TeamsDaimler Benz AG: 1954 Formula One Season By Jeremy McMullen
Recognizing his short-comings as a racing driver, Alfred Neubauer would invent the role of the team manager. Besides introducing such innovations as pit boards and signals to let the driver know their position in a race and the tactics associated with running a race, Neubauer was also very committed to the drilling and training of his pit crews to gain an advantage during pit stops. This, and the intense rivalry between the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, would lead to a Silver Arrows winning each edition of the European Grand Prix Championship after 1932. This incredible success would make it without question that when Mercedes-Benz made the move to come back to grand prix racing that the formidable presence of Neubauer would be right there with them.
The 1954 season offered Mercedes-Benz its opportunity. For the previous couple of seasons the World Championship had competed according to Formula 2 regulations and had been dominated by Ferrari with a growing threat from Maserati. Still, the competition was lagging behind Ferrari. But instead of building a car that would try and catch up to the strengths of the Ferrari 500 F2, Mercedes-Benz would look for that time when the new Formula One rules would come into effect and then build a car specifically for those regulations. Then, they would be at an advantage while Ferrari and others would have to make all-new cars. And 1954 would offer that opportunity.
One of the biggest changes the 1954 Formula One regulations would introduce would be the increase in engine size from 2.0-liters up to 2.5-liters. While not a huge change, many of the manufacturers would try and fit the new engine in older chassis. Mercedes-Benz's advantage would be the fact that it had time to build a chassis specifically for the new rules utilizing newer technology.
Mercedes-Benz would certainly utilize newer technology. It would utilize experience gained supplying engines to BF109 fighter planes during the Second World War and would use desmodromic valves and fuel injection as a result. But the manufacturer would also look for any advantage it could find as well. And one of those advantages actually existed within the regulations themselves. As a result, Mercedes-Benz's newest grand prix car would actually look every bit like a sports car as it would boast of a streamlined body that covered the wheels giving the car an increased high speed due to lower drag.
Still, the creation of an all-new car would not be a quick process and it wouldn't be without its teething issues. As a result, Mercedes-Benz would not make its debut at the first round of the 1954 Formula One World Championship, the Argentine Grand Prix. In fact, the team would not even be ready by the first round held on European soil, the Belgian Grand Prix.
Work had progressed well but there were still some very important issues the manufacturer was dealing with that it certainly wanted to have corrected before it made the plunge. One of its main problems, had the car been debuted any earlier, would have turned into one of the most embarrassing moments for any team. And for a German manufacturer, embarrassment was certainly not allowed.
Work had progressed far enough that the team felt it was ready to make its Formula One debut. Fittingly, as a sign of peace and of good will, the German team would choose to make the French Grand Prix its debut race as part of the Formula One World Championship. However, during simulations for the expected race distance at Reims Mercedes-Benz's new W196 had a serious problem, one that could have turned out to be very embarrassing. In simulations it was revealed the fuel burn of the 2.5-liter straight-8 engine was higher than anticipated. Given the size of the fuel tank, Uhlenhaut (the W196's designer) expected the cars to run out of fuel and come to a halt just 30 miles from the finish. With the race just days away, Uhlenhaut would head back to the factory in Stuttgart to oversee the addition of extra fuel tanks. So even while the car had been specifically designed, there were still some issues that made it a less than perfect car.
One of the other short-comings of the W196 came in the form of handling. It would be noted by the drivers that the streamlined W196 had a terrible tendency of understeer. This would make it hard to get the car turned into the apexes cleanly in order to gain the fastest time through the corners.
But the one thing Mercedes-Benz would have going for it despite the short-comings of its brand-new Silver Arrow would be in its drivers. German racer Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann would be enlisted to drive for the team. But they would be joined by a racer that was every bit as formidable as Rudolf Caracciola had been during the 1930s. After taking the wins in the Argentine Grand Prix and Belgian Grand Prix to start the 1954 season, Juan Manuel Fangio would be contracted to drive for Mercedes-Benz throughout the remainder of the rounds of the championship. This meant Mercedes-Benz had the man capable of handling the weaknesses and inadequacies of the W196 and still turning the car into a winner.
The team, with Fangio, Kling, Herrmann and Neubauer were ready. Mercedes-Benz had their car. It was time for the famed Silver Arrows to make its comeback and debut all at the same time. There really would only be one question: 'Would it be a repeat performance?'
The team would be ready in time to make its debut at the French Grand Prix. The last two years the French Grand Prix had been held before the outbreak of World War II, 1938 and 1939, the Silver Arrows cars of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union had won. Manfred von Brauchitsch won in a W154 in 1938 while Hermann Paul Muller won in an 3.0-liter Auto Union in 1939. Fittingly, Mercedes-Benz would be making its comeback to grand prix racing, and its debut to Formula One racing, at the French Grand Prix. It certainly was German invading the French countryside again, but in much more peaceful and sporting terms than the intervening years between appearances.
It was fitting that it was Reims. Reims had been the site of the last two French Grand Prix before World War II. And when racing resumed after the end of the war the same circuit would be use up until the end of 1951. However, as Mercedes-Benz prepared for the '54 edition of the French Grand Prix, they would find that not much of the circuit had changed.
The run down from the Thillois hairpin past the start/finish grandstands and pit complex was still the same. After that, the run into the village of Gueux had been bypassed and featured a series of sweeping fast right-handers and a left before reaching the Muizon hairpin. This emptied out onto the other familiar portion of the old Reims circuit, the Route Nationale 31 straight that led back down to the Thillois hairpin. But while a good deal of the circuit remained the same from what Neubauer and those at Mercedes-Benz remembered, the new circuit layout was more than a quarter of a mile longer, and faster.
