The History of the German GP

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The History of the German GP


The German Grand Prix is traditionally associated with the famous Nurburgring, but it has also been run on two other tracks, Avus and Hockenheim. In the early days of motor racing, the only Grand Prix race was the French GP but after World War I, other nations gradually began to hold Grand Prix races and in 1926, the first German Grand Prix was held. It took place at the Avus track near Berlin, an artificial race track having two parallel straights with a tight hairpin turn at one end and vast 43 degree banking at the other end. Rudolph Caracciola won the first Grand Prix in a supercharged 2-litre Mercedes at a speed of 84.5 mph but, even at those lowly speeds, there were three deaths, followed by complaints about the state of the track surface and for 1927, the race was switched to the newly completed Nurburgring.

Building The Nurburgring

Building of the Nurburgring had begun in 1925, mainly to give employment to the mass of unemployed men in the Eifel mountain district. The scheme was one of the most ambitious ever undertaken in the motor-racing world, for the 17.58 mile track had to be torn from a hilly and heavily forested area close to the small town of Adenau. The German government underwrote the cost of the track largely because they hoped it would also become a development track for the German motor industry. The track eventually became the most complete motor-racing facility in Europe with a hotel, garages for all the cars, a timing tower and concrete pits.

Otto Merz

The first race at the Nurburgring in 1927 attracted a crowd of 75,000 who had trekked from all parts of Germany. Not a patch on the 200,000 who regularly visited Avus, but the Nurburgring was not as close to large population centres. The full 17 mile circuit was used for the first race, the winner being Otto Merz in a 6.8-litre Mercedes, who covered the 18 laps (316.5 miles) in just under 5 hours at a speed of 63.38 mph. Even more spectators arrived for the 1928 Grand Prix which was again won by a Mercedes driven by Carraciola and Werner at the slightly higher speed of 64.5 mph. As before, the race was for sports cars and the first British entry, a 4.3-litre Bentley driven by Tim Birkin, finished eighth.

The Mercedes were beaten for the first time in 1929 when the massive 7-litre blown Mercedes had to give best to the fleet little 2-litre Bugatti of Louis Chiron who not only won but increased the overall speed to 66.42 mph and made a new fastest lap at 69.97 mph. There was no German Grand Prix in 1930 because of the severe depression which had hit the world, but it returned in 1931 to be run over 22 laps of the 14 mile north circuit. The track was so constructed that two different circuits could be used but, after 1929, the south circuit was seldom used. The race was run in torrential rain most of the time and Rudolph Caracciola in a specially-lightened sports 7-litre SSKL Mercedes showed his skill by running away from the field and winning at 67.29 mph. Chiron finished second in his Bugatti with Tazio Nuvolari third.

Mercedes temporarily withdrew from racing in 1932, so Caracciola moved to Alfa Romeo to drive their 2.6-litre single seaters. He led the works team to a 1, 2, 3 victory at the Nurburgring, averaging 74.13 mph for the 354.35 mile race. The Grand Prix was not held in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, but Hitler was quick to visualise the publicity value of motor-racing victories, and he offered tempting monetary rewards to German manufacturers who were successful in Grand Prix racing. Mercedes and Auto Union built cars for the 1934 season, beginning an era of domination which lasted until the outbreak of war in 1939. The grid for the 1934 German GP held three Mercedes and three Auto Unions, while a 200,000 strong crowd of patriotic Germans thronged the trackside enclosures. After a thrilling battle between Caracciola's Mercedes and Hans Stuck's vicious V16, rear-engined Auto Union, Stuck finally won when the Mercedes retired, leaving Fagioli's Mercedes to salvage second place.

The Flying Mantuan

John Surtees during 1963 German GP
John Surtees creates a huge lead over Jim Clark's Lotus during the 1963 German GP held at the Nurburgring. By the end of the race, Surtees was leading Clark by over one minute.

1953 Italian GP, Fangio, Ascari and Marimon
Practice for the 1973 German GP. Driven by Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert, the Elf Team Tyrells, pictured in the foreground, scored a convincing 1-2 victory.
The Germans were expected to run away with the 1935 race, but they reckoned without the 'Flying Mantuan', Tazio Nuvolari, driving an outclassed 3.2-litre Alfa Romeo, against the 4-litre Mercedes giving over 390 bhp. After a disastrously slow pit stop in mid race, Nuvolari dropped back to sixth place but, driving like a demon, he picked off car after car until he got to second place behind Brauchitsch's Mercedes. He closed the gap on the big German car and on the d last lap had to gain 27 seconds, and when he had closed to little more than 200 yards behind the Mercedes, it suddenly burst a tyre and Nuvolari swept by to win a s dramatic victory.

