1938 European Championship

  • 1938
  • European Championship
  • GP

The racing world was shocked by the death of Bernd Rosemeyer in a record attempt before the start of the new season. One of Grand Prix racing’s brightest stars had illuminated the sport but briefly.

With the 750 kgs formula having spectacularly failed to curb the speed of the cars, new rules stipulated 3-litre supercharged or 4500cc normally aspirated engines.

The season began with a surprise – René Dreyfus’ Ecurie Bleue Delahaye 145 used its superior fuel efficiency to beat the new V12 Mercedes-Benz W154 of Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang at Pau. However, that only delayed the start of another two years of German domination. That weekend also proved significant for Tazio Nuvolari who vowed to leave Alfa Romeo after his car caught fire during practice, burning Il Maestro.

After its slow start to the season, Mercedes soon set the pace with major victories shared between its four leading drivers. Lang won at Tripoli and Manfred von Brauchitsch led a 1-2-3 in France. New recruit Dick Seaman then won the all-important German GP after von Brauchitsch’s car caught fire during his final pitstop, the Englishman accepting victory with a self-conscious Nazi salute. Finally, Caracciola prevailed in the Swiss GP to clinch a third European title.

The Auto Union D-typ was also powered by a supercharged V12 engine and followed the company’s mid-engine philosophy. Understandably, Auto Union took time to recover from the loss of its leader and the team was a shambles at the French GP. But then it signed Tazio Nuvolari and he soon adapted to driving those unique machines – winning the Italian and Donington GPs.

Represented by Scuderia Ferrari for most of the decade, Alfa Romeo formed its own racing division (Alfa Corse) with Enzo Ferrari hired as a consultant. With a plethora of configurations (308, 312, 316), the Italians once more could not match the “Silver Arrows”. More important was the introduction of a new voiturette – the 158 “Alfetta” that would eventually dominate GP racing after World War II.

The Maserati 8CTF proved quick but unreliable although it was soon successful at Indianapolis with Wilbur Shaw at the wheel. Apart from Dreyfus’ unexpected success at Pau, France’s contribution to GP racing was the spectacular failure that was the SEFAC (Société des Etudes et de la Fabrication d’Automobiles de Course).

nb The Donington GP was a non-championship event.