Friday, 27 December 2013

BUTTON AND BARRICHELLO AT HONDA AND BRAWN 2006-2009

When they were first paired at Honda in 2006, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were fast, highly respected and experienced drivers. If not quite as highly regarded as peers  Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Alonso and Raikkonen, Button and Barrichello were a very strong pair.

Because the Hondas of the years 2006-2008 were never the fastest cars, being in fact very slow in 2007 and 2008, typically as drivers with off-pace machinery, Button and Barrichello faded from the media radar. They became enigmatic and anonymous. Their reputations were redeemed in 2009 after Honda had pulled out and the team was taken over by team manager Ross Brawn and renamed Brawn-Mercedes. Button’s more so than Barrichellos.

By my rating statistics, the Hondas car-rated at a fast’, but fourth ranked, 100.3 in 2006, at a slow 101.6 ranked seventh  in 2007 and an even slower 102.1 for 2008, ranked second-last ahead of Super Aguri-Honda. Clearly then Jenson and Rubens had little chance of shining with such car-speed deficiencies. As a general rule throughout grand prix history my stats have shown that any car rated less than about 100.5 has hardly any chance of scoring a race win, even with the very top drivers. Of course the car came right for Button and Barrichello in 2009 as the Brawn-Mercedes, which my calculations rated at 100.0 until about halfway through the season. Then the Red Bull-Renault caught and surpassed the Brawn slightly to score the season average top spot at 100.0, relegating the Brawn-Mercedes to rank second at a car-rating of 100.1.

General consensus for 2009 is that Button was obviously faster in the first half, Barrichello in the second half.

Rubens Barrichello



PROMISING CAREER STARTS
This fading from media prominence from 2006-2008 was despite both drivers’ excellent credentials. Barrichello had started his career brilliantly with Jordan in 1993 and in only his third appearance was almost as fast as the Senna/McLaren-Cosworth in that rainy Donington GP! Button had debuted in 2000 as team-mate to the very talented Ralf Schumacher who was into his fourth season. Button put up some impressive performances in scoring a fourth and some fifth places. Both Barrichello and Button clearly showed talent.

SUPERIOR RIVALS
 However as is normal in the monopolistic world of Formula One, more illustrious peers in faster cars hogged the wins: Senna, Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the nineties for Barrichello, who had to wait eight years until 2000 for his first win, driving for the Ferrari team. Button was overshadowed by his mores successful peers, Michael Schumacher and Barrichello for Ferrari, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Raikkonen for McLaren-Mercedes, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya for Williams-BMW and Alonso for Renault. Button also only scored his first win in his seventh season, for Honda in 2006.

Button and Barrichello had had statistically similar career paths before they were teamed at Honda in 2006. Rubens had scored nine wins for the dominant Ferrari team between 2000-2005. He then left, fed up with playing second-fiddle to Michael Schumacher. Jenson had had an excellent season in 2004 when the Bar-Honda car had been competitive enough to get four seconds and six third places, in a year of utter Ferrari dominance when the red cars won 15 of 17 races.

2009 Button/Brawn-Mercedes BGP001


INFORMED OPINIONS
To help accurately place and compare the two Honda team mates, I asked posters on the Planet F1 Forum for their views.  Under their usernames these were some of their words:

Mac_d: “Over 2007 and 2008 they were close to identical imo. In 2006 and 2009 though JB went for it a bit stronger... I think it is vital to JB that we note the 2006 and 2009 cars were pretty damn good. The 2007 and 2008 cars were not. Both were good enough drivers to win multiple races by JB in a car he likes and is more capable beats Rubens in the same car. In mediocre cars they become even”.

Mikeyg123; “In 2008 Rubens seemed to have an edge. I think for 2009 Button showed just how good he can be in a great car, but by the second half of the season Barrichello was a match for him again”.

Coulthards chin: “Before I delved in to the stats, the opinion etched into my brain was Button by a country mile in 2006 and 2009, but Barrichello edging 2007-2008. However the stats show it’s bit more complicated than that”. coulthard’s chin did detailed comparative stats analysis that showed that for ‘ahead-when-both-finished-races’ in 2006-2009 the score was 31:16 to Button.

Arai_or_Nothing: “While Button finally looked competitive consistently in 2009, it was truly the first time in his F1 career that he looked the part whilst driving some really good cars. Barrichello is clearly the more adaptable driver. [Button] simply cannot adapt to tires that are less than spectacular”.

AFCTUJacko: “I rate them pretty similarly. JB had the’ perfect storm’ he needed to win the title, Rubens didn’t”.

Benmc: Button is definitely more sensitive to car handling and tyre temperature than most...”

M. Nader-DODZ-: “Rubens made steady improvement against Button. Among a few things to consider in such a comparison (coulthards chin stats), Rubens age when making the switch to Honda. I think Jenson is a lot better than Rubens. I would say Rubens is in the Webber/DC class and Jenson is one step above that”.