In spite of the fact it was a German team invading the homeland once again, large throngs of spectators made their way to the circuit to take in practice. An even larger crowd was expected for race day on the 4th of July. However, those that could only make it to practice would find themselves privy to a sneak peak of the race as Fangio would break 200km/h during practice and would take the pole with a time of 2:29.4. The middle position of the three-wide front row would go to Fangio's Mercedes teammate Karl Kling. His best effort in practice would be a full second slower than Fangio but still good enough to start 2nd. Kling would just edge out back-to-back World Champion Alberto Ascari. Ascari was now driving for Maserati as he awaited the debut of the new Lancia D50. Ascari had left Ferrari after a falling out with Enzo. Ascari's best effort in the new 250F would be just a tenth slower than Kling and would enable the Italian to start 3rd and in the final spot on the front row.
Comparative to Fangio and Kling, Herrmann would struggle to find the pace in the W196. His best effort around the 5.15 mile circuit would be 2:35.3 and would be only good enough for the middle of the third row, 7th overall.
After breaking the 200 km/h barrier around the circuit, Fangio would be greeted with about 50 bottles of champagne. However, on race day, it was likely he would not have the opportunity to repeat the feat unless he did it early on as the skies were overcast and threat of rain was imminent . Still, as the cars were rolled out to their starting positions on the grid the sun could still be seen peaking through the clouds at times. The large throng of fans that had made it to the circuit to watch practice would swell to more than 300,000 on race day. Nearly everyone was there to see the new Silver Arrows from Mercedes-Benz. This was especially true since there wasn't really a strong French threat in the field. Equipe Gordini would field four cars but they would start the race from the last three rows of the grid.
With crowd nearly pouring over the barrier onto the long start/finish straight, Kling and Fangio would clearly lead the way toward the Courbe de Gueux on the first lap of the race. Ascari's transmission would fail him right off the line and would hold up some of the competitors so that Fangio and Kling were well ahead through the first-half of the first lap. Through the first two laps of the race Kling would lead the way with Fangio not far behind. Gonzalez would fight with the two Mercedes and would actually find himself in 2nd place by the end of the first lap. The third W196 of Herrmann would be running in 5th place throughout the first portions of the race.
Herrmann was not sitting idly back in the pack, however. In an effort to get up to the front with his Mercedes teammates, Hans would go on to set the fastest lap of the race with a time of 2:32.9. This kind of pace certainly seemed easy for the W196s, but it was proving to be the death knell for just about everyone else. Gonzalez would be passed by Herrmann for 3rd place and would fall out a short time later, on the 13th lap, with a blown engine. He would join Ascari, Hawthorn and some three others already out of the race.
But not all was smooth sailing for Mercedes. A short time after passing Gonzalez Herrmann would fall out of the race himself with a blown engine. His race would last just 16 laps. Fire and smoke would be seen pouring out of the exhaust on the sides of the car. Still, Fangio and Kling cruised along at the head of the field.
The pace was furious and the fall-out from it severe. By the 20th lap of the race some ten cars would be out of the running. By the halfway mark of the 61 lap race there would only be eight cars still running. Still, at the front it would be the two Mercedes of Fangio and Kling.
Each of these two would take turns in the lead. However, Fangio would have the longest spells at the head of the field. The two battled it out much to the frustration and anxiousness of Neubauer for even when the rains came and the race was well in hand these two battled like it was the last lap of the race.
Heading into the final laps of the race, everything was still well in hand for Mercedes in its Formula One debut. It had been a demonstrative display as the rest of the field was at least a lap behind Fangio and Kling. However, the question of who would win was still in doubt. Fangio would lead the way through lap 58 and 59 and Kling would be up front on the penultimate lap. But with a World Championship title up for grabs Fangio was not about to be beat. Having already won the Argentine and Belgian Grand Prix, Fangio was well on his way toward his second World Championship. And as the pair rounded the Thillois hairpin for the final time and powered their way toward the line, it would be Fangio that would cross the line a tenth of a second ahead of Kling.
Perhaps for the first time since the end of the Second World War, the predominantly French crowd would erupt in appreciation for a German invader. It had been a formidable performance and certainly announced that the famed Silver Arrows was back.
The victory was also certainly very important for Fangio's championship hopes. His three victories would give him an absolutely commanding lead with 25 points over Maurice Trintignant and Bill Vukovich, the winner of the '54 Indianapolis 500. Kling's 2nd place would catapult him into the top ten in the standings as well.
Mercedes-Benz debut in the Formula One World Championship, and its return to grand prix racing, couldn't really have gone much better after its incredible one-two performance at the French Grand Prix on the 4th of July. Then, on the 17th of July, two weeks after the race in Reims, the team looked to continue its formidable performance in the British Grand Prix held at Silverstone, the 'home of British motor racing'.
Situated in the rolling countryside of Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, the Silverstone Circuit had actually started out life as a Royal Air Force bomber training base. Using Vickers Wellington bombers for training, the base would serve to help crews prepare for bombing raids throughout France, the Low Countries and Germany. But now, nearly ten years after the conclusion of the Second World War, Germany was finally invading the English mainland.
Unlike the French Grand Prix, Mercedes would bring just two cars to the 2.88 mile circuit based upon the perimeter road once used around the former bomber training base. As with the French Grand Prix, Fangio would show the outright pace of the W196 as he would turn the fastest lap ever around the circuit being the first to average more than 100 mph around the circuit.
Still, not everything was well with the team. Unlike Reims, Fangio would find the streamlined bodywork very difficult at the Silverstone circuit. Despite breaking the lap record around the circuit Fangio would complain about not being able to see the apexes of the corners. This would cause the normally perfect Argentinean to be less than stellar in the corners. Nonetheless, despite the issues, Fangio would find himself on pole for the 90 lap race.
Unlike the French Grand Prix, the front row at Silverstone would look quite a bit different. While Fangio would be on pole, he would end up being the only Mercedes on the front row. The rest of the front row would include Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 2nd place in his Ferrari, just a second slower than Fangio. The 3rd position on the front row would go to Mike Hawthorn in another Ferrari. He would be mere hundredths of a second slower than Gonzalez. The final position on the front row would go to Stirling Moss in a Maserati 250F. His best effort would be about two seconds slower than Fangio.
Karl Kling would also struggle with issues with the streamlined W196 and would end up three seconds slower than Fangio around the circuit. Therefore, he would start the race from the second row in the 6th position.
