caracciola

Rudolf Caracciola

Full name
Otto Wilhelm Rudolf Caracciola
Born
30th January 1901 (Died age 58) - Remagen, Rhineland-Palatinate
Died
28th September 1959 - Kassel, Hesse
Nationality
German
German
Years in Database
13
Recent Race
Starts
63 (2)
Wins
25
Poles
13
Podiums
38

Rudi Caracciola, or “Caratsch,” was the most successful Grand Prix driver of the years immediately before World War I. Forever linked with Mercedes-Benz, he dominated when the marque returned to the sport in the mid 1930s but Caracciola’s life was also touched by tragedy.

Background and early racing career 

Of Sicilian descent and the son of a hotel owner who was also a wine merchant, the young Caracciola worked for the Fafnir Car Company as an apprentice until a drunken fight with a Belgian army officer. For fear of reprisals, the youngster moved to Dresden in the East where he worked in Fafnir’s showroom.

It was in one of the company’s 1500cc machines that he finished fourth on his car racing debut at Avus in 1922. His first association with Mercedes was as a salesman in Dresden and he started competing with a borrowed Merc on hillclimbs and trials from 1923. He was a race winner on both two- and four-wheels for the next few seasons before dedicating his future to cars from 1926.

German Grand Prix winner 

That year’s inaugural German GP was held amid unrelenting rain on Berlin’s Avus circuit. Caracciola drove a 2-litre Mercedes M72/94 borrowed from the factory and scored his breakthrough victory despite stalling at the start. The 17,000DM prize money was not only his first big payday but was enough to allow him to marry.

He won the race again in 1928 (now held at the Nürburgring) and was third in the first Monaco GP a year later driving the cumbersome Mercedes-Benz SSK. Victory in the 1929 Tourist Trophy on Ulster’s Ards course was his first major overseas win – again achieved in the wet.

Winner of the 1930 and 1931 European Hillclimb Championship in the sports car class, Caracciola’s victory in the Mille Miglia that second year established him as a star across the continent – and made him the first foreigner to win Italy’s great road race. By now, he was running a semi-works Mercedes SSKL as the worsening economic climate had forced the factory to withdraw official backing.

Alfa Romeo, accident at Monte Carlo and further tragedy 

Despite his success, Mercedes was eventually forced to quit racing completely so Caracciola joined Alfa Romeo in 1932, his car painted white for much of the year – the national racing colour of Germany. A third German GP win and the outright European Hillclimb title were the highlights of a season marred by team orders and the jealousy of some of his Italian team-mates.

He formed Scuderia CC with Louis Chiron for the following season but the venture was short-lived. The German crashed at the Chicane during practice at Monaco and broke his thigh so badly that he nearly lost his right leg. Worse was to come while convalescing at their Swiss house at Arosa for his wife Charly was killed on February 2 1934 when swept away by an avalanche while ski-ing.

Caracciola hit the depths of depression to the extent that friends feared for him and believed that he would not race again. But a rousing ovation when guest of honour at Monaco that year, and perhaps his ever-closer friendship with Alice “Baby” Hoffmann (Chiron’s partner at the time) helped him start living again.

Chiron had made it clear that he was not going to marry Alice despite her asking on more than one occasion. After another rebuff, she accepted Rudi’s proposal in 1937 and they were married in Lugano. By which time Caracciola was once more Europe’s leading driver with the Mercedes-Benz “Silver Arrows”.

The return of Mercedes-Benz 

Walking with a pronounced limp and still recovering from his injuries, Caracciola returned with the new Mercedes-Benz W25 in 1934. He led the German GP and shared victory with Luigi Fagioli in the Italian GP but that was merely the prelude to his most successful season so far.
He won six of his 11 races during 1935 after spirited duels with disobedient team-mate Fagioli and Auto Union’s brilliant newcomer Bernd Rosemeyer. Caracciola completed his resurgence by being declared European Champion for 1935.

The 1936 Mercedes was disappointing and although he won in the Monaco rain, Caracciola was generally outpaced by Rosemeyer. The next two seasons were Caracciola’s however – winning another six major races and the European Championship in 1937 and 1938. His 1938 Swiss GP was one of his finest and was again run in a downpour. Caracciola’s prowess in the rain earned him the nickname of Regenmeister or “rain master”.

He also set a new world record speed for the flying mile at an average of 268mph. His rivalry with Rosemeyer was classic motor racing theatre – the old master challenged by a carefree young challenger. They were head-to-head for another speed record attempt on the Darmstadt motorway when Rosemeyer was killed on January 28 1938. Caracciola’s old injuries and advancing years were taking their toll but he still won a sixth German GP in 1939.

