In 1954 Auto Union was now known as Audi and no longer racing. Alfa
Romeo also was out of the picture but Maserati and Ferrari, building and racing his own
cars were very much in. The British teams were just beginning to make some noise.
Mercedes-Benz's re-entry into Grand Prix racing coincided with the
establishment of new regulations that were heavily biased against
supercharged engines which were limited to only 750 cc. After being
dominated by Ferrari with cars that actually were developed to Formula 2
specifications it was hoped that the new regulations would entice other
manufacturers to enter the fray. Mercedes set up a racing department
headed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut while the race team was once again managed by
the legendary Alfred
Neubauer. The were Juan-Manuel
Fangio and the Germans Karl Kling and Hans Hermann. In 1955 the lineup was bolstered
when the young British sensation Stirling Moss joined the team.
of the initial design goals or the new car was to maximize it's
drivability by providing as wide a power band as possible. Towards this
end the new cars were powered by a normally
aspired straight eight fitted with desmodromic valves and fuel injection.
Using experience gained from their aero engines and in collaboration
with Bosch, Mercedes built the first successful Grand Prix car to have
fuel injection. Four camshafts operated 16 valves. Fuel provided by
Esso, designated RD1 contained a witches brew of 45% benzol, 25% methyl
alcohol, 25% high octane petrol, 3% acetone and 2% nitro-benzine. Power was
controlled through a five speed gearbox that would prove to be a distinct advantage to
their rivals four speed versions.
The chassis employed small diameter tubing in a space
frame design while stopping power was supplied by inboard brakes front and rear. If the
running gear seemed fairly conservative for a company such as Mercedes it was the body,
that most set the cars apart. Using a loophole in the rules, the cars sported an
all-enclosing streamlined shell whose low bonnet line was made possible by the engine
being canted on its side. Initial tests o the proposed bodywork had been
conducted using a 1:5 scale wooden model using the wind tunnel at the
Motor Research Institute o the Stuttgart Technical College.
The streamlined bodies caused a sensation and served the team well at
fast circuits such as Reims but the debacle at the British Grand Prix led to an open wheel
version which was later driven in the remainder of the races that required a more precise
placement of the car relative to the circuit's corners! Part of the improvement that
resulted from the open wheel bodywork was a reduction in the streamlined versions tendency
for marked understeer. The handling characteristics of the cars continued to be a problem
for the life of the cars as different wheelbase lengths of 92, 87 ½ and finally 85 inches
were tried with mixed but inevitably successful results.
During testing prior to
their debut at Reims it was found that fuel consumption was 40
liters per 1000 km instead of the expected 35 liters. This would result
in the car coasting to a halt 48 km short of the end! With no time to
waste Uhlenhaut, a noted driver in his own right hot-footed it back to
Stuttgart to supervise the building of supplementary fuel tanks for the
race on Sunday. Though it was somehow fitting that the German make would
introduce it's latest super car at the French Grand Prix it unfortunately
lacked a credible French rival. That did not stop the 300,000 fans who
came to view the event which started on the right foot when Fangio was
given 50 bottles o champagne or breaking the 200km/h barrier. The race
turned into an inner team battle for Mercedes when their major rivals
all suffered mechanical problems, Fangio claiming first blood over his
The Mercedes would triumph in 9 of the 12 races they
would enter over the next two years before once again leaving the sport
having demonstrated the same superiority as their pre-war brethren.