Flavio81: Speedwise I think they were mostly matched although Jenson can be thought as faster in the race. However I must say that I think Jenson is the better racer’.

Tootsie323: “Over the course of their four seasons together I felt they were fairly evenly matched; it was largely due to Jenson maximising the early-season advantage of the Brawn in 2009 that he is WDC and Rubens not.”

Slowestofall: took an interesting set of stats from the  FIA Race Analysis files, and averaged the two drivers’ ten  fastest laps for the last eight races of the season at each circuit: and found:“...when it mattered, Button drove faster than Barrichello […] in the second half of the [2009] season, Button drove consistently faster than Barrichello in the races...”

As anyone who analyses Formula One racing finds, there are many measures and methods, some of which produce converging results, others produce differing conclusions.

We have here above a pretty detailed and accurate picture of how Button and Barrichello compared.

THEIR PRE-HONDA/BRAWN DAYS

 I now set out some other factors that further explain the comparison between Button and Barrichello.

Why had Button, who clearly showed immediate talent, not managed a win before 2006? He was too new in 2000 and 2001. Thereafter and apart from the 2004 season, he had driven inferior cars. This partly explains his 2002, 2003 and 2005 seasons. But what about 2004, when the BAR-Honda car was outstanding and up with the Ferrari speedwise? Simply, Jenson was not as fast as Michael Schumacher and the Honda team were not as good racers as the Ferrari team. Another factor pointed out by expert driver analyst Peter Windsor: that although Button is unsurpassed in slow speed corners, at rotating the car so accurately and efficiently to aid corner exit, up with Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in this respect,  he was not good in high-speed corners, detesting high-speed, flick oversteer. When his car was so behaving, Windsor reckoned “Button became just another driver”.  Another factor mentioned by posters above that adversely affected Button, and still does today (2013) by his own admission: he has trouble warming the tyres in certain conditions and coping with an imbalanced car. It is these factors that have kept Button’s driver-rating below that of those top drivers, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton and now Vettel, who have the ability to drive around car issues and are very consistent. Button certainly is their equal in talent, feel and sensitivity when he feels confident with his car. In changeable weather conditions Jenson’s sensitivity enabled several great wins.

When Rubens at last got into a top-rated car and team, Ferrari in 2000-2005, he was unfortunate to be teamed with one of the greatest drivers in Michael Schumacher. Barrichello was just not fast enough. However being teamed with a top driver in a dominant team/car was also an advantage: Barrichello’s standards, understanding of the car and himself through much testing, his confidence and speed all improved. This phenomenon has been fairly common in F1 racing: Berger with Senna at McLaren-Honda in 1991-1992, Mansell with Keke Rosberg at Williams-Honda in 1985, Moss with Fangio at Mercedes-Benz in 1955 and with Button himself at Brawn-Mercedes  with Barrichello in 2009 and then at McLaren-Mercedes paired with Hamilton in 2010-2012. Before joining Ferrari in 2000 Barrichello had always displayed exceptional wet-weather ability, but generally seemed to lack some self-belief or confidence.

So in their earlier careers, Button and Barrichello each scored just one win, each in their sixth season!

When they teamed at Honda in 2006 the 34-year-old Barrichello had been in F1 for 13 seasons, while 26-year-old Button was into his sixth season. That eight year age difference counted as did their differing years in F1 racing. What I also found critical was the fact that Barrichello’s form and speed had slumped significantly in 2005, his last season at Ferrari. On the heels of  Rubens’s great 2004, when he scored two wins and 14 podiums to Michael’s 13 wins and 15 podiums and 16 top-six finishes to Michael’s 15, Rubens’ 2005 results plummeted: three podiums to Michael’s six and five top-six placings to Michael’s ten. It seems that Rubens’confidence and motivation had been lost in that last season as number two to Michael Schumacher.
2009 Brawn-Mercedes BGP001


SUMMARISING THE HONDA-BRAWN YEARS
Taking another measure to compare the two drivers, my driver-rating calculations, which are based primarily on time-speed and scores drivers on season-averages (where 100.0 is the ultimate speed):

2006:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.7
2007:  Button 100.4:  Barrichello 100.5
2008:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.4
2009:  Button 100.3:  Barrichello 100.4.

My stats here show that for 2006 Rubens was 0.3% slower than Jenson, which would be 0.3-second slower in a qualifying lap and 18-seconds behind in a 60-lap race. This is the same as the gap Webber has been measured on my system against Vettel from 2011-2013. Rubens’s huge improvement mentioned by the Planet F1 posters for 2007-2008 is reflected in my ratings; when the two were just 0.1% apart, or 0.1-second per qualifying lap and 6-seconds in a 60 lap race of 100-minutes (as at Abu Dhabi). Very close indeed.

These driver-rating stats confirm posters views quoted above: that Jenson was better overall, but that Barrichello improved from his slow start in 2006 to become very little slower/virtually equal for their last three seasons together.

Barrichello’s deep experience, especially from his six seasons paired with Michael at Ferrari and his excellent car-set up ability, must have rubbed off on team-mate Button. The two were on good terms and worked together as a team, not hiding information from each other. Rubens was new to the Honda team in 2006 and needed adjustment time, which partly explains his 0.3 deficiency in driver-rating speed to Jenson who had been with the team since 2003. Additionally Rubens also needed to recover his confidence or motivation lost in 2005. For the 2009 season many mentions were made concerning Barrichello’s unhappiness with his Brawn’s brake characteristics. When the brake manufacturer was changed halfway through 2009, his performance and Jenson’s seemed to converge, and Rubens gained the upper hand. After the first eight races and Button’s six wins, Barrichello set one pole, scored two wins and three podiums to Button’s no pole, no win and two podiums. Another view is that Button had the championship sewn up and was cruising for points.

THEIR PEAK SEASONS
To further place the two drivers’ careers in context, I show how my system’s driver-ratings scores them outside of the topic years 2006-2009. Barrichello’s peak seasons were 2002-2004 at Ferrari and Button’s during 2010-2011 at McLaren-Mercedes, when both rated at 100.2. This was faster than they had performed in their Honda-Brawn years and at any other time. Barrichello slowed considerably after he left Brawn and went to Williams-Cosworth in 2010-11. Driver comparisons must always be placed in context by considering career stages and ages. Is Jenson in 2012-2013 approaching the same age-slowing phenomenon as Rubens had, now that he is 34 and has been racing for 14 seasons?

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

***

Saturday, 14 December 2013

RALF SCHUMACHER AND JARNO TRULLI AT TOYOTA 2005-2007

These two drivers have been largely overlooked during their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota due to the cars being far off-pace. Their generally low placings have downgraded perceptions of these fine drivers. In my opinion both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli were really fast, competitive and vastly under-rated. Was it just the car that was slow? Just how good were Ralf and Jarno?

Driver CVs before Toyota
Ralf Schumacher
Some idea of Ralf’s and Jarno’s abilities and speed can be gauged from their pre-Toyota years. Each faced some very fast team-mates. Jarno had come from two seasons with the experienced and fast Frentzen at Jordan in 2000-2001, one year with Button at Renault in 2002 and then two seasons with Alonso at Renault in 2003-2004. As a rookie Ralf Schumacher had been paired with Fisichella at Jordan in 1997, then with Damon Hill at Jordan in 1998, with Button at Williams-BMW in 2001 and then spent another four years in that team with the combative Montoya. All these team-mates were formidable drivers, particularly Alonso and Montoya.

Clearly the fact that Ralf slugged it out for four seasons at Williams-BMW with one of the toughest and talented drivers, Colombian Juan-Pablo Montoya, is a good measure of his abilities. These two Williams-BMW drivers gave the dominant Michael-Schumacher-led Ferrari ‘steamroller’ its toughest opposition from 2002-2004. Ralf and Montoya were very close-matched throughout their four seasons as team-mates. Ralf’s 2004 was cut short by a puncture-induced crash in the US GP at Indianapolis; his resultant concussion causing him to miss the next six events. Returning for the last three races of 2004, Ralf was immediately fast, beating Montoya in qualifying in China and then starting from the front row alongside Michael’s 13-win Ferrari in Japan to score a great second place. The crash apparently had not affected Ralf’s driving at all.

Jarno had two seasons paired with Fernando Alonso at Renault. Overshadowed in 2003, Jarno bounced back for 2004 and virtually equalled Alonso in results and speed. He scored a first and a third place to Alonso’s one second place and three thirds. Jarno’s season was cut short when Renault Team manager Briatore fired him at race 16 of 18. This proved a huge loss to Renault, but Jarno was promptly snapped up by Toyota for the last two events of 2004.

Ralf vs Jarno Compared 2005-2007
Comparing their statistics averaged over their three Toyota seasons together shows that Jarno and Ralf were very close-matched. Each scored three podiums, Ralf ten top-six placings, Jarno eight. Comparing their average grid positions, which I scored only when neither had significant problems and using their best pre-race times instead of some of the official grid positions due to penalties or other issues: Jarno was best at an average grid place of 7.84 vs Ralf’s 9.15. Ralf was better in average race finishing position at 8.6 vs Jarno’s 9.4. When each finished the races, Jarno was ahead 16 times and Ralf 14. As another measure my Rating System scored Jarno slightly faster in 2005, Ralf in 2006 and Jarno faster in 2007. On average over the three seasons they were virtually equal in speed. 


