Image credits: © Mercedes-Benz.
1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 R StreamlinerT
he first six seasons of the F1 championship were completely taken over by a single make, Ferrari. The rules were adapted in 1954 and either 750 cc engines with forced aspiration of 2500 cc engine with natural aspiration were allowed. This was now the time for Mercedes-Benz to re-enter the Grand Prix racing, twenty years from when the first Mercedes Benz GP vehicle, the W25.
There were 15 models constructed; the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R was sold as either an open wheel variant dubbed the 'Monoposto' or an aerodynamic version called the Streamliner. Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 racing with the Mercedes W196 in 1954. Introduced at the 1954 Reims Grand Prix, the W196 looked like nothing else on the grid. Even under the streamlined body, all new cutting edge innovations were introduced. The 'Typ Monza' version impressed the racing world with its premiere at Reims. The controversial fully enclosed streamliner bodywork with the aerodynamic shape was a sight that had never before been seen by the adoring public. A smaller frontal area was the result of the straight 8 cylinder engine being titled 37 degrees. A desmodromic valve operating system was placed in the W196 and no valve springs closed the valves, instead one camshaft opened the valves and a second one closed them again.
Nine victories were claimed by the W 196 Streamliner that included fastest lap, plus 8 pole positions in 12 Grand Prix races by Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. Juan Manual Fangio achieved world championship titles in 1954 and 1955 in a combination of streamliner and monoposto variations of the W196. The W196's first victory at Grand Prix was achieved by Fangio with his team mate Kling just a few meters behind him. Moss lead three other W196's to victory at the British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1955.
Originally developed for the 300 SL, Bosch direct fuel injection was utilized. The drum brakes were moved inboard to decrease the unsprung weight. The Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner was quite a complex vehicle, and a tribute to its pre-war cousins.
During its production run, a variety of versions of the W196 was built. The streamlined version for high speed tracks like Reims, Monz and Avus and more conventional bodied versions for the road racing tracks. A short wheel base version was constructed for the 1955 season and an even shorter model for the '55 Monaco Grand Prix. The latter model was built with outboard brakes for cooling reasons.
Unfortunately tragedy was in store for the 1955 season as 87 people were tragically killed by a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR that flew into a grandstand. Mercedes-Benz chose to withdraw from mortorsport, and didn't make the return that fans had hoped.
Today, the W 196 R is on display as part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Collection.By Jessica Donaldson
[LI]Great variability: Body and wheelbase matched to the racetrack
• Race organisation with outstanding precision
• Brilliant record: nine victories and fastest laps as well as eight pole positions in twelve Grand Prix races and the world champion's titles in 1954 and 1955 for Juan Manuel Fangio
The Mercedes-Benz W 196 R designed for the 1954 season met all the demands of the new Grand Prix formula decreed by the sport's governing body, the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale): a capacity of 750 cc with or 2500 cc without supercharger, free choice of gas mixture, a racing distance of 300 kilometres or a minimum of three hours. The streamlined version was completed first because the Reims race kicking off the season permitted very high speeds. After that there was also a version with exposed wheels.
Fritz Nallinger was in charge of the project as a whole, ably assisted by Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Chief Engineer of the racing department since 1 September 1936, and after the war also head of the Car Testing department, who influenced the development decisively. Uhlenhaut headed a team of engineers including Hans Scherenberg, Ludwig Kraus, Manfred Lorscheidt, Hans Gassmann, and Karl-Heinz Göschel, as well as further top-level staff of the company. And although, yet again, in the case of the W 196 R, the whole was much more than the sum of its parts, every component is worth mentioning: cutting-edge technology in terms of its era, in spite of the fact that, in some cases, there had been precedents in the history of motor sports.
This silver masterpiece, of which 14 units including a prototype were built, drove its competitors to despair in the following two years. Its original streamlined body was both expedient and visually appealing. From the German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring in early August 1954 onward, however, an open-wheel (monoposto) version also formed part of the line-up. Its tubular space frame was light and sturdy, its suspension with torsion bars and a new single-joint swing axle at the rear as well as the giant, turbo-cooled, and at first centrally arranged Duplex drum brakes were unconventionally good. The eight-cylinder in-line engine with direct injection and desmodromic valve control (1954: 256 hp (188 kW) at 8260 rpm, 1955: 290 hp (213 kW) at 8500 rpm) was installed into the space frame at an angle of 53 degrees to the right to lower the centre of gravity and reduce the frontal area. What's more, meticulous preparations for each individual race harked back to the glorious 1930s while at the same time anticipating the modern Formula One approach. But there was something else as well: so as to have the best cars in the world raced by the best drivers, racing manager Alfred Neubauer hired the – initially reluctant – superstar Juan Manuel Fangio, plus the up-and-coming Stirling Moss in 1955 – a virtually invincible pairing. Two versions: monoposto car and streamliner
The two versions of the W 196 R were interchangeable quite effortlessly. Chassis number ten, for instance, glittering with former glory in its brand-new aluminium body one day, was entered with open wheels in the 1955 Argentinean Grand Prix (driven by Hans Herrmann, Karl Kling and Moss to fourth place) and the Dutch Grand Prix (with Moss at the wheel, finishing as runner-up), and fully streamlined again performed tests in Monza. Which of them was used depended upon the peculiarities of the circuit, the strategy chosen and the likes and dislikes of the respective driver.
The W 196 R featured a swing axle with low pivot point instead of the customary De Dion layout – a configuration explained by Uhlenhaut with its better behaviour under acceleration. An almost perfect balance was achieved by positioning heavy elements in the extremities of the W 196 R, the water and oil coolers right at the front, the tanks holding petrol and oil in the tail. In 1955 the front drum brakes were relocated into the wheels on some cars, while three wheelbase lengths were available: 2150 millimetres, 2210 millimetres, and 2350 millimetres. The shortest was ideally suited for the tight round-the-houses circuit in Monaco, at the same time it had an ambience of stocky purposefulness. But it did not, of course, prevent the disaster that struck the silver cars on that 22nd day of May: Hans Herrmann suffered a severe accident during a practice session, Fangio had to retire from the race with a broken propeller shaft, and both Moss and replacement driver André Simon in the third Silver Arrow with engine damage. The engine as a high-precision machine
As usual, before a fully-fledged eight-cylinder engine gave its first roar on the test rig, a single-cylinder test unit with 310 cc and four valves had to go through its paces. This solution uncovered a deficiency the Silver Arrows' racing engines had already struggled with in the 1930s, namely valve-gear problems when exceeding 8000 rpm and above all fragile springs. Going home after work in a streetcar in the evening of 20 May 1952, suburban commuter Hans Gassmann came up with the answer, presenting it the next morning. Cam lobes and rocker arms would control both the opening and closing of the valves so that one could make do without springs. The advantages of that concept were obvious: higher revs, more safety, greater power. As it also permitted to employ larger and heavier valves, the engineers opted for two valves per cylinder.
The injection pump, developed together with Bosch and not unlike the ones used in diesel engines, consisted of a casing with eight cylinders which fed the gas straight into the combustion chambers at a pressure of 100 kilograms per cubic centimetre. The eight-cylinder in-line configuration was inspired by the famous 18/100 hp Grand Prix car of 1914 in that the cylinders (two groups of four, with central power take-off) were firmly connected to a base plate, though bolted to an aluminium casing separate from the valve gear housing and surrounded by a welded-on cooling-water jacket. The fuel used was a highly reactive Esso mixture with code RD 1, concocted from 45 percent benzene, 25 percent methanol, 25 percent 110/130 octane petrol, three percent acetone und two percent nitro-benzene. This blend would have eaten away a tank made of unprotected steel overnight, as Hans Herrmann remembers.
