TeamsJosef Peters: 1952 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
At about the time the German advance came to a standstill in the First Battle of the Marne, a young German boy was born in the city of Dusseldorf. Some thirty-eight years later, and after another German advance results in the country lying in ruin, the same, now older, German man prepares for what would be one of the biggest moments in his life.
Josef Peters was one of just many German racers to come onto the racing scene after the end of World War II. Like most of the others, Peters remains relatively unknown. But he had the unique opportunity of taking part in the very beginning moments of Formula One and World Championship history.
Born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1914, Peters would begin his major racing career in 1950. Like most of the other German racers, Josef would take part in both grand prix and sportscar racing. Racing in both series was made much more possible by the rules German organizers used at the time.
After the war, Germany was in shambles. Its industry, which had been reduced mostly to rumble, had begun to return but slowly. The oppression of war had gone. There was a spirit of new life and many wanted to enjoy and express that new joy and hope by going racing. This presented another major problem for the German racers.
Once the war had come to an end, Germany began to be divided up. By the late 1940s there were clearly two German nations, East and West Germany. Due to the war, Germans were restricted from traveling outside of their own borders. In addition to the travel restrictions, Germany's economy, either East or West; like the country, was also a shambles. Outside of the country the German currency was practically worthless. Therefore, not only had Hitler's dream of world domination come to an incredible halt, the nation itself was a prisoner surrounded by guards.
Left picking up the pieces from Hitler's mess, the German people tried to carry on as best they could. This included the racers. Small racing car manufacturers appeared on the scene when the large companies, like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others were still clearing away the rubble. Due to a lack of options, the regulations were made a little more gray. The same single-seater could be used in a sportscar race provided some fenders or other bodywork were added. In addition, cars, like Veritas' RS sportscar would also be allowed to compete in single-seater races as if a grand prix car, this despite the fact it had full bodywork covering the wheels. While such a thing muddied the regulation waters, it did provide the racers, who were just scratching out an existence, the opportunity to take part in a few more races without having the burden of purchasing a car for each racing series. This would end up being a blessing for many drivers, like Peters.
Peters would make his sportscar debut at the not-so-slow Grenzlandring in September of 1950. He would be impressive in his BMW-powered Veritas RS. He would start the race from 8th on the grid and would manage to finish the high-speed affair 5th.
After his debut in 1950, Peters would not be sighted again until the following year. His first race in 1951 would be another sportscar race and it took place at Hockenheim. He would pull off an almost exact copy of what he had done in his first race at Grenzlandring. He would start the race 5th and would end up finishing 5th. Two top fives in his first two races were quite an achievement. He would be brought back down to earth when he would go to the Nurburgring and would enter the sportscar Eifelrennen. He would be handed some humility as he would fail to finish the race.
After being humbled, Peters would get back to his successful ways and would manage a 2nd place at Norisring. After the incredible performance at the Norisring, Peters would leave and would head to the site of his first race. One week after his 2nd at Norisring, Peters would earn a 3rd place in the sportscar Grenzlandring race, which was the fifth round of the German Sportscar Championship.
While at Grenzlandring, Peter would take part in his first Formula 2 race. The race was the 4th DMV Grenzlandringrennen. However, the race wouldn't have near the result he had earned in his first sportscar race. Only laps from the end, Peters would retire from the race.
Peters' experience in the Grenzlandringrennen Formula 2 race was important. Even by the end of 1951 it was rumored the Formula One World Championship would be making some necessary changes with Alfa Romeo's departure from grand prix racing. Lacking competition and incredibly rising costs were forcing the World Championship's governing-body to create new regulations for the series. To do this, they needed time. Therefore, it was heavily rumored that at least the 1952 season would be run according to Formula 2 regulations. This was important as it opened up the German Grand Prix to Germans like Peters.
Up until 1952, there had only been one German to take part in a World Championship race and that was Paul Pietsch. He had taken part in a race in 1950, and then, in 1951, he would be invited by Alfa Romeo to drive one of their 159s in the German Grand Prix. But other than Pietsch, even the German Grand Prix had been closed off to other German racers due to costs and racing in Formula 2. That would all change in 1952. The decision to conduct the World Championship according to Formula 2 regulations would be made. This opened up the World Championship, and its history books, to Josef Peters to make his mark.
Even though the World Championship would be conducted according to Formula 2 regulations, the other Formula 2 championships, like those in France and Germany, would continue on uninterrupted. In fact, the World Championship would be integrated into each of the championships.
Although Germany had already been divided into East and West Germany before 1952, travel between the two nations was still relatively unrestricted. This enabled drivers from each nation to take part in the championship races in the other nation. While the prize money and prestige would be available to the 'foreigner' the points toward the championship would only be awarded to the driver fitting the respective championship. Therefore, a West German could take part in an East German race but would not earn any points toward the East German Championship.
In fact, the first race of Josef Peters' 1952 would be an East German Championship race. It was the 1st Rostocker Osthafenkurs and it was held in the port-city of Rostock, East Germany on the 20th of April.
The season before, Peters had taken part in just one single-seater grand prix. This would change as he came into the 1952 season. During the 1952 season, Peters would balance out his race schedule taking part in about the same number of grand prix and sportscar races. The first race of Peters' 1952 season would be one of those grand prix races.
Looking to gain more experience in grand prix races, Peters would head across the border into East Germany and onto Rostock for the first round of the East German Championship. 1952 would be the first year in which Rostock would be included in the East German Championship. It would be used by the East German officials in an attempt to propagandize life in East Germany. Being the most important port-city in East Germany, the city would come to host a grand prix race.