The Toyota Cars 2005-2007

Jarno Trulli
Why was the Toyota’s early 2005 promise not realised? In the first five races of 2005 Trulli scored two second places and a third behind the dominating McLaren-Mercedes and Renault packages. Thereafter Ralf and Jarno rarely scored better than fifth place, mostly lower, apart from Ralf’s two third places and Jarno’s one fourth. Considering that the Toyota TF105 car-rated at 100.7 and ranked fifth by my system’s season average, Ralf and Jarno had little chance of winning races. That car-rating is 0.7% from the top-rated McLaren-Mercedes, or 0.7 seconds slower per lap which translates to a hypothetical 42-seconds behind in a 60-lap, 100-minute race as at Abu Dhabi. The car was inconsistent, at times very fast, scoring two second and two third places and setting two poles, Jarno at Indianapolis and Ralf at Suzuka. But in most races they dropped to several 6th to 9ths places and even some 12th to 15ths! No drivers are that erratic, and certainly not two who had virtually equalled Montoya and Alonso the year before.

In 2006 the Toyota was even further from the front-running, fastest cars of Ferrari and Renault top-rated equal at 100.0, the Toyota car-rating on my system at 100.8 and ranked sixth. Consequently it was mazing that Ralf managed a third place in Australia; Jarno’s best were two sixths. Average race-finishes of 8.2 and 10.2 says it all for the Toyota team.

The 2007 season was even worse, each driver’s best finish being a sixth place. The car, by my season-average car-rating, had dropped to 101.6 and ranked seventh. That is over 1.5 seconds per lap and over 90-seconds behind after a 60 lapper! The notoriously slow 2007 Honda car-rated equal to the Toyota by my calculations. Honda drivers Button and Barrichello scoring best finishes of fifth and ninth respectively, partly confirms the accuracy of the Toyota TF107’s low car-rating, with Ralf and Jarno best-scoring a sixth place each. This Toyota’s slowness is reflected in the average race-finishing places of 11.1 for Ralf and 10.8 for Jarno. Considering how the 2013 McLaren-Mercedes has struggled with Button driving, and that my car-rating scored it at 100.5, highlights just how far off-pace the 2005-2007 Toyotas were, car-rated at 100.6,100.7 and 101.6. Not even Michael Schumacher, Senna or Fangio could have won more than perhaps one or two races for Toyota; the gap was just too big. My findings based on over 1200 grand prix-calibre races from 1894-2013, show that few cars that are slower than 0.5% from the fastest are capable of much success. This clears Ralf and Jarno.

The Toyota Team

2005 Jarno Trulli-Toyota TF105
Such poor and declining results 2005-2007 point to a major problem for such a big, powerful and huge-budget manufacturer: Toyota had debuted in 2002, 2007 was their sixth season and they had the best wind-tunnel of all, still used by Ferrari and other teams in 2012 and 2013! The Toyota situation was aptly stated by Planet F1 Forum poster, username 'Fiki': “”Toyota weren’t a racing team with a manufacturer behind them; they were a manufacturer with a far-away racing division somewhere.” Basically the remote, corporate-style management was unsuited to Formula One racing. Between 2002 and their exit in 2009 Toyota spent on a huge scale, which made their decline and winlessness hard to understand.

The Toyota cars showed occasional promise, especially in Trulli’s acknowledged speedy qualifying hands. However, similar to the 2010-2013 Mercedes cars, in the races the Toyota’s seemed to over-use their rear tyres, and often dropped back soon after the start. The derogatory ‘Trulli train’ term aptly described how the Toyotas’ sometimes high grid positions turned into a train of cars struggling to get past in the races.

The drivers?

Another factor that could have influenced Toyota performance was the drivers. Jarno, like Button and Raikkonen is recognised as having a narrow tyre or car-balance window in which to display his speed. If the tyres or car are not right, Jarno struggles and cannot drive around the problem as Michael Schumacher and Alonso could. This was borne out by Jarno’s fast single-lap qualifying performances, and his often fading in the races. This issue of Jarno’s with Topyota seemed to be similar to Button’s problems with his McLaren-Mercedes in mid-2012: a lack of aero-tyre warming balance which reduced the driver’s confidence.

Some commentators reckoned Ralf’s concussion from his 2004 Indy crash could have affected his performance. The on-track speed and results show otherwise: he was on-pace straight away on return. However for 2007 Ralf’s performance did slow, as he dropped pace by a huge 0.4% relative to Jarno, by my calculations. That was almost half-a-second per lap or over 20- seconds in a 60 lap race. Ralf’s average grid position for 2007 was 10.5 vs Jarno’s 9.2. Was Ralf losing interest, de-motivated by the slow car? Planet F1 Forum poster username 'Senna88' states it clearly: “Ralf in particular began to suffer from de-motivation I remember many times when Brundle would interview him on the grid from 2006 onwards and he always seemed a bit down on how well the race would go... Ralf suffered more derision from the media than Trulli during these under performing years at Toyota (considering the budget they had) due to his massive pay check.”