The W 196 R's track record was impressive indeed: nine victories and fastest laps, as well as eight pole positions in the twelve Grand Prix races in which it was entered, and, of course, Fangio's world champion's titles in 1954 and 1955. There was little room for improvement. Mercedes-Benz W 196 R
• Entered in racing: 1954/55
• Engine: eight-cylinder in-line four-stroke petrol engine with direct injection
• Displacement: 2496 cc
• Output: 256 hp (188 kW), later boosted to up to 290 hp (213 kW)
• Top speed: over 300 km/hSource - Mercedes-Benz
uch has be written and recorded about Mercedes-Benz return to grand prix racing. And while it would seem a subject overdone, it can never be overstated just how incredible the manufacturer's achievement truly was. Throughout the history of Formula One, teams have come and gone. Many of those would come and would languish at the back, and then, disappear. There were others, however, that would come onto the scene that would make a splash, but also, disappear. Then there were others that would not achieve success straightaway but would hang around until they became one of the marquee teams in the sport. Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, would achieve would unthinkable. The team would suddenly appear on the scene, dominate, achieve all that can be achieved, and then, disappear without a trace, seemingly making its point and moving on. That final exclamation point, that final demonstration of dominance would come in 1955.
Very rarely in Formula One history has a team suddenly appeared on the scene and dominated an event. But, that is exactly what happened in Reims, France on the 4th of July in 1954. At the ultra-fast 5.15 mile Reims circuit three Mercedes-Benz W196s would line up on the grid. Two of those, driven by Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling, would go on to absolutely dominate the race, lapping the whole of the field en route to an incredible one-two, line-abreast, finish.
Although the team would come back down to earth at the British Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix would see Juan Manuel Fangio provide the German fans something special to celebrate as he took victory on the famed Nurburgring by a margin of more than a minute and 30 seconds.
After another dominate performance in the Swiss and Italian Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio would hold on and enjoy a leisurely drive in the Spanish Grand Prix having already secured the World Drivers' Championship for the second time.
It had become clear Mercedes-Benz was the team to beat heading into the 1955 season. However, there were some weaknesses within the famed team. Karl Kling had demonstrated his abilities in sportscar racing and was a solid performer, but neither he nor Hans Herrmann were on par with the Argentinean double world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. Had it not been for some incredible performances by Fangio, Mercedes would have found themselves merely fighting for top five performances. The team, therefore, was in the market for another top-flight driver to compete with Fangio and provide the team with even greater depth.
Heading into the 1954 season Stirling Moss had been campaigning with mostly British cars and had been experiencing less than stellar results. Finally, he decided his racing career would have to come before his patriotism, if he desired to win, and he would go on to purchase a Maserati 250F. This car the Brit would consider his first 'proper F1 race car'.
In the Maserati, Moss would go on to earn a number of top results and some truly memorable performances. One of the best performances would come at the Italian Grand Prix in September of 1954. Hanging with Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio, Moss would prove he was one of the best drivers in the world. Then, when he took the lead and held onto it until the last remaining moments it was clear he was more than capable of challenging for victories, if he had the right equipment.
Mercedes's long-time team boss, Alfred Beubauer, had been impressed with Moss' performance in the Italian Grand Prix and knew that Stirling was just his man to partner with Fangio at Mercedes. Mercedes, then, would stop at nothing to sign the British driver. And, after a well-orchestrated and pre-planned test in December of 1954, Moss would be won over by the opportunity presented him and would sign with the German team.
Mercedes had their lineup of drivers. With Fangio and Moss, the team had two drivers capable of challenging for victory at each and every stop of the World Championship. In Kling and Herrmann, the team had steady, capable drivers ready to complete the sweep of the podium.
Mercedes now had its drivers and, with Rudolf Uhlenhaut continually upgrading and evolving the W196, also the car in which to make another assault on the Formula One World Championship.
Only a little more than a month after the test with Mercedes, Moss would join his new team across the Atlantic Ocean in Argentinean for the first round of the 1955 Formula One World Championship season. The race was the Gran Premio de la Republica Argentina. It was the first round of the Formula One season and it would take place on the 16th of January.
After the terrible debut of the Argentine Grand Prix in 1953, when 'officially' ten people lost their lives due to Giuseppe Farina barreling into the crowd trying to avoid hitting a young boy, the Argentineans would have something to celebrate when Juan Manuel Fangio brought home the victory on his home soil in 1954 driving a Maserati.
Heading into 1955, there would be plenty of reasons for the Argentineans to be excited and looking forward to the start of the season. Now driving for the dominant Mercedes team, Fangio would certainly look to be the favorite for yet another victory. However, there were a couple of obstacles in his way.
One of those obstacles would be another Argentinean known as The Pampas Bull
. Besides Jose Froilan Gonzalez driving for Ferrari there was the addition of the Lancias and their number one driver and double world champion Alberto Ascari.
In practice, both would prove insurmountable for Fangio. Around the 2.42 mile Autodromo 17 de Octubre, Gonzalez would prove fastest recording a time of 1:43.1. At the wheel of the D50 Lancia, Ascari would also out-qualify Fangio. Ascari's time of 1:43.6 would be a mere half a second slower than Gonzalez and good enough to start 2nd on the grid. Fangio would miss out on 2nd on the grid by mere hundredths of a second. Still, one of the Mercedes would be found on the front row as the final spot on the front row would go to Jean Behra driving a Maserati.
Karl Kling had certainly much more experience behind the wheel of the W196 than Moss. Therefore, Kling's time of 1:44.1 would be three-tenths of a second faster than Moss and would be good enough to give the German the 6th starting position in the middle of the second row. Both of the other two Mercedes drivers would be found on the third row of the grid. Moss would start in 8th place while Hermann would start 10th.
The day of the race would see a record set. Given that the race was scheduled to take place on the 16th of January, the later-half of summer in the southern hemisphere, the temperature on the day of the race would be incredibly hot. Touching 104 degrees, it would be the hottest grand prix on record until being tied twice during the 1980s and in early 2000s. Not only would the conditions be terrible for the cars, but it would also be terrible for many of the drivers, especially those from Europe, who were not used to such incredible heat.
The conditions certainly seemed as though they would favor the Argentineans in the race, of which, two would be starting from the front row of the grid. And, as the flag dropped to the start the race, it would be an Argentinean leading the way, but not the one that started from on pole.
Fangio would get a great start off the line and would lead through the first lap of the race with Alberto Ascari close behind. Gonzalez, despite starting from the pole, would drop down to 4th place by the end of the first lap. Kling would also make good on the start of the race and would move up one position to 5th by the end of the first lap. Herrmann would also improve a great deal right from the start as he would be running in 7th place by the end of the first lap. But perhaps the greatest improvement would come via Moss. Starting the race in 8th place, the Brit would leap up the running order to run 3rd by the end of the first lap. Therefore, at the end of the first lap it was Mercedes running 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th.
Despite leading early on, Fangio would get shuffled back. It would become a battle between Ascari and Gonzalez. This would lead to the first time in which Fangio and Moss would run nose-to-tail, but just not in the familiar 1st and 2nd places as people would become accustomed to seeing them later on in the year.
One each of the first two laps of the race there would be accidents that would lead to a number of cars departing the scene. Unfortunately, on the 2nd lap of the race, Kling would be one of those that would be caught up in the accident and would be forced to retire. Jean Behra and Luigi Villoresi would be a couple of others that would find their races, apparently, coming to an early end.
