TeamsLudwig Fischer: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Germany during World War II and after was a study in contrast. Hitler was determined to rule. His Blitzkrieg tactics overwhelmed the nations and swept into the Middle East, North Africa and almost all of Europe before it came to a stop at the English Channel. After the war; however, Germany's inhabitants couldn't afford to travel outside of its borders. It was divided and sectioned off and generally isolated.
Germany's auto racing before and after the war was indicative of the country's experiences. Before World War II, the silver cars were seen at a number of races outside of Germany showing its dominant force. Afterward, the nation was mostly made up of privateer teams and drivers almost totally isolated from the more-powerful grand prix cars found in other nations. One of a number of isolated German drivers was Ludwig Fischer.
Fischer was born in Straubing, Germany in 1915. After World War II, Fischer would start in motor racing toward the late 1940s and early 1950s. Mostly he would take part in hillclimbs and other local races. He would show an interest in sportscar racing but would mostly focus on Formula 2 grand prix racing early on in his career.
Racing in Formula 2 during the very early 1950s, there were little options for a German in the way of competitive cars. Many of the available cars resulted from ex-factory engineers deciding to build their own cars. Ernst Loof and Lorenz Dietrich had managed to start the popular Veritas effort. But there was another 'factory' effort out there for the racers to choose from.
His name was Alex von Falkenhausen. He had been an engineer with BMW before and during World War II. After the end of the war, Alex had decided to make his own grand prix car based upon materials available at the time. Post-World War Germany only really had one engine to choose from and it was the very popular and successful BMW 328. Armed with a design concept and en engine, Alex von Falkenhausen would start AFM. Ludwig Fischer would become one of von Falkenhausen's main customers. Unfortunately, by 1951, AFM had closed its doors. Each individual was in charge of making necessary changes, repairs and updates needed to be competitive. This fact would give rise to a number of private entries that would make their own cars.
Despite the fact the Formula One World Championship would first come to Germany in 1951, the political and economic climate of the country still left German racers widely isolated from the rest of Europe's racing scene. That was, of course, unless the European racing scene came to call of them. This would happen in 1952.
The World Championship was changing. The series needed competition and lower costs. Some things needed to be done. The decision, or steps, taken would finally open the door of the closed German nations.
Alfa Romeo had left Formula One at the end of the 1951 season. This left Ferrari as well and truly the sole challenger for the championship. In addition to the lacking competition, the costs in Formula One were reacing astronomical proportions even in 1952. Something needed to be done; decisions needed to be made. The decision made by the governing-body and the race organizers was to race the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations. This would due in the interim for the World Championship. It would also do for the German racers that had never had the opportunity to take part in the World Championship before.
It wasn't as if the visit by the World Championship was needed. Both East and West Germany had their own championships by this point in time. However, it would offer the German drivers experience facing the best in the world, not just Germany. The experience would then serve to help the teams and privateer entries to make their cars better.
Because East and West Germany already had their own championships, the German round of the World Championship would also count as the second round of the West German Championship. The second round wouldn't take place until very early August. Therefore, the racing season for Fischer would get underway with other championship and non-championship Formula 2 races around Germany.
The first race of 1952 in which Fischer had put in an entry was the 1st Rostocker Osthafenkurs. This was the first round of the East Germany Championship and would feature such popular East German drivers as Paul Greifzu and Edgar Barth. Paul Greifzu was East Germany's national hero after he managed to pull out a win at Avus the season prior.
In spite of putting in an entry for the race, Fischer would not arrive with his BMW-powered AFM at Rostock. He would leave Josef Peters as the lone West German in the 18 lap race around the East German port city.
Germany was divided by 1952. However, travel was not as restrictive as it would become. East and West Germans had some relative freedom to travel between the two political entities. Although Fischer would not arrive at Rostock, despite putting in an entry for the race, he had put in an entry for the race. In contrast, he would not even put in an entry for the non-championship 1st Bernauer Schleiferennen that took place along a portion of the Bernauer Autobahn in the East German portion of Berlin. But he would put one in for another non-championship race, the 4th Dessauer Auto und Motorradrennen on the 11th of May.
