TeamsWolfgang Seidel: 1953 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Wolfgang Seidel would first make his racing debut in sports cars during the early 1950s. Born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1926, Seidel was only 19 years of age at the end of the Second World War. Six years later, Seidel would take part in his first sports car race at the Norisring with a Veritas RS. The same Veritas RS would also help Seidel make another debut a couple of years later.
Like most every other German racer, Seidel was prohibited from racing outside of Germany for two reasons. The first of these reasons would be the travel restrictions placed on Germans as a result of the end of the war. The second reason was economical. German racers simply couldn't afford to take part in too many races outside their own border. This would even prevent the nation's own racers from taking part in the World Championship when it came to be part of the series in 1951. However, all of that would change in 1952 and 1953.
The costs were sky-rocketing in Formula One, even after just two years of existence. These spiraling costs would also cause a number of competitors to abandon the series. This was not a good situation and changes needed to be made. This introduced Formula 2 regulations for the 1952 and 1953 seasons as a stop-gap measure.
While seen as nothing more than a stop-gap measure by the series governing-body, the decision to use Formula 2 regulations would actually be a lifeline to a whole slew of German racers that couldn't afford to take part in World Championship grand prix racing otherwise. One of those that would benefit would be Seidel.
Once driving in sports cars, Seidel's talent would become very evident. In his first sports car race he would start 7th and would finish 3rd. Then, at the Nurburgring one year later, he would finish 2nd to Toni Ulmen. In two other sports car races in which Seidel competed in 1952 he would go on to finish 4th and 3rd. This offered the young German the confidence he would need to take part in his first Formula 2 grand prix races the following year.
Armed with his BMW-powered six-cylinder Veritas RS, Seidel would set off at the end of May for the Nurburgring. He was on his way to the Nurburgring to take part in the ADAC Eifelrennen on the 31st of May.
The Nurburgring, particularly its 14 mile long Nordschleife, had a very notorious reputation and very few actually liked the circuit. The vast majority hated the circuit nestled in the Eifel mountains. Considering he was born in Dusseldorf, just an hour and a half to the north, and, as a result of his 2nd place result in the sports car Grand Prix of the Nurburgring the season before, it seemed the Nurburgring perfectly suited Seidel.
One local legend about Nurburg is that it was once a Roman fort. While there is little evidence to suggest this, the Burg Nurburg, or 'Nurburg Castle' would certainly come to be surrounded by one hellish wall of twisting, winding circuit that would earn the nickname the 'Green Hell'.
Although the Eifelrennen would take place the same day as the Grand Prix de l'Albigeois the field would still be full of talented foreign entries. The previous year, Rudolf Fischer had brought his Ferrari 500 to the race. He would not only take the pole, he would go on to win the race as well. One year later, Fischer would be back but managing his Ecurie Espadon racing team. While Fischer wouldn't be driving his Ferrari 500 would still be in the field. Driven by Kurt Adolff, the Ferrari would power its way to the pole. Adolff would be joined on the front row by the Belgian Paul Frere in 2nd place, Hans Klenk in 3rd and the Briton Stirling Moss in 4th with his Cooper-Alta Special. Seidel would join a number of Veritas RSs occupying the tail-end of the starting grid.
The 7 lap race would be greeted by gray, rainy weather. The wet circuit would certainly pose a great challenge to all of the competitors. Already a demanding and dangerous circuit in the dry, in the wet, the circuit became an even more dangerous animal. The wet conditions would end up throwing what was certain right out the window.
The script would be thrown out the window right at the start of the race. Emmanuel de Graffenried would make an incredible start from the third row of the grid and would hold onto the lead before even a mile of the first lap had been completed. The once dominant Ferrari 500 of Ecurie Espadon was forced to hold on for dear life behind the Swiss Baron.
A number of other competitors would have trouble holding on for just a single lap. Hans Herrmann and the veteran Paul Pietsch would be out of the race before completing a single lap of the race. They would be joined on the first lap by three more, including Hans Stuck and Lance Macklin with ignition problems.
