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The Complete History of Grand Prix Motor Racing by Adriano Cimarosti
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F. Gordon Crosby - Nazzaro wins the French GP at 42

   
     





The Return of the Silver Arrows

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After the war as soon as Mercedes were back on their feet plans were made to get the company back into racing. Neubauer attempted to locate any surviving race cars that had been hidden during the war. Modifying these pre-war race cars brought Mercedes mixed results. Mercedes would have to build new cars. The cheapest way to go would be to convert a touring car into a competition vehicle, this car was designated the 300SL. The 300SL was definitely the result of the spare parts bin. One unusual feature of this car was its doors. Because the car's tube frame made regular doors impossible it was decided after careful review of the rules to construct doors that opened vertically. After the first photos of this "new" car appeared in America it was remarked that when opened the doors made the car resembled a seagull, and the name "Gullwing" became its famous nickname.

With the readmission of the German Federal Republic to the FIA in 1951, both Porsche, which had won its class at Le Mans earlier in the year and Mercedes-Benz entered works teams in thwe 1952 Mille Miglia. The 'three-pointed star' marque once again relied on the strategies of Alfred 'Don Alfredo' Neubauer, who had directed Caracciola's victory in 1931. Twenty-one years after his legendary victory Caracciola had returned along with fellow drivers Hermann Lang and Karl Kling. Three new 300SL sports cars were carefully prepared for the race. As if the terrible war had never happened this veteran team set upon a two month regime of preperation. During this time they studied the course, practiced refueling and changing tires, planned their strategy and studied their potential opposition with, dare I say it military precision. Kling the best Mercedes finisher came in second. Caracciola still not fully recovered from an accident at Indianapolis five years ago came in a heroic fourth and would race only one more time before retiring. Caracciola, Mercedes' most famous driver who was considered the greatest of all time by Neubauer would continue to work for Daimler-Benz until his death in 1959.

1952 Carrera PanamericanaThat same year Mercedes-Benz entered the race across Mexico. A total of four 300 SL (W 194) racing sports cars - two coupés and two roadster variants - were shipped over to Veracruz, together with a full complement of engineers. Karl Kling, Hermann Lang and John Fitch were selected to drive. The exacting 5-day race took place in blistering heat and placed extreme demands on both man and machine, as well as laying on one or two surprises for the drivers and teams. Travelling at full speed, the 300 SL gullwing piloted by Karl Kling and co-driver Hans Klenk, was struck full in the windscreen by a vulture. Kling emerged the next day with thin metal bars protecting the windscreen of his car. Non-plussed he then raced to victory over the desert tracks and remote villages of the Mexican outback. It was a triumph that made Kling a national hero in post-war Germany. In a speech at the Schaumburg Palace, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was also in celebratory mood: "This win gives us the key to becoming a successful exporter.

The next race was the Grand Prix de Berne which was a supporting race for the Swiss Grand Prix. A 1-2-3 finish led to an assault on Le Mans. Both Jaguar and Ferrari brought new cars which were answered in typical Mercedesstyle by the introduction of a roof-top air brake. Mercedes-Benz 300SLAccording to Road & Track the car at full-speed down the Mulsanne straight up came the air brake ..."flipped up into the slipstream with a whupp! and the car slowed down as if a giant hand had reached out and grabbed it ... from 150 to 75 mph in a matter of split seconds" The device was merely being tested and was not used during the race due to safety concerns. It did serve to rattle the competition which may have been its main purpose. The race began with the Mercedes following a conservative race strategy. The Jaguars were the first to fold with all three succumbing to overheating in the second hour. The Ferraris too suffered mechanical failures. Amazingly the wily veteran Pierre Levegh in a private Talbot was leading followed by two Mercedes. Levegh was three laps in the lead but Mercedes instead of increasing their speed continued to lap at 98 mph. Soon the lead was lengthened to four laps yet the Mercedes continued their deliberate pace. Neubauer knowing that Levegh was driving alone he would not believe that Levegh could finish the race. An hour and fifteen minutes from the finish Levegh was out with a broken connecting rod, the result of a missed gear shift. Neubauer was right and the Mercedes coasted to a one-two finish. As great as these victories were, the 300SL was only meant as a stop-gap measure in absence of the still being developed Grand Prix car.

Lancia D50The new formula taking effect in 1954 spurred the introduction of many new cars. Most cars were built to the 750cc supercharged specification. One car of particular note was the new Lancia D50 Designed by the renowned Engineer Vittorio Jano. The car designed by Jano was quite ambitious in design and in many ways more advanced than the W196 of Mercedes. The four-camshaft V8 was used as a stressed member in conjunction with a tubular space-frame chassis. The engine was offset with the propeller shaft running to the left of the driver. d504.jpg (11844 bytes)The most visually striking aspect of the car were the twin pannier-type fuel tanks located on faired outriggers between the wheels. Jano's objective was two fold, improved airflow between the wheels and a constant weight distribution as the fuel was consumed during the race. Output for the V8 was a reputed 260 bhp, 3 more than the Mercedes-Benz while the Lancia enjoyed a 280 lb weight advantage.The D50's V-8 engine was slightly offset and served as a structural member of the chassis.

Mercedes W196In 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 as was the long anticipated return of the Mercedes Grand Prix car. The rules at that time did not require exposed wheels and the W196 with its enclosed wheels and streamlined body looked more like a sports car. The Mercedes was powered by a straight eight inclined 20% off vertical to allow for lower body work and an overall lower center of gravity. The engine also featured fuel injection and desmodromic valve gear. After observing that the valve tappets of the grand-prix engines tended to lift away from the cam surface at the top end of the engine speed range, engineer Hans Gassmann hit upon a simple yet brilliant idea to combat the problem: two cams per valve. One opened the valve as usual, but the second closed it again by means of a rocker arm.

The Mercedes were not ready until the third race of the season, the French Grand Prix. The team consisted of Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herman. The Argentinean ace had been lured away from Maserati by Neubauer for the 1954 race season. Neubauer was a shrewd operator and was quickly on the scene to offer Fangio spare parts after his privately-run Alfa Romeo was struck by mechanical problems at the Nürburgring in 1953. During testing prior to their debut at Reims it was found that fuel consumption was only 40 liters per 1000 km instead of the expected 35 liters. This would result in the car coasting to a halt 48 km short o the lag! 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.

Mercedes Benz W196

Though it was somehow fitting that the German make would introduce it's latest supercar 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 teammate Kling. 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.

     
 
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