88 – 1938 Pau GP



A series taken from the 162-page Motor Sport special 100 Greatest Grands Prix (other specials are available here).

Click here to buy the lead image.

From the editor Damien Smith

The Grand Prix motor races we can never forget…

Welcome to this special one-off magazine, dedicated to our love of Grand Prix racing and produced by the same team that brings you Motor Sport each month.

It seemed a good idea: whittle down 107 years of racing history to come up with 100 GPs that could be considered the ‘greatest’ – then rank them in meritocratic order. By week three, the old grey matter was beginning to ache…

Defining greatness was the first task. There were the obvious races – the wheel-to-wheel duels, the comeback classics. But there were also individual performances of supreme dominance, races that might not necessarily have been the most exciting to witness. Greatness goes way beyond thrill-a-minute, we decided.

Then there were those races of prominence, attached to a certain time or place that made them hugely significant. I’m thinking specifically of Belgrade, 1939. Only five entries took the start of a race that didn’t sound particularly scintillating. But as it happened to take place on the very day WWII broke out, we felt it worthy of inclusion. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel’s remarkable maiden GP win at Monza in 2008, for lowly Scuderia Toro Rosso, was left on the cutting room floor. Is that fair? You decide. We also opted to include a few races that weren’t Grands Prix, leastways in name, although the strength of entry was such that they might as well have been…

Choosing which races should make the list was hard enough; ranking the top 100 in some sort of order was even tougher, especially when it came to the crunch: which should be number one? We never did agree unanimously on the ‘greatest’, but if the magazine was to be finished a decision had to be taken. And that’s what I’m here for!

Will you agree with our choice and order? Probably not. But if steam begins to issue from your ears, take a deep breath. In any exercise such as this, there is no definitive list – because there can’t be. Our top 100 is based on opinion, nothing more, designed to be a bit of fun and to spark good-natured debate among fans of the world’s greatest sport.

So turn the page, delve in – and whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously.

1938 Pau GP
April 10, Pau

(Above: Caracciola at Pescara that same year)

It’s an elegant sculpture, the Delahaye 145, and unmistakably a sports car. This wasn’t quite like tackling a Lotus 49 with an MGB, but you wouldn’t have given it much hope against the might of mid-Thirties Germany. Except, perhaps, in Pau…

Alfa Romeo was supposed to provide the stiffest opposition to Mercedes, but didn’t eventually take part. Tazio Nuvolari’s car caught fire during practice, because chassis flex caused the fuel tank to split, and Luigi Villoresi’s sister car was withdrawn as a precaution.

The Mercedes W154, meanwhile, proved a touch unwieldy around the narrow streets, slipping its clutch and oiling its plugs. Hermann Lang eventually slid off the road during practice, although team-mate Rudolf Caracciola took pole and Merc eventually decided to focus on a single-car effort.

Caracciola grabbed the lead initially, but René Dreyfus was able to stay in touch in his nimbler Delahaye. The writing was on the wall because the Delahaye’s gentler fuel consumption – it was roughly twice as efficient as the Merc – meant it would be able to run non-stop. The German car’s power deficit was also diluted, because the surface was becoming ever more slippery (1930s machinery being prone to oil leaks even when new) and Caracciola couldn’t transmit his surplus bhp to the road.

Caracciola surrendered the lead when he pitted at half-distance – and Lang took over at that point, because the circuit’s labyrinthine nature had caused his team-mate to aggravate an old leg injury.

Lang suffered further plug trouble during the race’s second half, but Mercedes had to concede that even a healthy car probably wouldn’t have been much help. By the end, Dreyfus was almost two minutes clear. SA

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