The German GP is on this weekend

After the somewhat chaotic British Grand Prix, the public are probably hoping for another (apparently Irish) lunatic in a kilt and green underdaks, with the Star of David on them, to run down the track and mix up the runners. Personally, I hope not, and though it certainly made for interesting mid-race running, this is not ‘le sport pure’.

The Hockenheim circuit has been in operation since 1939, and up until 1966 it was a very fast almost 5 mile circuit. In 1965/6 it was uprated to a design by John Hugenholz because one end was needed when an autobahn was built. The resulting just over 4 mile circuit remained blindingly quick for most of its length, with a slow section in the ‘stadium’ (i.e. grandstand) area.

It was at Hockenheim in 1968 when Jim Clark was killed in a Formula II race. In those days, the drivers would drive F1, F II, sportscars, or anything as long as it had four wheels and an engine. They were not the prima donnas of today. While the exact cause of Clark’s accident has never been established with 100% certainty, it is almost certain that he crashed as a result of tyre failure. There being no catch fencing or Armco to deflect him, he died from hitting a tree.

While the Nurburgring was being made safe, Hockenheim staged the 1970 German GP with a layout made slower by the construction of three chicanes. It was not a popular choice of venue but, following Lauda’s accident at the Nurburgring in 1976, Hockenheim became the home of the German GP other than in 1985 when the new ‘Nurburgring’ had the race. Hockenheim was updated ahead of the 2002 German GP.

What did we learn from the British GP?

Well, the first thing we learned is that Rooby Baby isn’t dead yet, and he still cries at presentations. He really drove well all weekend, other than on the pre-qualifying on Friday, and deserved his win in the end.

We also learned that there are still lots of loonies at large in the world. The be-kilted buffoon certainly ended up scrambling the order, but this came from what I believe to be some very bad calls by the team managers. To bring both drivers in together meant that the second driver in from each team was left sitting behind his team mate in a queue, with the resultant being that Montoya got in front of Ralf in the BMW Williams team and Michael Schumacher ended up in 14th place, having been 5th beforehand. This problem was then compounded by cars from all the teams having to queue behind each other to get out of pit lane and onto the race track. I believe some heart-to-hearts might have occurred after the race between drivers and pit managers after the meeting.

By the way, the kilt-wearing oaf was not Scottish, but a defrocked Irish priest wearing green underdaks! He was carrying a religious message and a rucksack, no doubt full of religious items. The worrying part was when Rooby Baby was asked what did he think when he came round the corner and found the nutter dancing down the track, he said that he didn’t see him! I always thought Rubens had tunnel vision!

Current World F1 Championship standings

1. M Schumacher Ferrari 69

2. Raikkonen McLaren 62

3. Montoya WilliamsF1 55

4. R Schumacher WilliamsF1 53

5. Barrichello Ferrari 49

6. Alonso Renault 39

7. Coulthard McLaren 33

8. Trulli Renault 16

9. Webber Jaguar 12

10 Button BAR 11

The only real change in the standings is that the BMW Williams drivers Ralf Schumacher and Montoya have swapped places. With five races left, there is a theoretical 50 points up for grabs. That means that if Michael Schumacher has five DNF’s, it is possible (though not probable) that anyone down the list as far as Coulthard can still win the top award. Despite the resurgence of BMW Williams, I still feel that the real challenger will be Raikkonen. He is only seven points behind Michael Schumacher and has been a front runner all season.

1937 Mercedes W125

Motor racing features heavily in my columns, mainly because motor sport has been my passion for over 50 years. (I type that and suddenly I feel old!) That passion, as well as covering the developments over five decades, has also fostered an interest in the history of the automobile, and of course, the racing of those automobiles.

Mercedes W125

Now the manufacturers will try and justify their position in the sport by saying that racing improves the breed, but it is hard to see that this has been the guiding force. The “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” approach is probably much closer to the real truth!