Bernauer and Dessau were just two of a few non-championship races in either West or East Germany. All of the rest either counted toward the West or East German Championship. The German racing scene was a difficult one. Races meant prize money, which was scare and not worth all that much anywhere except in Germany. The downside was that races caused wear and tear to a car, which cost money when there were failures. Drivers and teams had to weigh their costs very carefully. Ludwig Fischer would end up weighing the costs and would determine the benefits were just to low compared to the costs. Therefore, despite having another entry in a race, Fischer would again not arrive with his AFM.
Costs were exceedingly great. Not all of the German drivers had the finances, or the backers, to enable them to take part in every race. Fischer was one of those operating on a shoestring budget. He had to take everything into consideration. Therefore, Fischer would end up missing the first round of the West German Championship because of the threat the competition posed to his chances of a good result.
The Nurburgring was the site for the first World Championship race in Germany in 1951. It would also serve as the site for the 1952 round of the German Grand Prix. In 1952, the Nurburgring would be used twice in the West German Championship. Actually, the first two rounds of the championship would take place at the Nurburgring. The 14 mile long Nordschleife was known to be a car wrecker. Also, because of the German Grand Prix being hosted at the circuit, it wasn't all that surprising when there were a number of foreign entries in the field for the first round of the West German Championship. There were a number of factors at play coming into the race. Potentially Fischer was influenced by the possibility of a car problem and the costs associated with racing and any repairs, or, simply the fact there was a lessened chance for prize money as a result of the foreign competition. Whatever the reason, Ludwig Fischer would not even take part in the 16th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen on the 25th of May. It would be a long time into the 1952 season before Ludwig would actually take part in a race.
Like many of the German racers at the time, Fischer was pretty much an amateur racer. He had taken part in events throughout Germany but didn't have a factory ride and was left to his own ability to field and prepare a race car. Even though it was Formula 2 racing it was still rather expensive. Only those with the money, or the talent, could keep racing at every single event. Many had to save their money, and their car, in order to field a decent competitive entry at just one race.
In the case of 1952, the German Grand Prix was an important race. Not only was it the first time any amateur German racer really had the opportunity to take part in a World Championship event, but it also counted toward the West German Championship. To many of the Germans, the World Championship meant little. It was a great opportunity to show well and perhaps become picked up by another team, but mostly the race was more important for the implications it had on the West German Championship and the all-important prize money.
Ludwig Fischer would save his money and his equipment and would wait until early August before he would enter a race for the 1952 season. He would enter the second round of the West German Championship. He had also saved his money to enter his first-ever round of the World Championship.
Fischer would need to preserve his finances and his equipment the best he could as he would need everything he could get considering where the German Grand Prix was to be held. As with the first season of the German Grand Prix in the World Championship, the 1952 edition would be held on the 14 mile long Nordschleife situated in and among the Eifel mountains. Boasting of no fewer than 170 corners and about a thousand feet of elevation change over the course of a single lap, each trip around the circuit was an epic adventure filled with excitement and incredible danger. Constantly twisting, turning, rising and falling, the Nurburgring wasn't for the faint of heart, or, the easily distracted. The circuit was notorious for taking a small mistake and magnifying it into something catastrophic. A big mistake, and a driver could potentially pay for it with his life. No circuit is easy, but the Nordschleife easily fits on the list of most-dangerous and demanding of all-time.
The German Grand Prix was certainly a special event. It was an opportunity for the generally isolated country to see the best grand prix cars and drivers of the day in a single race. The setting was perfect for watching the best in the world work hard for over three hours battling the circuit and the competition.
