The 1953 German GP

I will get to the 1953 German Grand Prix a bit farther down.  At the very bottom is the easy version of the German GP (a 17 minute video).  But, first, I want to address something else.

On the Persistence of a Particular Form.

As I have covered the first few seasons of the Formula 1 Championship, I have noticed something.  I have noticed a lack of development.  That is not to say there have not been any updates.  There have been developments–in some areas.  But, what is absent in my mind is a moment of revolution spreading like fire throughout the pit-lane.  Certainly, suspension has been tweaked and engines refined.  But, the cars, they look the same!  And, I’m not kidding here.  Grand Prix cars, in essence, have the same form as they did 15 to twenty years before.

In general, there is one glaring example of a lack of development in Formula 1.  And, that is aerodynamics.  Allow me to explain why I am positing this.  What was the most successful car of the inaugural Formula 1 Championship in 1950?  Of course, it was the Alfa Romeo 158 “Alfetta” (literally, ‘little alfa’).  Notably, the 1950 158 chassis was essentially unchanged from its initial incarnation circa the late 1930s.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the second world war should have proliferated a ton of new knowledge about aerodynamics.  And yet, here we are, at 1953, without taking a clue from airplanes as to how to use downforce.  In any event, why is there zero experimentation other than changes to the front nose presumably for cooling and unique-identity purposes.  I think there is a plausible explanation.  And it has to do with Plato’s theory of the forms.  To finally start getting to my point, Plato once said:

If a person shows that such things as wood,
stones and the like, being many are also one, we
admit that he shows the coexistence of the one and
many, but he does not show that the many are one
or the many, but he does not show that the many are one
or the one many; he is uttering not a paradox but a
truism.
-Plato, Dialogues, Parmenides, 129

So, Plato has a certain way of talking, which, if you were to ask me, is obnoxious.  But, the concept he is getting at is important.  If I show you a car, you see the object; but, you also know it to be a “car.”  The German philosophers would get at this concept with the term, dasein.  Everything has an inherent essence.  Over the centuries, in various levels of complexity, this idea has been put forth.  There seems to be an almost romantic like attraction to this intellectual concept.   It just seems to perfect that every object is based on this perfect form, or alternatively, that two things of a kind inherently share a property.

I firmly believe this notion, that something must take a particular flaw limits innovation at times.  To finally start to tie this up (this time for real), I believe that the designers of these early F1 cars ignored vast development possibilities, simply because the believed a race car should look a certain way. Have you looked at the cars from the 1930s? the 1940s? All the Grand Prix cars from those eras look essentially the same as those from 1950-1953.

To extend this, at the very roots of the Formula 1 championship, form was not following function.  Rather, form was the predominant factor.  To quote a credible commentator from the interwebz, the early teams “were slaves to fashion.”  Come on gentleman, let’s use a wing to stick this to the ground, throw the engine in the back where it belongs, and evolve these cars.  I guess, on a personal note, I have been disappointed to not see more well-publicized car development coming out of the first-half of the 1950s.  But, rest assured, the development really heats up in 1954.  So, in a sense, I think these next couple races are the death of a rather lazy period of development (or lack thereof).

Time for the Action; The 1953 German Grand Prix.

The XVI Groβer Preis von Deutschland was the same length as last year; 255 miles with just eighteen laps.  There was a slight increase in pace from last year over the course of the race; but not in qualifying.  Mixed results year to year on with the same track, same conditions, and same rules?  Modern F1 would most certainly show increased pace.  This reinforces my previous point; form was persisting over pace.

Here is how the race went down: Fangio showed his starting skill for the second race in a row.  But, he quickly fell back.  The crowd at the start/finish saw Fangio crest the horizon a full ten-seconds after Ascari at the completion of the first lap.  At some point on the fourth fourteen-mile lap, Ascari loses a wheel.  But, get this, he completes the lap, gets a new tire, and continues on.  It’s stories like this that make project GP Evolved rewarding.  This seems like a classic example of fifties determination mixed with a healthy-dose of epic Nürburgring driving.  I mean, it’s not like this is a flat course. In any event, he probably should have given up, because he broke down three laps from the end.

However, I noticed something, Ascari scored the fasted lap of the race just before retiring.  Under the old scoring rules, he got a point for fastest lap.  But, Ascari only actually led the race until he lost the wheel.  After that, Mike Hawthorn, of Scuderia Ferrari took the lead.  He eventually fell back and Guiseppe Emilio “Nino” Farina took the lead on the eighth lap and never gave it up again.  He won the race covering 255.123 car-eating miles in just over three hours, flat.  Fangio managed a solid second place, but was a full minute behind Dr. Farina (he was a Ph.D. in engineering).  Trailing back another 43 seconds was Mike Hawthorn.

So, at this point, Ascari had a commanding lead in the championship, followed by Farina, and third, Fangio.

If you have made it this far, you might as well check out the footage: