Some of the most memorable moments in motor racing are those when a driver has to make due with inferior equipment, even talent, and goes on to score an incredible finish. Erwin Bauer would provide motor racing one of those truly memorable moments.
Erwin Bauer was born in Stuttgart, Germany on the 17th of July in 1912. Not much is known about the man until a few years after World War II. At the age of 40, Bauer would begin to race in the upper levels of sports cars and in grand prix.
In April of 1953, Bauer would co-drive with Hans Herrmann in a Porsche 356 Super 1500 at the Mille Miglia. He would go on to finish the race in 30th. In as difficult a race as the Mille Miglia, to finish 30th was a great result and a great start for Bauer's career.
As a German racer, 1952 and 1953 presented an interested opportunity. Ever since the start of the new World Championship, only a couple of German drivers had had the opportunity to take part in the series. Practically every single one of the larger German manufacturers, like Mercedes-Benz, were focusing on developing cars for sports car racing because it had the most direct link with regular car production. This meant the vast majority of German grand prix racing was being contested by small teams and privateers that certainly could not afford to take part in the World Championship during the reign of the Formula One cars. However, 1952 and 1953 presented a great opportunity.
The German racers weren't the only ones that really couldn't afford the costs of Formula One racing. Many manufacturers and small teams were struggling to take part in the races and the costs associated were causing a large performance gap to grow. As a result, competition was lacking. Therefore, the governing-body needed to make some changes. But it needed time. Enter Formula 2.
Formula 2 offered competitive racing and somewhat cheaper costs. This would become the interim solution. It would also be the solution that would open the door of the World Championship to a whole slew of German racers that wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to compete against such elite teams and drivers.
This opportunity would be too great to be passed up even by the now 40 year Bauer. After only competing in the Mille Miglia and some other smaller formula races, Bauer would get his hands on a Veritas RS and would head to the Nurburgring at the beginning of August.
Arriving at the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix on the 2nd of August, Bauer would find himself amidst a World Championship fight that would have very little, to absolutely nothing, to do with him. He had come to compete because the opportunity presented itself. There were others, like Alberto Ascari, that were at the race because of their search to become World Champion. In the case of Ascari, he was in search of becoming the first repeat World Champion.
Bauer had been a co-driver with Herrmann on the long, arduous and incredibly dangerous Mille Miglia. Bauer had arrived at the grand prix equivalent when he arrived to take part in the German Grand Prix. He hadn't just arrived to take part in a race. He had arrived at one of the most dangerous closed-circuits in the world to take part in an epic adventure.
The Nurburgring Nordschleife wasn't a circuit to be taken lightly. Filled with massive elevation changes, seemingly endless corners and over 14 miles of road, the circuit preyed upon the weak, uncommitted and the flippant. Each lap was a test of endurance and focus. Situated in the Eifel mountains and heavily wooded, the circuit would throw surprise after surprise at the driver and the car. Numerous blind corners and fast sweeping bends would test nerve and courage. Even the best in the world would come to hate the circuit and regard it as a 'Green Hell'.
Over the previous few seasons almost nobody had seemed as at home on the Nurburgring as Ascari and during practice for the 1953 edition of the German Grand Prix he would again seem most comfortable. Times around the circuit the previous season had been within a few second of breaking the ten minute mark. One year later, Ascari would traverse the 14.1 miles in under ten minutes. His best time would be nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. This time, which would be four second faster than Fangio's best, would be more than enough to secure the pole for Ascari once again.
Although four seconds slower, Fangio would start the 18 lap race from the 2nd place starting position on the front row. Giuseppe Farina would end up less than a half of a second slower than Fangio; and therefore, would start from 3rd on the grid, also on the front row. Mike Hawthorn would end up nearly twelve seconds slower than Ascari but would round out the front row starting the race 4th.
As with many other German racers, Erwin Bauer was to be nowhere near the pace of the first couple of rows. However, he would be towards the front of something. Bauer's best in practice would end up placing him toward the front of the back of the line. There would be thirty-four starters for the race and only Oswald Karch would start worse than Bauer. With a time more than three minutes slower than Ascari it was obvious Bauer wasn't planning on battling with Ascari. No, his battle would be against the circuit itself.
The field would roar away to start the 1953 German Grand Prix. Fangio would beat Ascari off the line and would lead through the first turn and beyond. However, neither Fangio's lead nor some of the entrants would last very long.
After just a couple of miles Ascari would make his way past Fangio into the lead of the race and would almost immediately begin to draw away. Not only would Ascari begin to leave behind some of his most fierce competitors, but he would also leave Ernst Loof and Hans Stuck totally behind as their cars would fail to complete even the first lap of the race.