The race brought both German spectator and competitor to the event in droves. An estimated crowd of over a quarter of a million spectators would come to see the race. No fewer than fifteen German drivers would come to take part in the race. And in all but one or two of the cases, the German Grand Prix would be the one and only World Championship race they would take part in, certainly in 1952, but also for some, in their entire career.
The German Grand Prix was certainly the scene of two races. It was clear the German entries didn't have the pace to contend with Scuderia Ferrari, Equipe Gordini and the others. Therefore, the German crowd would witness a battle amongst the German entries for German honor, either West or East German honor.
It wasn't as if the rest of the field didn't make up an important race as well. In fact, the German crowd would be witnesses to a very important battle amongst the front-runners. Alberto Ascari had just been beaten out by Juan Manuel Fangio for the World Championship in 1951. If the last race had gone differently, Ascari could have been champion. Therefore, coming into the 1952 season, Ascari was driven in his quest. This would be obvious over the course of the three previous races in which he had been able to take part.
Ascari had missed the first round of the World Championship as he was on his way to the United States and Indianapolis in order to take part in the Indy 500. His Ferrari teammate, Piero Taruffi, would win the first round of the championship. Upon Ascari's return, he had managed to go unbeaten. He had three-straight victories coming into the German Grand Prix. He was well and truly only one win away from his World Championship. He was bound and determined to prohibit anything or anybody from keeping him from the title.
In practice before the race, Ascari made his intentions known. He would take his Ferrari 500 and would turn the fastest lap with a time of ten minutes and four seconds. This time was only nine seconds slower than his pole time the season before in Formula One! He would be joined on the front row by Giuseppe Farina, the 1950 Formula One World Champion, Maurice Trintignant and Robert Manzon. Both Trintignant and Manzon drove for Equipe Gordini.
As a comparison of Ascari's pace in practice and that of the German entries, the Eifelrennen saw an average pace from the German entries greater than eleven minutes. At over a minute separation, it was obvious the Germans stood little chance against Ascari and Ferrari, unless there were real problems.
It would be the German entries that had the real problems. The fastest German in the field would be Paul Pietsch. He would go all-out in his Veritas and would manage to start the race from 7th position. A couple of others would manage to find starting positions inside the top ten. However, the vast majority of the German entries would start in the later-half of the starting grid. Fischer couldn't get much further down than what he would end up. Local knowledge certainly didn't seem to help Fischer in practice. The best he would manage to do in his AFM would only be good enough to start from the ninth, and final, row of the grid in the 31st starting position.
The problems for the German entries continued before the start of the race. Despite waiting most of the season before taking part in any major race, Fischer would end up withdrawing from the race before it even began. Fischer was unhappy with the car and wasn't interested in merely lapping the circuit. He wouldn't be alone. Willi Krakau, who had managed to qualify one row better than Fischer would also withdraw before the start of the race due to problems with the car.
As the race got underway, it seemed to be very evident attrition was after those that didn't withdraw beforehand. The very first lap of the race would see eight entries knocked out either due to mechanical problems, accidents or some other reason. Felice Bonetto was even disqualified after receiving outside assistance when he spun out on the course. Hans Klenk and some others had barely missed Bonetto when he had spun.
No such trouble seemed to be visiting the head of the field. Ascari took the lead right from the very start and was under little pressure from behind. Behind him, Farina was mixed up in a battle with Taruffi. Trintignant would end up crashing on the 1st lap and would be out of the race. Robert Manzon was holding on, but just barely. The only other driver that seemed to be handling things rather comfortably was the Eifelrennen winner, Rudolf Fischer, the Swiss restaurateur.
Being out of the race before it even began, Ludwig had the opportunity, if he wanted, to go find a good spot out on course to watch the action. At the front of the field there was little. Ascari was truly dominant. He seemed utterly comfortable around the demanding Nordschleife. It looked like the Ringmeisters, Caracciola, Nuvolari, Rosemeyer and others, would have to welcome Ascari into their midst as he just kept going faster and faster.