On the other-hand, Seidel was having a good first lap. Despite the conditions, he moved forward and was showing good patience. His patience would be rewarded with the first lap retirements. Nonetheless, Seidel was also showing good pace and was threatening many others that were obviously struggling with the conditions.
Baron de Graffenried continued to show the way at the front of the field. Adolff was holding on for dear life behind him and was actually coming under fire from Paul Frere. Although a writer and gentleman racer, Paul Frere was certainly accustomed to such conditions driving so many years at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. This experience would end up getting the better of Adolff and would take the fight to de Graffenried.
Adolff wasn't done slipping backward. In spite of driving the defending champion car, there was very little Adolff could do in such conditions. It was obvious he wasn't very comfortable in the conditions and couldn't adapt to get the car to perform for him. As a result, Paul Frere would get by. But he would be followed by Peter Collins in his HWM-Alta.
While Adolff was slipping backward, Seidel was showing great poise and wisdom despite his young age and continued to move forward. Using the conditions to his advantage, he would manage to keep Fred Wacker and Prince Bira behind him. And had he started a little better he may have even challenged Stirling Moss before the race was over.
In spite of de Graffenried's great start and control of the field early on, the race was far from over coming down to the last couple of corners of the last lap. Frere was all over him and was pushing hard to cause de Graffenried to make a mistake in order to let Frere to get by.
The pressure from Frere had been strong throughout but after de Graffenried turned the fastest lap of the race it was obvious he still had the pace with his Maserati to handle the HWM-Alta of Frere. Coming to the line, de Graffenried would go on to take the victory. He would enjoy a lead of nearly two seconds over Frere at the finish. Peter Collins would end up another fifteen seconds behind in 3rd place.
Seidel had been impressive every time he took part in a race on the Nurburgring, the 1953 Eifelrennen would be no different. Seidel would drive beyond his years and would finish in 8th place a little more than six minutes behind de Graffenried.
While driving the Veritas RS he was used to driving in sports car races, it was still an impressive result for the young German in his first grand prix race. Seidel had outperformed many older, more-experienced racers. This would be a great experience for the young man as he prepared to take part in his first World Championship race later on in the season.
Seidel's racing calendar in 1953 would be rather light. It was expensive to go racing, especially for privateer entries. Therefore, Seidel had to be rather picky as to the races he was going to participate.
Seidel's next race would come more than a month after the Eifelrennen. On the 12th of July, he would be busy preparing his Veritas RS for the 9th Internationales Avusrennen, a 25 lap race of the historic 5.14 mile Avus circuit in the western part of Berlin.
The original 12 mile long Avus circuit actually opened before Seidel would be born. In the year of his birth, the circuit would host the first German Grand Prix. In 1953, Seidel would make his way to Avus to take part in the Avusrennen. The race would take place on a revised Avus circuit. The original layout hosted its last race in 1937. The following year, the German driving ace Bernd Rosemeyer would be killed at the circuit attempting a speed record. This shocking loss would close the circuit down.
Over the next few years, Avus would change more as a public highway between Charlottenburg and Nikolassee than it would as a motor racing venue. The circuit would sit idle pretty much all throughout the Second World War.
After the war, motor racing became a popular sport once again. To make the track safer it would be virtually cut in half. Its length would be reduced to just over 5 miles and the banked southern curve would be abandoned in favor of a tight hairpin turn. Although the southern end, with its banked curve wouldn't be used any longer it would still have the feared 'Wall of Death' at the north end. Virtually the same as the old southern curve, the Nordkurve boasted of a steeply-banked, brick paved curve. Speeds through this curve were incredibly high, and with the bumpy brick paving, it was incredibly dangerous.
As with the Eifelrennen, the field for the Avusrennen would include a number of foreign entries with faster cars. Not only was Kurt Adolff back with Ecurie Espadon's Ferrari 500, but also, Jacques Swaters was present with his team's Ferrari 500 as well. In addition, a couple of Cooper-Bristols, a Connaught and a Maserati A6GCM would also make up the starting field.
