|Wolfgang von Trips|
|Wolfgang von Trips: A Royal Lineage in Formula One|
|by Jeremy McMullen|
| In 1961, one German of royal lineage would establish a go-kart track in the town of Kerpen. This track, in what was at the time western West Germany, would go on to produce a royal line of Formula One champions. The royal line established in 1961 would never be able to establish its founders rule over the Formula One elite, however.|
The go-kart circuit would end up being the location where future World Champion and race winners Michael and Ralf Schumacher first turned some laps at the start of their racing careers. This experience that would lead to his multiple World Championships would lead to Michael making a number of appearances at karting tracks around Kerpen. And during one of those visits he would shake the hand of another future World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
The man that helped to directly and indirectly launch these royal careers was a royal himself. Wolfgang Alexander Albert Eduard Maximilian Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips would be born with enough names for a small village and would be born into a noble family from the Rhineland. Born in Cologne in May of 1928 to Eduard and Thessa, Wolfgang would simply be known as 'Wolfchen' (little wolf). For a brief period in his early life Wolfgang would live with his parents in Bonn. But then, in 1932, the family would move to Hemmersbach when his father inherited the castle there known by the same name.
It was the early 1930s when the family moved to Hemmersbach Castle. By the time Wolfgang was in his early teens he was going to races at the Nurburgring, which wasn't all that far away. Then, in the late 1930s, Wolfgang would have the opportunity to see the mighty Silver Arrows of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz. This would really peek his interest in motor racing.
Motor racing seemed far away from his life at that time. Enjoying comfortable and elegant living conditions, Wolfgang would be known as a very intelligent student that lacked motivation and ambition. On top of everything else, his else early on in life would not be conducive to consistency. Meningitis and constant problems with his ears would cause him trouble with school, but it would also keep him from being pressed into the Hitler Youth as well. Von Trips' education would be rather varied. Not only would he spend time in the normal school system but he would also be trained at an agricultural academy.
In spite of not being pressed into service with the Hitler Youth, Wolfgang would still be trained with the air force and was to help in Belgium. However, he would never be called into service and would actually be at home when the first American soldiers made Hemmersbach their quarters toward the end of the Second World War. This was a great advantage for Wolfgang. He would learn English from the soldiers and in a very short amount of time. But not only that, he would learn French and would speak Italian fluently.
By the time von Trips was in his early and mid-twenties it was clear those years of going to the Nurburgring had made an impression. Times were changing. The nobleman was no longer just those that were considered to have been born with a certain bloodline. The nobleman was becoming the man of achievement and this would motivate Wolfgang to try and rise to the throne of royalty of a different family line. Being the son of a noble German family the normally prohibitive costs of motor racing would not be such a hindrance to Wolfgang. In fact, the only real hindrance Wolfgang would face came from within his own family.
Being the only son, Wolfgang undoubtedly believed in his family would be against him taking up racing as a career choice. As a result Wolfgang would choose to enter a motorcycle race under an obscure name well lost in an extinct branch of the family line. Axel Linther would enter his first race. It would prove to be an unnecessary move as both of his parents would be comfortable with the fact their only soon racing. Perhaps the family was comfortable with the fact of their son motor racing since the family itself descended from a long line of knights. However, it would mean that it would become impossible keeping this agriculturally trained young man on any kind of farm. What was the most interesting aspect of this choice was the simple fact that von Trips had only obtained a drivers license in 1946.
The motorcycle racing would start in 1950, the first year of the Formula One World Championship. The new World Championship and the draw of sports car racing would lead to von Trips abandoning two wheels for four just a couple of years later. Then, in 1954, von Trips would drive a Porsche 356 Super and would compete in the Mille Miglia in the 1500cc class. He would end up finishing the race well earning a 33rd overall result in a race won by Alberto Ascari. Later that same year, von Trips would score a 2nd place overall result in the Eifelrennen, and then, a 3rd place in the Rheinland Pfalz Preis. Wolfgang would end the year with a 5th place in the Grand Prix of Berlin driving a Porsche 356.
