Friday, April 10, 2009


The German Grand Prix of 1935 was held before an estimated crowd of 300,000 fanatical German fans, Nazi officials and Adolf Hitler.

The world's press were there and the Führer expected no less than a glorious German victory – to this end the state been pouring vast amounts of money into both the Mercedes Benz and Auto Union teams. Each had developed state of the art new racing cars – the Mercedes W25 and the Auto Union B. Both vast silver cars could, and did, exceed 175 mph. For the race, Mercedes Benz had entered no fewer than five cars, driven by Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Fagioli, Geier and Lang. The Auto Unions were piloted by Stuck, Rosemeyer, Pietsch and Varzi.

There was a motley group of also rans largely there to make up numbers. The Ferrari family team, run by the then little known Enzo Ferrari, could only afford laughably outdated Alfa Romeo P3s – old fashioned and upright, they were 100hp short of the newer cars. The sole remaining virtue of the little Alfas was that they were quite stable - and responded well to brave driving. One of their drivers – Tazio Nuvolari - had something of a secret weapon. Nuvolari was just 160 cm tall and early in his career had found out that he did not have the muscular strength to force cars around the corners with the steering wheel. So instead he developed a technique where he put his car into a four wheel slide and then steered it with the throttle. Decades before safety cells, airbags, fire extinguishers and even seatbelts this unheard of trick was suicidally brave - it matched the P3 perfectly.

At the start of the race Caracciola bellowed into the lead with Nuvolari clinging on grimly. Rosemeyer and Fagioli soon passed the tiny Alfa. The race developed into a battle between the two German stars Caracciola and Rosemeyer but someone forgot to tell Nuvolari. By the 10th lap Nuvolari had forced himself back into the lead. A round of pit stops ensued, including a disastrous fuel pump failure for team Ferrari which relegated Nuvolari to sixth place. In what is now widely acknowledged as the finest stint in a grand prix car ever he drove like a man possessed. He passed first Fagioli, then Rosemeyer, then Caracciola, and finally Stuck. In spite of this, going into the last lap he was still 30 seconds behind the leader von Brauchitsch. All might have seemed lost to Nuvolari, yet never did he step back from the brink. An increasingly nervous Von Brauchitsch had been watching the pit boards and so was aware of Nuvolari's progress through the ranks. Fearful of Nuvolari's talent he pushed his gargantuan car past its limits and squandered the life remaining in the tires. One exploded half a lap from the finish and Nuvolari streaked to victory.

"At first there was deathly silence," MotorSport reported, "and then the innate sportsmanship of the Germans triumphed over their astonishment. Nuvolari was given a wonderful reception." This admiration for a great champion was not shared by the representatives of the Third Reich. Korpsführer Hühnlein angrily tore up his victory speech as Nuvolari was crowned victor. So cocksure were the Germans that the organisers had no flag nor recorded anthem other than their own. An Italian flag was hoisted after much searching and to add salt to the Nazi's wound Nuvolari produced a record of the Italian anthem that he had brought with him for good luck. The Korpsführer was not amused. This scene would be repeated a year later when another underdog by the name of Jessie Owens would make history.

Alfa Romeo P3

Mercedes Benz W25

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