In practice for the 25 lap race, the foreign presence would come to dominate the front row of the grid. Swaters would take the pole for the race. He would be joined on the front row by all foreign entries. Alan Brown would start 2nd in a Cooper-Bristol while Rodney Nuckey would start in 3rd. While a number of German competitors showed some good speed there was really very little that could be done to overcome the might of foreign marks. Therefore, Seidel, like other German racers, would start further down in the order.
While the layout and design of the Avus circuit was incredibly simple and straight-forward, there was nothing straight-forward about racing on the circuit. Seemingly nothing more than two long straights with a tear-drop banked turn at the north end and a tight hairpin turn at the south, there were so many ways things could go wrong at the circuit. The Nordkurve was incredibly dangerous, the high-speed sections and even the hairpin turn would put incredible strain on a car throughout. While seemingly simple, to be fast required being on the edge at all times and many racers would find out just how dangerous the 'edge' really was at Avus.
The 1953 Avusrennen would be a perfect example. Twenty-six cars would take the start of the race. Problems would start right at the very beginning of the race. One of the pre-race favorites, Kurt Adolff, had been struggling slightly during practice, and in the race, it would all come apart. After just one lap, Adolff would lose control of his Ferrari and would crash out of the race. Alan Brown would also crash out after just five laps. A number of other entries would be out of the race due to accidents or mechanical failures. The East German favorite, Edgar Barth would drop out with clutch failure. A number of others would also suffer mechanical ailments that would drop them out. In total, there would only be nine cars still running at the end of the 25 lap race.
Swaters had started the race from the pole and would lead the field right from the very start. Alan Brown was right there, as was Hans Klenk who had made a great start in his Veritas Meteor. Seidel had made a decent start to the race and was settling in in the midst of the pack.
Swaters continued to run consistently fast laps and was using the consistency to pull away from the rest of the field. This escape would be made easier when Brown would suffer his accident and would retire from the race. Unfortunately for Seidel, the entire race would escape him as he would also retire from the race. This would be a rare retirement for the young driver. Most unfortunate was the fact it was less than a month away from the German Grand Prix.
Theo Helfrich was putting together some impressive lap times in his pursuit of Hans Klenk in 2nd place. Klenk, by the later-half of the race, was not in contention with Swaters, but was becoming a target for Helfrich would manage to set the fastest lap time of two minutes and thirty-one seconds.
For all of the foreign dominance of the field in practice, there would only be four foreign entries still running at the end of the race; four out of nine. Of course the most important position was being controlled by a foreign entry.
Swater never once really came under pressure during the race. The superior performance of the Ferrari practically carried Swaters along. All that he needed to do was be careful not to make a mistake. This he would not do and he would go on to cruise to victory. He would cross the line with well more than a minute advantage over Klenk in 2nd place. Klenk would end up holding off the challenge mounted by Helfrich. When it was all said and done; despite Helfrich's pace, Klenk would still cross the line in 2nd place, and with nearly fifteen seconds in hand.
The retirement was most unfortunate for Seidel. Had Avus gone well he would have really had confidence going into his first World Championship race. As it was, he needed to head home, work on the car to repair it and make sure that it was ready for its next race. The one blessing Seidel seemed to have in his favor would be that he was heading back to the Nurburgring. For most drivers, heading to the Nurburgring was like being cursed, but it actually seemed to be a place suited to Seidel.
In between the Avusrennen and the German Grand Prix, Seidel would take part in the 24 hours of Spa. He would show his prowess once again as he would overcome the long, arduous event to finish 17th overall. This was a great confidence-builder heading into another arduous test.
Seidel wouldn't just take part in his first-ever World Championship on the 2nd of August. In fact, he would be a busy man as he would drive in the Rheinland Nurburgring race on behalf of Karl-Gunther Bechem. His good fortune at the Nurburgring kept rolling as he would take 6th place in an AFM 50 Sport, a car he wasn't familiar with.
While Seidel had experienced some great success, even at the Nurburgring, he was about to take part in perhaps one of the most difficult tests of his career. He had faced some of the best in endurance races he contested, but now he was going to face some truly elite drivers and in their element.
