Happy Fourth of July everyone! Time to celebrate this wonderful land’s freedom from those bloody Brits. But if you do happen to be British, there are plenty of other reasons to celebrate this long weekend. For me, I’ll be marking the anniversary of Mercedes’ first entry, first pole position and first win in Formula 1.
That’s right: Exactly 68 years ago today, Mercedes took its first step toward today’s dominance of F1, when the German carmaker showed up to the 1954 French Grand Prix and won the whole damn thing.
In 1954, Mercedes was coming off a 15-year ban on participation in international motorsport. As such, it joined the Formula 1 season midway through, having missed races in Argentina, Belgium and the Indy 500 (which was part of the F1 calendar at that time) earlier in the year.
The team turned up at Reims in France on July 4th, 1954 with a new car and a new two-driver team of Karl Kling and Juan Manuel Fangio, the latter of whom Mercedes had poached from Maserati. The drivers were thrust into the all-new Mercedes-Benz W196 for the race, which covered 61 laps of the 5.2-mile circuit.
Things got off to a good start, with Fangio claiming pole position in the W196 on a lap time of 2:29.4. He was a second ahead of his next competitor and, over the lap, posted an average speed of almost 125 mph.
The good fortunes continued in the race, with Fangio and Kling leading the pack and shooting clear of the chasing Ferrari drivers. Almost exactly like the 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons of F1!
But this was Formula 1 in the ‘50s, so reliability issues plagued nearly every team. Of the 21 drivers that started the 1954 French Grand Prix, just six carried through to the end of the race. Among the teams forced to retire, engine failure, gearbox issues and fuel pump gremlins were all cited.
For Fangio and Kling, however, no such issues became present. As such, they went on to claim first and second position in the grand prix. By the end of the race, the pair were a lap ahead of third-place driver Robert Manzon, who drove for Ferrari at the time.
Over the remainder of the season, the Mercedes team racked up a further three wins. And they would come back the following year with the same car and claim five more victories.
Clearly it was a glimpse of things to come for the Silver Arrows! Well, until a dramatic rule change ruined everything for the team this year.