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The French Grand Prix of 1934

Part 4

The situation, which had existed at the end of the first lap, had changed. Now a German car was leading, followed by an Italian, two more German, then two Italian cars. The white machines held three of the first four places in the race - but Chiron did not attempt to overtake and regain leadership. Hardly twenty miles had yet been covered, and the Frenchman was satisfied to open up a little, not allowing the German to get far ahead and not overstressing his own machine. He let Stuck make the pace, content to wait until he could see how the Auto-Union withstood the strain.

1934 French Grand Prix1934 French Grand PrixThe end of the fourth lap found the position of the machines unaltered. Stuck maintained his speed, and raised the average for the whole race to 88.3 m.p.h., while Chiron - holding him - increased the gap between himself and Fagioli, who led by ten yards from Caracciola.

On the next laps Stuck's average speed rose to 88.6 m.p.h., to 88.8 m.p.h., and then to 88.9 m.p.h. He was working desperately to shake off the Alfa-Romeo, but Chiron remained with him, and even closed the distance between them a little. At the end of the eighth lap the Frenchman was less than a hundred and fifty yards behind, while Fagioli was out-distanced by nearly a quarter of a mille, with Caracciola another hundred yards further back. Varzi, von Brauchitsch and Count Trossi were struggling together, and the field had fallen well away. It was led by Dreyfus, and more cars were in trouble. Zehender stopped for water and oil. Etancelin checked. Nuvolari again pulled in to change his plugs: he was also in difficulties with his gearbox, and the Bugatti reserve driver - Jean-Pierre Wimille - took over.

The order of the leading cars was Auto-Union, Alfa-Romeo, Mercedes, and at the start of the ninth lap Fagioli was signaled to go faster and carry a challenge to the machines ahead. On this lap, too, Chiron decided that he had the measure of the Auto-Union. He opened out and gained steadily upon Stuck while, behind him, Fagioli lapped at 90.6 m.p.h. closing in but remaining third.

Mercedes W25The tactics of the drivers had entered another phase. At the outset, Chiron had made the pace, luring the Germans to real speed. When Stuck passed him, Chiron had remained at his tail, forcing the German to a yet higher rate of travel. Now the Mercedes drivers were coming into the fight, afraid that the Auto-Union and the Ferrari machine might get too far ahead. The gaps between the machines narrowed, and when the ninth lap ended, Chiron was within fifty yards of the Auto-Union, the crowd applauding him as he passed the grandstand, obviously intent upon regaining the lead. Fagioli went by, then Caracciola passed and he, too, had closed up; Varzi followed and von Brauchitsch appeared behind him, slowing and running to his pit, where mechanics worked for nearly two and a half minutes on his supercharger; the car restarted, but it had lost much of the stirring roar with which it had begun the race.

On the straight to Fôret corner Chiron caught Stuck. Along the return road he passed the Auto-Union, and the crowd roared when he circled the eastern end of the autodrome, leading. As the two went around the banking, Stuck gradually dropped back while Fagioli appeared behind, rapidly closing the gap between them. As the field followed, Momberger drew into his pit, and he did not restart; the German machine was announced as forming the first retirement of the race.

1934 French Grand PrixAnswering the pit signal that he had received, Fagioli caught Stuck and passed him, moving at such speed that he set up a new record for the race, covering the circuit at 91.8 m.p.h. When the lap ended he was close upon Chiron while, behind him, both Caracciola and Varzi had also gone in front of Stuck. When the Auto-Union appeared, it ran to where Momberger's car was being pushed away from the pit; Stuck's rear tyres were giving out as a result of his fast driving, and he lost time over the wheel change. When he started purposefully into the race again, he had fallen well behind. The Auto-Union had made its challenge, and had been beaten, and now it was the turn of a Mercedes to race for Germany.

Fagioli was gaining fast, and Chiron knew it. He put his foot hard down and the average speed of the race rose yet higher. At the end of the twelfth lap it stood at 89.4 m.p.h. - and still Fagioli closed in. Chiron burst into sight on the autodrome once more, his scarlet machine whipping in a red flash along the concrete, then zooming up the banking, climbing high and pursued so closely by the white Mercedes that there was a gap of no more than fifty yards between them.

In their duel, the two had outdistanced Caracciola, who appeared with Achille Varzi hardly two seconds further in the rear. They were followed by Count Trossi, then by Dreyfus and Stuck -who was driving hard to make up ground, and who came round all but wheel to wheel with Benoist’s blue Bugatti.

Behind these were Zehender, and then Wimille on Nuvolari's car, and it was while the field was passing that von Brauchitsch appeared, slowing, stopping at the Mercedes pit. His car had been running badly since its last stop; mechanics examined the supercharger again, then the car retired. The crowd watched the Mercedes pushed towards the 'dead car' park, to which Momberger's Auto-Union had gone only two laps before, then attention turned to a double duel, which developed during the thirteenth lap.

Chiron was fighting it out with Fagioli's Mercedes; behind them, Caracciola on the second Mercedes was struggling with Varzi on his Alfa-Romeo. On the thirteenth lap Chiron lifted the race average to 89.6 m.p.h., while he and Fagioli both covered the course at a speed of 91.8 m.p.h. - equaling the lap record. Each driver was striving to set a pace which would bring trouble to the other machine, and Fagioli's pursuit was unremitting - but he, lost the fight.

Mercedes Team - 1934 French Grand Prix

When the two started the fourteenth lap Fagioli gained along the outward straight, then suddenly fell away. Chiron drew further and further ahead until at Les Biscornes he was far in front. He completed the lap at a speed of 91.9 m.p.h., all but equaling the record set up during practice over a cleared course, and he passed the grandstand alone.

Seconds dragged out, and still his challenger did not appear. When the shrill drone of an approaching Mercedes sounded, it was Caracciola who came into view - and Varzi was in front of him. The Ferrari men had won the double duel. Fagioli was at Les Biscornes, standing by his car, which was out of the race; it was reported that a pipe fine to his hydraulic brakes had broken.

With Fagioli's car disabled, the German attack was broken. Chiron led, and Varzi was second and both Alfa-Romeos were drawing well ahead of Caracciola, who was slowing. When he next appeared he pulled up at his pit, to remain there for ninety seconds while he took on water and fuel and the wheels were changed. He restarted - but he did not come round again. He vanished, just as Fagioli had done. The car stopped at Les Biscornes near its teammate, and it remained there, abandoned.