The drivers directly compared

Considering their Toyota cars over the three seasons with Ralf’s and Jarno’s average grid positions of around 8.5 and an average race-finishing position of 9.0, Ralf and Jarno must have been really good to score six podiums, two poles and in Trulli’s case, to once come close to a win, in their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota.

 I directly compared the drivers season by season:
Ahead when both finished the race:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf: 8:5
2006: Ralf vs Jarno :4:3
2007: Ralf and Jarno 5:5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf :16:14

Average race-finishing position:
2005: Ralf vs Jarno: 6.5:7.3
2006: Ralf vs jarno: 8.2:101.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf: 10.8:11.1
Three-season average: Ralf vs Jarno 8.6:9.4

Average grid position/ time-based start position:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf 5.4 :8.1
2006: ,Ralf vs Jarno 8.1: 9.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf : 9.2:10.5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf 7.9:9.2.

My system’s driver-ratings score them:
2005: Jarno 100.2, Ralf 100.3
2006: Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.6
2007: Jarno 100.4, Ralf 100.7.
Three-season average Jarno 100.40, Ralf 100.43

If we discount Ralf’s demotivated 2007 season and compare only 2005-6:
Ahead when both finished race: Jarno 11, Ralf 9
Average POB driver-rating Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.4
Average grid/time position: Jarno 7.19 Ralf 8.48
Average race finish position: Ralf 7.36, Jarno 8.77

As with all statistics on Formula One racing, each only tells part of the story, but togther they form a more complete, definitive assessment.
:
“I think Ralf tends to get massively underrated. In 2005 and 2006 he beat Trulli but was still getting slated.”. This observation by Planet F1 poster username 'mikeyg123'.
was so true. Many in the media and among fans were biased against Ralf, and irrationally downgraded perceptions of his actual and considerable capabilities.

Overall the two drivers were close-matched in 2005-6, Ralf being the better racer, Jarno the better qualifier. Planet F1 poster, username 'Aria_or_Nothing' reckons: “Of all the drivers Toyota employed, I’d say Ralf was the very best ... When Ralf had a good car he won and often challenged for the top spots with regularity. When Trulli was in a similar situation he still didn’t podium much or challenge for the top spots.”

“I don’t think Toyota ever had a vehicle capable of having a go at the title. Ralf and Trulli were’t THAT bad! Toyota had a quality pairing in those two.” This summary by Plantet F1 poster username 'mcdo' seems spot-on. What they achieved in slow, inconsistent cars showed what a strong pair they were..

As drivers I rate or rank Ralf at least up with Coulthard, Barrichello and Button at their best (DC 1997-2000, RB 2002-2004 and JB 2010-2011). Jarno I’d rate slightly lower, perhaps on a par with Mark Webber.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page may be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

**

Friday, 21 June 2013

DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIPS WON IN OFF-PACE CARS


Since 1950, 26 of the 63 Formula One seasons the championship-winning drivers had cars that were not the fastest.

This I found from my Rating System, which separates the driver from the car and rates them as individual performance elements that make up the combination. Exposing and reading the car-ratings without drivers changes quite a few commonly-held perceptions. Briefly, my System scores the fastest at 100.0, slower speeds being scored in increments of one decimal (0.1) upwards, that is, from 100.1, 100.2 and so on. As a rough guide: in 2012 the slowest cars, the HRTs rated at 103.1; that is 3.1% off-pace. This can be translated as 3.1 seconds per lap slower, or multiplied by 60 to equal 186 seconds, just over 3-minutes in a 60-lap race. A competitor rated at 100.1 would be only 0.1-second per lap slower than the top-rated one, or x 60 = 6-seconds in a 60-lap race.

Who were the drivers who scored championships in off-pace cars? Some of the drivers experienced more reliability than faster rivals; some enjoyed better-organised teams. Others benefitted from rival team drivers taking points from each other, as happened with McLaren in 2007 (Alonso and Hamilton), Williams in 1986 (Mansell and Piquet) and Lotus in 1973 (Peterson and Fittipaldi). Many of these 26 championships must have been won by exceptional drivers and outstanding performances, to have overcome their car-speed deficiencies.

For the first eight years 1950 to 1957, all the driver champions had the fastest cars. So Farina, Fangio and Ascari all enjoyed the fastest cars.

