TeamsWilli Krakau: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
The psychological approach to top levels of competitive sport is similar to that of entering a battle, or, going to war. A top fighter ace had to have the desire to do what he or she was doing, and the confidence of being able to do it better than his adversary.
Willi Krakau's life wouldn't start with motor racing, but it would be surrounded by all of the elements needed to be successful when he decided to move into the motorized form of sport. A competitive sportsman through and through, Krakau was a noted skier, sailor and swimmer. He would also take up diving and other athletics at different points in his life. He was even good enough to make the 1936 German Olympic team as part of the rowing team. Krakau's sporting exploits would be interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.
After the end of the Second World War, Krakau would abandon the wet playing field in favor of an asphalt one. No doubt interested and intrigued by the modern fighting machines produced and used in the war, Kraukau would begin racing, but also, would begin to show adeptness at building and preparing race cars.
The available powerplants for German racers was minimal. Therefore, advantages had to be found in chassis design, and of course, driving skill. In 1948, Krakau debuted one of his specials. Immediately this design proved successful. Then, in the winter between 1948 and 1949, Krakau would again make revisions and evolutions to his racing car. This new car would again be quite successful. In each case, the car wasn't the biggest hindrance to Krakau.
The BMW motor used in many of the post-war German racing cars had been a pre-war design. The engine only produced about 65 hp before the start of the war. After the war, the engine performance was pushed to the absolute limit. This put incredible strain on the old design. Therefore, many of the failures the German drivers would experience would have to do, mostly, with the engine failing.
In spite of an aged engine, Krakau would continue to change and revise his car designs. One important design consideration Krakau took into account was the ability to use the same car for both Formula 2 and sportscar races. He had designed his specials in such a way that he could add fenders and other parts that would make the car legal for sportscar races, as well as, being able to take part in the Formula 2 category.
Krakau's ability to make a car able to satisfy both racing series complimented his ability as a preparer and builder of race cars. His successes were only added confirmations of his true talent. Throughout 1947 and 1950, Krakau would earn a number of top three performances, and thus, solidified his reputation.
Krakau's success enabled him to travel and take part in other Formula 2 races. In fact, he would be the first German to race in an event outside of his native Germany. He would take part in the Monza Grand Prix in 1950. Initially, he was met with some resistance when he arrived with his special painted in the very usual silver. Remembrance of the Third Reich was obviously in the minds of the officials that wouldn't let Krakau race until he painted his car a different color. He would paint the car white and would be allowed to race. During his heat he would finish 4th. He was also doing quite well in the final until, once again, an engine failure ended his race.
While he had had the opportunity to race against some of the best drivers and teams in races outside of Germany, Krakau's experience was limited to Formula 2. He had not taken part in a World Championship race. That was about to change going into the 1952 season.
The Formula One World Championship had some issues it needed to resolve. Alfa Romeo, the team providing cars to Formula One's first-two World Champions, had left at the end of the 1951 season. This left Scuderia Ferrari as the clear favorite with no apparent team capable of taking up the challenge left by the vacating Alfa Romeo team. In addition to no real competition, the costs of operating in Formula One, especially still only a few years after the end of the Second World War, were reaching astronomical proportions and were threatening to end the new series. The governing-body and race organizers needed time to come up with a new competitive solution for Formula One. Unfortunately, time was the one thing the organizers and officials didn't really have. They had not proposed rule changes to be implemented a couple of years down the road. They were caught off-guard and needed something that could successfully fill the gap.
Formula 2 was their solution. The 1952 and 1953 World Championship would compete according to Formula 2 regulations. This provided the necessary time to formulate new rules and performance criteria for Formula One. The decision would also provide a number of small teams and privateer entries to take part in the World Championship.
Among those really positively affected by the decision to run the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations were the German racers, like Krakau, that were generally isolated behind their border and not wealthy enough to have taken part in Formula One. The World Championship had come to Germany in 1951, but only one German would be able to compete in the race. With the World Championship running according to Formula 2 regulations, the 1952 German Grand Prix promised to host a number of German drivers looking to take part in their home grand prix.
But like many of the German racers, Krakau's season didn't merely begin and end with the lone World Championship round. Krakau's first race of the 1952 season would take place at the same location for the German Grand Prix, but it was part of a different championship.
On the 25th of May, Willi Krakau was in Nurburg, Germany, a town near Adenau, for the first round of the West German Formula 2 Championship. The race was to take place on the Nurburgring and the 14 mile long Nordschleife. The race was the 16th Internationales ADAC Eifelrennen.
By 1952, Germany had already been divided into East and West Germany. Though travel wasn't restricted too much it was become more difficult for a German to travel between one side and another. Due to the restrictions of the Cold War heating up, and the nationalistic pride involved, both East and West German formed their own Formula 2 championships. Drivers from either East or West Germany were able to compete in races in the other nation, but points would only be awarded to those drivers from the same nation in which the race was taking part.
