Master and rising
star... In 1955, Juan
Manuel Fangio and
Stirling Moss showed
that putting the best
two drivers in the
same F1 team needn’t
end in tears. Would
the harmony have
continued into ’56?
eam newcomer Stirling Moss was still
gathering his thoughts and digging in a
pocket for a handkerchief – more likely a
grubby rag – when a mechanic stepped
smartly forward to proffer a bowl of hot
water, soap, flannel and a towel.
Mercedes-Benz was big on detail. Though
its car had not been entirely to his liking
– he never felt deep affection for it – this,
thought Moss, was going to be good, very
good: at a level beyond all others.
The Stuttgart marque was almost
40 years ahead of the curve in terms of
manpower – more than 100 dedicated
staff, plus first call on the varied expertise
within its main factory – preparation
and execution: it built 15 chassis in
seven iterations for just 12 grands prix.
No wonder its comeback of July 1954
demoralized the opposition. But not all
was as it seemed. By careful choreography
and attention to detail, Mercedes-Benz
had camouflaged its car’s weaknesses.
After a part-season in 1954, Mercedes-Benz defined
the template for a modern Formula 1 team in ’ 55.
Having dominated, it exited at the end of the year.
Its superb fit and finish exuded
reassuring solidity, but came at the
expense of stolidity at the wheel. Had Juan
Manuel Fangio not joined – he’d won the
first two GPs of 1954 in Maserati’s svelte
250F – and had Lancia’s ambitious D50
project been more organized and better
funded, Mercedes-Benz might not have
won in ’ 54. As it was, Ferrari beat it twice.
Although stubborn – rather than switch
to disk brakes, it squirted oil into those
drums to prevent grabbing, and even briefly
assessed an air brake as compensation
for their shortfall – Mercedes-Benz
learned from its mistakes, without
admitting to them. An unshakeable
confidence was perhaps its biggest asset.
Possessing the facilities and funds to try
anything – three chassis lengths, two engine
positions, inboard or outboard front brakes
and open-wheeler or streamliner,
depending on the track – it honed/adapted
a package in 1955 that rivals could not
Although the W196’s design and
development were overseen by an
engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, capable of
driving it near the limit – a boon before
data-logging – it was a strange brew of
old-school and hi-tech: a straight-eight
engine (the last of this type to win a GP),
drum brakes and (albeit low-pivot) swing
axles; direct fuel injection (a first in GPs and
repeated only recently), desmodromic
valve-gear (never repeated in GPs) and an
all-enveloping body from the wind tunnel.
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