Eight laps still remaining in the race, and already with a sizeable margin in hand, Alberto would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. His lap time around the circuit would end up being less than a second slower than his best time in practice. He was flying toward his World Championship title.
But not all was well. The pace had begun to take its toll. For well over two and a half hours the only action the German crowd really got to see was betting who would be the next out of the race. There was no race at the front of the field. But that was about to change.
Ascari's car was in trouble. It seemed very evident the car would have trouble making it to the end of the race, and the championship title, unless Ascari brought the car into the pits to be checked out and fixed. His lead was such that he would determine to come in and pit. The stop, with just one lap remaining, was taking a while. The mechanics were working fast, but the time just continued to slip away. After all of those laps at an incredible pace, Ascari's sizable lead was gone. Farina now assumed the point with just 14 miles to go.
Surprisingly, Farina didn't increase his pace. He perhaps saw images of the Grand Prix of Monza from earlier in the year pass through his mind. Ascari had an incredible lead then but car troubles would end the day handing the victory to Farina. But unbeknownst to Farina, Ascari was back on track, and going as fast as he had before in an effort to reclaim what he had lost.
Finally the fans had their race. But it too wouldn't last too long. Farina continued to lap at his pace. He didn't pick it up. All of a sudden, a red Ferrari was filling his mirrors. It was too late. Totally caught by surprise, Farina would lose the lead to Ascari. Psychologically beaten, Alberto would pull away from Farina over the course of the few remaining miles. In the end, Alberto would put together an incredible performance and would finish the race fourteen seconds in front of Farina. The World Championship was finally his.
Lost in the background of Alberto's incredible performance was the performance of Rudolf Fischer. He had earned the victory in the Eifelrennen back at the end of May. He would also out-duel Piero Taruffi for 3rd place in the German Grand Prix. This made it two podium finishes at the tough Nurburgring for the gentleman racer. The performance was understandably lost since it took over seven minutes before he would cross the line to claim his 3rd place result.
The German Grand Prix had been a truly bitter disappointment for Ludwig Fischer. He hadn't taken part in any other major race until the time the World Championship came around. Then, once it came, he was unable to take part in the actual race. It had cost him to come and take part, at least as much as he had. Despite making the trip, Fischer would leave empty-handed. He would even leave without the memory of even having taken part in the race. The circumstances, being what they were at that point, left the rest of the season up in the air.
Fischer had put everything into the World Championship experience. When it didn't come to fruition, he would just slip away and would not be seen in major motor racing throughout the rest of the 1952 season.
While the 1952 German Grand Prix would be the only World Championship race in which Fischer would attempt to take part in his career, it wasn't as if his racing career was over as well. Things would change for Fischer going into the 1953 season.
One way in which Germany was rebuilding fast was in its sportscar program. Mercedes had gone to Le Mans in 1952 and had earned victory. The same Mercedes 300SL had managed to finish one, two and three at the sportscar race at the Nurburgring the same year as well. It was obvious Germany was developing some strong sportscars. Therefore, Fischer would abandon his single-seater grand prix efforts and would solely concentrate on sportscars.
While he would stop taking part in major formula grand prix racing, Fischer would enjoy a racing career that would last up until he was almost fifty years old. He would take part in a number of endurance races including the 1000km of Nurburgring and the Giro di Sicilia. He would earn a number of top ten results and would even earn a few top three finishes. Despite pushing fifty years of age, Fischer would compete right up into the mid 1960s. He would end up passing away in March of 1991 in Bad Reichenhall in the Upper Bavaria district of Germany.
Despite a lengthy career in minor racing, Fischer was yet another German racer hindered by the economics of his country at the time. His true talent and ability perhaps was never known. His abortive attempt in a World Championship race does little to help solve the puzzle. The over-reaching efforts of one leader would end up limiting his opportunities to showcase his talents and actually take part of something larger than the borders of his nation.