Being that von Trips was German and he scored a number of prominent results, von Trips would earn a ride with the very team he had remembered watching at the Nurburgring. Despite driving in a Porsche and earning a 25th place result in the 1955 Mille Miglia, von Trips would race a couple of times in the famed Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz. Wolfgang would go on to earn a 3rd place result in the 1955 Tourist Trophy driving alongside Andre Simon and Karl Kling. Unfortunately, this opportunity would be lost when Mercedes withdrew after the tragic 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Mercedes-Benz withdrawal from competition meant von Trips would return to Porsche. This wouldn't be all that bad of a maneuver as he would co-drive with Count von Frankenburg in the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two counts would put aside their aristocracy and pride and would drive to a well-deserved 5th place finish overall. This performance, and that of a 1st place result in the 1.5 category in the 12 Hours of Sebring would prove to be the foot in the door von Trips needed to head him in the direction of Formula One.
The impressive drive in the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans would earn von Trips a ride with Ferrari. This would open the door to Wolfgang making his debut in Formula One. And yet, it would not.
At the time, Lancia and Ferrari were joined together and at the final round of the season, the Italian Grand Prix, the Italian-speaking von Trips would be given the opportunity to take part in the pinnacle of motorsports. He would drive a Lancia-Ferrari D50 in the 50 lap race around the full Monza circuit that included the banked oval and the road course. However, he would need to make it into the race first. And this would prove to be more difficult than what it seemed. In practice, von Trips would crash his D50 and would be unable to take part in what was supposed to be in debut in Formula One. In fact, about the only thing von Trips would debut at Monza was his uncanny ability to crash racing cars. This would, in time, earn him the dubious title of Count Crash.
Throughout the 1956 season von Trips would earn a number of top five and podium results. However, the number of accidents was also starting to mount. After a win at the Grand Prix of Berlin at the end of the year, von Trips would go on to earn a number of podium results over the next couple of years in sports cars and would even win a couple of races. However, his growing reputation as an 'all or nothing' kind of driver was causing Enzo Ferrari's patience to wear thin. Therefore, in 1959, von Trips would only take part in one race for Scuderia Ferrari and only just one other for Porsche. Wolfgang knew he needed to continue to be fast but to do so without the adventures. He needed to be dependable and fast, not unpredictably unpredictable.
The time in Ferrari's dog house would be good for von Trips and it would be effective for the team as he would end the 1960 Formula One World Championship 7th in the standings having earned 10 points over the course of the season. The following season would finally see von Trips live up to all of the promise he displayed throughout his sports car career.
The 1961 season would start out the best for von Trips than at any other time in his career. At the Monaco Grand Prix he would just miss out on his first ever podium but would still finish with a strong 4th place result. This would be his second finish in a row on the streets of the principality after three-straight retirements.
His season would definitely take a turn toward the elite when he scored victory at the second round of the World Championship, the Grand Prix of the Netherlands. This was very important for von Trips as it helped his championship aspirations but also provided him his first-ever career win in Formula One. This result would be followed up with a 2nd place at the Belgian Grand Prix. After a retirement in the French Grand Prix von Trips' assault on the World Championship would really begin to heat up when he took the victory in the British Grand Prix and then earned another 2nd place at the German Grand Prix. He was poised to take the World Championship despite only having earned his first Formula One victory earlier in the year. But then there was the Italian Grand Prix.
In time, von Trips has earned a bad reputation for his performances in the Italian Grand Prix. Many would suggest that what happened on the 10th of September at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was merely evidence of the star-crossed fate von Trips had at the circuit. A knee-jerk reaction to some of von Trips' experiences at the circuit would seem to provide foundation for this belief. But a much more thorough examination would perhaps prove otherwise.
