The Birth of the ‘Silver Arrows’ and the greatest race of all time.

Bernie Ecclestone controversial said early this year, “What have Mercedes ever done in F1?” He was of course referring to the Brackley based F1 team which have had a number of names, as opposed to Mercedes per se. But modern F1 history often only begins in 1950 because this is when the inaugural FIA Formula One World Championship season. Yet Grand Prix racing Formula One style was in existence way before 1950, and was exactly the highly competitive prototype car development race we have today. The 1935 German Grand Prix Victory for the massively under powered Alfa, is considered by many to be the greatest Grand Prix vicotry of all time.

A New Premier Formula

The previous governing body, the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) announced a new formula in 1935. The formula that limited the car minus driver, fuel and oil to 750kg without restricting engine size and the length of a Grand Prix was set to a minimum 500 kilometer – nearly twice as far as today’s races. The rules were designed to make the cars slower, but as been for all time the car designers had other ideas. Mercedes developed 4 litre engines with new lightweight materials – the previous thinking was that anything over 2 litres couldn’t be fitted into a proper race car. Mercedes’ chief designer, Dr. Hans Nibel, designed a car around a conventional layout but incorporating some of the latest development in racing technology

Auto Union was an amalgamation of four firms – Horch, Audi, Wanderer and DKW – they chose a more radical concept for their Type A Grand Prix car. Designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the mid-engined car placed the driver lower and further towards the front. It had a V16 4.4-litre supercharged engine that ran on special fuels mixed to a very secret formulae. The exhaust fumes that poured out by the engines was so strong that bystanders would complain of nausea and headaches!. Mercedes failed to even start the first race of the season, suffering carburetor problems and were forced to pull out. Only 1 of the 3 Auto Union cars finished the race, a distant 3rd behind the dominant Italian Alfa Romeo’s.

The Eifelrennen held at the Nurburgring, saw the German cars delight the crowd and finish ahead of the Italians. Mercedes 1st and Auto Union 2nd, the German assault on Motor Racing’s premier competition was on. Prior to the race,  the Mercedes team created a swell of excitement when it was found that their cars were 1 kg over the weight limit. Following a suggestion by their driver Von Brauchitsch, the paint from each car was removed in order to meet the weight limit. This left the polished aluminum of the cars exposed and so began the legend of the “Silver Arrows”. The German cars were beginning to gain their stride and would defeat the all-conquering Italians at the German and Swiss Grand Prix (Auto Union), while the Mercedes forced the most crushing of defeats on Alfa by winning the Italian GP and they also won in Spain.

The Greatest Victory of all time

In 1935 both Mercedes and Auto Union continued to develop their cars with Auto Union replacing the rear leaf springs with a torsion-bar suspension. Both had their engines enlarged, the Auto Union now at 4950cc/375bhp while the Mercedes was at 3990cc/430bhp. Alfa Romeo made one valiant attempt to stop the German assault that resulted in a two-engined gas sucking 540bhp car known as the Bimotore. It was built by Scuderia Ferrari in Modena this car was intended for the tracks of the day such as Avus. Mercedes won the inaugural European Championship for drivers with Rudolf Caracciola winning in Belgium, Switzerland and Spain. The German cars now dominated Grand Prix Racing and except for the occasional hiccup, the Italian and French cars had to console themselves with the 1.5-liter voiturette class. One such victory was the German Grand Prix of 1935.

Before an estimated crowd of 300,000 fanatical German fans, Nazi officials and Adolf Hitler the German Grand Prix of 1935 was held. The Mercedes team consisted of Fagioli, von Brauchitsch and Caracciola while Auto Union had Stuck, Rosemeyer, and Varzi. Tazio Nuvolari, a highly talented driver, had wanted to drive for Auto Union but the seat went to his bitter rival Varzi. Nuvolari instead drove a modified Alfa P.3 but suffered from a 50-100 bhp handicap compared to the German cars. At the start of the race Caracciola surged into the lead followed by Nuvolari who had made a great start. Rosemeyer and Fagioli soon passed the under-powered Alfa.

The race developed into a battle between the two German stars Caracciola and Rosemeyer but someone forgot to tell Nuvolari there was no way to beat them. By the 10th lap Nuvolari had forced himself back into the lead through some incredible driving – at times on 2 wheels – but a round of pit stops relegated him back to sixth place. Driving like a man possessed he passed first Fagioli, then Rosemeyer and Caracciola, and finally Stuck. Going into the last lap he was still 30 seconds behind the leader Von Brauchitsch and all seemed lost yet never did Nuvolari slow down.

Von Brauchitsch, an old hand, was aware of Nuvolari’s progress through the ranks from his pit crew drove his car at the limit. Pushing harder than ever and with just a couple of corners left Von Brauchtisch suffered a Mansell-esque tyre blowout. Nuvolari sailed by and on to victory. “At first there was deathly silence,” MotorSport reported, “and then the innate sportsmanship of the Germans triumphed over their astonishment. Nuvolari was given a wonderful reception.” This admiration for a great champion was not shared by the representatives of the Third Reich. Korpsführer Hühnlein angrily tore up his victory speech as Nuvolari was crowned victor.

The Italian flag was hoisted after much searching and to add salt to the Nazi’s wound Nuvolari produced a record of the Italian anthem that he had brought with him for good.

Source: Grand Prix History

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5 responses to “The Birth of the ‘Silver Arrows’ and the greatest race of all time.

  1. Nuvolari, there’s a name. Thanks, for a blast into the real past, away from the money we always seem to mention today.

  2. Very interesting, thank you. perhaps you could write a couple of these from the days gone past, maybe a weekly or monthly article. Especially in the off season it would be awesome!

    • Thanks for the Suggestion. There are times I can’t spend 6 hours a day on current stuff, so I think I’ll prepare a few more F1 history pieces for then and slow news days.

    • Great idea, and can feature all-time greats from each generation, as Nuvolari here. Fangio, Moss and Ascari; Clark, Stewart and Rindt; Lauda and Villeneuve; Senna, Prost and Mansell; Schumacher and Hakkinen; and even the new kids, Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel.

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