World War II and subsequent life 

The Caracciolas spent World War II in Switzerland during which time he took Swiss nationality and allegedly displayed a BRDC badge on the front of his car throughout.

He tried to race again after the war but suffered severe head injuries while practising for the 1946 Indianapolis 500. He successfully recuperated in Lugano once more only to injure his left leg when his Mercedes 300SL sports car crashed into a Bremgarten tree in 1952. He spent the next eight months in traction and any thought of another comeback was ended by his latest injuries.

His health began to fade and the greatest of “The Titans” finally succumbed to cancer when just 58 years old. That he dominated when Rosemeyer and Tazio Nuvolari counted among his rivals means that Rudolf Caracciola ranks among the very best.

Championship Seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points Results

1939

European Championship

Daimler-Benz

4

0

2

1 - 25% win rate

U

0

1938

European Championship

Daimler-Benz

4

0

4

1 - 25% win rate

U

0

1937

European Championship

Daimler-Benz

4

3

4

3 - 75% win rate

U

0

1937

AAA National Championship

Daimler-Benz

1

1

0

0

U

0

1936

European Championship

Daimler-Benz

5

1

1

1 - 20% win rate

U

0

1935

European Championship

Daimler-Benz

5

1

4

3 - 60% win rate

U

0

Non Championship Races

Title Date Circuit Laps Position

1938 Acerbo Cup

14/08/1938

Pescara

16

1

1937 Masaryk Grand Prix

26/09/1937

Brno

15

1

1937 Donington Grand Prix

02/10/1937

Donington Park

80

3

1937 Acerbo Cup

15/08/1937

Pescara

16

5

1936 Tunisian Grand Prix

17/05/1936

Carthage

30

1

1936 Hungarian Grand Prix

21/06/1936

Budapest

50

R

1935 Tripoli Grand Prix

12/05/1935

Mellaha

40

1

1935 Monaco Grand Prix

22/04/1935

Monte Carlo

100

R

1935 French Grand Prix

23/06/1935

Montlhery

40

1

1935 Eifelrennen

16/06/1935

Nurburgring

11

1

1934 Swiss Grand Prix

26/08/1934

Bremgarten

70

NC

1934 Spanish Grand Prix

23/09/1934

Lasarte

30

2

1934 Masaryk Grand Prix

30/09/1934

Brno

17

R

1934 Italian Grand Prix

09/09/1934

Monza

116

1

1934 German Grand Prix

15/07/1934

Nurburgring

25

R

1934 French Grand Prix

01/07/1934

Montlhery

40

R

1934 Acerbo Cup

15/08/1934

Pescara

20

R

1933 Monaco Grand Prix

23/04/1933

Monte Carlo

100

DNS

1932 Monza Grand Prix

11/09/1932

Monza

20

1

1932 Monaco Grand Prix

17/04/1932

Monte Carlo

100

2

1932 Lwow Grand Prix

19/06/1932

Lwow

66

1

1932 Italian Grand Prix

05/06/1932

Monza

83

3

1932 Italian Grand Prix

05/06/1932

Monza

83

11

1932 German Grand Prix

17/07/1932

Nurburgring

25

1

1932 French Grand Prix

03/07/1932

Reims

92

3

1932 Eifelrennen

29/05/1932

Nurburgring

14

1

1932 Acerbo Cup

14/08/1932

Pescara

12

2

1931 Monaco Grand Prix

19/04/1931

Monte Carlo

100

R

1931 Masaryk Grand Prix

27/09/1931

Brno

17

R

1931 German Grand Prix

19/07/1931

Nurburgring

22

1

1931 French Grand Prix

21/06/1931

Montlhery

101

R

1931 Eifelrennen

07/06/1931

Nurburgring

40

1

1931 Avusrennen

02/08/1931

Avus

15

1

1930 Monza Grand Prix

07/09/1930

Monza

35

7

1930 Monaco Grand Prix

06/04/1930

Monte Carlo

100

DNS

1930 Masaryk Grand Prix

21/09/1930

Brno

17

R

1930 Le Mans 24 Hours

21/06/1930

Le Mans

178

R

1929 Monaco Grand Prix

14/04/1929

Monte Carlo

100

3

1929 German Grand Prix

14/07/1929

Nurburgring

18

R

1928 German Grand Prix

15/07/1928

Nurburgring

18

1

1927 German Grand Prix

17/07/1927

Nurburgring

18

R

1926 German Grand Prix

11/07/1926

Avus

20

1

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