Besides 1959, when von Trips had been in the ‘doghouse' so to say, he would end up arriving at the circuit to take part in four editions of the Gran Premio d'Italia. The Count's first attempt would see him fail to even qualify after writing the car off in a practice accident. Then, in 1958, von Trips would suffer yet another crash when part of a pile up on the first lap of the race that also included Harry Schell and Jack Brabham. For sure, these two accidents would certainly provide cause to believe there was something between von Trips and Monza. However, there is more to the story.
In 1957, von Trips would ascend to the podium for the first time in his career. While driving a Ferrari 801 von Trips would finish 3rd. The race was the Italian Grand Prix held at Monza. Then, in 1960, von Trips would be driving a Dino 246 and would go on to earn a 5th place result in the Italian Grand Prix. Therefore, heading into the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, von Trips had a 50 percent completion rate at Monza. There have been many others in Formula One's history that have never finished a race at certain circuits, or at least have performed even worse than what von Trips had experienced at the ultra-fast Monza circuit. There is an appointed time for the end of every individual's life and, quite simply, on the day, the 10th of September, it would be time for von Trips to abdicate his rule before he was even able to ascend to the throne.
The most unfortunate part of the whole tragedy would be, like most usurpations of power, the innocent suffering. Contact would be made between von Trips and Jim Clark in his Lotus. The two would touch in such a way that von Trips' car would be thrown into the air and across the track just prior to the Parabolica. It was the second lap of the race. The cars would still tightly bunched together and travelling at an incredibly rate of speed. And when von Trips' car was turned toward the outside of the track it would have so much momentum that it would careen up into the retaining fence that had spectators tightly bunched together right behind it. The accident and the force of the Ferrari striking the barrier would be so fierce that von Trips would join fourteen innocent bystanders in death that day. It would be one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Formula One.
The ruined lives would be the greatest lost that day, but included in those ruined lives was von Trips. Had he continued with the strong season he had been enjoying to that point he would have ended up being Germany's first Formula One World Champion. He would have risen to a place of prominence reminiscent to the thunderous Silver Arrows that used to echo through the Eifel Mountains near his family's home in Hemmersbach.
Von Trips was a racer ahead of his time in many respects. His fluency with multiple languages and Hollywood looks made him a sheer natural in front of the camera. He had a way about him. He would have an ability to make the most uninterested individual give him his undivided attention. He would then use his intelligence and good looks to sway even the most ardent dissident.
But despite his comfortable and luxurious upbringing, Wolfgang would work hard to become a truly elite racer. He would overcome his tendencies for mistakes and had settled into one of the best drivers in Formula One during his final fatal season. But while this son of a nobleman would never have the opportunity to ascend to the throne of Formula One World Champion his royal lineage would not die with him as it would literally do for the von Trips family. He had paved the way and brought Germany to the brink of the World Championship. However, it would be only fitting that his go-kart track would serve as the training ground for the German that now holds the record for the most World Championships in Formula One history. Therefore, in many ways, the von Trips bloodline continues in likely every World Champion Germany manages to produce. And therefore, though perhaps indirectly, so too does von Trips claim the title of 'World Champion'.'Of Castles and Counts: Villa Trips ‘Museum for Racing-History', (http://www.velocetoday.com/people/people_2.php). VeloceToday.com. http://www.velocetoday.com/people/people_2.php. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
'Taffy: The Story of Count Berghe von Trips', (http://www.research-racing.de/Trips-gb.htm). Grand Prix Journal Online. http://www.research-racing.de/Trips-gb.htm. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
'Drivers: Wolfgang von Trips', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-vonwol.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/drv-vonwol.html. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
'Drivers: Wolfgang von Trips: Archive', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Wolfgang-von%20Trips-D.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Wolfgang-von%20Trips-D.html. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Wolfgang von Trips', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 February 2012, 02:33 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wolfgang_von_Trips&oldid=474690283 accessed 1 May 2012