Due to the intolerable heat and the early accidents a scoring nightmare would ensue. A number of cars would have different drivers over the course of the 96 lap race. Kling's early departure would lead to Herrmann giving up his car after 30 laps. Eugenio Castellotti, Sergio Mantovani, Luigi Musso, Giuseppe Farina, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Harry Schell and Clemar Bucci would all share their cars at some point during the day. In fact, over the whole of the race, only Fangio and Roberto Mieres would remain behind the wheel of the car in which they started.
Alberto Ascari would be battling for the lead when a mistake would lead him to crashing out of the race after 21 laps. However, because Castellotti had given up his car to Luigi Villoresi just a lap before the accident, Ascari would lose out on any opportunity to get back into the race and would be one of the few that would not be able to find some way to do so.
The heat would also take its toll on another of the early leaders. Jose Froilan Gonzalez looked quite strong early on in the race but it was clear the incredible heat was getting to him. As a result, he would hand his car over to Giuseppe Farina after 60 laps. Stirling Moss would suffer, but not from the heat. His car would suddenly pick up fuel flow problems and would force him to abandon his car after 29 laps. However, he would take over from Kling in Herrmann's car and would do his best to carry on to the finish.
While everyone else seemed to be trading rides left and right, Fangio carried on. He would re-inherit the lead of the race a couple of times. The final time would be on the 43rd lap after Roberto Mieres enjoyed a brief interlude in the lead, the only time in his career in which he would.
But while Fangio would be back in the lead, not all would be well with him either. Though he was dealing with the heat better than most, he was still being burned, just in other ways. The exhaust on the Mercedes travelled back along the side of the car but did not exit out the back, but out the side. On this day, the exhaust was actually striking a portion of the side of the chassis. Fangio's leg happened to continually rub up against part of the chassis frame in that same area. This would cause a severe burn to his leg to develop, but one that he would bear with throughout the remainder of the race.
Burn or no burn, incredible heat or incredible cold, Fangio was not going to be denied on home soil. Enjoying a lead of nearly a minute and 30 seconds, Fangio would cross the line to take the victory amongst the jubilant cheers and loud acclamation being offered from his fellow countrymen. Gonzalez's car, shared by Giuseppe Farina and Maurice Trintignant, would finish in 2nd place while Farina's car, shared by Maurice Trintignant and Umberto Maglioli, would finish in 3rd place.
The only other remaining Mercedes, the one originally started by Herrmann, and that would be shared by Kling and Moss, would finish 2 laps down in 4th place. This result would look a far cry from that of its sister car.
Posting the fastest lap of the race, Fangio would earn the maximum amount of points while a number of other drivers would share points. This gave Fangio an incredible advantage in the points, and after just the first race of the season. Of course, it would come at a cost. The burns to his leg would leave a scar he would carry for the rest of his life and it would take upwards of three months before it would fully heal. Thankfully, for Fangio and the team, there would be about three months in between rounds of the World Championship.
Month after month would pass by in between rounds of the World Championship. Still, Mercedes would be anything but idle during this period. In fact, to that point in the season, the team would experience its greatest result come the 1st of May when Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson set a blistering time in the Mille Miglia to come out the race's victors. The great result was only made better when Juan Manuel Fangio provided the team a one-two finish completing the race distance over 30 minutes behind Moss and Jenkinson.
It seemed that May would be a great month for the team. The result at the Mille Miglia certainly would have provided the necessary evidence. But, come the 22nd of the month, another tough race awaited and there was really nothing but opinion that provided any certainty.
The last time Mercedes-Benz had competed at the Monaco Grand Prix it had been 1937 and it would prove to be one of the most incredible performances by the team as they went on to sweep the podium with Manfred von Brauchitsch taking the victory by a minute and 24 seconds over Rudolf Caracciola. The Swiss driver, Christian Kautz, would complete the podium finishing two laps down in a third W125.
The last time the Monaco Grand Prix had been a part of the Formula One World Championship it had been 1950, the inaugural season. And in that race, Juan Manuel Fangio would come away with the victory leading home an Alfa Romeo one-two. It would also be one of the last times in which the pre-war grand prix driver, Luigi Fagioli, would be seen behind the wheel of a grand prix car.
After that first year as part of the World Championship, the Monaco Grand Prix would only exist for a couple of more seasons, but as a sportscar event. But, on the 22nd of May, in 1955, the Monaco Grand Prix would be back on the World Championship calendar.
Though it had only been a part of the World Championship the very first year, it would be like Formula One was coming home when it returned to the principality in 1955. It would only be made better with the arrival of Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes-Benz would make a grand reappearance in Monaco coming to the event with no less than three cars. Of course, Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss would be behind the wheel of two of them. But it would be Hans Herrmann and not Karl Kling competing in the third.
Besides the Mercedes contingent, the field would be rightly filled with the royalty of Formula One. Scuderia Lancia would bring four cars as would the factory Maserati team. Scuderia Ferrari would enter no less than five cars while the French squad, Equipe Gordini, would enter three cars. Smaller teams, like Vandervell Products and other privateer teams would help to make up a field 20 cars strong.
Practice would see Juan Manuel Fangio set the pace around the 1.95 mile circuit. But, Alberto Ascari would prove, once again, to be his equal posting a fastest lap just hundredths of a second slower. Stirling Moss would show he had come to be comfortable with his new team, especially after the Mille Miglia victory, as he would be just a tenth of a second slower around the circuit and would take the 3rd, and final, spot on the front row.
Not all would be well for Mercedes, however. During practice, the throttle on Herrmann's Mercedes would stick open and he would plow his Mercedes into the bollards lining the circuit. Herrmann would be injured, the car badly damaged. Still, the team would not give up on fielding a third car. And so, journeyman Andre Simon would be contracted to drive the race for the Mercedes team once they rebuilt car number 4.
Though not a regular with the grand prix team, Simon had had enough experience with the Mercedes sportscar team to feel pretty comfortable straight-away. In a short amount of time, Simon would be up to speed and would be not all that far off the pace of his teammates. In the end, Simon would end up on the fourth row of the grid in 10th place after posting a time just a little more than four seconds slower than the effort achieved by Fangio.
Having two cars on the front row heading into the 100 lap Monaco Grand Prix, things were already looking bright for Mercedes, but, like in Argentina, the hot weather conditions would certainly have been reason for concern.
Still, it would be Fangio that would lead the way through the first turn, the Gazometre hairpin. Eugenio Castellotti would make an incredible start in his Lancia and he would manage to force his way past Moss to split the two Silver Arrows at the end of the first lap. Simon would struggle off the start and would be fighting hard just to make his way back up to where he started. By the end of the first lap, he would be out of the top ten and not looking all that good.
Fangio would lead the way through the first few laps with Castellotti bringing up the challenge. Moss would be all over the Italian while he defended his position from another Italian, Alberto Ascari. Simon would only further slip down the running order as the laps began to click off. It was clear the Frenchman was not comfortable with his car, or, that it had some kind of problem that was impeding his progress.
Castellotti would no longer impede Moss as the young British driver would push his way past on the 5th lap of the race. As a result of his move on the Lancia, Moss would set up what was to become a very famous and familiar sight with Fangio leading the way with Moss following closely behind. But while Fangio and Moss led the way, Simon continued to struggle and found himself languishing down outside of the top ten.
Luigi Musso and Louis Rosier would be out of the race before 10 laps would be complete. Mike Hawthorn would retire in the Vanwall when the throttle linkage broke on the car. Despite the heat and the tough nature of the circuit, attrition was slow to visit teams. However, by the quarter mark of the race, attrition would really begin to make an impact on the course of events.
One of the next to be visited by attrition would be the third Mercedes driver. Andre Simon would be struggling outside of the top ten. Then, on the 25th lap, things would get worse when the engine in the car totally let go. Smoke pouring from the car, he would retire from the race.
