by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Silver Arrows triumph in 1938 championship: Triple victory in French Grand Prix

The 1938 French Grand Prix was the racing year’s first major duel between the Mercedes-Benz W 154 Silver Arrows and the rival Auto Union vehicles. The Stuttgart racing team’s triple victory reflected its complete dominance of the race. Manfred von Brauchitsch took first place ahead of Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang. Lang, who started from pole position, recorded the fastest lap time.

The Mercedes-Benz W 154 Silver Arrows battled it out among themselves to determine who was to win the French Grand Prix on 3 July 1938. Their Auto Union rivals, in the shape of two new Type D racing cars which were making their debut in this important race, dropped out during the first lap. Led by Stuttgart works team drivers Hermann Lang, Manfred von Brauchitsch, and Rudolf Caracciola, the field also included two Talbot T150C cars, a Sefac and a Bugatti T59/50B.

After 64 laps over a total distance of 500.86 kilometres, von Brauchitsch crossed the line victorious – “in a new record time ahead of Caracciola and Lang”, as the Mercedes-Benz works team driver noted with satisfaction in his biography “No victory without a struggle”. The fastest lap was logged by Lang on the “very fast triangular circuit in Reims, the ancient city of coronations”, as the former motor racing mechanic later recalled.

The overwhelming success in Reims was doubly significant for Mercedes-Benz: for one thing, it was the first race of the season to count towards the European Championship. “The chances of taking the coveted title of European Champion rise and fall with every race,” as racing manager Alfred Neubauer observed.

But the triple victory in the French Grand Prix also had a special historical resonance. It was in France, where the first car race was held between Paris and Rouen in 1894 and where the brand name Mercedes was coined at the “Nice Racing Week” in 1901, that the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, followed by two Benz cars, had won the 1908 Grand Prix in Dieppe. 1914 saw a triple win for the Mercedes racing cars in Lyon – a victory which remains one of the most significant for the brand to this day. Finally, in 1954, there was the spectacular one-two victory when the brand returned to Formula 1 at the French Grand Prix in Reims with the streamlined version of the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R and drivers Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling.

Silver Arrows on the silver screen

The triple victory in Reims in 1938 was one of the great successes for Mercedes-Benz in an extremely exciting racing season, from which Rudolf Caracciola was to emerge as European Champion. “The cars are like capricious prima donnas. They won’t take just any oil or fuel and they are even more fastidious where spark plugs are concerned,” said Alfred Neubauer, recalling the W 154. This first twelve-cylinder car from Mercedes-Benz was newly developed for the Grand Prix formula which came into force in 1938. The competition was tough: “Races are becoming ever faster, ever more difficult, and the number of pretenders to the title is also growing,” wrote Caracciola as he looked back at the 1938 season.

But the racing drivers, mechanics, engineers, and strategists formed a great team which understood the single-seat, open-wheel race car down to the smallest detail. Summing up the result of this teamwork, Alfred Neubauer said: “We win every race we compete in” – including the French Grand Prix.

Credits: Daimler AG

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