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1954/55: Mercedes-Benz W196

by

Antonio Eiras

When Daimler-Benz made the decision to return to the utmost discipline of motor sport, at the end of 1952, planned it the German way, that is, the important thing was to ensure the victory and then would see how much it would cost.

The debut of the new silver arrow of the Stuttgart car manufacturer was scheduled for the season of 1954 and coincided with the new technical regulations of Formula 1, which limited the capacity of vehicle engines to 2.5 liter normally aspirated, or 750 cc using turbocharger.

 

The W196 did not defraud the expectations created in about two years of careful preparation and impressed immediately by the quality of construction, innovative technology and the resources made available by the German team in each Grand Prix. Then the victories came, confirming the worst fears of their opponents.

 

Designed and built by a team of over 200 engineers, designers and mechanics, headed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut and under the strict supervision of Alfred Neubauer, the new Formula 1 Mercedes used a lightweight chassis multitubular with the suspensions to make use of torsion bars and coil springs with concentric telescopic shock absorbers and double quads in front and a swing modified axle in the rear. The brakes, drum ones, were initially placed within the chassis, by having larger diameters of the rims. For the engine the greatest innovations have been reserved. Indeed, contrary to the long tradition of the car manufacturer in supercharged engines, Daimler opted for an 8-cylinder in-line engine, 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated, considered the most advantageous solution. German technicians resorted also to direct injection of fuel, derived from the same technology previously used in combat aircraft Messerschmitt, in the 2nd World War and distribution using the desmodromic control of the valves, a complex but very fast and accurate system. The power developed evolved from the initial 257 hp up to 295 hp at 8,500 rpm, achieved during the 1955 Championship and was transmitted to the rear wheels through a 5-speed gearbox.

 

In its debut race, the 1954 French GP, the German team made available to its drivers, Fangio, Kling and Herrmann, three W196 "C" with an aerodynamic body that covered the wheels and that perfectly suited to the characteristics of the fast Reims circuit, allowing them to obtain, respectively, the first two positions on the podium and set the fastest lap.

 

This model, later dubbed the W196 Type Monza, was also used in the next race, the British Grand Prix, at Silverstone, with disastrous results motivated by the difficulty of driving, due to its generous proportions, and in the Italian GP of that year and next.

 

For its home GP, held at the Nürburgring, Mercedes entered new W196 "S" models, open wheels, which helped to ensure a new triumph of the german team, again at the hands of Fangio. The victories of the Argentine in the two next races, the GP of Switzerland and Italy, together with the two early victories of the season at the wheel of a Maserati 250F, allowed him to ensure his 2nd Drivers World Championship title.

 

The following year was overshadowed by the terrible accident in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Mercedes was involved and that led to the cancellation of the GP of France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. With the Championship reduced to six GP and the Indianapolis 500, the German car manufacturer has maintained the technical and sporting superiority that enabled him to guarantee its second title, by its driver’s leader, Fangio, before retiring from competition, in end of the year.

 

To ensure the second title, Daimler-Benz has spared no effort and expense: hired the English Stirling Moss to help Fangio and made available to its drivers four versions of its car: the W196 "S" and "C" of the previous year and two new models with wheelbase reduced in 14 and 20 cm, the latter with the front brakes placed inside the rims.

From the remaining GP, Mercedes only didn’t won the race of Monaco, with Fangio and Moss to win the first two places on the podium for 4 times and the German team to ensure the top 4 places at the British Grand Prix, where the young Stirling Moss got his first victory (and that would be the only Mercedes success that was not obtained by Fangio!).

 

Described by its drivers as a very demanding car, the Mercedes W196 allowed Daimler-Benz to win, in just 15 months of competition, a world image of quality, innovation and technical reliability that still endures.

 

The success of Daimler-Benz was undoubtedly facilitated by the lower competitiveness of their opponents. On the one hand, by Ferrari's decision to adapt the 500 model to the new technical regulations, on the project of the 625, on the other, the delay in the development of the Lancia D50, which kept Alberto Ascari absent until the final round of the 1954 Championship and, finally, the accidental death of Italian champion the following year, which left Fangio without an opponent at his level in a factory team.

 

However, the success of Mercedes, in his meteoric passage by Formula 1, resulted, above all, of the quality of the work done by its technical department, of the strong financial investment and human resources and of its firm sports management by Alfred Neubauer, with the choice of the best driver available: Juan Manuel Fangio.

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