The circuit was situated at the very end of the long inlet that led out to the Baltic Sea. Situated in more of the industrial part of the city, the landscape and terrain at the very tip of the inlet was relatively flat and wide. Two-thirds of the circuit, the portion nearest to the inlet was barely more than five feet above sea level and usually less. Where the start/finish line was situated, the circuit would climb and descend upwards of fifty feet or more. The portion of the circuit leading from Mathius-Berger to Friedens corner boasted of a climb with a rather steep grade taking the circuit elevation from near zero down at its furthest point to well over fifty feet high by the time the lap was completed. At 2.86 miles in length, the average speeds around the circuit remained quite low due to the fact there were very little straight portions on the circuit. The longest straight on the circuit was the straight with the rather steep climb up to the start/finish straight, and therefore, would do little to help increasing the average speeds.
Amongst the East German drivers, there was none faster than Paul Greifzu. He was the 1951 East German Champion and, in practice for the first round at Rostock, would prove he was the man to beat. Greifzu would take the pole for the 18 lap race, but he wasn't alone as East Germany's fastest driver. Also in the race were Edgar Barth and Rudolf Krause. In addition to Barth and Krause was Ernst Klodwig and his rear-engine Eigenbau Heck. Klodwig's Heck wasn't the fastest car on the field normally, but it had proven itself to be surprisingly reliable.
Krause would be out of the race before it even started. The fragile BMW engine in his Reif would expire before it was even tested, and therefore, caused him to withdraw from the race. Even with Krause's retirement from the race, Peters was about the only West German in the field. It seemed like Peters would be swallowed whole by his East German competitors.
The race would turn into a case of David versus Goliath. Greifzu had been fastest throughout practice and had started from the pole. In the race, Greifzu would again look to be well on his way to a race victory. Besides Greifzu, there was still the large number of East Germans in the race. It seemed a good result for Peters against such odds was not to be found. But Peters' true talent would reveal itself during the race.
There was little to nothing Peters could do with Greifzu. So, Paul would begin to draw away with the lead of the race. However, Peters would find himself locked in a battle against Jurgen Perduss and Edgar Barth, each driving IFA-DAMWs. Lap-after-lap, Peters continued to hold off the two East Germans.
Paul Greifzu would again exercise his dominance and would take little less then forty-seven minutes to complete the 18 laps and win the race. While who would win appeared to be a foregone conclusion after just one lap, especially according to the partial East German crowd, the battle for 2nd place was far from decided.
While he couldn't slay the giant, Peters would show his strengths and would hold off the charge of the other East Germans to take 2nd place in the race. Jurgen Perduss would manage to beat out Edgar Barth by less than three seconds to finish 3rd.
In his first race of the 1952 season, Peters had shown his metal, especially considering his inexperience. He had staved off some of the fastest East German racers to beat them on their home ground. He would have to do this, and more, if he even wanted a shot at a good result in the World Championship race later on in the year. However, this would be a good start to his grand prix season in German.
For the inexperienced Peters, his next grand prix race would be another important race. While it wouldn't count toward either the East or West German Championships it would still allow more experience for Peters in a grand prix.
Just as with outside the German border, there were a few grand prix races held in 1952 that were considered non-championship races, and therefore, counted toward neither the East nor West German Championships. The next race on Peters' calendar for 1952 was one of those races.
On the 11th of May, Josef Peters was busy preparing his Veritas RS for what was the 4th Dessauer Auto und Motorrandrennen. The race was held on a public road course to the south of Dessau along the autobahn between Berlin and Leipzig.
The circuit used for the race at Dessau was similar in its character to many of the German cities that dotted the country. The circuit was a blend of modern and the pastoral. A major portion of the 3.1 mile circuit ran along the autobahn. However, another portion of the circuit would disappear into the heavily wooded Mosigkauer-Heide. While a motor racing circuit utilizing a portion of the autobahn was nothing particularly unique for a German grand prix circuit during the 1950s, one of the spectator vantage points was rather unique. Part of the circuit made use of a road that ran away from the autobahn and into the Mosigkauer-Heide. Going in the opposite direction was a bridge that went over the highway. This was closed off for the race and provided spectators a unique view down the autobahn, the portions used for the racing circuit. In 1952, those spectators would become witnesses of a national tragedy.
Dessau was a non-championship race, and therefore, would draw a number of West Germans to the race as well as East Germans. Though Peters was present with his Veritas, admittedly the favorite West German coming into the race was Fritz Riess. This would not do; a West German the favorite for a race on East German soil. Thankfully for the East German spectators they had their great champion Paul Greifzu. Of course it is widely rumored his presence was more the result of political pressure than personal choice.
In practice, Riess was proving the rumors correct as he would turn the fastest laps of those out on the circuit at the time. Greifzu would then make his way onto the track and was quickly lapping right around the same time as Riess. Within another lap's time, Greifzu was lapping faster. But just as he turned and made his way down the long straight on the autobahn a component in his car seized and sent Greifzu and his car flipping and spinning violently. When it finally came to a rest so too did Greifzu's life. From that moment on a dark shadow hung over Dessau.
Although East Germany had lost its champion, the nation still wasn't without its talented drivers. Riess, Peters and the other West German drivers would still have to contend with Edgar Barth and Rudolf Krause.
The 16 lap race would get underway and quickly Riess took the lead and began to draw away. He would not be able to pull away as could have been possible and that was mostly because of Barth and a couple of the other competitors pushing hard right from the start.
For some, they would push too hard too early. Willi Heeks would be out of the race after only 2 laps due to a fuel problem. Barth pushed hard in an effort to keep up with Riess and would pay for it two-thirds of the way into the race as on the 10th lap his clutch would give out thereby ending his race.
Greifzu's death and the retirement of Barth's car meant Riess only had token resistance from the rest of the field. To increase his lead and to help ensure the victory, Riess would end up turning the fastest lap of the race. Peters continued to run, and run well, but he just couldn't touch the pace of the top three. Peters was running behind Krause for a good portion of time but could not get close enough to get by. Peters, more than anything, had to protect from behind as Jurgen Perduss was also on the same lap and not too far back.
