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The French Grand Prix of 1934

Part 2

When the practice sessions ended it was evident that the Alfa Romeos, Mercedes, and Auto Unions were all capable of covering the course within about one second of the new record, which showed how evenly matched were the cars. It was unlikely that the record would be smashed again before the race, because the one practice session, which still remained, would be devoted finally to perfecting the machines for the event.

1934 French Grand PrixThe Mercedes drivers were concerned with their tires, which wore down after ten or twelve laps, and the pit crew made preparations to ensure that any stops for wheel changes during the (ace would be kept as brief as possible. The Auto Unions had some difficulty with fuel feed, but this was rectified during the next day. The ignition of Etancelin's Maserati functioned badly, and the Bugattis were in difficulties with their spark plugs. The whole of the last practice period was spent in endeavoring to overcome these troubles, so that the evening before the race held promise that all machines would come in excellent trim to the line.

It was quite impossible to guess how the race would run, and the members of each team had their own ideas about their chances for victory. The Frenchmen refused to admit that the Germans were sufficiently superior to win, because the Bugatti drivers-Nuvolari, Dreyfus, and Benoist-all knew the circuit well. Also, the Bugatti équipe had been racing for years, and their machines were the product of accumulated knowledge, while the Mercedes and the Auto Unions were comparatively new and untried.

The Scuderia Ferrari had dominated Grand Prix racing for years and regarded the German machines as the only cars with a definite chance of beating them. Chiron, however, believed that he could take his Alfa Romeo around the circuit in 5 min. flat, 5 seconds faster than the record, if the need arose. His time appeared at least to match the best speed of which the Germans were capable. Also, as the race was over 315 miles-forty laps of the difficult circuit-the new cars might be at a disadvantage; they might not stay the distance.

The Mercedes team thought that the issue of the race lay between themselves and the Auto Unions, although they admitted that the Alfa Romeos were formidable because of Ferrari's greater experience and the proved reliability of his cars, At the same time, the Auto Union drivers felt that the circuit suited the design of their machines perfectly, and they were obviously intent upon doing their utmost to win. Of the two Maserati cars, little could be said and, although they were fast, both had proved troublesome during practice.

1934 French Grand PrixSoon after dawn on the day of the race spectators began to arrive. The weather was intensely hot, and a huge crowd had gathered by the middle of the morning, hours before the start. At the last moment it became known that Hermann had been taken ill, so that only two of the Auto Unions could start. His withdrawal left a field of thirteen cars of a quality and caliber that no event had ever before seen. As the morning wore on the crowds increased until, an hour before the start, eighty thousand spectators were on the course, a record attendance. They paid a record admission of almost eighty thousand dollars.

The flag was due to fall at two o'clock. A quarter of an hour before this time the machines were marshaled to the line-up, every driver being greeted with applause as his name was announced through loudspeakers. The enormous grandstand at one side of the track was completely filled, the nearby enclosures were packed, and all around the circuit spectators were crowded behind fencing set among the bushes at the fringe of the road.

The machines were placed in rows. Achille Varzi, with his scarlet Alfa-Romeo, and Hans Stuck with his white Auto-Union, were in the front rank and these two indicated the real quality of the event. The Italian machine was typical of the existing racing car - low-built, with a blunt radiator to catch a cooling stream of air, a high seated position which gave the driver complete control, and everything about the machine efficiently designed to meet the demands which experience had shown would be made upon it. Against the red bonnet was the yellow shield and the black horse, which formed the insignia of the Scuderia Ferrari, a badge, which had been carried to victory at least once, in every Grand Prix in the calendar.

Standing beside it was the Auto-Union, silvery-white and strange in appearance. Instead of sitting well back in the car, the driver was placed forward, almost within hand-reach of the front wheels. From behind his cockpit a fairing ran down the streamlined tail which shrouded the engine; where the tail ended, a swastika was painted on one side, with the colours of the German national flag on the others, as if it were intended that drivers following the car should have the origin of the machine brought home to them. The radiator was at the front, rounded and cowled, adding to the perfection of the machine's streamlining, and behind this were openings to allow the escape of air after it had passed through the radiator. The strangely shaped body made the machine futuristic and peculiar in appearance, stressing the fact that it was an altogether new racing car, challenging the older type of machine.

Behind waited Momberger on another Auto-Union with Rudolf Caracciola beside him on a Mercedes, and these cars revealed a second aspect of the race as a fight between representatives of the new-style machine. The Mercedes was a little more orthodox in appearance than the Auto-Union, because its engine was at the front; the cowling for the radiator merged with the streamlining over the front springing, the rear of the cockpit also being faired off into a very short and stumpy tail.

Nuvolari's Bugatti - 1934 French Grand Prix

A row of three cars followed, formed by the Bugattis, which Benoist and Nuvolari were driving, and by Chiron's Alfa-Romeo. The French machines were very low-built, characteristic of the cars which had carried the racing blue of France for so long. Count Trossi's Alfa-Romeo and a Bugatti, with Dreyfus at the wheel, formed the fourth row, and then came Etancelin and Zehender with their Maseratis and Von Brauchitsch on his Mercedes. Etancelin, as a Frenchman, had painted his car blue, but Zehender's was a deep red, and these machines were very typical of the older school of motor racing - low-built like the Alfa-Romeos, but longer in appearance because their radiators were carried well forward. The line-up was completed by Fagioli's white Mercedes, which stood by itself at the back.

These were the fastest road-racing machines that the world had ever known, and they remained silent as the minutes passed. The Mercedes drivers adjusted ear-plugs, intended to damp out the shrill and penetrating whine given off by their superchargers; the rest shifted impatiently against the hot concrete until, one after another, each man slipped down into his cockpit.