Hawthorn
1958: this was that close-won, headline-grabbing, championship battle between two British drivers, Hawthorn and Moss, which went down to the wire with Hawthorn winning by a single point. Hawthorn’s car, the Ferrari 246 Dino which rated at 100.7 by my System, was a lot slower than Moss’s Vanwall’s which scored a car-rating of 100.2. Championship-winner Hawthorn’s Ferrari’s slowness was ‘overcome’ by the ridiculous points system then in force, in which drivers had to discard some races! The points allocation then was abstractly skewed. Hawthorn only won one race, Moss four times. Hawthorn did however drive extremely well, was very consistent and determined, and rated at his best driver-rating of 100.4 in 1958.

1962: It was in 1962 that the next drivers championship was won in an off-pace car, Graham Hill’s BRM P57/62. Commonly-held perceptions are that Clark’s innovative, monocoque Lotus-Climax 25 was the fastest car. I too believed this, until my Rating System showed otherwise. The BRM was generally considered to have been the next-fastest car. However the unheralded, traditional, tubular-framed Cooper-Climax T60 was actually the fastest car of 1962. By my System it rated at the ultimate100.0, while Hill’s BRM car-rated at 100.1 and Clark’s Lotus-Climax at 100.2. What disguised the Cooper-Climax’s true pace was that its drivers (Bruce McLaren and Tony Maggs), the ‘other half’ of the performance equation, were much slower than the Lotus and BRM drivers. The Cooper-Climax consequently only won once, at Monaco, and then only took the lead in the last few laps after Hill’s dominant BRM had retired.

Surtees - 1964 Champion
1964: this mixed season of high retirements among the front-running Lotus-Climax, Brabham-Climax and Ferrari cars, saw John Surtees win the championship in his Ferrari 158. This V8-engined Ferrari car-rated at a modest 100.6. Rivals Lotus-Climax and BRM both car-rated at 100.1, the Brabham-Climax at 100.2. Brilliant driver though he was, Surtees was fortunate in the unreliability of the Lotus and Brabham cars, the arbitrariness of the championship points system and the fact that Hill was a slower driver, for the BRM was the most reliable of the four top cars of 1964.

1969: this was the first of Stewart’s three Drivers Championships, and all were won in off-pace cars! Stewart’s Matra-Cosworth MS80 car-rated at 100.3 against the fastest car of the year, the Brabham-Cosworth BT26 at 100.0. With Ickx driving the Brabham-Cosworth, it was as fast as the Stewart/Matra-Cosworth combination, but the BT26 was not quite as reliable nor as consistent. The Tyrrell-run Matra team was too organised and Stewart was a superior, faster and more experienced driver, winning six races to Ickx’s two.

1971: Again Stewart won the drivers title in a car that was not the fastest; his Tyrrell-Cosworth 001-3 rated at 100.5 while the speed-superior BRM P160 was fastest at 100.0. The beautiful Tony Southgate-designed BRM was 0.5-second-per-lap faster than the Tyrrell (assuming for simplicity, a lap time of 100 seconds as at today’s Abu Dhabi). It was again a case of Stewart and his Tyrell team being too well-organised and competent. This was in contrast to the BRM team, whose owner Lord Stanley employed eight drivers to gain the most advertising exposure! This was at the expense of his overworked team, designer and the mostly unsettled drivers. Stewart scored six wins, the faster BRMs just two.

1972: this season was a close call between the championship-winning Fittipladi Lotus-Cosworth 72D car-rated at 100.1 and its faster rival car, the McLaren-Cosworth M19A rated at 100.0. The 0.1 difference in car speeds translates into just 0.1-second per lap of 100-seconds, or 6.0 seconds in a 60-lap race of 1hour 40 minutes. Fittipaldi was fortunate in that the McLaren’s full-time drivers Hulme and Revson were much slower than he was, enabling Fittipaldi’s Lotus-Cosworth to score five wins to the McLaren’s one. The Tyrrell-Cosworth 005-6 of Stewart that was Fittipaldi’s strongest rival, car-rated at 100.3 but won four races; Stewart did miss one race due to suffering an ulcer, which also helped Fittipaldi.

1973: this season really showed Stewart’s exceptional driver talent: his Tyrrell-Cosworth 005-6 car-rated at 100.6, and was slower than four other cars! The fastest was the late-appearing Brabham-Cosworth BT44 at 100.0, the Lotus-Cosworth 72D at 100.3, the Surtees-Cosworth TS14 at 100.4 and the older Brabham-Cosowrth BT42 at 100.5. The new BT44 Brabham-Cosworth can be discounted, only appearing in the last two races of the season; main rivals were the Peterson and Fittipaldi Lotus-Cosowrth 72Ds, these two drivers scored four and three wins respectively, thereby sharing/spreading their driver points. Stewart won five races and the title.