Other than the Belgian Grand Prix, every other race had included portions of rain. The British Grand Prix, not surprisingly, would offer up more of the same wet stuff. In fact, as the cars were rolled out onto the grid in preparation for the start of the 263 mile race, the skies would already be overcast.
The rain would be on its way and this played into the hands of Gonzalez who would be starting the race from 2nd place on the grid. He had raced to victory in similar conditions during the International Trophy race held at the Silverstone circuit back in the middle of May. And as the field roared away at the start of the 90 lap race it would be Gonzalez that would streak into the lead with Moss and Hawthorn in tow. Fangio would make a poor start from the pole and would be side-by-side with Kling heading into Copse for the first time. Jean Behra would be right there in his Gordini but would get squeezed out by the two streamlined Mercedes.
While Fangio fell back with Kling in the running order, Gonzalez continued to streak ahead in the lead of the race. And while Moss and Hawthorn would do their best to keep the fight engaged with the Argentinean, it would soon become a battle between the two Brits. Onofre Marimon would be the most impressive Argentinean, however. After starting from the second-to-last row on the grid, he would soon find himself well up in the top ten giving the top five a real run for their money. And while one Argentinean pressured the field from the front and another from behind, the one in the middle, Fangio, would begin to feel the squeeze.
Hawthorn would manage to get by Moss and would set his sights on Gonzalez. Soon, Moss would fall back into the clutches of Fangio. Fangio wouldn't stop there either. He would get by Moss and would soon slip by Hawthorn to run 2nd. However, the pressure would force him to drive hard. The blindness he would suffer because of the bodywork was beginning to come into play, however. Not being able to be his usual precise self, Fangio would begin to strike oil cans placed to the inside of the corners. Ironically, they were placed there to help with visibility. Hitting one after another, Fangio would soon find both corners of his bodywork badly torn up. In addition, his gearbox would begin to give him trouble causing him to have to relinquish 2nd place and drop even further back.
On the somewhat more-twisty circuit, the swinging axle of the Mercedes would show its weaknesses. And while Fangio would find the oil cans his major obstacle, Kling would find the handling his greatest difficulty. While he would continue to run well inside the top ten he too would not look anything like the dominant car that everyone had seen at Reims a couple of weeks earlier.
As the rains came, Gonzalez's lead only grew. Hawthorn ran well behind struggling to remain the only car on the lead lap. By the later part of the 90 lap race, Fangio was well out of contention. He would even be fighting to hold onto his 3rd place. However, Marimon was on form this day despite being a lap down himself. Fangio could not hold him back, and therefore, would lose 3rd to Marimon. Still, Fangio's day was going better than Kling's.
Gonzalez would lead every single lap of the race and would be absolutely unbeatable. He would finish the race, despite the rain, in two hours, fifty-six minutes and fourteen seconds. A minute and ten seconds later, Mike Hawthorn would bring the British faithful to their feet as he finished in 2nd place, the last car on the lead lap. Onofre Marimon would complete the podium finishing in 3rd, one lap down.
Fangio's promising practice would turn to near ruin in the race. Yet, despite the incredible damage and a failing gearbox, Fangio would still manage to finish the race in 4th place about twenty-seven seconds behind Marimon one lap down. Kling would never look to be anywhere near as competitive as he had been in France. After starting from the second row of the grid, he would remain inside the top ten but would not be able to put together much more than that. In the end, he would finish about three and a half laps down in the 7th position.
During World War II, the German military had blown through the French countryside with relative ease using its Blitzkrieg tactics to great effect. However, the advance would all come to a screeching halt when it faced the English Channel. Aided by a brilliant and desperate defense the British homeland would be spared from the German invasion. Germany's advance would end up 'coming a cropper' right then and there. The same result would face Mercedes-Benz after it steam-rolled through the French Grand Prix. When the German effort reached England, it would be turned back and greatly humbled.
After being humbled on the English shores, the German team would make its way back home. However, the ride back home wouldn't necessarily be a demoralizing trip. The team wasn't just heading home after a defeat. They were heading home for the next race on the 1954 Formula One World Championship calendar.
The Mercedes-Benz team would make their way through the Low Countries and would make their way across the border into West Germany. It was back to the factory for a little time off and preparation for what was perhaps the biggest race of the season. For on the 1st of August, at the demanding and notorious Nurburgring, the German Grand Prix would be held. Now the team would be on home turf waiting for its competition to come to them.
And what a home turf it was. However, the 14 mile long Nordschleife certainly didn't play favorites. Comprised of more than 170 corners and more than a thousand feet of elevation change, the tree-lined and epic circuit was by no means an easy circuit. In fact, even in the most ideal of conditions many competitors couldn't wait to get away from the circuit. A never ending mixture of just about everything nature could accumulate into one circuit, just one lap would be like a never ending, and deadly, gauntlet.
In spite of the circuit, the tremendous crowd expected to be at the race would certainly help motivate the team toward the front of the field. In an attempt to achieve the best result possible, Mercedes-Benz would double its efforts from the British Grand Prix. The team would bring four cars from the factory to take part in the 22 lap, 311 mile, race. Juan Manuel Fangio of course would be behind the wheel of one. The other three cars would be driven by Karl Kling, Hans Herrmann and the great Hermann Lang. Lang had been a part of the original Silver Arrows Mercedes-Benz back during the later part of the 1930s. Always a fan favorite while driving with the team, Lang had actually been considered an outsider within the team as a result of not belonging to aristocratic families of the Nazi Germany. However, with a driver like Juan Manuel Fangio, who had actually spent time as a car mechanic early on in his career, he certainly fit in a lot better the second time around.
What was to be an exciting and promising German Grand Prix would start out with a dark cloud hanging over the event. During practice, Onofre Marimon would be rounding one of the high speed right-handers heading downhill toward the Adenau bridge. Unfortunately, he would lose control rounding the corner. He would crash through a hedge lining the circuit and would go barreling off the circuit plunging downhill through a field before coming to a rest. By the time the car did come to a rest Marimon would be dead. This would send shockwaves throughout the garages. The shock would be felt by all involved but it would be much more deeply felt amongst the numerous Argentinean drivers in the field, including Fangio.
Still, events would go on. When the Mercedes-Benz team returned from the British Grand Prix the mechanics and other workers would be hard at work preparing a new car. The streamlined bodywork had shown its greatest weakness and it was clear that on the twisty Nurburgring it would have to be abandoned in favor of a more conventional open-wheel design. This open-wheel design would make its debut at the German Grand Prix. Immediately Fangio would be much more comfortable and would end up going fastest around the circuit to claim the pole.
Fangio's best time of 9:50.1 would end up being a little more than three seconds faster than Mike Hawthorn's best effort in his Ferrari 625. Stirling Moss would make it two Brits on the front row after he took his Maserati 250F and set a time that was ten and a half seconds slower than Fangio around the 14 mile long circuit.
Hans Herrmann, who would still drive one of the streamlined-bodied W196s, would find himself starting on the second row of the grid having set a time just under a second slower than Moss. Hermann Lang would find the going a little tough. He would end up twenty-three seconds slower than Fangio around the circuit but would still manage to start from the fourth row of the grid in the 9th position overall. This would be much better than Kling's starting spot, however. Kling would have trouble and would not set a time during practice. As a result, he would start dead-last on the grid in 20th position, the last position on the eighth row of the grid.
Amazingly, the weather for the race would be mild and dry. An incredible crowd would assemble around the circuit in preparation to cheer on its famed Silver Arrows. And as the cars tore away from the grid to start the 22 lap race it would be Fangio in the lead. However, by the time the field headed off into the forest it would be Jose Froilan Gonzalez that would hold onto the lead ahead of his fellow countryman. Moss would be in 3rd place but wouldn't make it much further as a wheel bearing issue would force him out of the race after completing just the first lap. Lang would show glimpses of his old self as he would make a great start and would actually be ahead of Herrmann heading into the forest.
Gonzalez would not be able to hold back the might of Fangio and the W196, however, and he would give up the lead by the end of the first lap. Also, by the end of the first lap, Kling would be on an absolute charge and would come all the way up from his 20th starting position on the grid and would soon find himself in 4th place behind Fangio, Gonzalez and Lang.
Throughout the first 5 laps of the race things really couldn't go much better for Mercedes-Benz. Fangio would be in the lead with the old man Lang running in 3rd position. Kling's incredible drive up through the field would have him in 4th place behind Lang.
Unfortunately, the next five laps couldn't have gone much worse. Fourth place wasn't good enough for Kling after he had pushed his car hard through the first few laps of the race. He would continue to keep the pressure on. Unfortunately, it would seem plausible the pressure got to Lang. In an already difficult car to drive, Lang would end up spinning off the circuit and out of the race after 10 laps. On top of this, Herrmann had already departed the race just three laps earlier because of a broken fuel line.
Lang's spin would help promote Kling up to 3rd place behind Gonzalez. But still, he kept pushing. By the 15th lap of the race he would be in the lead, much to the chagrin of the Neubauer and those at Mercedes. The reason for their frustration would become apparent in just a couple of laps.
Gonzalez was doing everything he could just to stay in touch with Fangio and Kling, but the grief over Marimon was taking its toll. Mike Hawthorn, Gonzalez's teammate, had already fallen out of the race with a blown engine. Therefore, the decision was made to call him in after 16 laps in order to turn the car over to Hawthorn for the remainder of the race. Immediately, Hawthorn would set off in pursuit of Fangio.
Fangio would be back in the lead precisely because of what Kling had done over the previous 16 laps. Kling's pace had been a little more than the car could handle. Therefore, he would have to come into the pits to have some work done to the car. The time lost in the pits would hand the lead back to Fangio and would end up dropping him all the way down to 4th place in the running order.
Fangio would be untouchable once back in the lead of the race. Despite Hawthorn's best efforts in relief of Gonzalez, he would soon find himself barely holding on over his other Ferrari teammate Maurice Trintignant. In spite of Kling's fastest lap performance right before he had to come into the pits for work to be done, Kling would now find himself well out of the running.
Amongst the mountains and lush German forests, Fangio would find himself all alone. With his commanding lead, Fangio would cruise to victory completing the race distance in just under three hours and forty-six minutes. In relief, Hawthorn would drive a splendid race to finish 2nd a minute and thirty-six seconds behind. Trintignant would follow along behind Hawthorn finishing five minutes and eight seconds behind Fangio. In all, only half of the original starting field would make it to the finish of the race. Kling would be one of those ten. He would be humbled in his 4th place result.
While it would be a huge win for Mercedes in front of the home crowd, the celebrations would quickly turn to silent remembrance as Fangio and the other Argentineans would again reflect upon the loss of Marimon. In a great show of respect, a majority of the crowd would do the same. The wild exuberance would turn into quiet appreciation.
Despite some errors in judgment made by Lang and Kling, and the unfortunate ailments suffered by Herrmann, it had been another dominant display by the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. Obviously, the change to an open-wheel version of the W196 helped the drivers take the team back to the front of the field. In fact, the change to the open-wheel version helped to cure a tough understeer condition the streamlined version suffered from. This would be very helpful on the twisty circuit and it certainly showed through the majority of the race. Yet, despite the strong performances by the team, they still ended up with just one car on the podium. There was still room for improvement.
Mercedes focused on the championship rounds of the Formula One World Championship. Therefore, the team would have a three week gap between races. This would allow the team time to go back to the factory and continue to make improvements upon its car. But then, the week of the seventh round of the Formula One World Championship, the team would load up three of its W196s and would head off to Berne, Switzerland to take part in the 14th Swiss Grand Prix on the 22nd of August.
On the 20th of August in 1939, the final race of the European Championship Grands Prix would be held. The race was the Swiss Grand Prix and it would be held at the Bremgarten circuit located overlooking the Wohlenssee River to the west of Berne. It would be the final championship race in a season full of controversy given the outbreak of the Second World War.
