The 1954 French GP
The Mercedes-Benz W196 must have looked like a car from the future. It’s most notable feature was the wheels covered in sleek, aerodynamic bodywork. To this day, I consider it one of the most beautiful racing cars, really ever. The race, itself, took place at the Reims-Gueux circuit. The aerodynamically sleek W196 would be strong on the circuit’s long straights. From the map of the track, you can see how a jump in aerodynamics would be extremely apparent on a track such as Reims-Gueux. The Lancia was still not ready; consequently, Ascari hopped into the spot vacated by Fangio.
As for the race itself, I am just going to rely on the preceding video. In a few words, it was green to checkers dominance by Mercedes-Benz and their brand spanking new W196. Notably, this was Karl Kling‘s F1 debut. Second place, even with an advanced car, was not that bad. I love that nearly everyone else blew up their engines trying to chase down the, frankly, badass mercedes. I did a double-take when I saw how many engine failures there were. Remember, until this project, my Formula 1 experience only goes back to mid-2004. So, the concept of overcooking an engine trying desperately to chase down the leader is something that I have never even considered happened at this level of racing. But then again, I hadn’t ever really thought about it. I guess I just took rev-limiters for granted. Anyway, only six drivers would finish the race. Conversely, sixteen others would either fail to finish, or even fail to start.
A man by the name of Alfred Neubauer was in charge of the Mercedes race program. He had held a management position there since the mid-twenties. When I read this, I immediately felt a sense of unease. Nothing really needs to be said, other than I was hoping for a cleaner break with the involvement of the Nazi party in German auto racing–and Grands Prix racing–in the thirties. But, I do not know this to be the case. Ultimately, the shrouded wheels proved to be flawed. Reportedly, there was an issue with the design creating lift (apparently, we still haven’t figured out how to flip the concept upside-down). But, even if flawed, stands as a marker of change. Perhaps, in a sense, Formula 1 racing really had not evolved, at least not significantly, since the inaugural championship season in 1950.
But, Mercedes-Benz, in only a single race, established a completely new hierarchy within the ranks of Formula 1. And such is the excitement of Formula 1. For the most part, teams fight each other incrementally in slow drawn out battles. But, every once in a while, a team bursts onto the scene with a chassis out of the future and reigns down pain, scoring in race after race. And, in large part, this is how the W196 works out. But, unfortunately, the W196 does not look–as pictured–for long. As I mentioned, the shrouded wheels are a failure. Once they stripped away, one is left with exposed wheels and distinctly German-looking chassis. But, you’ll have to check back for the update (or just look it up).