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The Donington Grand Prix - 1937

Volume 5 

by Rodney Walkerley 

The race developed much as those races developed. In the enclosures overlooking the Hairpin, where the drivers were coming down the hill, snaking and sliding and taking the corner almost sideways under their immense power, conversation was limited to gasps and ejaculations.

From The Motor, at the time: "Brauchitsch and Rosemeyer were taking McLean's flat out, in long slides, wonderfully controlled; they took Holly Wood in one long skid, they came down to the Hairpin with the tails feet out of line . . ."

donig1937i.jpg (14908 bytes)On the third lap Muller rammed the tail of Seaman's car and shunted him like a goods truck up the escape road, whence he restarted with crippled suspension and a broken shock absorber and kept grimly on. Lang went into the lead - it was astonishing to Donington habitués to see how these drivers slammed past each other in seemingly impossible short stretches of the circuit – after five laps at 82.6 m.p.h. At ten laps he led by 3.4 sec. from Brauchitsch, Rosemeyer another 4 sec. away, third, Caracciola close up, fourth, Muller fifth, Seaman sixth. Three laps later Brauchitsch ripped past Lang, to lead by I½ sec. at just over 83 m.p.h. average. A lap after that, the four leading drivers had lapped all the Britons.

For ten laps Rosemeyer slung the Auto Union round faster and faster until he rode Brauchitsch's tail at only I½ sec. - perhaps four lengths, and Brauchitsch was skid cornering now with what was left of his 7 by 19 in. rear tyres almost on fire.

After 22 of the 80 laps of this race, he dashed up to his pit for the wheel-change and a tankful of fuel. Just 33 sec. later he was rocketing off again, and Rosemeyer was in the lead by half a minute, Caracciola second, Brauchitsch third. Lang was at rest 55 sec., while a shock absorber was examined, which dropped him to seventh place. Two laps later he came slowly in again with the shock absorber broken, and Seaman's damaged damper was trailing under the car. He, too, pulled straight on to the grass by the pits, finished.

Caracciola was signaled about his tyre change but shook his head and held on his way. He was cornering fast but carefully and, having realized the shock when the car leapt into the air at the top of Melbourne Rise and hit the road again, he took that slope more gently than anyone else.

CaracciolaAt 30 laps, Caracciola sliced five seconds off Rosemeyer's half-minute lead at over 83 m.p.h. and when Rosemeyer stopped two laps later for wheels and fuel, the work done in 30 sec. dead, Caracciola was in the lead. Muller's stop was even quicker-29 sec. - and these feats of brisk pitwork were not lost upon the delighted crowd, who cheered and clapped like an audience at a concert.

Driving on the absolute limit in his somewhat desperate style, Brauchitsch lapped faster and faster, raising the lap record to 85.62 m.p.h. and raced two lengths behind Caracciola. You will observe that in the Mercedes team inter-driver rivalry was rather encouraged than disciplined. On the 36th lap Brauchitsch hurled his car past Caracciola, acknowledged champion of his day, although no official title was awarded at that time, and led him by three lengths, and Rosemeyer held his Auto Union in third place, 16 or 17 sec. behind, knowing that a second wheel change was still to come, and half the race yet to be fought. Muller and Hasse were now three miles behind the battle.

On lap 40, the halfway mark, Caracciola made his first and only stop amidst a roar of cheering from crowds dancing with excitement (few sat in their grandstand seats for more than a few minutes that afternoon). In went the fuel, on went the rear wheels and away went the car with the noise of an aeroplane taking off-32 sec. dropped at the stop, and Rosemeyer, with a speed that equaled the lap record, zoomed into Caracciola's second place behind Brauchitsch.

The German pits used pressure fuel hoses, which forced the pungent-smelling alcohol melange into the tanks at the rate of more than a gallon a second, and had to be very carefully controlled. In contrast, using churns and funnel, Lord Howe lost I min. 5 sec. refueling his E.R.A.

At 52 laps Brauchitsch came in for his second set of rear wheels (Caracciola had made his lyres last half the race and would obviously last the rest of it on his new ones). Brauchitsch was at rest for 32 sec., and sat watching as Rosemeyer flashed past into the lead at last. On the restart, Brauchitsch was 10 sec. behind, and some 20-sec. ahead of Caracciola. On the next few laps Rosemeyer drew away to 20 sec., averaging 83 m.p.h. and Caracciola had dropped back by a minute. Waiting? Or down on revs?

There was earnest conference in the Auto Union pit and, on the 61st lap, two mechanics held up a wheel as Rosemeyer roared past again. On that lap, coming down Starkey's straight on full throttle, there was a bang as one of Brauchitsch's heavily stressed rear tyres burst. The great car lurched and snaked madly at that dizzy speed, but he held it, slowed down, and came to the pits with the tyre a flurry of flapping cords like a bundle of knitting flailing round and almost on fire. The replacement cost 28 sec., and left Rosemeyer secure in the lead, even after his second wheel change in 31 sec. (the hot engine was stubborn on the restart).

Brauchitsch, in pursuit, was enjoying himself hugely. When the British drivers, laps behind the race, moved over to let him through, he waved gaily as he sped by; he waved to the crowds and, as he slewed the Mercedes through the curves in his characteristic slide, he was grinning broadly with sheer pleasure. But he could not close that half-minute gap, nor could Caracciola get to grips with him from third place and Muller and Hasse were still nearly a lap behind, but 6 miles ahead of the "light brigade" led by Bira's Maserati.

Over the final ten laps with the positions obviously static, the leaders slowed down slightly, braking more gently, changing up earlier as they came out of corners, so that the average declined fractionally to just under 83 m.p.h. - and Rosemeyer had worn through the seat of his pants!

As they finished, there was a difference of a mere 0.38 m.p.h. between the first three-equivalent to I min. 16.6 sec.

As we streamed towards the car parks, I heard a man remark: "Well, I'll never forget that first lap.

Donington Grand Prix - October 2, 1937

1st B. Rosemeyer Auto Union 3hr. 1min. 2.2sec. 82.86 m.p.h.
2nd M. von Brauchitsch Mercedes 3hr. 1min. 40sec. 82.57 m.p.h.
3rd R. Caracciola Mercedes 3hr. 2min. 18.8 sec. 82.28 m.p.h.