Coming into what was the 16th German Grand Prix, and the third time as part of the World Championship, nobody was bigger than Alberto Ascari. While Giuseppe Farina was the first World Champion and Juan Manuel Fangio the second, Alberto Ascari had been absolutely dominant in 1952 and was within a race of taking the title in 1951. And as the teams unloaded and prepared for the 18 lap, 255 mile event, Ascari was on the verge on becoming the first repeat and two-time World Champion. One year ago, the best German finisher in the race would be Fritz Riess. While he would finish the race 7th he would be a little more than two laps behind Ascari. Therefore, it was very clear the German racers were battling amongst themselves and for personal pride for there was very little chance of even a points-paying position.
A points-paying position would be even more remote in 1953. Not only was Scuderia Ferrari back with four dominant cars, but also, Maserati was back with an incredibly strong car of its own. And of course, there were still other foreign factory and privateer entries that would make life extremely difficult for any German racer.
While Seidel and other German racers were clearly going to be fighting to be champion of the background, Ascari was amidst a battle for the World Championship yet again. If everything went right he would leave World Champion, just as he had the year before. With this in mind Ascari would go out in practice and would be absolutely on fire. He would go out and would set the fastest lap time in practice with a time of nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. He would be the only one to break the ten minute mark and would take the pole by about four seconds over Fangio in his Maserati. Giuseppe Farina and Mike Hawthorn would make it three Ferraris on the front row as they would start 3rd and 4th respectively.
The fastest qualifier amongst the German entries would be Hans Herrmann. His best time would be exactly a minute slower than Ascari and would cause Herrmann to start the race 14th overall and from the outside of the fourth row. Amongst all of the Germans in the field, Seidel would qualify right about in the middle of the pack. He certainly wouldn't be the fastest German in the field, but he also wouldn't be the slowest. In fact, Seidel's best time would be nearly a minute behind Herrmann's time. His eleven minute and fifty-nine second lap meant he would start from the ninth row of the grid in the 29th position. In all, thirty-four cars would start the 18 lap race.
Unlike the Eifelrennen, the weather would be sunny and dry for the German Grand Prix on the 2nd of August. As with practically every other motor racing event in Germany, an incredible crowd of spectators would line the 14 mile circuit to watch their favorite German racers and to glimpse the best grand prix drivers and cars in the world.
The spectators near the start/finish line would see Fangio get a great jump at the start and lead the field into the first turn and some time after that. However, the crowd assembled just a mile or so further down the circuit would see Ascari leading the way as his superior pace would just push him past Fangio as if he was driving a car of lower class. Very quickly, Mike Hawthorn and Giuseppe Farina would join Fangio and their pursuit of the reigning World Champion.
Not at all concerned with the pace or the race at the front of the field, Seidel could concentrate on getting into his own comfortable rhythm. He knew full well he could not keep pace with the front-runners, and unless something incredibly dramatic happened, there was no chance at a top result. This would actually be freeing to some degree as he would not be tempted by the pace at the front. Instead, he could focus on settling in and making smart choices. Seidel would do exactly that and would immediately begin to draw up the running order.
Seidel's run up the order would be helped by his apparent level of comfort at the Nurburgring, but also, by the attrition that would sweep through the field almost immediately. Two cars wouldn't even make it off the starting grid. Three more wouldn't make it much farther before they too would have to retire from the race. By the time the race had completed 10 laps, the field had been reduced from thirty-four to twenty-one, nearly half of the field.
Even Ascari wouldn't be entirely free of drama. Throughout the first half dozen laps or so, Ascari was untouchable. He was routinely putting together lap times that were enabling him to pull away from Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio. However, around eight laps into the race, and with a rather large lead already built up, he would run into trouble. The trio of Hawthorn, Farina and Fangio would all flash by a stricken Ascari as his car had lost one of its wheels. Ascari would do everything he could and would limp the car back to the pits. Making it back to the pits would save Ascari, and his car, from retiring from the race. Soon, Luigi Villoresi would pull in and would give his good friend his Ferrari for the remainder of the race. Villoresi would also rejoin the race in Ascari's repaired Ferrari.
