Well, since I was going to write up the new Mercedes E Class coupe today, but that info went missing from the Merc website AND I was up far too early to watch practice for the German GP, AND Mercedes did just happen to have this really cool set of photos of Lewis Hamilton (defending world champion and McLaren-Mercedes driver) checking out the W25 from the 1930s AND tooling around the fabled NÃ¼rburgring Nordschleife … well, guess I got something ELSE to write about.
Lewis Hamilton, for those of you that don’t know, is something of a wunderkind in the racing world. He’s the first champion who’s of African descent (his dad is from Grenada, his mom’s from London), and, when he’s got a good car under him, he’s pretty damn quick. And given McLaren’s affiliation with Mercedes (technical partner and engine supplier to Ron Dennis’ team), doing something historic for the home grand prix seems in order.
Normally, Mercedes would think that winning would be in order, but this season, McLaren is in terrible shape. They put so much time & resources into winning last years championship, that they lacked serious development on this years car, so now … well, if you can’t say anything nice.
So shy not focus on something of an historic nature.
In this case, Mercedes gave us three things to focus on:
The Mercedes-Benz W25, the NÃ¼rburgring Nordschleife, and driver Manfred von Brauchitsch.
When Mercedes-Benz rolled out their W25 grand prix racer in 1934, it was not only state of the art, it was the benchmark that all other cars were to be judged against. Yes, Audi, with their mid-engined, double supercharged GP racers were very, very formidable, but they lacked the consistence of the cars that Mercedes would field.
Of course state of the art for the mid-30s looks somewhat prosaic from the view of 2009, and in some ways, it’s a downright frightening vista.
For example check out the technical spec for the W25:
Chassis U-Section Pressed Steel Frame
Suspension (front) Double Wishbones w/Coil Springs & Friction Dampers
Suspension (rear) Swing Axle w/Transverse Quarter Elliptic Springs, Friction Dampers
Engine M25 3.4 liter, later 4.3 I8 supercharged front-engine, longitudinally mounted
Transmission Mercedes-Benz 5-speed
You just knew that swing axel rear is going to make for some interesting moments when you hit a bump mid-corner. And that chassis construction … better not to go into it.
Speaking of frightening vistas, what do I need to say about the NÃ¼rburgring Nordschleife? If any of you out there play Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsports, you should know this track like the back of your hand.
I know I do. At over 14 miles in length, and having over 170 corners, the NÃ¼rburgring is either the best, or the worst man made tracks ever constructed, depending on your perspective. Today, it’s deemed far too dangerous for modern grand prix competition. But back in the 30s, racers thought nothing negative about going for a nice Sunday drive around a track that had no guardrails, let alone modern niceties like run off areas or medical facilities.
Drivers like Manfred von Brauchitsch. Those of you that are military buffs will recognize that last name: von Brauchitsch. Yup, he would be the nephew of Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, who was in charge of taking Moscow in WW II. Luckily, Manfred was better with a wheel than Walther was with an army, and he did OK racing for Mercedes. He wasn’t a star, like the great Rudolf Caracciola, but he was a tough, and willful driver, rather than one of skill.
Those two qualities were essential to piloting a car like the W24 around tracks like NÃ¼rburgring. The ‘Ring might have been big and formidable, but its cavalier attitude towards safety was the norm for all racing tracks of the day. And for the drivers too. The Mercedes team wore coveralls, but that was for looks, there were no safety qualities. Helmets? Try cloth helmets to keep the grease, grit and grime out of your hair (more than anything).
Now compare that to what we see young Lewis wearing.
Things are different these days, huh?