The same circuit that had seen Mercedes-Benz last championship victory in 1939 would be the same one in which the team would visit in August of '54. Situated in the deeply-wooded Bremgartenwald, the 4.52 mile circuit would be the same as that used back in 1939. Featuring an ever-twisting circuit with really no straight portions of any length, the Bremgarten was a modern throwback in that it boasted of many of the dangers circuits from the 30s and 20s had in common. Tree-lined and often wet, the circuit had no run-off areas and appeared more like a rally stage than a grand prix.
The open-wheeled W196s would be unloaded and would be prepared for practice. Overall, the field would be rather small for the 66 lap race. Just sixteen cars would head out for practice. Another two, including the Swiss Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried, had intended to attend the race but would not be present.
Unlike the last three races, Fangio would not set the pace in practice. Instead, it would be Gonzalez that would take the pole. His time of 2:39.5 would barely edge out Fangio by just two-tenths of a second. Stirling Moss would make his way to yet another front row starting position with a lap time of 2:41.4.
Karl Kling would be half a second slower than Moss around the 4.52 mile circuit and would end up in the 5th position on the second row. Hans Herrmann would be at the wheel of the third Mercedes. His best effort around the circuit would be nearly six seconds slower than Fangio's best. As a result, Herrmann would start from the third row of the grid in the 7th position overall.
Only two of the rounds of the 1954 Formula One World Championship had been dry affairs. The Swiss Grand Prix would be yet another that would see a mixture of wet and dry conditions throughout the running of the event. Prior to the cars heading out onto the grid heavy rains had come and soaked the circuit. The areas to either side of the circuit was a muddy mess and would pose a serious threat to anyone that put a wheel off at anytime during the race. The cars would be rolled out onto the circuit through the mud but on the tarmac it would be dry with the sun trying its hardest to poke through the overcast skies.
As the Swiss flag dropped to start the 298 mile race it would be Fangio that would get the best start off the line and would lead through the first part of the lap. Kling would also make a great start from the second row and would be following along right behind Fangio. Unfortunately, Herrmann would not be able to move up at the start and would be running in 7th place through the first lap of the race.
Fangio would manage to hold onto the lead but Kling would fall backward behind Gonzalez and Moss. Herrmann would fall another place further back when Jean Behra managed to get by in his Gordini T16. In the dry conditions of the early part of the race Fangio would absolutely dominate leaving everyone else behind. Kling would continue to run strongly inside the top five. Herrmann would still be running strongly as well but would be further back. He would be helped forward when Behra retired after 8 laps with a failed clutch.
While Fangio continued on at the head of the field, Kling would make a mistake spinning his W196. By the time he would get the car righted he would find himself at the tail-end of the field. He had been in the position at the German Grand Prix and knew what to do. Therefore, immediately Kling set off in mad pursuit of the front of the field.
Meanwhile, Hawthorn had managed to pass Moss and Gonzalez before he had problems with a sticking throttle and was forced to pit. Hawthorn would get back out on circuit but would soon retire. Moss and Maurice Trintignant would also fall out of the running by the halfway mark of the race. By this time, Kling had driven all the way through the field and found himself back behind Gonzalez in 3rd place. Therefore, at the halfway point in the race it was Fangio, Gonzalez and Kling.
Unfortunately, problems would visit Kling once again after an incredible performance. After completing 38 laps, fuel injection problems would arise in Kling's Mercedes forcing him to retire from the race. This would end up promoting Herrmann up into the top three.
Herrmann bided his time and continued to run strongly despite being well back. Still, with the retirements of many of the other top contenders he would find himself on the final spot of the podium if he could just stay there throughout the remainder of the race.
Fangio's pace would be an absolute killer on the rest of the field. Even Han Herrmann would find himself a lap down a little past the halfway mark of the race. The advantage, even despite the conditions, would only remain throughout the remainder of the race. He would lead every single lap of the 66 lap race and would go on to take the victory by nearly fifty-eight seconds over Gonzalez in 2nd place. Two minutes and a whole lap would be the difference back to Herrmann finishing in 3rd place.
For the first time since the team's debut at the French Grand Prix, Mercedes would have two cars finish in the top three. But unlike the French Grand Prix, the race outside of Berne would be a formidable display by one of the team's drivers. The other would benefit from the fallout of the pace. Still, the results were what they were and they were certainly an improvement over the last couple of races.
By the time the Swiss Grand Prix drew to a close, the Formula One World Championship season was more than two-thirds over. The season was heading into the late summer and early fall months. Therefore, the races were becoming fewer in number. But they weren't going to be any less important with Fangio claiming his second World Championship at the conclusion of the Swiss Grand Prix.
The calendar flipped to become September and ever since its opening in September of 1922, the Italian Grand Prix had been held at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on that first weekend of the month. Throughout 1954, work had been undertaken to revitalize the circuit. The loop track would be turned into much more steeply-banked 2.62 mile oval. It was clear the intention was to have the oval reinstated along with the 3.91 mile road course to re-create the original 6.21 mile long circuit. However, when the teams arrived for the Italian Grand Prix during the first week in September the 3.91 mile road course would be the circuit that would be used for the 24th edition of the race.
Another of the ultra-fast circuits in existence around Europe at the time, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza certainly suited the power of the Mercedes-Benz W196. This would be plainly evident during practice when Fangio went fastest with a lap of 1:59.0. Alberto Ascari would be back with Scuderia Ferrari and would quickly find his stride. He would be just two-tenths of a second slower around the circuit and would start 2nd, or, in the middle of the front row. Once again, Stirling Moss would manage to make his way onto the front row of a grid with his Maserati 250F. His best effort around the circuit would be just a tenth slower than Ascari.
Three-tenths of a second would be the difference between Moss and Karl Kling who would start 4th from the second row of the grid. And, once again, Herrmann would be the slowest of the three Mercedes. His best would be just about two and a half seconds slower than Fangio but would cause him to start from the middle of the third row in 8th place overall.
Not surprising for Monza in early September, the weather for race day was forecasted to be beautifully sunny and warm. However, that meant the cars would be put through some really tough conditions with the expected fast pace and warm weather.