That year, the race had been reduced to 22 laps (311 miles) and Nuvolari won at 75.16mph despite a wet circuit. 1, The year 1936 belonged to Auto Union and it was Bernd Rosemeyer who led them to victory at 81.8 mph r with Hans Stuck second. Rosemeyer had lapped the 14 mile circuit in 9 minutes 56.6 seconds to average 85.5 mph for the fastest lap. By 1937, the Auto Union V16, 6-litre engine gave 1. no less than 520 bhp while the straight-eight Mercedes 5.6-litre unit gave a staggering 646 bhp. Against this s sort of power, their rivals were in a hopeless position and Caracciola won from von Brauchitsch.

The Grand Prix formula for 1938 was reduced to 3 litres supercharged but Mercedes built a new V12 engine which gave 420 bhp, while Auto Union also had a new V12 which gave around 400 bhp. The Grand Prix was a triumph for Britain's Dick Seaman who had joined Mercedes the previous year; he was always well placed and, when team-mate von Brauchitsch's car caught fire at the pits he went on to a comfortable win from the Caracciola/Lang Mercedes.

The Regenmeister

In 1939, with World War 2 only a couple of months away, Mercedes again conquered the Nurburgring, this time Caracciola living up to his nickname of Regenmeister (rain master) by splashing through to win at a modest 75.31 mph from Muller's Auto Union. At the end of the war, Germany was in no position to run any motor racing and, even if they were, the Nurburgring had been badly damaged by the passage of troops back and forth. However, by 1949, the track had been resurfaced and the FIA allowed the Germans to run the Grand Prix in 1950. They ran it for Formula Two cars, and victory went to Alberto Ascari's 2-litre Ferrari at 77.67 mph. The race had been shortened to 16 laps (226.7 miles).

Formula One racing returned in 1951 along with the mighty 1.5 litre supercharged Alfa Romeos and 4.5-litre Ferraris. Ascari's Ferrari beat the Alfa Romeo of Fangio over the 20 lap race at a speed of 83.71 mph. For 1952, the race returned to Formula Two because Formula One had virtually died for lack of entries. Ascari, in a 2-litre Ferrari, completed his hat trick at the Nurburgring from the similar cars of Farina and Fischer. The 2-litre racers returned in 1953, among them several new British cars like the Connaught, and Cooper while names like Stirling Moss, Roy Salvadori and Mike Hawthorn were early signs of the British invasion to come. Hawthorn was driving for the works Ferrari team and he finished third behind Farina's Ferrari and Fangio's Maserati.

The Mercedes Silver Arrows

The 2.5-litre Formula One came in for the 1954 Formula One Season, and Mercedes returned to Formula One racing with a new straight-eight 270 bhp car. Naturally, a huge crowd, estimated at 350,000, flocked to the Nurburgring to see the 'Silver Arrows' and they were not disappointed, for Fangio gave them victory at 82.77 mph from the Ferrari shared by Gonzalez and Hawthorn. In practice, Fangio had at last beaten Herrman Lang's 1939 lap record of 9 mins 52.2 sees with a lap in 9 mins 50.1 sees which shows how fast the big pre-war Mercedes had been.

The German GP was cancelled in 1955 because of the Le Mans tragedy, but it was back at the Nurburgring again in 1956 where Fangio won again for Ferrari, setting a new lap record of 9 mins 41.6 sees (87.74 mph). The 1957 race was Fangio's greatest victory. He started the race in his 250F Maserati having only half a tank of fuel because he would need a stop for tyres anyway. He sliced into the lead and was well clear of Britain's Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins in works Ferraris. However, his pit stop took over 50 seconds and the Ferraris were half a minute ahead of him when he rejoined the race. But he repeatedly slashed the lap record, finally leaving it at an unbelievable 9 mins 7.4 seconds (91.53 mph) as he whipped past the British pair to win by just 3 seconds.

The first win by a British car in the German GP came in 1958 when Tony Brooks drove a Vanwall to victory from the Coopers of Salvadori and Trintignant. The race saw the death of Peter Collins who crashed while holding off Brooks for the lead. Brooks' team mate, Moss, made fastest lap in a new record of g mins 9.2 sees (92.90 mph). The lack of German cars and drivers caused some poor gates at the Nurburgring in 1957 and 1958, so the organisers switched the race back to Avus for the second and last time in 1959. The race resulted in another victory for Tony Brooks, this time in a Ferrari, who won the two-heat race and put in a fastest lap at 149.14mph - nearly twice as fast as that first German GP in 1926.