Coming into the 1952 season, Krakau would become part of a team with Fritz Riess. Krakau had put his ‘special' design to the side, and instead, would drive Riess' AFM 50 throughout the majority of the season. Riess much preferred his Veritas RS to the AFM. This opened the AFM up to Krakau and he would bring the car with him to the Nurburgring for the Eifelrennen.
The Eifelrennen was the first round of the West German Championship. Therefore, Krakau would be able to score points toward the championship. While the championship points were only able to be earned by West Germans, the podium would be much more difficult to come by as there would be a few foreign drivers in the field for the race. While few in number, the foreigners present came with newer and more-powerful cars.
The location of the race was as equally potent as the foreign entries in the race. The race took place on the 14 mile long Nordschleife and featured no fewer than 170 corners and a thousand feet of elevation change over the course of a single lap. At well over ten minutes or more per lap, the circuit seemed like a never ending array of twisting track surrounded in the dark green forest of the Eifel mountains. This 'Green Hell' seemed to carry on for what seemed like an eternity and took every bit of a driver's concentration to emerge from a lap unscathed.
The Eifelrennen would consist of 7 laps of the 'Green Hell'. In practice, Stirling Moss showed himself to be one of the favorites to be able to conquer the course. He would start the race from pole after recording a lap time of eleven minutes and two seconds. The rest of the front row would be occupied by foreigners. Rudolf Fischer, a Swiss restaurant owner, would start 2nd. Two more Brits, Duncan Hamilton and Ken Wharton, would start 3rd and 4th.
In all, there would be sixteen that would start the Eifelrennen. Krakau wouldn't start from the front row of the starting grid. However, as soon as the race would start, it would become apparent that the real race for the Germans would come against attrition. Therefore, starting position wasn't anywhere near as important as just being able to finish the race.
And many wouldn't. Two would drop out of the race without having completed a single lap. The retirements kept coming. Just about every lap of the 7 lap race would see one or two drop out. What was even more amazing was the fact every retirement had been a German entry. This didn't bode well for Krakau. It seemed no German was to finish the race. Krakau couldn't fight it. With only a little over one lap remaining in the race, the BMW engine in Krakau's AFM 50 would let go. This left only two Germans still running in the race.
The race was only a race in name only. When the green flag flew Stirling Moss and Rudolf Fischer were locked in a battle. The battle at the front, between a Ferrari 500 and HWM-Alta, was fierce for a while. However, Fischer's Ferrari was just too strong. Fischer would firmly take over the lead and would begin to pull away. To further solidify his grip on the lead, Fischer would record the fastest lap of the race. His time around the 14 mile circuit would be ten minutes and fifty-one seconds. This time would be eleven seconds faster than Moss' pole time.
While Fischer was cruising with the lead of the race, Fritz Riess and Toni Ulmen were fighting for dear life. Not against each other, but against attrition. There were only six entries still running in the race. Among the six, only two were Germans. Twelve of the sixteen starters were German, and yet, the only retirements in the race had been Germans. And there would be one more to add to the list before the end of the race.
Only one lap remaining in the race, the Ferrari 212 driven by Fritz Riess would retire. This was only the second foreign made car to retire. This also left Ulmen as the sole German still running in the race that had been dominated by German entries.
Fischer continued to dominate and even stretched his lead even more. In a little under one hour and seventeen minutes, Fischer would cross the finish line to take the Eifelrennen victory. Stirling Moss would cross the line a little more than forty seconds behind in 2nd place. Ken Wharton would finish a minute and a half further behind Moss, but would finish 3rd. Duncan Hamilton's 4th place ensured that every foreign entry finished the race. Toni Ulmen would be the only German that could claim the honor of finishing.
Obviously, Ulmen took the lead in the West German Formula 2 Championship standings. Krakau's engine failure would ensure that he failed to earn any points toward the championship. While not earning any points was unfortunate, the most unfortunate part was the reality that the next round of the championship would take place at the very same place. And not only would the second round take place at the Nurburgring, the race would be over twice as long. This did not offer Krakau any feelings of ease upon leaving the circuit.
In spite of there seemingly being an ease in travel restrictions for Germans, Krakau would not take part in any of the Formula 2 races that would take place on East German soil throughout the early and middle part of the racing season. He would focus entirely on races within the West German border. Therefore, it would be well over two months before he would take part in another Formula 2 race. The next race would be a big one.
Krakau last took part in a Formula 2 race on the 25th of May in 1952. That race was the ADAC Eifelrennen and was held on the 14 mile long Nurburgring. On the 3rd of August, Krakau was back at the Nurburgring, but this race had special significance. It was the second round of the West German Formula 2 Championship, but it was also the sixth round of the World Championship. This was the 2nd time the German Grand Prix had been included in the World Championship, but it would be the first time in which a majority of the German drivers would have the opportunity to compete.
