagged him to take over from Lang (whose car was now hors de combat), no doubt anticipating his keen new driver’s inability to keep his car on the deck… As troubles struck it became Caracciola’s Mercedes against four Auto-Unions. The German spectators could relax. But it was a tough race for Rudi, his engine not at its best, although first Hasse (A-U), tank full, helped him by spinning off, just as Hill similarly took the pressure off Schumacher in this year’s race, but much later in the contest!, and then by rain, for was not Rudi the acknowledged regenmeister? He had lapped at 81.71 mph on the 12th of the 22 laps and although the conditions got worse, ran on to win, at 75.31mph.
With only one Auto-Union also left, as this year, three different makes filled the first three places — Mercedes-Benz, AutoUnion (Muller) and Maserati (Pietsch). It was Caracciola’s sixth Grosser Preis victory and the last great win of his illustrious career.
With the massive failures of the German cars, however, the celebrated motoring writer Charles Faroux predicted that “explanations will be necessary”! (Which will surely also apply now after the pathetic showing of the Mercedes-powered McLarens in today’s F1 races?) Murray Walker was not there to comment is 1939 but the Graf Zeppelin hovered above the circuit, relaying a commentary to the German nation… Incidentally, the fastest pit-stop in that German GP of 56 years ago took 15 sec, to refuel Muller’s A-U.
Until Schumacher carried the 1995 race, no German driver had won the German GP since Caracciola, the intervening races going thirteen times to British drivers, to Brazilians six times, French and Italian drivers five times each, and Argentine scoring four driver victories, Australia and Belgium two each, and NZ, Sweden, the USA and Switzerland one each. No wonder it was Deutschland Uber Alles and wild rejoicing as Schumacher crossed the finishing-line at Hockenheim this year… However, it required a Renault engine and a British chassis to give Schumacher his win, whereas in 1939 Caracciola drove a car of entirely German design and manufacture. Think of Schumacher in a Mercedes — marvellous! The punters might then rush from the circuits to invest in a C-class Mercedes, instead of buying Lagunas. What about it, Mercedes-Benz? W B