Things would get even more interesting for the Mercedes team at the halfway mark of the race. Though down one car, Mercedes still had its two drivers up at the front of the field leading the way. There seemed to be absolutely no reason for concern. But then, on the 50th lap of the race, Fangio would not be seen past the Station Hairpin. And then, there he would be, but on foot. The transmission on the car had failed and he would abandon the car at the hairpin leaving Moss to carry on in the lead.
Moss had followed along behind Fangio for 45 laps. It was obvious he knew how to get around the circuit carefully, but fast enough to keep his challengers at bay. Therefore, when Fangio dropped out of the running, Moss would pick up the mantle left by his teammate and would appear to be more than equal to the task. And, even though it would be the double world champion Alberto Ascari giving chase, Moss would maintain, even add, to his advantage over the remainder of the field.
What a place to score one' first World Championship victory. But Moss would find that the race was far from over. Sure enough, with just 20 laps remaining in the race, smoke would be seen pouring out from under Moss' engine cover. Demoralized and frustrated, Moss would pull into the pits fully aware victory had just been snatched from his fingers.
The lead, however, would not be handed to Ascari, for he too, would find anything possible before the checkered flag. Clearly unable to challenge the Mercedes Silver Arrows, Ascari seemed to be running a steady and consistent race just hoping and praying for problems with the German cars. Unfortunately, just when he had the opportunity to capitalize, he would throw it all away by clipping the chicane along the harbor. This would result in Ascari blowing through some bollards and dumping himself and the car into the harbor.
While frogmen were busy fishing Ascari out of the harbor, Maurice Trintignant would come through to take over the lead of the race, much to the surprise of everyone gathered around the circuit. Coming into the race, the two favorites had been Mercedes and Lancia. Ferrari seemed a distant afterthought. But as Trintignant roared past the pits into the lead, it would become exceedingly clear the drama of motor racing had the potential of pulling out surprises even up to the very last minutes of a race.
Certainly willing to receive his inheritance, Trintignant would carry on in the lead of the race and would power his way to his first Formula One World Championship win. Eugenio Castellotti, who had been running in 2nd place very early on in the race, would end up coming through to finish in 2nd place following along behind Trintignant by some 20 seconds. Jean Behra and Cesare Perdisa would share a drive in a Maserati and would come away with 3rd place finishing a lap behind.
The 1955 Monaco Grand Prix had all the makings of a historic victory or one-two finish that the tiny principality had grown accustomed to witnessing in the years leading up to World War II. However, an unfortunate run of unreliability would not allow Mercedes' return to Monaco be as sweet as the last time. Perhaps the greatest surprise of the weekend would not just be that Trintignant came through to take the victory, but, that he would leave the circuit with the lead in the World Championship. But at the very next race of the World Championship, Fangio would make sure Trintignant's time in the limelight would come to an end.
Although the Indianapolis 500 counted toward the 1955 World Championship, all of the teams waited and made some final preparations before the fourth round of the Formula One season.
The fourth round of the Formula One World Championship would actually take place in early June. From the warmth and sunshine of the Mediterranean the teams would head deep into the heart of the Belgian Ardennes Forest and would find the usual grey and wet weather greeting their arrival. It was the Belgian Grand Prix and that meant the infamous, fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Spa-Francorchamps had been one of the early circuits throughout Europe. First hosting a race in 1922, Spa would become well-known for hosting its 24 Hours of Francorchamps. A true road course, the original circuit would remain relatively unchanged well into the 1950s. Utilizing public roads running between the villages of Francorchamps, Malmedy and Stavelot, the resulting course would be one of sheer brilliance and frightfulness. Infused with a lot of elevation changes, blindingly quick bends and some incredible scenery all around, Spa would be an instant classic.
Mercedes had missed the Belgian Grand Prix the year before. But, in 1955, the team would come bearing three cars. Fangio and Moss would be rejoined by Karl Kling. Unloading the cars and setting out for practice, the weather would be wet and dark. But not just the conditions would be dark around the circuit.
Just about a week before, Alberto Ascari would be lost while testing a Ferrari sportscar at Monza. The loss would be deeply felt up and down the paddock. Not surprisingly, Ascari's friend and mentor, Luigi Villoresi, would withdraw from the event as would Lancia's replacement driver. However, Eugenio Castellotti, Ascari's protégé, would make the trip into the Ardennes, perhaps in honor of the man that had died testing his car at Monza.
Amidst the tears falling from heaven, Castellotti would do his mentor proud securing the fastest lap around the 8.77 mile circuit. Completing a lap in 4:18.1, Castellotti would take the pole by a margin of a half a second over Fangio. Stirling Moss would complete the front row by giving Mercedes two cars on the first rank. Karl Kling would be a bit off the pace of his teammates. He would complete a lap of the circuit with a time of 4:24.0. This would lead to the German starting from the 6th place starting position, the third row of the grid.
As daybreak broke on Sunday, the 5th of June, the weather would be markedly different from practice. Dry conditions and mild temperatures greeted spectators and competitors alike. This meant the entire field would be unleashed for 36 laps, free to push as hard as possible. Therefore, lap times were expected to be fast and breathtaking.
The cars would be lined up on the grid, preparing for the downhill run toward the climbing right-hander at Eau Rouge. The start would be of utmost importance. One mistake and the race could come to an end before it even started. Engines would come to life and the revs would come up to full song.
Engines roaring, the flag would drop to start the 315 mile race. Powering his way on the run down toward Eau Rouge, Fangio would get by Castellotti to take the lead of the race. Moss would be unable to pull off the same maneuver, and therefore, would be stuck behind the Italian going up the hill. However, by the end of the 8.77 miles, it would be Fangio leading the way with Moss following the wheel tracks of the Argentinean from 2nd. Kling would also get a very good start from the third row of the grid. On the run down toward the hill, the German would power his way down the inside and would find himself 4th by the time the field headed up the hill for the very first time. And, by the end of the first lap, Kling would remain right there in 4th giving Mercedes three cars in the top four.
Castellotti out of the way, Fangio and Moss would hook up once again and would begin to draw away from the rest of the field, including Kling who would run into some trouble and would be pushed all the way back down to 6th place by the 4th lap of the race.
Fangio would be in a class unto himself on this day as he steadily began to draw away from Moss over the course of the 36 lap race, but of course, it had been Mercedes one-two at Monaco, and then, everything went wrong.
On this day, everything seemed to be going right for Mercedes while the rest of the field would be left struggling to keep up. Jean Behra would crash after 3 laps and would end up taking over Roberto Mieres' car. Paul Frere would have a terrible start but would recover and would be gradually making his way back up through the field when the others find themselves caught out by mistakes or mechanical problems. Another of those to fall out of the race, and thereby, help Frere would be Mike Hawthorn. Gearbox issues had arisen even before the start of the race but the issue would finally get the better of the British team and Hawthorn would be forced to retire after just 8 laps. The sole Lancia in the field would last almost to the halfway mark of the race before gearbox issues also sidelined him.
No such problems would be reported by either Fangio or Moss. They would continue on at the head of the field without so much of a hiccup. Kling's race would go from great to terrible quite quickly. Not only would he get shuffled back over the course of the first few laps of the race, but a broken oil pipe would bring his race entirely to an end after 21 laps.
Lap after lap, Neubauer would click his stopwatch keeping track of his two remaining Silver Arrows. Fangio would be out front enjoying a comfortable margin over his teammate by the later-half of the race. Content, the two drivers would remain on the limit but would not ask too much of their cars in order to preserve them all the way to the finish.