The switch to Formula 2 regulations opened the door for the isolated Germans. Normally the extent of foreign competition came from one or two international drivers entering Germany's bigger races like the Eifelrennen or the Avusrennen. But this time, it would be the German drivers that would be invading the World Championship, even though the sixth round was to take place on their own soil.
For many, the German Grand Prix in 1952 was the first time many of the German racers had the opportunity to compete against the world's best teams and drivers. In 1952, they would have the opportunity to take part in something truly historic.
Coming into the German Grand Prix, Alberto Ascari was on the verge of his first World Championship. The previous season he had had the World Championship snatched away from him by a tire issue at the Spanish Grand Prix. In 1952, things looked wholly different. Despite missing the first round due to traveling to the United States to take part in the Indianapolis 500, Ascari had been dominant ever since he returned. He had three-straight victories coming into the German Grand Prix. Were he to win just one more the World Championship would be his. Not wanting the title to slip away again, Ascari was focused and fast.
The times in practice would prove just how focused Ascari truly was. During the Eifelrennen, back in late May, Rudolf Fischer had turned the fastest lap of the race around the Nordschleife. His time was ten minutes and fifty-one seconds. Ascari's best time wouldn't just be an improvement of a couple of seconds. Instead, try almost a whole minute. Ascari's fastest time in practice would prove to be a lap time of ten minutes and four seconds! Ascari's Scuderia Ferrari teammate and 1950 World Champion, Giuseppe Farina, would prove that he was willing to fight with Ascari for the title as he would turn a best lap time just three seconds slower. The other two starters on the front row were Equipe Gordini teammates, and neither one could match the pace of the two Scuderia Ferrari pilots. Maurice Trintignant would start 3rd with a lap time over fifteen seconds behind Ascari. And, Robert Manzon would start on the front row in 4th after recording a best lap of ten minutes and twenty-five seconds.
While a little over twenty seconds would separate the starters on the front row, the aged BMW and other German powerplants available to the German entries would cause the gap to be even worse.
Paul Pietsch would end up being the fastest German in the field. The former Auto Union driver would end up being fifty-two seconds behind Ascari's best. While the famous Paul Pietsch would set the pace amongst the Germans in the field, Krakau would suffer. Krakau wouldn't be the slowest starter in the field, but he certainly wasn't the fastest either. Even amongst the Germans, he was further down the starting order than may have been expected for a man with his experience. Krakau would qualify for the race in 28th position and would start from the eighth row on the grid. Amongst the German drivers; however, Krakau did have something of an advantage. He had competed against many of the best drivers in the world in the past and was familiar with them, as they were familiar with him. This would provide Krakau with a slight advantage in the actual race.
The problem for Krakau was actually getting to the race. Even before the race would begin he would be one of two Germans that would withdraw before the green flag even waved. The pace wasn't there. Then, also, there were the concerns of the car's ability to make the entire race distance. Back in May, the car had failed to make it the entire 7 laps of the Eifelrennen. The German Grand Prix would be contested over 18 laps of the perhaps most dangerous and most demanding circuits in all the world. Thus, Krakau and fellow German Ludwig Fischer would end up withdrawing from the race.
Considering the way in which the race would go, Krakau's decision wasn't all that unwise. Right from the waving of the green flag to start the race, it was obvious who the favorite to win would be. Alberto Ascari would grab the lead and would immediately focus on pulling out an advantage over the rest of the field. His efforts would be helped by the battle that would ensure between Farina and another Scuderia Ferrari teammate Piero Taruffi. Taruffi needed to win the race to keep his World Championship hopes alive. He had won the Swiss Grand Prix in Ascari's absence. Tangling with Farina, instead of Ascari, was not looking good for his chances at the title.
For many others, to have been able to battle with a fellow competitor would have been a dream. Instead, there would be a number that would end up being tangled with attrition over the first few laps. In all, eight would retire before having completed a single lap of the race. This was one moment when local knowledge was paying off, however. Out of the eight to retire on the first lap, only three would be German. This was a marked contrast to the Eifelrennen.
What was happening at the back of the field was of very little consequence to Ascari way far up at the head of the field. Unless, of course, he was coming around to put the back-markers a lap down, which would happen often over the length of the race.
The way in which the race was going, it would have been a toss up whether Krakau's decision had wisdom or not. Ascari was absolutely dominating out front, but the field behind was being decimated. Thirty cars and drivers had actually started the race. After 8 laps, there were only twelve still running. Among those twelve still running, five were Germans. So a steady race could have helped Krakau stay on course and move up the running order. But the five remaining Germans in the race would have most certainly have prevented him from even coming close to scoring any points in either the World Championship or the West German Formula 2 Championship.