1974: Championship-winner Fittipaldi was asked, “Did you have the fastest car?” He said, “It’s difficult to say, but for sure we have the best team.’ By my System his McLaren-Cosworth M23B car-rated at 100.3. Three cars were faster, the Ferrari 312B3 and the Tyrrell-Cosworth 007 equal-rated at 100.0, and the March-Cosworth 741 at 100.1. Fittipaldi won three races, as did the Reutemann/Brabham-Cosworth BT44, car-rated at just 100.5, Peterson’s Lotus-Cosworth 72E at 100.8. The two Ferrari won three races, while the Scheckter Tyrrell-Cosworth won twice.

1975: most considered the beautiful, powerful, Ferrari 312T the fastest car as Lauda dominated the season with Regazzoni to win six times. Yet the 312T car-rated at only 100.4, being slower than the McLaren-Cosworth M23C at 100.0 and the new, privately owned and funded, Hesketh-Cosworth 308 which car-rated at 100.1. Lauda driver-rated at about half-a-second per lap faster than McLaren driver Fittipaldi and Hesketh driver Hunt, which more than made up the difference in the Ferrari car’s speed deficiency. The Ferrari team was also exceptionally well-run.

1977: Lauda won this year’s drivers championship for Ferrari in the sixth-fastest car and following his late-1976 Nurburgring crash and serious burn injuries! His Ferrari 312T2 car rated at 100.3, but six cars were faster: the Wolf-Cosworth WR1 at 100.0, the Lotus-Cosworth 78, Shadow-Cosworth DN8 and Surtees-Cosworth TS19 all at 100.1, and the McLaren-Cosworth M26 at 100.2. Lauda won only three times compared to the Andretti’s Lotus’s four, but Lauda scored six second places to the Andretti’s one.

Andretti’s 1978 Lotus-Cosworth 79
1978: this season was not clear-cut: championship-winner Andretti enjoyed the fastest car, the beautiful, ‘ground-effects’ Lotus-Cosworth 79, for all except one race, the Swedish GP. Here he was easily overtaken by Lauda’s ‘fancar’ Brabham-Alfa Romeo BT46B which cruised to win by 34 seconds! After protests from the other teams, Brabham owner Benie Ecclestone withdrew this huge-downforce, ‘fan-suction’ car which never raced again. Andretti dominated the season with six wins, his Lotus-Cosworth 79 rated at 100.1 against the Brabham-Alfa Romeo fancar’s obvious top-rating of 100.0. The potential figure was probably even faster, for the Brabham drivers Lauda and Watson‘sandbagged’ pre-race and during the race, to disguise their cars’superiority.

For the rest of the 1978 season the Lotus’s closest rival cars were the ‘normal’ Brabham-Alfa Romeo 46C at 100.2 with two wins, and remarkably, the Reutemann Ferrari 312T2 and 312T3, both equal, car-rated at 100.9, but scoring four wins! Championships, wins and ratings often do not coincide, racing having so many facets.

1979: if ever a team’s professionalism and cohesiveness proved superior, it was this season. Ferrari 312T4 driver Jody Scheckter won the title with three wins and a car rated at 100.5. This was slower than four other cars. The Williams-Cosworth FW07 and the Brabham-Cosworth BT49 were fastest at 100.0, the Ligier-Cosworth JS11 and Tyrrell-Cosworth 009 at 100.4. Jones and Regazzoni won five races for Williams, Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve six for Ferrari. The Williams team were as yet not as competent all round and the cars not as reliable as the Ferraris.

1981: Piquet is a driver who does not receive his due recognition for sheer talent and speed. Piquet won the 1981 championship in a Brabham-Cosworth BT49 that was rated at 100.9. The fastest car was Prost’s Renault RE30 at 100.0 which also scored three wins, but retired too often (nine times to Piquet’s four) to benefit from its speed superiority. Two other cars were faster than Piquet’s Brabham, the Ligier-Matra JS17 car rated at 100.1 with two wins, and the Williams-Cosworth FW07 at 100.5 which scored four wins, two each to Reutemann and Jones.

Rosberg - 1982 Champion
1982: this closely-contested championship was won by Keke Rosberg with a single win and in a car that was slower than four others. Rosberg’s 3.0-litre, Williams-Cosworth FW08 car-rated at 100.5. The fastest car was the 1.5-litre, turbocharged, Renault RE30B rated at 100.0; the Ferrari 126C2 was at 100.2, and so was the earlier Williams-Cosworth FW07D used only in the season’s opening two races. The Brabham-BMW BT50 and the carbon-fibre chassised, McLaren-Cosworth MP4/1B were also faster than Rosberg’s Williams FW08 at 100.3. None of the season’s eleven winning drivers scored more than two wins each, in this, by far the closest, multi-car championship of all.