Though void of any major threat, Riess would drive a spectacular race and would thoroughly dominate the field. Averaging a little more than 82 mph, Riess would cross the finish line victorious after a little more than thirty-six minutes and twelve seconds. Theo Helfrich would finish the race a quite 2nd place, but at least was on the same lap as Riess. Rudolf Krause would end up the highest finishing East German in the race when he finished in 3rd. This was disappointing for the East German fans considering they had lost Greifzu, and then, Barth suffered from a failure during the race.
Not too long after Krause crossed the line to finish 3rd, Josef Peters came across the line to take 4th place. This was yet another incredible result and performance for the relatively inexperienced driver from Dusseldorf.
All of the races in which Peters had driven during the early part of 1952 had been races on East German soil. That would all change two weeks after Dessau as he would travel back west to take part in what was the first round of the West German Championship.
The site of the first round of the West German Championship would also be the second and, perhaps, most important. The site was the Nurburgring and its 14 mile long Nordschleife. The race, which consisted of a sportscar race, as well as, the Formula 2 would be held on the 25th of May.
The Nurburgring was one of the oldest, most demanding and perhaps most dangerous purpose-built circuits in the world. Only a very few could be truly called Ringmeisters as the nature of the circuit made it almost impossible to come to grips with, let alone be fast. Located in the heart of the Eifel mountains, the Nurburgring was a virtual 'Green Hell'. The circuit rose and fell nearly a thousand feet over the course of a lap. Numbering around 170 corners, the circuit was virtually impossible to memorize, but incredibly easy to make a mistake. Besides numbering over 170 corners, each one had its own unique personality. And even the smallest, and seemingly inconsequential of mistakes had a tendency to become magnified very quick, often to the driver's detriment.
The Nurburgring would be the site of the sixth round of the World Championship later on in the year. The Eifelrennen would take place only a week after the first round of the World Championship, which was the Swiss Grand Prix. Seeing that the second round of the World Championship was the Indianapolis 500, which was all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, most of the competitors had time to enter other non-championship races. And since the Nurburgring would be the site of the sixth round of the World Championship it wasn't all that surprising that a number of foreign entries were put in for the Eifelrennen.
Most likely there would have been more foreign entries in the field for the Eifelrennen had not the third round of the French Formula 2 Championship been on the same day. However, there would be four foreign entries in the field for the first round of the West German Formula 2 Championship. Three were British. The fourth foreign entry was Swiss.
The Swiss entry was the gentleman racer and restaurant owner Rudolf Fischer. Fischer had had an incredible result in his home grand prix just one week prior. He would finish the race a tremendous 2nd behind Scuderia Ferrari's Piero Taruffi. And given the pace of the Ferrari 500 chassis, Fischer; though a gentleman racer, would still be considered one of the favorites coming into the race.
The British contingent would be headed by Stirling Moss. He would be joined by Duncan Hamilton and Ken Wharton. Moss and Hamilton came as part of the HW Motors team. Wharton would come to the race driving for Scuderia Franera in a Frazer Nash FN48.
In practice, Peters, and most of the other German racers, seemed like bit actors, or extras, behind the major 'foreign' players. Not even the great Paul Pietsch could manage to turn laps fast enough to challenge the foreign aggressors. The front row of the starting grid would be four-wide. By the end of practice, not a single one of those four positions would be occupied by a native German.
Pole-position would come down to a battle between Fischer and Moss. Each would turn a fastest lap. However, it would be Moss that would end up clipping Fischer for the pole of the race. His best time around the 14 mile circuit would be eleven minutes and two seconds. Fischer would start 2nd right beside Moss. The rest of the front row consisted of Hamilton lining up in 3rd place and Wharton in 4th. Against such pace, Peters had little to no chance. He, therefore, would start further down in the starting grid.
If practice had been particularly unkind to the German entries then the race would be something more akin to murder. While Moss and Fischer would pick their battle back up at the front of the field, the rest of the field would have a battle on their hands with attrition, and attrition would obviously have the upper hand.
The problems started on the very first lap of the race. Two drivers, including Paul Pietsch, would drop out without having even completed a single lap. Both were German. On the 3rd lap of the race, Adolf Brudes, another German would retire due to an engine failure. It seemed that every lap of the 7 lap race would see a German retire while the guests continued to soldier on.
Moss and Fischer continued to duke it out at the head of the field. Despite their fighting, they were drawing away from Hamilton and Wharton, and obviously the rest of the field. Finally, Fischer would gain the upper hand. His Ferrari 500 would make up much of the difference. No matter, Fischer began to slowly draw away from Moss.
About the same time that Fischer had managed to break up his fight with Moss another big wave of German retirements would hit the field. Hans Klenk would lead the next wave with his departure from the race. Unfortunately, Peters would be next to go. After two splendid results in East German races, Peters' first West German race would end in failure. But it would end in failure for many others. In all, there would be ten out of the race by the time the race was down to its last couple of laps. What was interesting was the fact that every one of the retirees were German.
Going into the final lap of the race, there were only two Germans still running in the race. What was interesting about the two remaining Germans was the difference of cars they were driving. Toni Ulmen was driving his own Veritas Meteor, a German design that was using old and worn out components. Fritz Riess was driving a slightly older Ferrari 166 for Ecurie Espadon, the team owned and started by Rudolf Fischer. Given the way the race had gone to that point, it seemed obvious that if there were to be a retirement amongst the remaining two Germans it would have to be Ulmen with his older and Veritas Meteor. However, that would not be the case. With just about a lap remaining in the race, Riess would run into trouble with his Ferrari. The trouble was terminal and forced Riess out of the race. This meant that out of the twelve Germans to actually start the race only one remained.
Once he had broken away from Moss, Fischer continued to pull away at the head of the field. After just under an hour and seventeen minutes, Fisher would cross the finish line to claim the victory. Forty-one seconds would end up being the gap between himself and Moss who would finish 2nd. Ken Wharton had managed to get by Duncan Hamilton, but could do next to nothing to challenge either Moss or Fischer. Wharton would cross the line in 3rd place but would finish down a minute and a half to Moss. Hamilton would trail Wharton to the finish by nearly twenty-five seconds. Toni Ulmen would finish the race; the only German to do so. He would end up over seven minutes down to Fischer.