Erwin would have the thrill of saying that he had at least made it through the first lap unlike Stuck and Loof, but he wouldn't be able to become too proud as his race wasn't to last much longer.
Heading around on the second lap of the race, Bauer was threatening to break inside the top thirty as he would come across Maurice Trintignant's abandoned Gordini by the side of the road. However, his race wasn't to last much longer. After completing about twenty or so miles of the scheduled 255, Bauer's car would suffer from an expired engine and would be forced out of his one and only World Championship race. He would end up having to joining the rest of the spectators to see the action as his seat right in the midst of it all had come to an end.
Bauer and the rest of the spectators would witness an Alberto Ascari absolutely flying throughout the first half dozen laps of so of the race. He had opened up a comfortable margin and had seemingly already sewn up yet another victory. However, there was still a lot of racing left and a lot of time for issues to arise. Sure enough, they would.
Right around the halfway mark of the race, Ascari's Ferrari would lose a wheel. While the loss of the wheel wouldn't knock him out of the race he would have to circulate the rest of the Nurburgring slow enough to ensure that he could make it back to the pits for repairs. This would cost a lot of time and both Hawthorn and Farina would come through and enjoy the lead of the lead of the race while Ascari waited to get back into the fray.
A lap or so later, Luigi Villoresi would come into the pits and would hand over his Ferrari to his friend. Ascari would climb into the car and would immediately set off in an effort to regain the lead he had held before the problems.
Once back on the circuit, Ascari would drive like an utter mad man. On the 12th lap of the race Ascari would turn what would be a truly staggering fastest lap. It wouldn't be a lap within a half a second of his pole-winning effort. It wouldn't even be a half of a second faster than his pole time. Actually the time would end up being an astonishing four seconds faster and would be within a half of a second of his fastest lap time in a Ferrari 375 Formula One car during the 1951 season!
Driving at a pace like what he had been, Ascari was catching up hand over fist. By this time Farina was in the lead and had Fangio following in 2nd place. Farina had gotten passed by Ascari on the last lap the year before so he knew well that if Ascari wasn't out of the race he was on his way.
Farina would be right. But he had something else working in his favor: attrition. The pace in which Ascari was lapping the circuit was truly remarkable and mesmerizing to behold, but it would be too much for his car. With just three laps remaining in the race, the engine would finally decide it had had enough and would expire after a truly courageous display of speed. Ironically, Villoresi had taken over Ascari's car and would actually go on to finish the race.
Ascari's departure from the race eased the pressure on Farina who was fully expecting to see the World Champion filling his mirrors. With the pressure off, Farina would just put his head down and would power his way the last remaining miles.
In a little more than three hours, Farina would cross the finish line to take the victory. His smooth driving style would end up earning him a margin of a little more than a minute over Juan Manuel Fangio in 2nd place. As far as Ascari was concerned, the threat to his championship ended when Farina took the victory. Had Hawthorn, who would finish the race almost two minutes down in 3rd place, finished with the victory then the battle for the championship would be well-joined. Instead, it was all over. Ascari had become the first repeat World Champion.
Another thing that was all over was Erwin Bauer's World Championship experiences. He had come, he had seen and although he certainly had not conquered, Bauer would have the pride of saying he had competed. And that would be good enough for the then 41 year old.
After his World Championship experience, Bauer would go on to race, mostly, in sports cars. He would be back at the Nurburgring at the end of the August in 1953 and would take an OSCA MT4 to an 8th place result in the Nurburgring 1000 kilometers.
One year later, Bauer would go on to earn some amount of fame for his incredible drive in an outclassed Lotus Mk 8 during the Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring. In that race against much stronger competition, Bauer would show incredible ferocity and determination and would end up with a well-earned 4th place result. This pleasant surprise would end up serving as a springboard for Lotus.
While many would absolutely hate the Nurburgring, Bauer seemed to be at home on this dangerous road course. Unfortunately for Bauer, he may have become too comfortable. During the Nurburgring 1000 kilometers sports car race, Bauer had driven a Ferrari 250 TR to a 10th place finish. The only problem was Bauer failed to realize the race was over. During what was the cool down lap, Bauer kept his head down and his foot on the gas thinking he still had another lap to go. This lapse in concentration would end up costing him his life as he would lose control and would crash the Ferrari, killing himself in the process. This certainly was not the way in which Bauer wanted to end his racing career. He would die at the age of just 45 years old.