It was estimated that more than a quarter of a million people lined the 14 mile long Nordschleife to watch the world's best battle it out against each other and the circuit for 18 laps. What the crowd witnessed that day was a demonstration of Alberto Ascari's record-setting dominance.
Ascari had the lead of the race right from the very beginning. With each mile and each lap the lead continued to increase. Even his pace would continue to increase with almost every single lap. By the time there were eight laps left in the race there were only twelve cars still in the race. Many of those remaining twelve Ascari had already managed to put a couple of laps down. In 2nd place was Giuseppe Farina. His battle with Taruffi for 2nd place had ended a few laps prior as Taruffi began to fade down the order. Piero had actually come under fire from the Eifelrennen winner, Rudolf Fischer. Fischer had managed to get by and held down 3rd place in the running order. Despite his advantages over those remaining in the race, Ascari would end up turning what would be the fastest lap of the race. His time would be less than a second slower than his fastest lap from practice. Alberto was putting on one incredible exhibition for the crowd.
But it seemed it wouldn't last. With just a couple of laps remaining in the race, Ascari's Ferrari was not all that healthy. A number of other entrants had been running fast paces and they too faced retirement. The constant punishment of just a single lap around the Nordschleife had proven to be more than enough for well over half of the field. Perhaps choosing valor over discretion, it seemed Ascari's pace was going to do him. He needed to do something to save his race, perhaps even his championship. He knew very well that a momentum shift could spell disaster. If he wanted to have a shot at winning the championship there that day he knew he needed to stop.
Ascari would bring his car into the pits. The stopwatches began. Ascari waited in the car. Onlookers nervously scanned the circuit and the pits. The stop was quite lengthy. Soon, Farina appeared hauling down the long straight that led around to the first couple of turns. Farina would take the lead. It was the last lap. A little over ten minutes separated Farina from a surprising victory. He carried on being very careful not to make a mistake. He would use his smooth style to flow in and out of the corners very comfortably and steadily. Though he needed to be careful and steady, he wouldn't increase his pace. But it was the smooth and steady pace that had surprisingly handed him the lead on the last lap of the race. But he was about to be surprised.
Ascari had put on an incredible show throughout 17 laps. But he would show just how dominant he truly was on the 18th. After the lengthy stop, Ascari was back on track and a good distance behind Farina. His car wasn't totally healthy, but as fast as he was going over the course of the race, Farina wouldn't stand a chance. And he wouldn't. With still a few miles left to go, Ascari had caught up to a totally unaware Farina. Farina had thought the race was his. As Ascari would go past he would realize just how much the race wasn't his.
Despite having a car not totally healthy, Alberto would claw his way back into the lead and would seem to carry on as if he was the hare just waiting for the tortoise to catch up. Ascari would sprint back ahead and would power his way to the start/finish line. He would end up winning the race by fourteen seconds over Farina. This victory would clinch his first World Championship. After Farina sheepishly crossed the line in 2nd place, it would be another seven, or so, minutes before Rudolf Fischer would cross the line to finish 3rd. Fritz Riess, the team partner with Krakau, would end up being the highest finishing German. He would end up finishing the race in the 7th position and down two laps. He had just missed out on the points by two places.
Though perhaps not unwise, not being able to take part in the World Championship was costly for Krakau. Not only had Krakau thrown away an opportunity to take part in something special, something historic, but he also had withdrawn from the second round of the West German Formula 2 Championship. Though the opportunity was lost, Krakau had proven over the years to have the talent to more than make up for any lost opportunity, but he would need to have the remaining rounds go almost perfect for him if he wanted to take the championship.
The season had not gone the way Krakau had hoped it would. The withdraw from the German Grand Prix put a big damper on the rest of the season for the German. He had taken part in the first round of the West German Championship simply because it would be the site for the second, but also, the site for the German Grand Prix. The first race at the Nurburgring was used as preparation. But in the end, the preparation could do nothing with a car that couldn't come up to pace. Instead of racing, and perhaps facing a difficult last part of the season, Krakau's last major race in 1952 would be his attempt to take part in the World Championship.
Krakau had competed against the best in the world at different events. He knew what it took to be competitive and to be successful. The German landscape, even with the World Championship competing according to Formula 2 regulations, looked quite barren. This was clearly obvious with Krakau's effort in practice before the German Grand Prix and then his withdraw. There was really nothing available with which to compete. He had surveyed the landscape and would find he just didn't have the desire to do it anymore.
After years of successful driving, the motor racing sportsman would just slip away from major racing. The desire was gone. He would not attempt to take part in another World Championship race, nor really any other race. Willi Krakau would slip away and would live a quiet life until his death in 1995.