The first round of the West German Championship had not started anywhere near as good as what the races on the East German soil. However, it was the first round. There were still three more rounds to go. This meant Peters still had enough time to get his championship effort online.
The frustrating end in the Eifelrennen was almost enough to send Peters back to East Germany where he had managed to put in some really good performances. Peters would think long and hard about it and would actually submit an entry for the 3rd Leipzig Stadtparkrennen, which would take place on the 2nd of June. However, he would not arrive at the race. The draw of the East German Championship races, especially given the long break between the first and second rounds of the West German Championship, would be too much for Peters to turn away fully. Though he would forego the race in Leipzig, he would make it to what was the third round of the East German Championship.
Situated about two hours to the southwest of Berlin, Halle-Saale-Schleife would play host to the third round of the East German Championship. It was the 4th Halle-Saale-Schleiferennen and it would take place on a public road course situated just to the west of the Saale river.
Halle sits in the western part of East Germany and ranks as the second largest city in Saxony-Anhalt. The city rests along the Saale river, which runs from the Thuringian Forest to the north and the state of Thuringia to the south. The city became a very important center during the time of Martin Luther's reformation and would inspire the Martin Luther University in which a portion of the grand prix circuit ran by.
Made up entirely of public roads, the Halle-Saale Circuit ran north and south along the Saale river. The start/finish straight ran along the Gimritzer Damm road and came to a double-apex hairpin turn just prior to main road heading to Eisleben. After a short blast, the circuit wound along a secondary road that followed the flow of the river. The circuit would kink right and continue past Weinberg Campus. The circuit would turn sharply left and continue until it rounded a small green before heading down the start/finish straight. In all, the generally flat circuit measured 3.25 miles.
Being that Halle was situated so near West Germany, the field for the race would feature a number of other West Germans besides Peters. Willi Heeks, Theo Helfrich and Hans Stuck would also be in the race. There would even be a Czechoslovakian in the race.
However, despite the rather large contingent of West German racers in the field, none would be as fast as the East German Edgar Barth. Barth's time had come. Greifzu's death had meant he and Rudolf Krause were generally considered East Germany's best drivers. Barth would do his best in the race to prove that it was only he that was the best.
Attrition over the course of the 20 lap race would be relatively light considering other German Championship races, East or West. Only three would fail to survive the race distance. Among the three to fail, Stuck posed the greatest threat to Barth.
Barth ran up front but had Willi Heeks bearing down on him throughout a good portion of the race. Behind them, the field was paired up by nationalities. Rudolf Krause and Jurgen Perduss, two East Germans, were linked up. Not too far behind them came the West Germans Theo Helfrich and Josef Peters.
Once again, an East German race was fairing well for Peters. His Veritas was working well. The going was tough as the competition was tight. But he was still running and looking good for a decent result.
Barth would earn the best result possible as he would take the victory. Barth would average a little more than 71 mph en route to victory but would hold off Willi Heeks who would finish 2nd. Rudolf Krause and Jurgen Perduss battled it out for the final spot on the podium. Thankfully for the East German spectators, both of them were East Germans and would therefore ensure that East Germany would occupy at least two spots on the podium. Of course this was important for the East German officials as well. Krause would end up being able to charge his way to the 3rd place finish.
Josef Peters would try his hardest to get by Theo Helfrich. However, Helfrich could not be removed. Therefore, Peters would finish the race 6th. While this was not his best finish, it was still better than the result he had experienced at the Eifelrennen, the first round of the West German Championship.
After the conclusion of the Halle-Saale-Schleiferennen there was a large break between the third and fourth rounds of the East German Championship. The second round of the West German Championship wouldn't be held until the very early part of August. This left Peters with almost two months of time between championship races. Unfortunately, there were practically no major races to fill the time. Therefore, Peters would have to wait until August before entering his next major grand prix.
Peters' next major grand prix would come at the site of his only retirement on the season. At the end of May, Peters' Eifelrennen had come to an early end. While he had been able to score some very good results in East German Championship races, he hadn't managed to finish one of the West German Championship races. However, there had only been one round of the championship. The second round provided an opportunity for Peters to get his championship effort going. The second round also provided an additional opportunity for Peters and all of the generally isolated German racers. The second round of the West German Championship was also the sixth round of the World Championship. The World Championship had come to the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. And finally, German racers would be able to actually be a part of it.
While isolated, most, if not all, of the German racers were full aware of what they were getting into. They would be coming to the Nurburgring in the midst of a title fight. Alberto Ascari was virtually one win away from the World Drivers' Championship. Rudolf Fischer was amongst the top five in the championship standings, and had won the Eifelrennen back in late May, but even he was in no way in the same league as Ascari and practice would prove this. While the gap between the German racers and Fischer's performance had been telling, the difference between the German racers and Ascari would be alarmingly striking.
There had been few considered Ringmeisters but Ascari's performance, just in practice, would have certainly qualified him for the honorary title as well. The best times Stirling Moss and Rudolf Fischer had been able to turn during practice for the Eifelrennen had been in the very low eleven minute range. Then, in the race, Fischer would turn in a fastest lap time of ten minutes and fifty-one seconds. The gap between Fischer's best time and that of Moss during practice would be significant, but compared to Ascari's best time in a couple of months, it would be nothing.
Ascari would seen right at home on the twisty, undulating circuit and would end up turning in a fastest lap time of ten minutes and four seconds. This was almost a full minute faster than even Fischer's best time during the Eifelrennen. It would also serve as the best indication as to the difference between the newest technology in grand prix racing and what the underprivileged German racers had at the time.