Mercedes would have some concerns with a number of laps still to go. Although the Lancia threat was practically non-existent, right along with the majority of Scuderia Ferrari's projectiles, there still was Giuseppe Farina. Though well into his forties, Farina would be pushing hard throughout the whole of the race and would give Mercedes some concern, especially after the retirements suffered in Monaco.
But there really would be very little reason for worry. Fangio would absolutely dominate the proceedings taking the checkered flag after two hours and thirty-nine minutes. Setting fastest lap with a lap time of 4:20.6, Fangio would enjoy and eight second margin of victory over Moss by the end. Moss' performance would be perfect in its own right. Following along and only pushing Fangio when necessary, Moss protected the Argentine's backside and was showing himself to be an emerging start in Formula One. Giuseppe Farina would be impressive as well at the wheel of the Ferrari 555. He would come through to finish the race in 3rd place a little more than a minute and 40 seconds behind Fangio.
Despite Kling's misfortunes, the weekend would be a good recovery for Mercedes after the debacle in Monaco that saw both of its cars fall out of the race while in the lead. This time, the two Silver Arrows would be out front and unchallenged. It would be a nearly perfect technical race as the two men would lead the way for each of the 36 laps. This helped to restore the team's confidence and built momentum for what was to be a very busy summer.
But, that was until Le Mans.
One of the attractions of the deal with Mercedes for Moss would be the opportunity to partner with Juan Manuel Fangio in the longer endurance races, like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And, as Mercedes arrived in Le Mans for the 1955 running of the 24 hour race, there would be a great amount of excitement within the Mercedes team.
Ferrari would enter a number of strong entries, but the Italian manufacturer would serve as nothing more than background for the story everyone was sure to develop during the actual race—a titanic battle between the English and the Germans, namely Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.
The expected battle would come to fruition during the race and wouldn't disappoint. Quickly, the race would turn from an endurance event into an all-out sprint. Lap after lap, Fangio and Hawthorn would lower the track record in an intense battle. Unfortunately, at such speeds even the slightest of mistakes had the potential of causing some truly dire consequences.
Nobody would have guessed the dire consequences would involve one of the Mercedes entries. At the wheel of one of the Mercedes 300 SLRs, Pierre Levegh would have Lance Macklin veer into his path coming down the start/finish straight. Having no time to react, Levegh would strike the back of Macklin's Healey and would be launched into the air toward the tightly packed grandstands and earthen area in between. The result would be catastrophic and terribly tragic. Not only would Levegh lose his life, but some 80-90 spectators as well. It would end up being the worse accident in the history of motor racing and it would change the landscape of motor racing, not only for 1955, but beyond.
Rightly so, the fallout from the accident would be swift and far-reaching. Only a decade removed from the Second World War, Mercedes would make the decision to withdraw from the race, despite being in the lead at the time. Additionally, a number of races, including Formula One World Championship events, would be cancelled. All of a sudden, what had been a busy summer of motor racing would turn into large gaps without any races at all. As far as Mercedes-Benz was concerned, the accident would cause the team to seriously consider the future.
Not every race would be cancelled, however. One of those that would remain on the calendar would be the fifth round of the Formula One World Championship, the Dutch Grand Prix.
The terrible accident at Le Mans would cause many organizers to consider options. And while many would make the decision to cancel events, in some cases permanently, there would be others that would choose to carry on. In the case of the Dutch Grand Prix, it had already been scheduled for the 19th of June, one week after the Le Mans tragedy. The race's organizers already had major components and venders in place. It would be difficult to cancel at such a late date. Besides that, it seemed clear the Dutch organizers wanted to help everyone move forward. Therefore, the fifth round of the World Championship would carry on as scheduled.
Mercedes and the rest of the teams would make their way back to the Low Countries of Europe. From the 8.77 mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit, teams would make their way to the 2.60 Zandvoort circuit located within a couple minute's walk from the North Sea.
While the two circuits could not be any different in length, they would share more than a couple of things in common. Not only would the natures of the two circuits be similar in that both were fast, requiring great bravery and courage, but being located right on the edge of the North Sea meant similar weather greeted drivers, teams and spectators. Blowing sand, gusty winds and suddenly stormy conditions were all a part of the nature, a part of the draw of Zandvoort.
Just 16 cars would qualify for the race. And, coming off the formidable one-two performance at Spa, it would be Fangio and Moss leading the way in practice in the Mercedes. Fangio would set the fastest lap in practice with a time of 1:40.0. Moss would be close behind with a time just four-tenths slower. Karl Kling, however, would also be impressive around the 2.60 mile circuit. His best lap of 1:41.1 would be just a little more than a second slower than Fangio and would lead to the first front row sweep by Mercedes on the season.
The skies would look threatening as the cars rolled up to their grid positions in preparation for the 100 lap Dutch Grand Prix. The Dutch flag would be held out proudly as the tension began to mount. Then, with a drop of the flag, the 1955 Dutch Grand Prix would be underway.
Fangio would absolutely bolt off the line while Moss and Kling would be slow in reacting. Heading through the banked right-hand first turn, it would be Fangio clearly leading the way with Moss following along in 3rd place behind Luigi Musso. Kling would find himself in 4th place but already a couple of car lengths behind Moss.
At the end of the first lap it would be Musso challenging Fangio heading into the first turn but the Argentinean would hold onto the position while Moss remained close behind in 3rd place. Kling would be under pressure of his own as he fought to hold off Behra, Hawthorn and Mieres.
Despite challenging for the lead, Moss would take over 2nd place from Musso by the end of the 2nd lap and the familiar Fangio-Moss would be well-joined. Meanwhile, Kling would lose position to Behra and would find Musso and Behra in between himself and the rest of his teammates after just a couple of laps.
After changes in the running order at the conclusion of the first couple of laps, the running order would remain virtually unchanged throughout nearly the first quarter of the race. Fangio and Moss would lead the way while Musso did his best to hang onto the coattails of the two Mercedes. Behra would be running in 4th place while Kling would solidify his position in 5th.
After Peter Walker's retirement just 2 laps into the event, very little in the way of attrition would strike at the field throughout the next 10 to 15 laps. Unfortunately, Kling would have to break that cycle.
While Fangio and Moss extended their margin over Musso in 3rd place, the situation for Kling would go from steady to awful in one unfortunate moment. Trying to keep up with the incredible pace his teammates were putting forth, Kling would make a slight miscalculation and would spin his Mercedes out of the race after just 21 laps.
Not long after Kling excursion took him out of the race, Horace Gould would do the same. And, after retirements by Robert Manzon and Maurice Trintignant, there would be 11 cars remaining in the race with 30 laps still to run.
Fangio and Moss would be in control. Though still running at record speeds around the circuit, they would seem perfectly at home pushing ever-harder widening the gap over Musso in the Maserati. Musso would do his absolute best not to allow the two Silver Arrows to escape, but the rains would finally come toward the later-stages of the race and would immediately have a role to play in the events still to come.
Roberto Mieres, despite being a lap down, would end up setting the fastest lap of the race. Luigi Musso would also try his level best to reel in the Mercedes pair by increasing his pace. It would be an impressive performance until the sudden rain showers would dampen the circuit causing Musso to suffer a late spin that would eradicate any ground that had been gained.
Having a comfortable margin in hand over Musso in 3rd place, Neubauer would send out the order to Fangio and Moss to settle the pace down and carry on to victory. And, after 100 laps and more than two hours and fifty-four minutes, Fangio would come across the line just three-tenths of a second ahead of Moss to take yet another victory. Luigi Musso would recuperate from his error to maintain his 3rd place position. He would finally cross the line 57 seconds later.
