|French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954. Runner-up Karl Kling (start number 20) at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Formula One racing car with streamlined bodywork.|
|French Grand Prix in Reims, July 4, 1954: Juan Manuel Fangio, who was to win the race, at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R streamliner (start number 18), next to him Karl Kling (start number 20), and behind them Hans Herrmann (start number 22).|
Reims started a glorious era in the history of Mercedes-Benz motor racing in 1954 and 1955.
On 4 July 1954, Mercedes-Benz marked its return to Grand Prix racing after the Second World War with a double victory in the French Grand Prix. At the wheel of the new Mercedes-Benz W 196 R, Juan Manuel Fangio won the race in Reims ahead of his team colleague Karl Kling. With this triumph in the Champagne region, the racing department in Stuttgart once again wrote motor racing history – exactly 40 years after the triple Mercedes victory in the 1914 French Grand Prix in Lyon. On the same day, Germany also won the football World Cup in Berne.
Only fractions of a second lay between Juan Manuel Fangio and his team colleague Karl Kling when the Argentinean crossed the finishing line on the Reims circuit in first place on 4 July 1954, at the Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France (ACF): Fangio and Kling achieved a glorious double victory for the completely new Mercedes-Benz W 196 R. They were followed by Robert Manzon (Ferrari) in 3rd place, who was more than one lap behind after 61 laps. This double victory demonstrated the superiority of the new Silver Arrow constructed in accordance with the rules for the new 2.5-litre formula, which was making its first racing appearance on the fast circuit in the Champagne region. It was with this magnificent success that the Stuttgart-based brand heralded its return to Grand Prix racing after a 15-year absence – and it was a magical moment of great historical significance, because it was exactly 40 years before, on 4 July 1914, that Mercedes achieved the legendary triple victory in the Grand Prix de l’ACF in Lyon.
This race later became known as “The miracle of Reims”, by way of association with the football World Cup title won by the German national team on 4 July 1954 and known as “The miracle of Berne”.
The victory in the Grand Prix de l’ACF was no isolated achievement, however, as it ushered in a whole new era in motor racing: both in 1954 and 1955, Mercedes-Benz was to dominate the Formula 1 Grand Prix scene with the W 196 R. In 1954, Juan Manuel Fangio, who won the Formula 1 driver’s world championship in both years, drove the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R to victory in the French Grand Prix, the German Grand Prix (Nürburgring), the Swiss Grand Prix (Bremgarten), and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza). Even before Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with the W 196 R, the 1951 world champion had commenced the 1954 season by winning the Grands Prix in Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps) for Maserati.
Successful return to Grand Prix racing
When the war ended in 1945, the very first priority for the then Daimler-Benz AG was to rebuild destroyed plants and resume production of commercial vehicles and passenger cars. In the light of this, a return to motor sport was not high on the agenda. In the first few years after the war, the former works drivers, mechanics and engineers from the racing department spent their time repairing ordinary passenger cars – no easy task in the immediate post-war environment, and one which called for considerable talent for improvisation, which the motor sport employees had developed in their years of working in the pits at racing events.
The company’s first excursion into post-war motorsport came in September 1950, when Karl Kling entered a Mercedes-Benz 170 S in the ADAC Six-Hour Race for sports and touring cars at Nürburgring. In 1951, Mercedes-Benz then competed in two races in Argentina with the W 154 Grand Prix racing car from the 1930s. Real success, however, only came with the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) presented in 1952, with which Mercedes-Benz won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana, for example. The success of the 300 SL encouraged the decision taken in 1953 to re-enter Grand Prix motor racing for the 1954 season, and to create a completely new racing car for the purpose.
The W 196 R complied with the Formula 1 race rules applicable from 1954. It was powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine which already developed a high output and torque at low engine speeds. The M 196 R eight-cylinder in-line engine consisted of two four-cylinder blocks with a central power transfer. It was installed with an inclination to the right to lower the car’s centre of gravity. It was initially equipped with four Weber twin carburettors. However, the decision had already been taken to replace these with a mechanical direct-injection system from Bosch, which promised a higher output and better fuel economy – this was ready for action just before the first race in Reims.
The valve timing was an unusual feature of the M 196 R: rather than rely on spring pressure, and also to ensure reliability at high engine speeds, the engine’s breathing apertures were not only opened by rocker arms, but also (positively) closed by them (“desmodromic”). The overall concept ensured uniform power delivery over the entire engine speed range, and made the 1954-season engine developing up to 188 kW (256 hp) very robust.
Debut with a streamlined body
The streamlined body of the W 196 R came as a major surprise in Reims: the cars were completely clad in an aerodynamically optimised skin of lightweight magnesium, which also enclosed the wheels. This variant was very advantageous on high-speed circuits such as Reims. On circuits with numerous bends, however, the second variant of the W 196 R with a conventional body and exposed wheels proved more successful.