Despite taking place on German soil, the entire front row would, again, lack a German. Giuseppe Farina, the 1950 World Champion, would lap the circuit within three seconds of Ascari, and therefore, would be fast enough to start the race from 2nd place on the grid. The remaining two spots on the front row would be occupied by Frenchmen from Equipe Gordini. Maurice Trintignant would be fifteen seconds off the pace, and yet, would start 3rd. Robert Manzon would be twenty-one seconds slower and would start in the final position on the front row.
In the case of the German racers in the field, the highest placed starter would be Paul Pietsch. The season before, he had been hired by Alfa Romeo to drive one of their 159s. In 1952, Pietsch would enter his own Veritas Meteor and would only manage a lap time of ten minutes and fifty-six seconds. Yet, despite being fifty-two seconds slower, Pietsch would still manage to start the race from the second row in the 7th place position.
The majority of the German racers, including Peters had lap times in qualifying that were at least a minute slower if not more. In Peters' case, his time would only be good enough to enable him to start the race from the sixth row, 20th overall. Peters, however, was one of the lucky ones. There would be a couple of drivers that would make the trip to try and make it into a World Championship race and would fail to do so.
While Peters was one of the fortunate ones to actually make it into the race, he would be one of a number of unfortunate drivers that would see their race come to an end before having completed even a single lap.
The green flag waved. The race had begun. Ascari made a quick get away and had the lead before the first turn. As the circuit turned out of the stadium section and headed off into the heart of the 'Green Hell', Ascari had the lead and was beginning to pull away.
While Ascari was beginning to stretch out an advantage at the front of the field, the tail end of the field was also being left behind due to failures. Gino Bianco wouldn't make much than a couple of miles before his race would come to an end. But the troubles weren't resigned to the tail end of the field. In fact, the second retiree would be Maurice Trintignant the 3rd place starter. He would misjudge one of the corners and would crash out of the race.
If the 3rd place starter wasn't immune from the attrition then even the natives could expect trouble. Peters would unfortunate find out he was next to go. About the time Felice Bonetto was receiving help from the crowd to get going after his spin right in front of Hans Klenk, a move which would cause him to be disqualified, Peters' RS would suffer a failure and would lead him to retire from the race without having completed a single lap. He had actually gone longer the last time he had been to the circuit. Here he was looking and hoping for a better result and it would actually be worse. At least Peters was able to take some encouragement from the fact he had earlier managed to finish 5th in the Grand Prix of Nurburgring sportscar race.
The race would come to a very early conclusion for eight of the thirty starters. But unlike the Eifelrennen, there were a number of foreigners included amongst those out of the race. None of this bothered Ascari, who was beginning to run all by himself out front of the rest of the field. His drawing away was aided by the battle that ensued between Farina and Piero Taruffi for 2nd place.
The German Grand Prix would be a real test for everyone. For one thing, the race took place on the demanding and dangerous Nurburgring. In addition, the race lasted for 18 laps of the 14 mile circuit. This was more than twice the distance of the Eifelrennen ran at the end of May. These facts would put the German drivers in a place of having to make some very serious decisions. After only one German finished the Eifelrennen, the tactics would need to change. And the change would be obvious for the more than a quarter of a million spectators at the race.
Many of the German drivers raced with a survival-mode approach. Their pace was slightly slower in order to preserve their cars. This meant all of the German drivers would have plenty of opportunities to see and wave to Ascari as he would flash by them. For Ascari just continued to increase his pace as the race wore on.
By the 10th lap of the race, there were only twelve cars still remaining in the race. Even most of the major competitors were out of the race. However, there were still two very important players following behind Ascari. Both Farina and Taruffi had shots, albeit long ones, at the World Championship title. Ascari had barely lost the World Championship the season before. He wasn't about to lose it again. Therefore, with 8 laps remaining in the race, Ascari would try once more to reduce the field and the chances of any one snatching the victory away from himself. He would set what would be the fastest lap of the race on the 10th lap. His time would be within a second of his pole time and would only be ten seconds slower than the fastest lap time set by Juan Manuel Fangio in a Formula One car the season before. Though he would not go faster than he had on lap 10, Ascari would continue to press the issue hoping to wear down his competition.
What his pace would end up wearing down would be his own car. And with only a couple of laps to go, all was not well with Ascari's Ferrari 500. His car had paid the price for the pace Ascari had asked of it. Now it was poised on the verge of failing altogether. At that point in the race it would actually be Ascari's pace that would actually provide him with another option. His pace had been such that he had a large advantage over Farina in 2nd place. This meant there may have actually been enough of a gap to come in, have the car checked and repaired and get back out on the circuit in time to salvage a good result, perhaps even a victory.
Continuing on ran the risk of failure. Therefore, Ascari's hand was rather forced. He would stop with just one lap remaining. This would be where his large lead would come in handy. Second after second ticked by. Farina grew closer and closer. While Ascari's car sat idle in the pits with mechanics swarming all over it, Farina would come by and take the lead.
Only one lap, or a little more than ten minutes, separated Farina from his first victory of the season. This was just what his championship aspirations needed. He just needed to be careful not to make a mistake himself. Ascari had proven that pace wasn't merely as important as being sure-footed and making no mistakes. Therefore, Farina would keep up his pace, but would make sure at every turn that he positioned the car where it needed to be. Farina's smooth driving style surely aided in his sure-footedness.
Farina figured as long as he made no mistakes over the final 170 corners and 14 miles that the victory would be his. But what he didn't necessarily take into account was the sheer pace of the red Ferrari 500 fast approaching from behind. Caught totally unaware, Farina was unable to step up his pace as Ascari would reemerge in the race and fill his mirrors. Caught off guard as he was, Farina would be easy prey for Ascari who would pass and carry on as if there had been no problem at all. Farina's championship hopes had just set sail into the distance with Ascari. As a result, he would focus on not making any mistakes and finishing the race solidly in 2nd place.
Ascari had driven a truly remarkable race. He had driven the 18 laps in a little more than three hours, six minutes and thirteen seconds. He would cross the finish line and would enjoy a fourteen second margin over his Ferrari teammate Farina. A little less than seven minutes would pass before Rudolf Fischer, the winner of the Eifelrennen, would cross the finish line in 3rd.