Rejoining the race Ascari knew he really needed to do something special if he wanted to make sure the title would go to him. At the time he slowly made his way to the pits, Hawthorn was right up there at the front of the field and had actually led a few laps. Hawthorn had already won at the French Grand Prix. If he could win the German Grand Prix as well there were still enough races left for Ascari to come under challenge. Ascari knew he needed to do everything he could to prevent the title chase from going any further. Because of this, his effort in the last half of the race would become truly memorable in grand prix history
From the moment he took over Villoresi's car Ascari was on it. He would go right back to running laps similar in time to his qualifying effort. The performance was truly magnificent. Each and every lap Ascari consistently lapped near his qualifying time. And just when it seemed he had gone as fast as he could he would lower the time even more. And then, on the 12th lap of the race, he would do something truly remarkable. Driving absolutely in anger behind the wheel, Ascari would rattle off a lap time of nine minutes and fifty-six seconds! This was nearly four seconds faster than his pole-winning time. It was definitely within the realm of the old and powerful Formula One cars of just a couple of years previous.
Farina, who was leading the race at this point in time, just knew Ascari was on a charge. Deep down he could just feel him coming, but as with the previous year, there was very little he could do. Ascari was just on the absolute limit and was managing to stay there lap after lap. Farina knew he would need some help. He would get it.
Driving on the ragged edge every single lap, Ascari was asking everything possible from the Ferrari. And while the car was willing to give it to him it came with a time limit. And after 15 laps, less than three away from the finish, the time limit ran out. He had asked everything of the car and it had given everything; it just wasn't enough to make it the end. The engine in the car would expire; this left Ascari out of the race for sure.
This would provide some relief for Farina. The retirement wouldn't be all that bad for Ascari though either. Farina had already taken over the lead and had pulled away from Hawthorn. Fangio had also gotten by for 2nd place. If things ended as they were he would be World Champion.
If things ended as they were, Seidel wouldn't have the difficulty of figuring how many seconds behind he was for he would just have to figure it out in minutes. Seidel was certainly not concerned with the battle and the pace up at the front of the field. Concerned with finishing the race and having a good result amongst the other German entries in the field, Seidel was averaging lap times nearly into the thirteen minute range. It would translate into a difference of nearly three minutes between his pace and that at the front of the field.
At the front of the field, Farina was holding sway over everybody. Averaging a little more than 83 mph, he would cruise to victory by a little more than a minute over Fangio. Mike Hawthorn wasn't able to keep up with the other two and would have to settle for a 3rd place finish nearly two minutes behind Farina. As a result of the results, Ascari would also be able to celebrate as he would be the first repeat World Champion!
The pace difference had worked out in such a way that a little more than every three laps around the 14 mile circuit Seidel was seeing Ascari or Farina come by to put him a lap down. Although he was still running at the end of the race, Seidel, because of the pace difference, would end up four laps, or around forty-eight minutes, behind at the finish. Nonetheless, the young German finished his first World Championship race. Amongst the Germans still left running at the end, he would finish the race 5th.
While not the most spectacular display, Seidel once again proved equal to the challenge of the Nurburgring. He had travelled 14 laps of the 14 mile circuit. Many older, more-experienced, racers had barely completed 14 laps of the circuit throughout their entire careers. It was obvious this young man had the talent to do some great things. What was more, he was still young. Therefore, he still had many years of racing ahead of him.
While he may have still had a number of years of racing ahead of him, Seidel's grand prix season would end with the German Grand Prix. While he would still go on to take part in the Nurburgring 1000km sports car race at the end of the month and would finish that race 5th, Seidel would not take part in any other grand prix race for the rest of the season.
What's interesting is that despite the obvious talent Seidel displayed, especially around the Nurburgring, he would not take part in another World Championship race until 1958. Instead, Seidel would focus on racing sports cars, as well as, his other career as a car dealer.
The fact is, Seidel would become quite well known as a car dealer and would come to own and sell a number of exotic sports cars including a 1959 Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spyder, which he would own for a couple of years. Being from Dusseldorf, one of Germany's wealthiest cities, the same affluence and quality of life would come through Seidel's work as a dealer of fine, exotic automobiles.