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The Donington Grand Prix - 1937

Volume 3        

by Rodney Walkerley 

Rosemeyer in his "office"The Auto Union team, short of drivers (as today, there were few men who could extract full performance from the Grand Prix car) sent three cars. Team leader was their discovery; the astonishing, devil-may-care young Bernd Rosemeyer, at that time probably the fastest of them all. An ex-motorcyclist, he had never driven a racing car until he sat in the nose of an Auto Union only two years before. Saturnine Italian Achille Varzi, brilliant but temperamental, was to have been with him but did not arrive. Both men were to die at the wheel. Rosemeyer was killed in 1938 in a record attempt at 250 m.p.h. on a German autobahn when a gust of wind plucked the car off the road; Varzi, a post-war star in the Alfa Romeo team, was killed practicing in pouring rain at Berne in 1948.

His place was taken by Rudolf Hasse, a newcomer, supporting Hans Muller, an ex-motorcyclist who showed, but never fulfilled, much promise.

Filling up the rest of the field were the British contingent with their second-hand Maseratis and their 1½-litre E.R.A.s. "B. Bira" had the 2.9-litre Maserati which Whitney Straight had driven so brilliantly, A. B. Hyde had a 2.6-litre, Robin Hanson a 1,500 c.c. version; on E.R.A.s were Raymond Mays, Lord Howe, Charles Martin, Arthur Dobson, Reggie Tongue (now of the praesidium at Oulton Park) and Peter Whitehead, and smiling Percy Maclure had his unsupercharged 1,500 c.c. Riley, which used to take the grin off many a face-all outclassed that day, but all brilliantly driven, but none finished within the time limit.

The Germans found the course very rough but otherwise as good as anything in Europe. At first they used Nürburg axle ratios, which were too low, and after a change, the speed down Starkey's Straight went from 155 to 170 m.p.h. at once.

A dull, grey autumn morning melted into warm sunshine by noon, with the woodlands already tinged with yellow and russet and bronze. A crowd, 60,000 strong and enormous by British standards at that time, converged in long queues, a yard at a time, on the beautiful circuit. The car parks were packed with cars glittering in the sun and for once the big grandstand and the enclosures were full. Down below the grandstand we could see the bookmakers with their little blackboards - betting was permitted in those days, as at Goodwood now. An inspection of the odds was another indication of the public's knowledge of Grand Prix racing: 3 to I Caracciola 5 to I Rosemeyer . . . evens Mays! The German mechanics promptly backed their men to the hilt. One by one the gleaming racing machines were marshaled on the starting grid at the top of Melbourne Rise - Brauchitsch (Mercedes) taking Number 1 place with a record lap at 86.01 m.p.h., Rosemeyer (Auto Union) next to him, with 85.36 m.p.h., Lang and Seaman (83.58 and 82.58 m.p.h.) completing the line for Mercedes.

In the second row were Muller (Auto Union), Caracciola (Mercedes), Who had made no great efforts in the practicing, and Hasse (Auto Union). Bira, Mays and Howe led the British contingent in the third rank.