Ascari's performance was so thoroughly dominating that his advantage over the first German finisher would best be measured in minutes than in seconds. Fritz Riess would have the honor of the being the highest placed German at the end. He would finish the race in 7th place down two laps. Those two laps translated into what amounted to about twenty-five minutes of distance behind Ascari at the finish.
Of course, Peters would have liked to only be twenty-five minutes behind Ascari than having departed from the race before completing even a single lap. What's more, Peters would have liked to at least finish one of the first two rounds of the West German Championship. As it were, Peters would have to rely upon the final two rounds of the championship to make up his losses. Peters needed something to rebuild his confidence. Where better to go than back to East Germany.
Josef would put in an entry for the 1st Strassen-rennen Leipzig, which took place on the 17th of August. However, he would only appear to take part in the sportscar race held on the same day. In the case of grand prix racing, Peters would choose, instead, to remain focused on West Germany and the West German Championship, and therefore, would take part in a race two weeks after the race in Leipzig.
The third round of the West German Championship was set to take place on the 31st of August. The site was the ultra-fast and dangerous Grenzlandring. Considered the 'Avus of the West', Grenzlandring boasted of average speeds greater than 120 mph. This made the circuit one of the fastest circuits in the world. More was known about the Grenzlandring as a result of its reputation as an ultra-high speed circuit than that of its original purpose as a public road.
Built in the days just prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Grenzlandring would continue to go through construction throughout the early stages of the war despite a general lack of knowledge as to the reason for it. Obviously, the route was built for military purposes, but specifics are hazy. What's more, this Grenzlandring serves as something of an outer-belt to three small villages. The largest of these villages, Wegberg boasted of little more than a few thousand people, and yet, it had constructed around it a concrete outer-ring road. Whatever its original purpose, the egg-shaped oval circuit would end up making one of the fastest circuits in the world.
Almost an entire lap is spent with the foot flat to the floor around Grenzlandring. After the long start/finish straight the circuit proceeds through the Beeck Kurve. This is the slowest corner on the whole of the circuit and would cause drivers to have to get out of the throttle in order to negotiate it quickly and carefully. After Beeck Kurve is the long blast down the Rheydter-Gerade. Flat, this circuit enabled cars to reach their maximum speeds just before heading into the incredibly fast and long Roermonder Kurve. This wide radius curve enticed drivers to take the corner as fast as human and mechanically possible. At such speeds even the 5.58 circuit seemed to go by in just one big blur. Tunnel-vision, caused by the number of trees lining certain portions of the circuit, only further added to the optical illusions around the track.
Many rounds of the East German Championship would attract West Germans. But, whereas the East German Championship rounds attracted West German racers, West German Championship races would attract 'foreign' entries. And, despite not being known any where near as good as the Nurburgring, the Grenzlandring would still attract a good number of entries from outside of Germany. The high speed nature of the circuit would be its greatest lure.
The 5th DMV Grenzlandringrennen would see a number of foreign entries. Among them would be a couple of British, Italian and French drivers. But the field would even include one driver from the United States. Yet, despite the international presence in the field, none would be faster than Toni Ulmen.
In a classic case of the rules permitting German racers to get away with certain things given what was available at the time, Ulmen would bring his RS to the race, but would feature a closed hood over his driving position. This kind of streamlining was allowed at the time and perhaps allowed Ulmen to be fastest in practice. Kurt Adolff would end up starting the race 2nd. Peters would start the race from further behind the first couple of rows of the grid.
Ever since its first race in the late 1940s, the Grenzlandring had drawn crowds estimated to be well over a quarter of a million. This would be an incredible sight given the fact the small towns of Wegberg, Beeck and Dorp would be totally isolated during the event. Unfortunately, the large crowd would come into play during what would be the last Grenzlandringrennen.
Ulmen would lead the race right from the start. Eric Brandon and Theo Helfrich would end up being one of the first out of the race as the high speed circuit would already exact too much of a toll on their cars.
Hans Klenk, who had started from the second row, would get by Adolff and would begin to hotly pursue Ulmen. Peters and Fritz Riess would end up locked in a battle right from the start. Just as things were heating up at the front of the field, more competitors would fall by the wayside behind them. Just about every lap would see at least one more competitor drop out of the race. But Ulmen just kept going.
Ulmen was intent on securing his position at the top of the West German Championship standings. He would help his cause when he would turn what would end up being the fastest lap of the race. His time around the 5.58 mile circuit would be two minutes and thirty-one seconds. This meant he had an average speed over the course of the lap greater than 132 mph.
The incredible speeds were taking their toll on the competitors. Amazingly, Peters continued to run strong and continued to hold off Riess. Others were not as fortunate. As the laps really began to wind down, there were only about half a dozen cars still remaining in the race. Sadly, the most tragic retirement was yet to come.
Just a few laps remaining in the race, Helmut Niedermayr was powering his way down the Rheydter-Gerade straight pushing the top speed of his Veritas Meteor. He would go into the Roermonder Kurve still at high speed feathering the throttle around the long left hand curve. Just past the train bridge, Niedermayr would lose control of his Meteor and would crash at a high rate of speed into a crowd of spectators. He would end up injuring over thirty. Most tragically, his car would end up killing fourteen. Five of them would be killed instantly. Overwhelmed by the event that had happened, a great cloud of despair could be seen in Niedermayr's eyes as he would walk away from the wreck almost without a scratch. The effects of the crash would eventually lead to Helmut to walk away from racing.
Amidst the heartache and despair from Niedermayr's crash, there was still a race to finish. Toni Ulmen would use his superior pace to take the victory. He would end up winning the race by eighteen seconds over Hans Klenk. The closest battle among the five remaining cars was between Peters and Riess. The two had never been more than just a couple of seconds apart throughout the entire 12 laps of the race. Going into the final lap of the race, Peters had managed to pull out a slight edge over Riess, but all it would take would be one little slip from Peters and 3rd place would be Riess'. Powering past the scene of Niedermayr's accident, Peters continued to hold onto his slight advantage. After two abysmal failures in West German Championship races, Peters would finally finish a race. He would put down the power coming out of the Roermonder Kurve and would cross the line two seconds in front of Riess in 3rd position.