For 1960, the race went back to Nurburgring, but not to the main circuit. For the first time, the race was held on the short south circuit of 4.8 miles and, since the Germans had a competitive Formula Two car, the Porsche, the race was held for F2 cars. This paid off, for Sweden's Jo Bonnier won in a Porsche, covering the 32 lap race at 80.28 mph. In 1961, it was back to the main north circuit and a reduction to 15 laps (211.8 miles) for the new 1.5-litre Formula One. Driving Rob Walker's under-powered Lotus, Stirling Moss put on one of his greatest performances, beating the Ferraris of von Trips and Phil Hill comfortably.

The year 1962 was Graham Hill's in the V8 BRM which he conducted through torrential rain to a popular victory from Surtees' Lola. Surtees had his revenge the next year when driving for Ferrari because he beat Jim Clark's Lotus by over a minute and set a new lap record of 8 minutes 47.0 seconds (96.81 mph). Surtees repeated the victory in 1964 in a V8 Ferrari with Graham Hill second in a BRM. He again lowered the record, this time to 8 mins 39.0 seconds. The first 100 mph lap came in practice for the 1965 race when Jim Clark lapped in 8 mins 22.7 sees (101.53 mph) with his V8 Lotus-Climax. The brilliant Scotsman made no mistake in the race either, beating Hill's BRM into second place once more, and setting a lap record of 8 minutes 24.1 seconds (101.22 mph).

Jack Brabham

The 3-litre Formula One arrived in 1966, and with it came the domination of the Brabham team. Jack Brabham won a very wet race at a modest 86.7 mph in his Brabham-Repco, and went on to take the World Championship very comfortably. It was Denny Hulme's turn to win for Brabham in 1967 with his boss, Jack Brabham, second; Hulme averaged 101.4 mph for the 15 laps with Dan Gurney putting in fastest lap at 8 minutes 15.1 seconds (103.1 mph). A further reduction in distance to 14 laps (198 miles) came in 1968 and the circuit was running with water as Jackie Stewart tip-toed his Matra-Ford to victory at 86.8 mph from Graham Hill's Lotus 49. The 1969 race was Jacky Ickx's, the young Belgian flinging his Brabham-Ford round incredibly fast to beat Stewart's Matra.and to put in the first sub-8 minute lap in 7 mins 43.8 sees (no. 1 mph).

The 1970 season was a controversial one, for many drivers were upset by the deaths of comrades like Jim Clark, Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage and they began to demand more safety measures at circuits. The Nurburgring did not meet their requirements, so the race was switched to the artificial stadium circuit at Hockenheim, near Stuttgart which was, ironically, the circuit where Jim Clark lost his life. The circuit used was 4.22 miles long, having two long straights and a twisty 'Mickey Mouse' section in front of the stands. This fast circuit gave Jochen Rindt victory in his Lotus 72 at a speed of 123.9 mph over the 50 laps.

By 1971 the safety measures demanded by the drivers had been carried out at the Nurburgring. This produced a big jump in lap speeds and Jackie Stewart won in his Tyrrell-Ford at 114.4 mph from his team-mate, Francois Cevert, who put in fastest lap at 116.1 mph. The race had been further reduced in distance to 12 laps (170 miles) which took Jackie Stewart a modest 1.5 hours to complete, against the near 5 hours of the early races. The race distance was increased to 14 laps for 1972 to prevent the race going below the minimum time allowed for a Grand Prix and this time Jacky Ickx, driving a Ferrari 312, showed his class by winning at an average speed of 116.63 mph.

The 1973 race was a demonstration by Jackie Stewart of his mastery of the Nurburgring, for he led from start to finish in his Tyrrell, covering the 14 laps at 116.82 mph with his number two, Cevert, second. The 1974 event proved to be a comfortable win for the ultra-powerful Ferrari of Clay Reggazoni, from a hard-driven Tyrrell-Ford of Jody Scheckter and a Brabham-Ford handled by Carlos Reutemann. In 1976, Niki Lauda fell victim to the hazards of the Nurburgring' when he crashed and was seriously burned - an accident that probably cost him the World Championship. Ironically, Niki hated racing at the circuit for safety reasons. The story does not end here, of course, so for further reading, check out our feature on the Nurburgring on the Unique Cars and Parts USA site.

Also see: Forumla One History
The start of the 1963 German GP
The start of the 1963 German GP. Graham Hill in his BRM peers anxiously to his right to check the whereabouts of arch rival Jim Clark, in a Lotus-Climax. Both should have been watching John Surtees, who was behind them, and who would go on to win the event.
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