Leading up to the 80 lap race, Mercedes would make a change that would make a lot of sense at such a high speed venue as Monza. While each of the cars would take part in practice with the open-wheeled look, by race time, all three cars would be rolled out wearing the familiar streamlined bodywork they had debuted with at Reims back in July. It was a high speed circuit where outright speed was of greater importance.
Using their streamlined bodywork to their advantage, Mercedes would be leading one-two at the end of the first lap with Kling leading the way ahead of Fangio. Fangio, however, would take over the lead from Kling after a couple of laps. However, at home in front of the Tifosi even the powerful W196s could not hold back the threat from Ferrari. Ascari would take the lead by lap 6 and he would lead for nearly the next 40 laps were it not for a single lap wherein Fangio had the lead once again.
The pace of the race would take its toll. Gonzalez would be out after 16 laps with gearbox problems, Robert Manzon and Luigi Musso would also depart the race due to mechanical problems. But up front, the battle would be well joined between Ascari, Fangio, and soon, Moss. Ascari would have the Italian faithful on their feet as he would continually hold off the mighty Mercedes. Then, Moss would get by Fangio and would set off after Ascari. Moss would not be denied and he would take over the lead of the race on lap 45. While Fangio slipped back into a much more comfortable pace, Moss and Ascari would duke it out amongst themselves in a supreme battle.
By the time the race had become a battle between Ascari and Moss, Kling was well out of the running having suffered an accident on the 36th lap of the race. Hans Herrmann was still in the running but he would using consistency and no mistakes to help him ascend the running order. And as Luigi Villoresi retired on lap 43 with clutch problems, he would do just that. Herrmann's ascent up the running order would only continue five laps later when Ascari was forced out of the race with a blown engine.
This would leave Moss in the lead of the race. Fangio would be the only one still on the lead lap with him in what was turning out to be one of the best performances in Moss' career. Fangio seemed to be biding his time as he followed Moss and ways back. Just about every other major contender had fallen out due to some mechanical problem. It was not at all illogical the same could happen to Moss.
But as the race headed into the final 10 laps it seemed unlikely. Moss was still running strong and enjoyed at least a lap on 3rd place on down through the field. But then, there was trouble. Moss would make a stop to fill up with oil and would try to carry on. But it was too late. The damage had been done. And coming down the main straight with 9 laps left in the race, his engine would finally let go. Moss would push his cars back into the pits and would sit dejectedly beside the car wondering what could have been.
Fangio's calculation would be proven to be correct. He would take over the lead of the race with a comfortable margin over everyone else in the field. All he needed to do was concentrate on not making any mistakes throughout the last few laps of the race and another grand victory would be his.
Fangio and mistakes are an oxymoron. Sure enough, Fangio would come through to take what was his sixth Formula One World Championship victory on the season. He would have a lap and about twenty-four seconds in hand over Mike Hawthorn finishing in 2nd place. Jose Froilan Gonzalez had taken over Umberto Maglioli's car after his gearbox failed just 16 laps into the race. Gonzalez would manage to come through to finish in 3rd place but would be two laps and a full minute behind. Hans Herrmann's dogged consistency would end up paying off as he would come through three laps behind but in 4th place.
It would be the second time on the season, the W196 had proven not to be the strongest car in the field when it came to pace. However, the car would prove to be the strongest when it came to reliability. And, in the end, that is what would count the most. Still, it would not overshadow the performance of some of the other competitors. In fact, Fangio would later approach Moss and would let him known that though he didn't take the victory, his drive certainly made him the moral victor. Moss' performance would also attract the attention of Neubauer who would congratulate him despite coming up a little short in the end. Perhaps Neubauer was thinking he had just found a new teammate for Fangio.
The surprise victory in the Italian Grand Prix meant there was only one round of the Formula One World Championship remaining. However, the Daimler-Benz AG team would actually have a couple of races left, not just the final round of the World Championship. And, in fact, the one non-championship race left on the team's calendar, in many ways, would be as important as any World Championship race. At least it would be that important for any German team.
Set for the 19th of September would be the 1st Grosser Preis von Berlin. This was the perfect event to showcase the abilities of the Mercedes-Benz team. The race would take place at the ultra-fast Avus circuit in the western part of Berlin and would feature mostly privately-entered Formula One cars.
The 1st Grand Prix of Berlin promised to be a bigger event than the Avusrennen of previous years. The main reason for this was due to the fact Mercedes-Benz was one of the few German manufacturers now competing at the top level of motorsports. There were many German racers after the conclusion of the Second World War. However, because of restrictions due to post-war conditions the vast majority of the German racing scene consisted of small privateers driving evolved versions of aged racing machines. As a result, none of these small manufacturers and privateers could compete on the same level as Alfa Romeo or Ferrari. But on top of that was the fact the majority of the cars only conformed to Formula 2 regulations, and therefore, limited the type of race that could be conducted.
By the beginning of the 1954 season, the East Germans had mostly withdrawn from international competition. West Germany was beginning to come alive once again after reconstruction efforts and made it possible to have manufacturers take part in major motorsport. And really, the Grand Prix of Berlin was to nothing more than a celebration of that fact.
The Avus circuit was another pre-World War II relic that still posed a great challenge to the modern race car and driver. Originally conceived and built back in the 1920s, the Avus circuit, with its parallel track design, was all about one thing—speed. Originally measuring a little more than 12 miles in length, and featuring two banked tear-drop turns at either end, the Avus circuit enabled average speeds that wouldn't be seen at Indianapolis for decades.
Unfortunately, it would be the death of Bernd Rosemeyer in 1938 in a land speed record attempt that would bring racing at Avus to a halt. However, after the end of the war Avus would be revitalized, but this time with a shorter layout. Instead of the 12 mile long circuit, Avus would be shorted to 5.15 miles and would only boast of the famed 'Wall of Death'. The south banking would be replaced with a tight hairpin turn that led the course back northeast.