Ulmen's victory shored-up his hold on the lead in the standings. While Peters had hoped to be further ahead in points than what he was, he had finally managed to get on the board with his 3rd place result. He had three points and one race remaining in the championship. If he could pull out a great result at Avus, 3rd place in the championship would likely be his.
But before the fourth, and final, round of the West German Championship, there was the fourth, and final, round of the East German Championship with which Peters would contend. Had he been able to score points in the East German Championship, Peters would have been in a good position for a high result in the standings. Instead, the only hope Peters had at the final round would be the honor of a good result and more prize money.
The Sachsenring, situated in Hohenstein-Ernstahl near Chemnitz, East Germany was the site of the final round of the East German Championship. The race consisted of 12 laps of the 5.41 mile circuit and took place the same day of the final round of the World Championship.
In many ways the Sachsenring could be considered the Nurburgring of East Germany, just in miniature form. The start/finish line was positioned just to the west of Hohenstein-Ernstahl. Upon leaving the start/finish line the circuit began a relatively steep climb all through the esses that led into the small town. After turning sharply left, the circuit continued its ascent along the long straight that flashed by Lutherhohe. After a sudden dip through the MTS Kurve, the circuit quickly climbs and breaks left. This left-hander was a blind and fast corner where mistakes were easy to make. After another full-throttle straight, the circuit comes to the tight Jugend Kurve hairpin. From this point on the circuit disappeared into the woodlands and featured a number of fast sweeping curves along the downhill run back to the start/finish straight. In all, the circuit rose and fell almost 500 feet over the course of a lap and consisted of flowing and tricky corners where the slightest mistake could turn bad very quickly. Fun for the drivers and the spectators, the undulating circuit made for a fast, fun and challenging circuit. It also made for some spectacular viewing opportunities.
Coming into the race, the championship had been all but sewn up. Paul Greifzu's death at Dessau opened the door for a number of other talented East German racers. But none would take advantage of the opportunity like Edgar Barth. With the exception of the first round of the championship in which Greifzu had won, Barth had been unbeaten in races that counted toward the championship. In fact, he had seemed as dominant as Greifzu had been. Therefore, the championship title belonged to Barth. The only matter really left up in the air was the rest of the standings. Neither of the other East German racers really distinguished themselves. Each would score good results, but 2nd place and so on was still very much up in the air. This would be reminiscent of the German Grand Prix for Peters. He would come to a race amidst a championship battle in which he was not part and would have to try and focus on just driving his race.
The starting field would include a number of West Germans once again. However, the field would be reduced even before the start of the race. During practice, Toni Ulmen would suffer an incredible accident in his Veritas. The car would be almost completely destroyed. This took Ulmen out of the race even before he had even qualified for it.
The last time Peters found himself embroiled in a championship that had absolutely nothing to do with him was the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring back in early August. It wouldn't end up mattering all that much because Peters would end up retiring from the race before having completed even a single lap. Well, on the 7th of September, Peters once again found himself in a race that had championship consequences, but had absolutely nothing to do with him. Just as the event was similar to the German Grand Prix, so too would be the result.
The race would get underway with Barth leading almost from the very first turn of the wheel. As with the race in Halle-Saale, Barth would be chased by Willi Heeks. Ernst Klodwig, with his rear-engine Eigenbau would run near the top five and would soon move up.
One of East Germany's favorite drivers, Rudolf Krause, had been experiencing an absolutely terrible year, except at non-championship races. The trend would continue as he would retire from the race after having only completed 2 laps.
Just a couple of laps later, and perhaps about the same time as he retirement from the German Grand Prix, Peters would run into trouble and would retire from the race. Amazingly, the Sachsenring race would transpire almost exactly as what the German Grand Prix had. The race was of little consequence to Peters except for prize money. Another championship was on the line. And, he would retire very early on. What was strange, or out of the norm, was the fact the retirement had happened at an East German race. Earlier in the season, the East German races were the savior of Peters' psyche.
Only a couple of laps were remaining in the race. The championship had come to be decided by this point in time. Barth firmly had hold of the championship, and would emphatically make that point as he would turn what would be the fastest lap of the race. Ernst Klodwig was the only other East German still running in the race and was running in the 3rd place position overall. Therefore, he looked set to take 2nd place in the standings.
Sure enough, Barth would take the victory. Willi Heeks, as he had at Halle-Saale, would trail Barth to the line. He would end up ten seconds behind at the finish. Finishing some time after Heeks would be Klodwig in 3rd. This meant Barth would end up champion with 21 points. Klodwig would end up 2nd with 10 and Jurgen Perduss would finish 3rd with 7.
One more championship had been decided and Peters had played little to no part in either of them. However, he would have a big part to play in his next, and final, major race of the season.
Only one round remained in the West German Championship. It was perhaps one of the most important races of the West German Championship precisely because it was also very important to the East German racers and officials. The race was the 8th Internationales Avusrennen. It was an important race precisely because it took place within sight of the East German portion of Berlin.
Two strong political and philosophical points were divided by an imaginary line. Both were able to see the other. For each side's leadership, gaining the upper hand in any possible arena was of utmost importance. Paul Greifzu had become larger than life in East Germany precisely because he had managed to take the win at Avus the season before. What would be most surprising coming into the 1952 running of the Avusrennen would be the fact that only two East Germans would be entered in the race. The presence of others, like Barth, perhaps had been scared off by the presence of faster international talent for it would become very apparent there was very little hope for any native talent.