If we look at the technical advancements for example, while today’s F1 cars have automatic transmissions, they have been used in passenger cars for many years, with the first being General Motors in their Oldsmobile of 1940.

W125 engine

Disc brakes are another motoring milestone, incorrectly assigned to Jaguar, racing at the Mille Miglia of 1952. Not at all, disc brakes were seen on the 1903 Lanchesters and hydraulically operated disc brakes on all four wheels were offered on the top of the line Chryslers of 1949. Stars and stripes does it again!

However, motor racing has brought out some technological marvels and for me, the W125 Mercedes of 1937 was one of them. These cars were built to conform with the 750 kg formula, but that was measured without fuel, oil, water and tyres and the cars actually weighed around 1,100 kg on the start line. Ultimately they produced almost 650 BHP and would do over 320 kph. Those performance figures are much the same as today’s F1 vehicles, although the new cars get to their top speed more quickly. But do not forget these vehicles were built 66 years ago!

The engines were just over 5.6 litres in capacity and were 8 cylinders in line. Each cylinder had 4 valves (2 inlet, 2 exhaust) inclined at 60 degrees. The engines had twin overhead camshafts which were gear driven via a train of gears coming from the rear of the crankshaft. From the front of the crankshaft a Roots-type supercharger was driven, pumping at 12 psi and running at over 16,000 RPM. Remember again, this was 67 years ago.

The cylinder block was no cast iron or alloy lump, but was made up of forged steel barrels with integral cylinder heads welded together in sets of four, with sheet steel water jackets. The one-piece counterbalanced crankshaft had 9 main bearings - no slipper bearings, but every one roller bearings in split housings. Dry-sump lubrication was used.

If you consider the specifications, you can see that these were not modified production engines, or adapted fire pumps (as was the Coventry-Climax GP engine many years later), but carefully designed race engines, designed to do one job only - to win races. And they certainly did that.

Now these days, the GP teams all carry out testing and some of the more well-heeled will even have a complete duplicate of the race team that does nothing but testing and reporting back to the designers and engineers. 67 years ago, the W125 spent February and March at the Monza circuit, testing every day, trying out two series of engines and two types of supercharging. During that testing, drivers Caracciola and Lang logged 2,346 kilometres on the track. The engines themselves had also spent much time in the experimental engine department and exact horsepower figures were kept for each individual engine. Reports still exist today to show that on the 3rd of October 1936 an M125 F motor produced 455 BHP at 4,000 RPM, improving to 589 BHP at 5,800 RPM. 67 years ago, there was no ‘hit or miss’ technology in the Mercedes team.

Just for interest, and interest only, GM’s Chevrolet SS Concept car exhibited at the Detroit Motor Show in January this year (2003) has a 6 litre alloy engine developing 450 BHP, and don’t expect it to rev much over 5,800 RPM either. And so much for technology and advances passed down to the road going vehicle.

A race record analysis of the W125 was also kept, showing the cars ran 46 times during 1937 and had a 76% finishing record. Considering that the races were generally over three hours in duration this was a most commendable result and better than some race records of the much vaunted multi-million dollar GP teams of 2002, which only ran two cars in 17 events. The W125 won seven of the GP’s that year, compared to the Auto Union’s five, so can lay claim to be the most successful racing car of 1937. Its technology was based on practical engineering and strict testing and production controls. In its day, it was a technological masterpiece. Even now, there are lessons for today’s up and coming engineers.

Yes, racing does improve the breed, but at a much slower pace than today’s PR wallahs would have you believe.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that a bandy-legged driver called Riva Davia became very famous later in his career. I asked what championship did he win? This should have been very easy. He was also known as El Chueco, and his real name was Juan Manuel Fangio and he won the world championship five times. When he began racing he used the alias of Riva Davia so that his mother did not find out that he was racing!

And so to this week. What sports-racing car was actually built at the Nurburgring Circuit in Germany? Clue - the years were 1950-53.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!