Monday, 25 August 2014

A Story of the Silver Arrows …

I’ve recently corresponded with the Mercedes-Benz Museum Archives, and they very kindly sent me copies of their publication “Magical Moments – 120 Years of Motorsport”.

One of Mercedes-Benz early racing successes, the 1914 French Grand Prix.

There is a great cross-section of their motorsports successes from 1894 till now.

As I read through the publication, an interesting story was featured in relation to the 1934 Grand Prix season.

The AIACR, the controlling body of motor sport in the 1930s, introduced new rules for the 1934-37 Grand Prix seasons:

The weight of the car without driver, fuel, oil, water or tires should not exceed 750 kg.
2. A minimum bodywork width of 850 mm at the driving seat.
3. Free choice of fuel.
4. All races must be over a minimum distance of 500 kilometers.

In the story, it recounts the famous legend of the switch from the traditional and official German white on Mercedes-Benz race cars to the colour silver.

Alfred Neubauer, the Mercedes-Benz racing manager of the time, claimed that the day before the June 3rd, 1934 international Eifel race, they weighed their newly introduced W25 Grand Prix race car, and found that it weighed over the 750kg limit, coming in at 752kg.

The Mercedes-Benz W25 Grand Prix car on it's way to winning the Eifelrennen.

In a flash of inspiration, he had his technicians work overnight to remove the white paint, exposing the beautiful aluminum bodies of these technically advanced racers, bringing them to exactly 750kg, and they won the race. This sparked the legend of the “Silver Arrows”, as the press was to soon label them.

The very successful Mercedes-Benz W25 Grand Prix car.

In the past few years, a few motorsport historians have questioned the credibility of the story.

As I researched my book “Silver Clouds: The 1934 Grand Prix Season”, I have to say that I developed the same doubts.

There are a few facts and insights that I can bring forward:

In the same year, Auto Union (a merger of Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer) presented their rear-engined Grand Prix cars under the same 750kg rules, never in any other colour but silver.

I find it hard to believe that in the thorough testing their sometimes white-painted W25, that the Mercedes-Benz technicians wouldn’t have weighed the racer well before any actual racing would take place.

The actual June 3rd, 1934 race was a Formule Libre race, and not under any of the restrictions of the 750kg Formula. In other words, it seems quite implausible that they would work so hard at removing 1kg of paint for an unrestricted race.

With these points, you can still ask, “Why the story then?

Well, for one point, it features the absolute precision of the Mercedes-Benz technicians and engineers, who considered the race machine only, not such frivolous things as the paint.

It also shows the creative quick-thinking of the legendary Mercedes-Benz race team manager Alfred Neubauer, always the clever strategizer.

Yes, it’s a damn good story, true or not …

Thursday, 7 August 2014

1914 Grand Prix de France

The world was at the edge of the huge turmoil that was to be World War I.

Just a few days before the 1914 Grand Prix de France, Archduke
Franz Ferdinand was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo, so rumours of imminent war ran wild.

But near Lyon, France on July 4th 1914, there was only talk of French victory on the track, with Peugeot’s Georges Boillot, winner of the 1912 and 1913 Grands Prix, being favoured by the partisan crowd of over 300,000.

Mercedes showed up with an effective-looking team of 5 white cars (and one spare), and white-dressed mechanics and drivers, along with colour-coded containers (red, white and black) for fuel, water, and oil.

The Mercedes engineers had even made earlier visits to the circuit to test the cars and make the appropriate improvements.

Pen&ink and white paint markers on gray archival paper © Paul Chenard 2014

It was the first return of Mercedes to racing since they had won the 1908 race, which was still stingingly fresh in the minds of the French. Still, they expected a French win in a French car in their French race …

Of the 37 cars that started the race, only 11 finished. After 20 grueling laps totaling 752 kms, Mercedes took the top 3 places, with Jules Goux’s Peugeot coming in 4th. After 7 hours of racing, the brilliant Christian Lautenschlager, winner of 1908 event, earned the victory laurels yet again for Mercedes.

One mouth after the race, the world was plunged into World War I, and the race would disappear from the spectators’ memories …

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Painting at the Silverstone Classic 2014

With the Silverstone Classic being one of the world’s top historic racing events, I thought it was worthwhile to attend.

I’m represented in the UK by the Historic Car Art gallery, and they had a stand set up in the Art Kiosque, showing some of my art.

To make things rather more interesting, I thought I would work on an acrylic on canvas painting there over the weekend.

I chose to paint Sir Stirling Moss racing his Maserati 250F to win the 1956 Grand Prix de Monaco.

Painting in front of the crowds is never boring, and though I didn’t move very far ahead in my painting, I had a great time chatting with onlookers and making great contacts. Many friends dropped by to say "Hello" which I always love, and I also chatted with fellow artists in the kiosque. I even generated a few sales!

I did miss the great racing and featured events, but I still had fun!