One of the biggest threats to come to the big race was the victor of one of the other big races in the West German Championship. Rudolf Fischer was back with his all-conquering Ferrari 500 chassis. Had Fischer been allowed to score points in the races he would have been coming to Avus to secure his championship title. As it were, he would end up acting as a championship decider. In Josef Peters' case, the Avusrennen was his final opportunity. He had a shot at 2nd or 3rd in standings. He would need a lot to go right for him, but nonetheless, he had the opportunity. The only question that remained was whether he would be able to take advantage of the opportunity or not?
A victory for Fischer seemed anything but a foregone conclusion thanks to Paul Pietsch. Paul had had a streamlined car specially-built for the Avus circuit. And early on in practice, the car was capable of matching the pace of the Swiss driver. Of course the advantage was totally in Pietsch's favor having a streamlined car.
The design of the Avus circuit, which stretched all the way back into the mid 1920s and early 1930s, appeared more akin to drag racing than to grand prix. Consisting mostly of autobahn running between Charlottenburg and Nikolassee, the circuit was virtually nothing but two long straights with turns at either end to serve as turnaround points to head the other direction. Originally, the long straights were even longer. The first edition of the circuit measured some 12 miles in length, and therefore, had two straights almost 6 miles each.
Known for its speed, Avus would get even faster, and incredibly more dangerous, with the addition of steeply banked corners at each end. The circuit would be reduced in length. The southern banked tear-drop corner would be abandoned. Eventually, the circuit would be reduced in length again. In 1952, the southern corner consisted of a tight hairpin turn and 5.13 miles of circuit. Although the circuit had been shortened, the circuit, with its dangerous 'Wall of Death' (the nickname for the steeply banked Nordkurve), would still retain high average speeds.
Paul Pietsch was well aware of the reputation of the Nordkurve and its 'Wall of Death'. Unfortunately for him, he would come to experience the reputation first hand, and thus, would bring to an end his challenge of Fischer.
Going through the Nordkurve at high speed was always something of a hair-raising experience. The steeply banked corner enticed faster speeds, but it didn't come without risks. The entire corner was paved with bricks, which made it incredibly bumpy and unsettling. Pietsch would hit one of these bumps and would lose control of his car. Thankfully for him he would head toward the infield portion of the curve instead of out toward the outside. The corner had earned the name the 'Wall of Death' precisely because of the very real danger of flying off the top of the corner as there was no retaining wall. Instead, Pietsch would slide down into the infield. He would hit a ditch and would be violently thrown through the air. When the car came to rest, it was virtually destroyed. Pietsch; however, would escape with his life. And that is exactly what he would do—escape with his life. Pietsch would retire from racing after the incident.
Unfortunately, Pietsch's disaster meant Fischer would be virtually untouchable in the race unless he had a mechanical problem. Of course, Peters was only concerned about Fischer from the standpoint that he had the potential of prohibiting a greater result in the championship for himself.
Things looked ominous for Peters after the German Sportscar Championship race. Peters had entered the race but would end up retiring from the race. Not only would this prove to be ominous. It would also prove prophetic.
The race would get underway with Fischer in the lead and quickly pulling away. Fritz Riess and Hans Klenk would become embroiled in a battle in the 2nd place position. Peters needed to be amongst the two mixing it up as well. Peters; however, would end up longing just for the opportunity to make it through the race. The race was 25 laps. In Peters' case, just part of the very first lap would prove too much. He would retire from the race. With his retirement, Peters' hopes for a 2nd or 3rd place in the championship standings also pulled up lame.
Peters would have almost the whole race left to watch from the sidelines. What he and the rest of the immense crowd would witness was an absolute exhibition put on Fischer in his Ferrari 500. In no time at all, he had a sizeable lead over Klenk and Riess, who continued to duke it out amongst themselves for 2nd place in the race and in the championship standings. Fischer would further pull away from the rest of the field when he would turn the fastest lap of the race. His time around the 5.13 mile circuit would be two minutes and thirty-six seconds.
So thoroughly dominant was Fischer that he would end up lapping a good majority of the field before the race was even two-thirds through. Before it would be over, Fischer would even lap Riess and Klenk. The only hope of victory anyone had was if Fischer ran into some kind of mechanical failure.
It was not to be. Fischer would come around the 'Wall of Death' for the last time and would cross the line in one hour, six minutes and forty-three seconds. Over the course of the 25 laps, Fischer had managed to maintain an average speed in excess of 115 mph.
While 1st place never seemed to be in doubt, 2nd place in the race was far from decided. Ever since the drop of the green flag, Riess and Klenk had battled tooth and nail. At hardly any time during the race were the two separated by any more than a couple of car lengths. But a lot was on the line. Second place in the race wasn't just on the line. If Riess could cross the line ahead of Klenk he would secure 2nd place in the championship. However, if Klenk could beat Riess, then the two would share 2nd place.
During the closing stages of the race, Klenk held a very slight margin over Riess. Heading into the Nordkurve, Klenk continued to run ahead of Riess. But Riess was right on the back of Klenk. Coming off the turn, Riess would try and slingshot by, but Klenk had done a good job through the corner and only had to hold on for the very short run to the finish line. Klenk would manage to beat Riess by only seven-tenths of a second but that would be enough for a share of 2nd place in the championship. It would also cement Peters' position in a tie for 4th place with Helmut Niedermayr and Willi Heeks. Interestingly, Heeks, like Peters, had managed better results in East German races than those that were part of the West German Championship.
The 1952 season would be a disappointing year for Peters. Despite his talent, he could not perform better in the races that counted toward the West German Championship. At three out of the four races he would suffer retirements. At the second round, which was also the sixth round of the World Championship, Peters would fail to even complete a lap. These results were not indicative of the true talent in which Peters had.
Despite his obvious talent, Peters would slip away from major racing in 1953. His advance had come to an end. He had taken part in his token World Championship race and was one of the stronger West German racers. But he had reached his end. He would only take part in a couple of races before disappearing from the scene altogether. He would retire from racing and would dwell in his native Dusseldorf until his passing in 2001.