Mercedes-Benz returned to racing after World War II in the early 1950s with their production car derived 300 SL. At the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours race, the car emerged victoriously. Next, the company set its sights on Grand Prix racing, a venue in which the company had enjoyed success prior to World War II. In 1954, the first year of the new 2.5-liter Formula 1 regulations, Mercedes-Benz fielded their W196.
The W196 was the successor to the W194 and raced during the 1954 and 1955 F1 seasons. With drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, it won 9 of 12 races entered and captured the only two World Championships in which it competed.
For 1954, the new rules allowed a choice of naturally aspirated engines up to 2.5 liters or 0.75 liters supercharged. The hope was to keep the horsepower range around 250 to 300 BHP. All previous Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix engines since the 1920s had been fitted with superchargers, however, for this new car Mercedes-Benz selected to use a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine. Mercedes engineers adapted a direct fuel injection system used on the DB 601 V12 found on the Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighter to their new engine. The Bosch developed direct Fuel Injection system had already shown success on the 300 SL racing cars. The engine was built up of two blocks of four cylinders, given dual overhead camshafts, and a 'desmodromic' valve system.
The W196 made its racing debut at the 1954 French Grand Prix. At that time, the engine offered 257 horsepower. With continued development, the engine would eventually produce 290 BHP at 8500 RPM.
The engine was longitudinally mounted into the front of the chassis, and just behind the front axles. The engine was angled at 37-degrees on its side, allowing it to rest lower in the chassis. The welded aluminum tube spaceframe chassis was clothed with lightweight Elektron magnesium-alloy bodywork. The suspension was by dual wishbones and torsion bars in the front with swing axles and torsion bars in the back. Extra-wide diameter drum brakes were mounted inboard with short half shafts and two universal joints per wheel. The power produced from the engine was fed through a sub-shaft and a prop-shaft. The five-speed gearbox was mounted in unit with the differential, sending power to the rear wheels.
Mercedes-Benz created both open and closed wheel versions. The streamlined, aerodynamic closed-wheeled versions were known as the 'Type Monza' and used for high-speed tracks. The conventional open-wheel version was used on the more technical tracks.
Having spared no expense at creating a technologically advanced race car, and having high expectations, Mercedes-Benz sought out the best driver of the day - Juan Manuel Fangio. Also joining the team were Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling.
The W196 missed the first three races of the season but was ready for the French Grand Prix in Reims. Mercedes used the streamlined body for the track. Fangio drove the car to its debut victory, just a few meters ahead of Kling. The next race, at Silverstone, Fangio finished in 2nd place. The next race was at the Nürburgring, and by this point in history, the open-wheeled body version was ready. Fangio dominated the race and the two that followed at Bremgarten in Switzerland and at Monza. Well before the season came to a close, Fangio had secured the Driver's Championship.
For the 1955 season, Stirling Moss joined the team. He started the season off by winning the Argentinian Grand Prix. Mercedes-Benz used a special short-wheelbase version of their car at Monaco.
At LeMans, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR was involved in a terrible accident that killed over 80 spectators. As a result, many Formula 1 races were canceled that season. Fangio and Moss won the four that were run, and Fangio was crowned champion again.
At the end of the season, and due to the Le Mans accident, Mercedes-Benz retired their W196 racing program. With nine victories out of twelve Grand Prix starts, the W196 is one of the most dominant and finest racing cars ever created.
by Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2015