After the bitter disappointment in Monaco, Mercedes would come to enjoy two-straight one-two finishes. It seemed clear the team had fixed its reliability issues and the dominance of 1954 would only be further built upon. Maurice Trintignant's failure in the Dutch Grand Prix also meant that Mercedes had the first two positions in the championship battle firmly in hand with Fangio leading the way handily over Stirling Moss. Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann, on the other hand, would be much further down in the standings as a result of their troubles throughout the season.
Though the second, fourth and fifth rounds of the World Championship had come in a rather short period of time, there would be a gap of nearly a month in between the fifth and sixth rounds. This was not planned, but as a result of the tragedy of Le Mans, it would be a reality the teams would have to deal with. So, while most teams would have been preparing for the French Grand Prix, they, instead, would head back to their homes to work on car preparation for the next race a month away.
As the calendar turned to July, teams began to focus on the sixth round of the Formula One World Championship. And, for 1955, a new venue was on the horizon. Toward the middle of July, teams, like Mercedes, would gather all their equipment and would ship everything across the English Channel to England for the British Grand Prix. But unlike the five previous seasons, the teams would have an entirely destination in which to head. Instead of Silverstone, the famed Aintree Racecourse prepared to welcome the Formula One World Championship.
The very first round of the newly formed Formula One World Championship would be the British Grand Prix. And, from 1950 through 1954, the venue that served as host for the British Grand Prix had been the former World War II bomber training base at Silverstone. However, in 1955, all that would change.
On the 16th of July, an incredible throng of spectators would descend upon the famed Aintree Racecourse. But, the incredible throng wouldn't be coming to watch the best steeplechase horses negotiate such famous fences as The Chair, Foinavon or Beecher's Brook as part of the Grand National. No, the large grandstands would be filled with excited Brits longing to watch the best Formula One cars, teams and drivers in the world compete in a 90 lap race around the 3.0 mile Aintree circuit.
The 10th RAC British Grand Prix would be a special event. Not only would it be the first time the British Grand Prix held at Aintree, but it would be especially exciting given Mercedes' first appearance to the north of England. To top it all off, the potential for a British driver, in Stirling Moss, to score the first victory for a British driver in his home grand prix meant a special excitement buzzed in and around the circuit all weekend.
Moss would cause the excitement to rise to a fever pitch with his performance in practice. As usual, Juan Manuel Fangio would be fast around the 3.0 mile circuit. Posting a lap time of 2:00.6, it seemed yet another pole was due to Fangio. However, Moss, riding the wave of momentum from being amongst his fellow Brits, would cause his fellow countrymen to rise to their feet as he would post a time two-tenths of a second faster, and thereby, take away the pole from the Argentinean. It would be a special moment. Not only would it be a British driver on the pole for the British Grand Prix, but it would be the first pole in a World Championship grand prix of Moss' career.
Mercedes would come to Aintree in force. It seemed as though Germany had finally invaded England. The German manufacturer would come to the north of England with another evolution of the W196. This timeNot only would the German manufacturer bring cars for Fangio and Moss, but they would dispatch a total of four cars to Aintree with the other two drivers being Karl Kling and the sportscar ace Piero Taruffi.
Were it not for Jean Behra pulling out a fast lap in his Maserati to grab the 3rd, and final, starting spot on the front row, it would have been a clean sweep of the top four positions by the Mercedes team. Instead, Kling would qualify in the 4th position and would start alongside Taruffi in the two-wide second row.
Unlike Silverstone, where grey, overcast skies and the threat of rain always loomed large, bright sunny skies greeted everyone on the day of the race; Sunday, July 16th. And, like the first two rounds of the 1955 season, incredibly hot conditions awaited to wreak havoc on the field.
After parading the drivers around the circuit in identical Austin-Healeys, the cars would be pushed to their grid positions and the drivers would jump inside preparing for the start of the race. Electric starters would turn the engines over and the drama would begin to mount as the drivers prepared to launch themselves toward the first turn at Waterway.
Car's straining like horses at the starting line, it would be Fangio that would get the better jump off the line to beat Moss into the first turn. Jean Behra, however, would have a poor getaway and would lose a number of positions right at the start of the race. Therefore, as the cars streamed through the first turn at Waterway it would be Mercedes-Benz one, two, three and four.
Though Behra would lose out at the start of the race, he would recover quickly to regain his place by the end of the first lap. Unfortunately for the British faithful, Moss would be unable to resume his place at the front of the field with Fangio leading the way.
Moss would be all over his world champion teammate. Still, Moss would be unable to get by Fangio through the first couple of laps of the race. It was clear Moss was being held up by Fangio. The fact Behra had closed up and was right on the rear end of Moss' car was only further proof of the fact.
The British Grand Prix, when it was held at Silverstone, had always something of a reputation of being a car killer. Well, despite being held at a new venue, the reputation would remain intact and the attrition would begin in earnest.
While Fangio was doing his best to hold off Moss for the outright lead of the race, behind them, a tragedy was being enacted as car after car would run afoul of trouble and would drop out of the race. There would be a total of 25 cars that would start the race. However, by the 25th lap of the race, nine cars would be out of the race and a number of others would be out of the running simply by lapping too slow. Among those that would make early exits would be Robert Manzon, Jean Behra, Harry Schell, Eugenio Castellotti and Roy Salvadori.
But while many would find the heat and the circuit too tough to tame, the four Mercedes would continue to run, looking like a pre-war race with the formidable Silver Arrows leading the way.
Moss would finally get the better of Fangio and would bring the crowd to its feet as he would take the lead of the race. Beside another brief period during the race in which Fangio would be up on point, Moss would look absolutely unbeatable. After Behra's early departure, it would be Roberto Mieres that would take up station behind Kling. Therefore, it would be Mercedes 1st through 3rd with Taruffi running solidly in 5th place.
Just past halfway it was still Moss leading the way. He would actually continue to pull out an advantage over the Argentinean with every passing lap. Kling remained on station in 3rd place, but with Mieres, and then Musso, in 4th and 5th, it seemed Mercedes would miss out on sweeping the top four spots.
Just about everyone at Mercedes would be fixed upon the battle at the front with the Brit Moss leading his home grand prix. However, when Mieres departed the race with an engine failure and Musso faded under the pressure, it would be, suddenly, Mercedes 1st through 4th.
There would be 30 laps still remaining in the race but it couldn't have looked any better for Mercedes with each of its four cars occupying a top spot in the running order. It would certainly look as if a squadron from the German Luftwaffe was flying in formation over England. But with a Brit at the controls of the lead car, it was as if the Brits were bringing home the spoils of war.
Moss was looking to bring home his spoils. After toiling for years at the wheel of British single-seaters, he finally had his chance at victory and he wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers. Or was he?
In the closing stages of the race, it was clear Fangio was catching up Moss hand over fist. There was backing off when sure of victory, and then there was backing off because there was a problem. And it certainly seemed to look as if the later was the case. Moss had built up a lead over his teammate, but it was clear, watching the lead disappear, that his car had fallen off in performance compared to Fangio's car. Moss would do everything he could to hold on. But even into the very last lap of the race, things were still in doubt.
Coming around Beecher's Bend and down the Railway Straight, Fangio would draw Moss in like a fighting fish on the end of a fisherman's line. It certainly seemed, heading into the final corner at Tatts, that Fangio would be able to reel in Moss and snatch victory away from Moss. Diving to the inside coming out of Tatts, Moss would do everything he could to make Fangio have to take the long way around to victory. Powering to the line, Fangio would be nearly right beside Moss. However, as they crossed the line it was clear Moss had held on to take the victory over his teammate.
