1938: Triple victory in Swiss GP

  • Rudolf Caracciola wins the Swiss Grand Prix in the pouring rain
  • Richard Seaman takes second place after an exciting duel, Manfred von Brauchitsch is third
Winner was Rudolf Caracciola (on the right) followed by Richard B. Seaman and Manfred von Brauchitsch.

Winner was Rudolf Caracciola (on the right) followed by Richard B. Seaman and Manfred von Brauchitsch.

Richard Seaman had good reason to feel extremely confident ahead of the Swiss Grand Prix which was held in Bremgarten near Berne on 21 August 1938: a member of the Mercedes-Benz works team, the British driver had won the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring four weeks earlier. He was to start in pole position in Berne and had also logged the best time of the day. But in the heavy rain, it was Rudolf Caracciola who won; Seaman was runner-up 26 seconds later with Manfred von Brauchitsch taking third place.

Rudolf Caracciola after driving to victory in the pouring rain

Rudolf Caracciola after driving to victory in the pouring rain

In August 1938, Mercedes-Benz triumphed in every race contested by the W 154 Silver Arrows: Hermann Lang’s victory in the Coppa Ciano in Montenero was followed a week later by Rudolf Caracciola’s win in the Coppa Acerbo in Pescara. But only four races counted towards the European Championship in the 1938 season: the French, German, Swiss, and Italian Grands Prix

Richard Seaman

Richard Seaman

With the German Grand Prix over, the championship moved on to Berne where the cars were to battle it out in the course of 50 laps, representing a total distance of 364 kilometres (226 miles). Recalling the circuit, which opened in 1934, Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer said: “The Bremgarten circuit, which is just outside Berne, is 7 kilometres long (4.3 miles) and one of the fastest tracks in Europe.” It was here that Rudolf Caracciola won his first Swiss Grand Prix in 1935. In 1937, the lead driver of the Mercedes-Benz team took first place ahead of Hermann Lang and Manfred von Brauchitsch in a triple triumph for the Stuttgart brand. In August 1938, he added another victory to this impressive record. Caracciola no doubt had his successes at Bremgarten in mind when he said, “Berne is my favourite circuit after the Nürburgring.”

Victory for the “Rainmaster”

Mercedes-Benz Racing poster celebrating Caracciola's victory in the 1938 Swiss Grand Prix ahead of his team-mates Seaman and von Brauchitsch

Mercedes-Benz Racing poster celebrating Caracciola’s victory in the 1938 Swiss Grand Prix ahead of his team-mates Seaman and von Brauchitsch

In the 1938 Grand Prix, Richard Seaman started out in the lead, closely followed by Caracciola. “The wily old fox against the clever young greenhorn!” was how Alfred Neubauer summed up this exciting duel. Caracciola overtook his team-mate on lap eleven and maintained his short lead all the way to the finish: Seaman was just 26 seconds behind the winner while von Brauchitsch took third place.

From left: Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Rudolf Caracciola, Richard Seaman, director Max Sailer and racing director Alfred Neubauer.

From left: Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Manfred von Brauchitsch, Rudolf Caracciola, Richard Seaman, director Max Sailer and racing director Alfred Neubauer.

The race was a struggle against the elements and the circuit: “You can feel that the car wants to break away on the cobblestones like an unruly horse,” Caracciola recalled later. “I have to sense what the car wants to do before it does it and then keep it under control with steady, gentle movements. It’s not just your hands that do the steering. Your whole body feels the vehicle and keeps it in check.”Winner Rudolf Caracciola

The win in Berne brought a third European Championship title within reach of Caracciola following his triumphs in 1935 and 1937: third place in the Italian Grand Prix on 11 September was all it took to secure him the 1938 title, too. Many years later, however, it was also the Bremgarten circuit that put an end to the motor racing career of Rudolf Caracciola, Germany’s outstanding racing driver. That career, which started in the days of the Mercedes-Benz supercharged cars at the end of the 1920s and which will always be associated with the first Silver Arrows era in the 1930s, ended with a serious accident during the Berne Prize race for sports cars in 1952. Caracciola suffered serious injuries when his Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) ran off the track and collided with a tree. But his victory in 1938 was one of the great sporting successes of this exceptional driver, not to mention the Mercedes-Benz brand and its legendary Silver Arrows.

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