Only eleven cars would qualify for the 60 lap race. Three of those eleven cars would be W196s entered by Mercedes-Benz. As usual, Fangio, Kling and Herrmann would be at the wheel of the three cars. Despite nearing making up one-third of the field, there was still some very good competition listed in the field. Among them would be the Equipe Gordini team with its drivers Jean Behra, Andre Pilette and Fred Wacker. Ecurie Rosier would also be another team listed in the entry form. They would bring two cars. Louis Rosier would be at the wheel of a Maserati 250F while Robert Manzon would be driving a Ferrari 625.
Adorned in the streamlined bodywork once again, it would become abundantly clear, despite the presence of some very good competition, the Mercedes-Benz trio would certainly be the class of the field. Fangio would take the pole for the race with a quick lap of 2:12.3. Hans Herrmann would put together a strong showing in the number 6 W196. His best lap would be a little more than a second slower than Fangio but would still be good enough for 2nd place on the front row. Kling would make it a clean sweep of the front row for Mercedes when he posted a time a second and a half off of Herrmann's pace. Still, it would be more than enough as Behra would qualify for the race in the 4th position and he would be an incredible ten seconds slower than Kling, let alone Fangio.
Another incredible crowd would assemble along the circuit to watch the 313 mile race. Nearly everyone longed for and expected the Mercedes trio to pull away and fly in formation similar to the old Silver Arrows that had been a regular sight at the circuit prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. However, as the field roared away from the grid on the long run down to the tight left-hand hairpin, many would be surprised by the sight they would behold.
On the run down to the hairpin Kling would leap up to the lead of the race ahead of Fangio and Herrmann. However, attached to the back of the Mercedes train would be Jean Behra. Behra would slip out of line and would gain a few hundred more revs because of the slipstream. He would slide up beside Herrmann and would take over 3rd place much to the surprise of the thousands upon thousands assembled around the circuit. Andre Pilette would do his best to keep touch as well but he was without the tow and would be struggling in the aged Gordini chassis.
Kling continued to hold onto the lead of the race ahead of Fangio who continued to hold of Behra. Herrmann would draft behind Behra heading to the banked north curve and would end up getting back by going around the turn. However, as they headed back down to the hairpin once again, Behra would slip back out and would take over 3rd place. This would go on for many laps and many would begin to cheer on the sight.
However, Behra was pushing his Gordini well beyond its limits trying to keep up with the streamlined Mercedes. Every time he pulled out of the slipstream the engine would over-rev damaging itself more and more each time. This could not continue for 60 laps. In fact, it would not even continue for 20. Behra's performance was certainly commendable, but, on the 15th lap of the race the engine would have enough and it would dramatically fail leaving the three Mercedes to pull away with the race well in hand.
When Behra fell dramatically fell out after 14 laps, and Rosier's Maserati broke on the opening lap of the race, all of the unexpected competition would be out of the running. All that would be left would be a trio of Silver Arrows everyone expected to be running alone at the front of the field. Lap after lap these three would run nose-to-tail up and down the Avus circuit delighting the German crowd.
The W196s would sweep around the circuit like a Juggernaut. No one would be spared from the onslaught that would take place over the course of the 60 laps. By the end of the race, only the three Mercedes would be on the lead lap and miles would be the difference between themselves and the competition. Really, from the moment of Behra's departure there really was only one question that remained unanswered: 'Who would win?'
Heading into the banked north curve for the final time, the race was still very much in doubt between the Silver Arrows. However, it certainly had been decided within the team. Kling had followed Fangio to the line at Reims earlier on in the year despite being in the lead on the penultimate lap. Here now would be the payback. Kling would lead the way across the line taking the victory ahead of Fangio and Herrmann. Throughout the whole of the 60 lap race the three Silver Arrows were never more than a couple of car lengths apart and they would end that way with Fangio only a half a second behind Kling while Herrmann was just four-tenths behind Fangio. A most incredible and dominant display put together by the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz. Were it not for the images around the circuit, the hundreds of thousands of spectators could have sworn it was the golden era revisited.
Truly an important non-championship race, Mercedes-Benz would experience their best result as a team. While they experienced one-two and other great performances, the sheer dominance the three drivers displayed on that 19th of September would be the perfect result for such an important race. And it seemingly set up the final race of the season perfectly.
After the demonstrative win at the Avus circuit on the 19th of September, the Daimler-Benz AG team would have more than a month to rest and prepare for the ninth, and final, round of the Formula One World Championship. But then, toward the end of October, the team would load up three of its cars and would head off for Barcelona.
Soon, the team would arrive at the Pedralbes Circuit, located to the southwest of Barcelona. The team had arrived for the Spanish Grand Prix amidst sunny skies and warm weather. This would be most welcome after a season that would see a vast majority of the World Championship rounds contended for under less than ideal conditions.
The last time Fangio had paid a visit to the Pedralbes Circuit it was 1951 and he would leave that event with his first World Championship, But as he, and it, reunited at the end of the '54 season, he already had his second sown up. Still, this would be a very important race as all of the teams looked to head into the offseason on a bright note.
The Pedralbes Circuit would be another that, on paper, would seem to suit the W196. Measuring 3.91 miles in length, the circuit would be a mixture of public roads traversing the countryside and city streets. However, despite being partly a street circuit, there was one the circuit was not—slow. What would seem like the slowest portions of the circuit's design rested along the portion that utilized the city streets. However, the organizers would utilize all the road thereby making it very wide while on the city streets. This made it possible to carry a lot of speed through the turns which, in turn, would lead to some rather high average speeds around the circuit.
As the teams began to arrive and unload their cars for the event, it would become quite obvious there was a new team in the paddock. Finally, Mercedes would have another new manufacturer for competition. Despite it being the last round of the World Championship, Lancia would make its Formula One debut with its new D50. The team would not only have a new car, but also, a potent driver lineup with Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi.
In practice, the new Lancia D50, with its uniquely-positioned fuel and oil tanks, would prove to be a strong source of competition for Mercedes when Ascari was able to take the pole with a fastest lap time of 2:18.1. Fangio would be second-fastest around the circuit but would be a whole second slower in the open-wheeled W196. Mike Hawthorn would be a second and a half slower than Fangio in a Ferrari. Harry Schell would surprise many when he would complete the front row in his own Maserati. He would be mere hundredths of a second slower than Hawthorn around the circuit.