Just two-tenths of a second would be the difference. And that two-tenths would send the crowd into a frenzy celebrating the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix. But while the crowd would be focused on celebrating with its English hero, Mercedes would go on to achieve its greatest aim finishing 1st through 4th as Kling finished in 3rd place and Taruffi brought it home for the team by crossing the line in 4th.
It would be the most spectacular day, all the way around. Fangio had clinched his third World Championship, Moss' first World Championship victory would come in his home grand prix, it would be the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix and, to top it all off, Mercedes would dominate taking the top-four spots in the finishing order. It really could not have been a more perfect day, and therefore, was reason enough for the decision the manufacturer would make, which was, to pull out of motor racing.
There really was nothing more for Mercedes-Benz to prove. Fangio had taken his third World Championship title, second with the team. Moss had scored a victory in his home grand prix, the team had managed to score a number of one-two, if not better, finishes and victories in the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Tourist Trophy sportscar races only added to the achievements of the team. The only goal that had managed to escape the team's grasp had been Le Mans. But, having been involved in one of the darkest days in motor racing, it would have been hard for the German team, in France, to return to try again. Therefore, it was realized by the company that in just two years they had achieved most all of the major goals they, or any manufacturer, would have had. It was time to walk away. And the long gap in between the sixth and final rounds of the World Championship would only solidify that decision.
The Le Mans tragedy would lead to more than the French Grand Prix being abandoned. The German, Swiss and Spanish grand prix would also be lost for the 1955 season. This meant there would be a very large gap after the British Grand Prix held on the 16th of July. The gap wouldn't be as long as between the 1st and 2nd rounds, but it would be more than enough to allow drivers and teams take part in a number of non-championship races.
Mercedes-Benz, however, would be one of the few manufacturers that would not take part in any of the non-championship grand prix. The year before, the team had made an appearance at Avus in Berlin. It would be an incredible sight as the three W196s would come sweeping down off the steep banking of the north curve to cross the line in a staggered formation.
With the exception of Juan Manuel Fangio who would not take part in many non-championship races, the break in between the 6th, and final, rounds of the World Championship would allow drivers, like Stirling Moss, to be seen in their future roles after the departure of Mercedes-Benz.
In the case of Stirling Moss, it was evident before coming to drive for Mercedes who he would return to drive with come the 1956 season. There had been a big question surrounding his commitments to the Maserati factory and contracts signed with sponsors. But, unlike this day and age of firm contracts, Moss would be released from such obligations in order to chase after the incredible offer placed before him by Mercedes.
Even though the Mercedes drivers had already started to seek out future employment, there was still one more round of the World Championship to complete. And, with the German Grand Prix off the calendar, it seemed fitting that that final round should be the Italian Grand Prix.
The 1954 season had seen Mercedes dominate, but it also revealed some signs of weakness such as at Silverstone and Pedralbes. One year later, and with Silverstone and Pedralbes off the schedule, Mercedes was literally unbeatable; the only mark on its 1955 record being Monaco. Therefore, if Mercedes was to bow out of Formula One, nothing would be better than one more indomitable performance. And, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza served as the perfect venue.
Initially built during the early 1920s in the Royal Villa of Monza, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza would be one of the first purpose-built racetracks in the world. When the track made its debut in September of 1922 it would boast of a rather unique design. Not only would the circuit have a road course for its use, but it would also boast of oval track that could be incorporated into the road course to make a much longer road course.
The 6.2 mile circuit would see its share of fatal accidents during its early years. And, by the 1930s, the layout of the circuit would change many times until, by the end of World War II, just the 3.91 mile road course would be used. The oval portion of the circuit would lay abandoned and decaying.
It would be decided, following the 1954 Italian Grand Prix, to rehab the oval portion of the circuit in order to make use of it once again. Therefore, during the winter months, the oval circuit would undergo refurbishment and an important evolution. The original oval circuit had some rather shallow banking in each of its corners. Monza already had a reputation for being an ultra-fast circuit. Therefore, a great deal of focus would be put into the oval evolution in order to maintain the circuit's already high average speeds. Thus, it would be decided to make both ends of the oval steeply-banked. This would ensure drivers would be able to keep their foot firmly to the floor going around the banked ends of the circuit. So, heading into the 1955 edition of the Italian Grand Prix, teams and drivers would find the old 6.2 mile beast ready and waiting.
Aware of the changes to the circuit, Mercedes would still pull out all of the stops and would model an evolution of the previous season's streamlined W196. Just one would be produced and it would be Juan Manuel Fangio that would be given the honor of taking to the wheel. Stirling Moss would also be handed a streamlined W196; it was just one of the older models used during the 1954 season. Intent on going out on top, Mercedes would bring four cars to Italy. Besides Fangio and Moss, Karl Kling would take to the wheel of one of the open-wheeled W196s as would Piero Taruffi.
Upon arriving at Monza, Mercedes would find a renewed threat from Scuderia Ferrari. Lancia's financial woes would make the potent D50s available for sale. Enzo Ferrari would move on the opportunity and the D50s would be rebranded Lancia-Ferraris. On home turf, and with the presence of the other major Italian grand prix manufacturer, Maserati, Mercedes could expect one tough fight during the 1955 Italian Grand Prix.
But, even with the purchase of the Lancias by Ferrari, and the presence of Maserati, Mercedes would appear unbeatable throughout practice. Behind the wheel of the updated streamlined W196, Fangio would turn the fastest lap of the 6.2 mile circuit. Completing a lap in 2:46.5 at an average speed of 134 mph, Fangio power his way to yet another pole. Not surprisingly, Moss would start right alongside his colleague having posted a time just three-tenths of a second slower.
If Mercedes-Benz was intent on going out of motor racing on top, then the team's performance in practice would only add to everyone's confidence. While a perfect performance would have included a Mercedes in each of the first four positions on the grid, the team's performance in practice would be close to perfect. Karl Kling would make sure there would be at least one more clean sweep of the front row by grabbing the final starting spot on the front row. Piero Taruffi would struggle, compared to his fellow teammates, but still, would perform well putting his Mercedes on the fourth row in the 9th position.
Though already a bittersweet proposition, the Mercedes Silver Arrows would take to the grid for the final time in Formula One. Still, the usual Italian sunshine and warmth would make it a truly memorable occasion for just about everyone involved, including teams, drivers and spectators.
The excitement would begin to build amongst the passionate Italian fans. Eager to cheer on their Italian machines against the German might, the Italian threat would be muted to a fair degree with the unfortunate when tire problems on the two Lancias would lead to Farina crashing heavily during practice. Similar problems would visit Villoresi. As a result, the Lancias would not take part in the race. Therefore, despite having a large number of Maseratis and Ferraris in the field, it seemed like an almost impossible proposition to snatch victory away from the four Mercedes. And that is just how Mercedes wanted it.
The three Silver Arrows would come to life, ready to lead the field from the front row of the grid. At the start, it would be Stirling that would get the better jump off the line. Moss may have gained the advantage off the line, but by the end of the first lap it would be Fangio in the lead just ahead of Moss. Piero Taruffi would start the race much further down in the field than the rest of his teammates. However, right from the start of the race, Taruffi would be on the move. And, by the end of the first lap, it would be Taruffi right behind Moss with Kling making it a Mercedes one-two-three-four.
The power of the Mercedes engine would lead to the four Silver Arrows pulling away from the rest of the field. Fangio would lead the way over Moss. After a few laps, Taruffi would give way to Kling, but it would still be all Mercedes at the front of the field.
While Mercedes would be running unabated at the front of the field, there would be a number of entries that would find themselves out of the race very early on. Ken Wharton wouldn't even complete a single lap before problems sidelined his effort. The second of the Vanwalls, driven by Harry Schell, would last just 7 laps before rear suspension failure brought the whole thing to an end for the team. Then, after these early retirements, things would go quiet for a little while.
