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The French Grand Prix of 1934

Part 5

1934 French Grand Prix

Von Brauchitsch had retired on the twelfth lap. Fagioli had fallen out on the fourteenth, and on the sixteenth Caracciola had halted finally, so that the whole of the Mercedes team had dropped from the race in the course of six laps. Momberger had retired with his Auto-Union, and of the Germans only Hans Stuck was left, running a full lap and more behind Chiron.

The Scuderia Ferrari had beaten the German machines, and only eight cars were still in the race. Of these, the two leaders - Chiron and Varzi - and Benoist on a Bugatti were travelling steadily and well. The rest had been brought to difficulties through efforts to hold the pace, which had been set.

The gearbox on Trossi's Alfa-Romeo had developed a defect, which made it possible only to use two speeds; young Moll had taken over the car and was driving well, despite the defect. Zehender's Maserati lost time through pit stops; the clips holding one rear spring had broken, and mechanics tried to effect a repair. Dreyfus brought his Bugatti in, misfiring badly; when plugs had been changed the mechanics had difficulty in restarting the engine, and the car covered only one lap more before it retired, later to be followed from the track by Wimille's Bugatti.

The victor - Louis ChironSoon afterwards Chiron, now leading handily, dashed up to his pit to change all wheels and replenish in ninety-two seconds. His halt allowed Varzi to take the lead for a lap, then the second Ferrari car checked for similar attention, and Chiron went ahead again. Stuck began to gain ground now, driving hard in the hope that he might t overtake the cars ahead. He began to gain an average of fifteen seconds on each lap, then pulled in to replenish. While he was halted, Moll passed him so that - with the race well beyond half distance -the Scuderia Ferrari held the first three places, and now the drivers began to fight between themselves. Varzi closed on Chiron, and Moll began to overtake Varzi, so that a situation was created similar to that which had existed towards the close of the Tripoli Grand Prix. On the twenty-fourth lap Chiron had a lead of four minutes twenty-one seconds, and Guy Moll was thirteen seconds behind Varzi. Two laps later, Chiron's lead had been reduced to three minutes fifty-two seconds, while Moll had closed down to eleven seconds with Stuck twenty-seven seconds further back. Behind the first four only Benoist and Zehender were still running, so that but six machines were still on the course. The rest had cracked up under the tremendous pace, the effects of which remained. Benoist brought his Bugatti in for a change of plugs, and mechanics had such difficulty in starting his engine that he spent nearly four minutes at his pit. While he was there, Zehender paused to replenish the radiator of his Maserati, then Stuck pulled in, for mechanics to refuel the car and endeavor to repair a water leak.

As the Auto-Union stood by its pit, there was an atmosphere about the machine and the working men, which suggested that the car's race was almost run. It made one more lap, then stopped again and, this time, it remained there - withdrawn. The last of the German cars was out of the Grand Prix.

Only seven laps were required to complete the race, when Zehender's Maserati stopped again. Men laboured over the machine, but the back axle had come adrift from the spring at one side, and they could not repair it. This car also retired.

Alfa Rpmeo Team with Chiro as the winner of the 1934 French Grand PrixFour laps from the finish, Chiron was leading and Moll held second place, gained while Varzi checked once more for replenishment. With Varzi third, Benoist's Bugatti was the only other machine left on the track, running a very long way behind and misfiring badly.

Two laps from the end, Moll stopped at his pit, and Varzi went into second place just before Chiron entered his final lap. He covered 'he circuit routier for the last time, to win the race at 85.8 m.p.h. Varzi finished three minutes seventeen seconds behind him, and Moll was a little less than a minute further back. Benoist was flagged in when he had four laps still to cover, which meant that only three machines actually finished the full distance of the event.

The race showed that the new German cars were to be feared. Climate event was virtually won during the first hour, but during hour both the Mercedes and the Auto Unions demonstrated speed that easily matched that of the winning car. They fell out because the circuit stressed the machines more than expected; it was a course on which the cars had to work ceaselessly; gearboxes and brakes particularly were put to the test.

At the same time, only minor defects developed in the German cars. They did not fall out because of grave troubles. Usually it takes at least a season of racing activity for a new design to overcome initial defects, yet the German machines had shown no real faults, and this was significant.

1934 French GPMercedes cars had been racing for over twenty-five years, and it was to be expected that the marque could produce an efficient machine, but the Auto Unions were entirely new and, moreover, were completely revolutionary. Their performance suggested that it would not be long before their engineers mastered the difficulties that had been uncovered in the race.


The outstanding feature of the German cars was that all had independent four-wheel suspension, which made them hold the road far better than cars with normal suspension. Existing Grand Prix cars had become so fast that they approached the limit of safe road speed. With independent suspension, the Germans expected their machines to achieve much higher speeds and still remain on the road. Although they had not been successful at Montlhèry, the race threw a very definite shadow into the future. Both Mercedes and Auto Union had been fairly beaten, but they left the course only to prepare for the next encounter, and the Ferrari drivers realized that next time they were ranged against the German machines the fight would be harder.




1 L. Chiron (Alfa-Romeo) 85.8 m.p.h.

2 A. Varzi (Alfa-Romeo)

3 G. Moll (Alfa-Romeo)

From Grand Prix (1936) and Great Motor Races edited by Bruce Carter (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960)