The new racing car was based on a lightweight spaceframe like that of the 300 SL racing sports car of 1952. The rods in this structure were particularly designed for high tensile and compression strength, providing maximum stability with a low weight – the complete spaceframe weighed only 36 kilograms. The suspension was likewise sophisticated, featuring double wishbones and a single-joint swing axle with a low pivot point as a state-of-the-art design.
Fangio’s first race in the W 196 R
Racing manager Alfred Neubauer had appointed three drivers to his team: Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and the talented young Hans Herrmann. They thoroughly familiarised themselves with the car, above all during test drives on the Hockenheimring circuit. On 21 June 1954, their participation in the Grand Prix race in Reims was confirmed by telegram, and just one day later the team commenced its training activities on the circuit. “Our new Grand Prix formula cars [...] are really a delight,” racing manager Neubauer commented on the power and reliability of the W 196 R in Reims. And even before the actual race, Fangio secured a special prize of 50 bottles of the best champagne for himself with an average lap speed of over 200 km/h.
However, there was also a downside to the high speeds achieved by the Silver Arrows on the long, drawn-out bends in France: “Our cars are guzzling 35 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. That is more than we expected,” racing manager Neubauer lamented. Auxiliary tanks were promptly installed that had been personally fetched from Stuttgart overnight by Rudolf Uhlenhaut in his 300 SL (W 198). This meant that the racing cars had no need to stop and refuel during the Grand Prix. Together with chief designer Fritz Nallinger, Uhlenhaut as head of passenger car testing at Mercedes-Benz had a decisive influence on the development of the W 196 R. At the end of July 1954, the brilliant strategy of racing manager Neubauer even made it onto the cover of the current affairs magazine “Der Spiegel” with the heading “If you refuel, you lose”.
From pole position to a double victory
On 4th July 1954, Louis Wagner opened the proceedings for the French Grand Prix with a lap of honour. In 1914, Wagner was one of the three Mercedes racing drivers to achieve the triple victory in Lyon – coming in 2nd place after 752.6 kilometres. The Frenchman was given enthusiastic applause by the spectators as he rounded the circuit in Reims in a Mercedes-Benz 300 S Convertible.
Fangio and Kling had secured the first and second places in the starting lineup during qualification, while Hans Herrmann started from the third row. A total of 21 racing cars were at the starting line for this 41st Grand Prix de l’ACF, representing Ferrari, Gordini, HWM, and Maserati besides Mercedes-Benz. The race was to cover 61 laps of 8.3 kilometres.
When the race started at 2:45 p.m., Fangio (start number 18) and Kling (start number 20) took the lead while Hans Herrmann (start number 22) worked his way forward at high speed and even managed a lap record (2:32.9 minutes, corresponding to an average of 195.463 km/h). From the 11th lap all three W 196 R cars were actually in the lead, but in lap 17 Hans Herrmann was forced to retire with engine damage.
The two remaining Silver Arrows fought an exciting duel at the head of the field. By mistake the German radio commentator Reiner Günzler even announced victory by Kling in the 60th lap, however there was one lap still to go, and Fangio won the race after 506.4 kilometres with a lead of just half a length. In subsequent races in the 1954 and 1955 seasons, the French Grand Prix was followed by five more double victories plus four single victories. This was a total of ten victories in only 13 Grand Prix races, rounded off by second, third, and fourth places.
The winning Mercedes-Benz car in the 1954 Grand Prix de l’Automobile Club de France in Reims
Mercedes-Benz 2.5-litre streamlined racing car W 196 R (1954)
In 1954, Mercedes-Benz returned to Grand Prix with a completely newly developed racing car. The W 196 R complied with all the conditions of the new Grand Prix formula of the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale): 750 cubic centimetres displacement with supercharger or 2,500 cubic centimetres without, no restrictions on fuel composition. The W 196 R developed 188 kW (256 hp) from a displacement of 2,496 cc at 8,260 rpm (for the next season the engineers increased its output to 213 kW/290 hp). The streamlined version was used for the debut appearance in 1954, as the circuit allowed very high speeds. After this a second variant with exposed wheels followed. The spaceframe of the W 196 R was light and sturdy; the chassis had a torsion-rod suspension and a new single-joint swing rear axle as well as turbo-cooled Duplex drum brakes. For its power plant the engineers chose an eight-cylinder in-line engine with direct injection and desmodromic (positively opened and closed) springless valves, which made high engine speeds above 8,000 rpm possible. In 1954 and 1955, Juan Manuel Fangio went on to become Formula 1 world champion in the W 196 R.