Following along behind Fangio, but having finally tasted glory, Moss would be pushing hard to make it two-straight victories and to end his short time with Mercedes on the highest of highs. He would do all that he could. On the 21st lap of the race he would turn the fastest lap with a time just a tenth slower than his own qualifying effort. This would put tremendous pressure on Fangio running right in front of him on the circuit. Unfortunately, all of the pressure would end up falling on Moss' engine as he would find his career with Mercedes-Benz come to a smoky conclusion on the 27th lap of the race as the engine expired in his W196.
Luigi Musso and Mike Hawthorn would all join Moss out of the running. However, Karl Kling would also suffer problems and would be forced out of the running when his gearbox failed. All of a sudden, the four-car Mercedes Juggernaut seemed to be falling apart. But, with Fangio in charge at the head of the field, it would take something truly catastrophic for victory to be snatched from Mercedes' hands.
Averaging a little more than 128 mph, Fangio would keep everyone at bay and would even leave a good majority of the field behind over the course of the 50 lap race. By the end, just the top four would remain on the lead lap, and, Jean Behra, running in 4th place, would find himself nearly four minutes behind coming in to the final lap of the race.
Though Moss and Kling would fall foul of attrition, Taruffi would survive the gauntlet. And, as the two remaining Silver Arrows set off on the final lap of the race, Fangio would slow the pace a little to let Taruffi draw closer. Coming around the Parabolica for the final time, not only for the race but for Mercedes grand prix career, Fangio would lead home a Mercedes one-two with Taruffi taking an absolutely delightful 2nd place. Eugenio Castellotti would have the honor of saving Italian honor as he would complete the podium finishing the race some 46 seconds behind.
It would be another absolutely dominating performance by Mercedes, but its last wouldn't be its best. Though Mercedes wouldn't be challenged at any point during the race, it would be far from the dominant performance the team, and many others, expected. The hope and prayer was that it would have been a line abreast finish with all four cars crossing the line at the end. Still, a one-two finish would be something teams, even up to present day, wouldn't look down upon. But such was the expectation Mercedes and everyone else had in 1955. It had been a completely indomitable performance by the team all season long and a 1st through 4th just would have been the best way for the team to have departed the scene.
Fangio taking one more victory for the team would certainly suffice. The scene of a jubilant Taruffi would only make everything better. It had been business as usual, and the Mercedes team provided even the Italian faithful just one last glimpse of the mighty Silver Arrows in all its glory. It really would be one of the best departures, and setting for a departure, made by any team in Formula One history. Everyone had grown accustomed to the dominance of the mighty Silver Arrows, just as in the days leading up to World War II. But whereas the world would say goodbye to the Silver Arrows only to be say 'hello' to years of destruction at the hand of the same nation, the departure of Mercedes-Benz at the end of the 1955 season would be nothing short of bittersweet. Therefore, the victory by Fangio, while very business-like for the German team, would be one last fond farewell and a great moment to reflect upon in future years.
Mercedes-Benz had returned to grand prix racing and, in just two years, would achieve just about everything possible, with the exception being victory at Monaco. Deflated slightly by the tragic events at Le Mans, Mercedes recognized it was time to move on. They had started out on the mountaintop, stayed there over the course of two years and would leave still up there. It couldn't last forever and that sad day in Le Mans would be a terrible reminder of that very fact.
But although Formula One had come to an end for the team, there were still a couple of other important sportscar races in which the team wanted to add to their already impressive resume before setting off into the sunset.
At the hands of Stirling Moss and John Fitch, Mercedes would take the victory in the Tourist Trophy race held at Dundrod in the middle of September. Not only would Moss and Fitch take the victory, but Fangio and Kling would score 2nd place for the team. It would only get better for the German manufacturer when a young Wolfgang von Trips and Andre Simon came through to finish in 3rd place in the same race.
Then, on the 16th of October, Stirling Moss, partnered with Peter Collins, would power his way to victory in the Targa Florio. The very last endurance race for the team would earn the same result as the last Formula One race—victory.
It would be one of the most successful periods in Formula One history by any team. And because of such names as Fangio and Moss, the 1955 season would go on to live in the memory as a sweet time for Formula One. It would also serve as that important time in Fangio's career upon which other drivers throughout the decades would be measured.
There would be a few other teams throughout Formula One history that would achieve some truly remarkable results over the course of a single season. And while single season marks may favor other teams in Formula One history, none of them would experience the two years Mercedes-Benz would achieve between 1954 and 1955. The plain and simple fact is this: other teams throughout history may have achieved better results, but they certainly didn't achieve the kind of results Mercedes did in just two years of being in Formula One. Therefore, though the team may have pulled out of Formula One with heavy hearts, they truly would not be the result of failure. No, besides the obvious reasons, the heavy-heartedness would also be the result of champion having finally reached the top and having nothing else to prove to achieve.
The 1954 and 1955 seasons would be something special for Mercedes-Benz. They would also be very special times for Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. Because of his back-to-back World Championships, Fangio would have more than a couple of statues made in his honor and placed at various venues all around the world. The scene: Fangio, with helmet in hand, standing next to a open-wheel W196.
And then there would be Stirling Moss. Yes he would never become the World Drivers' Champion, but his famous victory in the British Grand Prix at Aintree in 1955 will forever be remembered in British motor racing lore. And, his numerous close battle with Fangio, and the achievements in sportscar racing, would prove to everyone that he certainly was world champion material.
Often times, teams will work and work entire seasons for just one top ten result, one podium or one victory. Mercedes-Benz's achievements in 1955 would be such that it would define parameters and careers for decades to come. It would prove to be a benchmark in so many ways. And, while some of the records may prove beatable, the sheer fact of how easily and how fondly the season is recollected and expounded upon only offers more evidence to just how impossible it just might be to ever duplicate or overcome the memory of Mercedes-Benz 1955.Sources:
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Muelas, Felix & Diepraam, Mattijs. 'How Stirling Got His Mercedes Breakthrough', (http://forix.autosport.com/8w/moss.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://forix.autosport.com/8w/moss.html. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
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'Stirling Moss Race History: 1955 Italian Grand Prix', (http://www.stirlingmoss.com/articles/feature/stirling-moss-race-history-1955-italian-grand-prix). Stirling Moss. http://www.stirlingmoss.com/articles/feature/stirling-moss-race-history-1955-italian-grand-prix. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
'Complete Archive of Stirling Moss', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Stirling-Moss-GB.html?page=2). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Stirling-Moss-GB.html?page=2. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
'Grand Prix Results: Argentine GP, 1955', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr042.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr042.html. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
'Grand Prix Results: Monaco GP, 1955', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr043.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr043.html. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
'Grand Prix Results: Belgian GP, 1955', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr045.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr045.html. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
'Grand Prix Results: Dutch GP, 1955', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr046.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr046.html. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
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'Mercedes-Benz Museum', (http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/merc_museum1.htm). Dennis David and Family. http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/merc_museum1.htm. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
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1955 Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix. Video. (1955). Retrieved 2 November 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA_Q8uz16-k
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Grand Prix 1955 Part 5. Video. (1955). Retrieved 2 November 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saK4U1qYEy0
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Wikipedia contributors, 'Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 October 2012, 14:42 UTC, accessed 2 November 2012
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By Jeremy McMullen
Chassis Num: 9
The W 196 R was the first formula racing car built by Daimler-Benz after the war. Following their pre-war success, no one doubted that Daimler-Benz would return to formula racing. The first entry of the new W 196 R in the French Grand Prix at Reims e....[continue reading]