The 1938 Donington Grand Prix had been delayed due to the Munich crisis and the worsening political atmosphere in Europe. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations only delayed the onset of war and the 1939 season was played out with a backdrop of impending conflict.
A bleak season began in tragic circumstances when Dick Seaman was killed while leading the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps. Team-mate Hermann Lang inherited the win that day and victory in Switzerland took Lang to the verge of the European title. Rudolf Caracciola scored a sixth German GP success but the great man was by now passed his best.
The Auto Union D-typ now had twin superchargers and matched the Mercedes-Benz W163 for power. Hermann Müller led an Auto Union 1-2 in the French GP at Reims after all the Mercedes had retired and Tazio Nuvolari won the Yugoslav GP on the very day that war was declared. With the sport now suspended in Europe, the German authorities originally declared Lang to be the 1939 European Champion but later reinvestigation revealed that Müller had actually won the title under the points’ system of the time.
With the Alfa Romeo and Maserati voiturettes the class of the field, Italy’s governing body switched its Tripoli GP to this smaller class. In total secrecy, Mercedes-Benz built the 1500cc W165 which promptly finished 1-2 with Lang leading Caracciola on the car’s only appearance.
NOTE: The Yugoslavian GP was a non-championship event.