Technical data of the Mercedes-Benz 2.5-litre streamlined racing car W 196 R
Period of use: 1954-1955
Displacement: 2,497 cubic centimetres
Output: 188 kW (256 hp) to 213 kW (290 hp)
Top speed: more than 300 km/h
The protagonists from the Mercedes-Benz racing department in the 1954 Grand Prix de l’ACF in Reims
Juan Manuel Fangio
Born on 24 June 1911 in Balcarce (Argentina)
Died on 17 July 1995 in Buenos Aires (Argentina)
The five-times Formula One world champion from Argentina came to international motor racing relatively late in life. It was only after the Second World War that Juan Manuel Fangio came to Europe, competing in his first Grand Prix in Reims (France) in 1948. In 1951, the Argentinean driver became World Champion for the first time at the wheel of an Alfa Romeo. When Mercedes-Benz returned to Grand Prix racing with the W 196 R in 1954, Alfred Neubauer engaged Fangio for his works team. The son of Italian immigrants continued his series of successes with the new Silver Arrow: he went on to win the opening Grand Prix race in Reims on 4 July 1954. Both in this season and in 1955, Fangio became Formula One world champion driving a Mercedes-Benz. He also achieved respectable successes in sports car races driving the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S), such as his victory in the 1955 Eifel race at Nürburgring and 2nd place in the 1955 Mille Miglia, in which the Argentinean drove with no co-driver. After Mercedes-Benz withdrew from motor racing at the end of the 1955 season, Fangio raced for three further seasons for Ferrari (1956 World Championship) and Maserati (1957 World Championship). Fangio, who owned a dealership for Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Buenos Aires from the mid-1950s, became president of Mercedes-Benz Argentina S.A. in 1974.
Born on 16 September 1910 in Gießen
Died on 18. March 2003 in Gaienhofen by Lake Constance
Karl Kling, born in the town of Giessen, made his début in motor sports shortly before Second World War, racing occasionally for Mercedes-Benz at touring car events. After 1948, he became German Sports Car champion three times. Kling achieved his first great successes for Mercedes-Benz with the 300 SL (W 194) racing sports cars. Among these, his victory together with co-pilot Hans Klenk in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana will remain unforgotten. Upon Mercedes-Benz’s return to Grand Prix sport in 1954, Kling was part of its successful driver team along with Juan Manuel Fangio, Hermann Lang and Hans Herrmann. Kling, dubbed by Alfred Neubauer “Gentleman at the wheel”, won numerous excellent placings for the Mercedes-Benz team. For example, he achieved 2nd place behind Fangio in the very first Formula One race Mercedes-Benz entered, the 1954 French Grand Prix in Reims. In 1956, Kling succeeded Alfred Neubauer as head of the sports department. He continued to occasionally take part in competitions himself, In 1959, for example, he won the Rallye Méditerrannée–Le Cap from Algiers to Cape Town and back, and in 1961 the Algiers–Central Africa Rally from Algiers to Lagos and back. After his retirement he continued to collaborate with the Mercedes-Benz Sports division as a consultant.
Born on 23 February 1928 in Stuttgart
Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer engaged 25 year-old Hans Herrmann to race in the 1954 season with the Daimler-Benz AG works team. In the Swiss Grand Prix in Berne on 22 August 1954, Herrmann drove to 3rd place in a Mercedes-Benz W 196 R, and in the AVUS race in Berlin on 19 September 1954 he also finished third (in a triple victory for Mercedes-Benz). 1954 and 1955 saw Herrmann taking part in a total of eight Formula One races and one racing sports car competition for the Stuttgart-based brand. At the Monaco Grand Prix he was badly injured in a training accident. This ended Herrmann's involvement in the Mercedes-Benz Formula One team, as the brand withdrew from Formula One racing at the close of the 1955 season. In the following years Herrmann participated in sports car competitions, both in Formula 2 and Formula 1. In the 1960s, he took part in occasional touring car competitions driving Mercedes-Benz cars. He ended his racing career in 1970, driving a Porsche to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Born on 29 March 1891 in Neutitschein (Czech Republic)
Died on 21 August 1980 in Stuttgart
Born in Nový Jič, Moravia (Neutitschein/Czech Republic), Alfred Neubauer was the driving force behind the motor racing activities of Mercedes-Benz as racing manager from the 1920s to 1955. Originally an automobile officer in the Austrian army, Neubauer first worked as head of the running-in department for Austro-Daimler in Wiener-Neustadt (Austria). In 1923, he moved to the driving department of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Untertürkheim and took part in a number of races as a driver – among others in the Targa Florio in Sicily. In 1926, he made his first appearance as racing manager for Mercedes-Benz. In this capacity he made a decisive contribution to the numerous victories of the “S” series supercharged vehicles – among other things through the development of strategies and techniques for communication with the drivers. The triumphs of the Silver Arrows in the years 1934 to 1939 and 1954 to 1955, as well as in the sports car races in 1952 and 1955, were all achieved under Neubauer’s direction