It would be quite clear looking at the rest of the grid Mercedes was facing some strong competition. None of the remaining two cars would start from the three-wide second row. Herrmann would be the second-fastest Mercedes driver in practice. His time of 2:21.9 would be nearly four seconds slower than Ascari. As a result, Herrmann would start from the third row of the grid in the 9th position overall. Kling would be a second and a half slower than Herrmann and, as a result, would start from the fourth row of the grid. His starting position would be 12th overall.
As with the last round at Monza, the weather would be beautiful for what would be the final round of the 1954 Formula One World Championship. All twenty-one cars would be rolled out onto the grid in preparation for the start of the 80 lap, 313 mile, race.
Another large crowd would assemble amidst the beautiful fall day for one last glimpse on the season of the world's best cars and drivers. And yet, as the cars roared their way down the long main straightaway toward the hairpin turn one, the crowd would recognize it to be Harry Schell the clear leader heading through the first turn. Schell would be ahead of Ascari and Mike Hawthorn who would make a good start from his 3rd place position on the grid. Fangio would not get the best start and would try and do his best to settle in for the race.
Schell would lead the race through the first couple of laps but would eventually lose it to Ascari on the 3rd lap. Ascari would lead the way through the 6 laps seemingly taking over control of the race. However, the race would come to an end for Alberto when clutch failure struck his Lancia. This would hand the lead back to Schell for a lap before Maurice Trintignant took over the point having come up from the third row of the grid.
Over the next 10 laps Schell and Trintignant would be involved in an epic duel that would see them exchange the lead some nine times. Unfortunately, the battle would come to an end when Schell spun and dropped all the way down to 4th in the running order behind Fangio. Less than 10 laps later, he would be out of the race altogether when gearbox problems forced him out.
It seemed Trintignant would be in the best position after Schell's spin, but, Maurice would run into trouble as well and would also drop out of the top in the running order. His race would last to 47 laps before gearbox problems would also force him out of the running. The big shake-up at the front of the field would see Hawthorn take over the lead of the race. Fangio was running in 2nd place but was not a happy man in the cockpit.
It was the fall of the year and that fact would bring out another weakness of the W196 during the running of the Spanish Grand Prix. Many cars would find their radiator inlets clogged with leaves and other debris. In fact, Hawthorn's Ferrari would be full of leaves. However, the problem would strike the W196s the hardest. The leaves would find a way to clog the air inlet reducing the power of the engine and causing the engine to struggle. And while the problem would not be the cause that would take out any of the Mercedes drivers from the running, it would severely hinder their performances.
Herrmann would find himself out of the race after 50 laps due to fuel injection problems. Kling would remain in the running but would be a good ways down in the running order unable to really push his car. The most uncomfortable Mercedes driver though would be Fangio.
At one stage in the race his engine began to spray oil back in his face. This hot oil would lightly burn Fangio and would make things very painful, but he would continue going. It was obvious, however, the pain and the concern for the car would limit his ability to challenge Hawthorn. In fact, the problems would allow Luigi Musso to come forward and take over 2nd place. Fangio's focus would turn to finishing the race on the podium and on the same lap.
Heading into the final 10 laps of the race, Hawthorn was all by himself out on the circuit. Despite having a large amount of leaves and debris clogging his radiator inlet, he would continue on unabated. There would be nothing Musso could do but hope attrition paid a visit to Hawthorn before the end.
It wouldn't. Hawthorn would cruise to his first victory of the year and second of his Formula One career. He would cross the line a little more than a minute and thirteen seconds ahead of Musso. In the closing stages of the race, in extreme discomfort, Fangio would notice another discomforting sight. Hawthorn had made his way all the way around and would eventually put the Argentinean a lap down. Still, Fangio would be never so happy to finish a race one lap down. That meant he would not have to compete one more lap. And on top of that, he would come home in 3rd place.
Kling would also finish the race a lap down. But while he was not in any kind of pain like that which Fangio was experiencing, he would not be able to finish the race any better than 5th. Still, he had a comfortable three lap advantage over the 6th place finisher Chico Godia-Sales.
The season might not have ended on a bright spot but Fangio was never so happy that it was over. Neubauer and the rest of the team would not be as pleased as it was obvious the W196s were not as competitive as its competition. The fall conditions had pointed out another weakness. But while this would be frustrating, it would still be good news moving forward. They knew what the problem was and knew what they needed to focus on in the off-season.
With the exception of the British Grand Prix, the Spanish Grand Prix would see the Mercedes-Benz team struggle the most. Still, the issue that hindered the performance would become known. This meant the team could still head into the off-season with its head held high. For not only had the team come away with four championship and one huge non-championship victories, but even in their weakest moments, the team would realize what it needed to do to make vast improvements. This placed Mercedes in a very strong position for 1955.
Mercedes-Benz's position heading into 1955 would only get stronger too. The Italian Grand Prix had shown Neubauer something. Stirling Moss' performance in that race was nothing short of stellar. It would just be some unreliability that would snatch his first Formula One victory away from him. Neubauer realized that in the right car Moss could excel. And driving right alongside Fangio meant Mercedes-Benz would likely be the most dominant team heading into the 1955 season. Therefore, Neubauer would approach the usually very patriotic Brit about driving for the German team. Moss recognized the opportunity presented to him. He recognized the strengths of the team, the car and sure his potential teammate. Driving in the shadow of a two-time Formula One World Champion would not both Moss and he would agree to join the team for '55.
Mercedes-Benz's return to grand prix racing and debut in the Formula One World Championship really could not have gone much better. Not only would the team come into the series as an immediate contender, but it would also head into the off-season as the outright largest contender for the following season. With the talents of Juan Manuel Fangio, and now, Stirling Moss, there would be very few that would not agree the following year's World Champion was likely to be one of the two. It was like the Silver Arrows of old where it was practically a given they would end up champions. In fact, the only matter of debate that would be left would be who among them it would actually be. Daimler-Benz