1983: this championship was very close between cars, Piquet’s Brabham-BMW BT 50 ranking third-fastest and rating at 100.2. The Ferrari 126C3 being fastest at 100.0, and surprisingly, the Alfa Romeo 183T next at 100.1. Piquet won three times, his closest rival, Prost’s Renault RE40 four. But Prost’s Renault car-rated at just 100.6 and also scored only two second places and a third, Piquet gaining more points through his three seconds and two third places. The Alfa Romeo turbo V8 lacked a driver fast enough to exploit its speed, Alfa Romeo’s number one de Cesaris running at a driver-rating of 100.7 against the ultimate 100.0 of Piquet and Prost.

1985: a close one this season between three cars. After dominating 1984 the McLaren-Porsche had faster rivals for 1985: the Ferrari 156/85 top, car-rated at 100.0 with the Lotus-Renault 97T at 100.1, while championship-winner Prost’s McLaren-Porsche rated at a close 100.2. Prost was a superior, faster driver than Senna /Lotus-Renault and Alboreto/Ferrari. This was a championship clearly won by the driver. Alain Prost..

1986: this championship was won, like 1958, thanks to the skewed arbitrariness of the official points system. Title-winner Prost’s 100.5 car-rated McLaren-Porsche won only four races, while Mansell’s 100.0-car-rated Williams-Honda won five times and team-mate Piquet’s Williams-Honda won four races. The Williams-Honda was clearly the fastest car all year. Two other cars were also faster than the McLaren-Porsche: the Ligier-Renault JS27 which equal, top-rated with the Williams-Hondas at 100.0, and the Lotus-Renault at 100.4. The Ligier drivers Arnoux and Lafitte were far too slow to win even a single race, the Senna/Lotus-Renault too unreliable, despite its speed and eight poles.

1989: this will be a contentious one according to my analysis and car ratings: championship-winner Prost’s McLaren-Honda MP4/5 was rated at 100.3 on my System, Honda-engine-favoured team-mate Senna’s McLaren-Honda at 100.0. Unknown to the McLaren team, Honda had supplied Senna with superior engines, yet despite his clear superiority over Prost in poles (13:2), wins (6:4) and sheer speed, the quirky and in my opinion, contentious championship points award went to Prost.

1991: like 1962, 1969, 1972, 1983 and 1985, the 1991 season was between three close-matched cars; championship-winner Senna’s McLaren-Honda MP4/6 at 100.1 and the high-tech Williams-Renault FW14 on 100.0 and the beautiful, new Jordan-Cosworth 191 at 100.1. Senna was just too good a driver and dominated to win seven races and scored eight poles. Williams-Renault driver Mansell scored five wins but suffered too many retirements.

1995: this championship was won by Michael Schumacher’s driver superiority. Schumacher’s Benetton-Renault car rated at 100.2 against the Hill Williams-Renault’s fastsest car-rating of 100.0. Schumacher and his team strategy were just too good, winning nine of the 17 races. Despite his faster car, Damon Hill only scored four wins. The Ferrari 412T2 car-rated at 100.2 was as fast as Schumacher’s Benetton-Renault, but drivers Berger and Alesi were too slow, managing only one win between them.

2001: in almost a carbon-copy of his driver superiority of 1995, Schumacher won the 2001 championship in his 100.2-rated Ferrari F2001. Two cars were faster, the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/16 fastest of all at 100.0, and the Williams-BMW FW23 at 100.1. Schumachers driver superiority and the Italian team’s impressive’, overall competence ensured an 11 pole and nine win domination! McLaren’s Hakkinen had slowed dramatically this season, from exhaustion and stress, he and team-mate Coulthard only winning twice each. Williams-BMW drivers Ralf Schumacher and Montoya were not experienced or fast enough to score more than their three and one win each.

2003: this time winner Michael Schumacher had almost the fastest car, his Ferrari F2003A rating at 100.1, slower than the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17’s 100.0, and equal to the Williams-BMW FW 25 and the Renault R203 at 100.1. Michael Schumacher managed six wins and five poles to take the title. The closest rivals, the Ralf Schumacher and Montoya Williams-BMWs scored four wins, the McLaren-Mercedes only two and Renault one. Their young drivers (Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Raikkonen and veteran Coulthard) were just not fast enough to challenge Michael Schumacher consistently, and nor were their teams quite as competent as Ferrari was.

2004: this season the Schumacher/Ferrari ‘steamroller’ was utterly dominant, winning 13 races from 8 poles. Team-mate Barrichello won twice from four poles. And yet the Ferrari F2004 rated as only the second-fastest car at 100.1. The car that was faster was the generally unacknowledged BAR-Honda 006, which top-car- rated at 100.0. Many have and will disagree with my System’s car rating here. However perceptions of Ferrari’s utter dominance and superiority cloud the issue. Main reason is that the BAR-Honda team was led by the talented but yet inexperienced Jenson Button who driver rated at 100.4. Schumacher’s 100.0 driver-rating more than made-up the BAR-Honda’s 0.1 car advantage enjoyed by Button, to the tune of a comfortable 0.3%. Even Barrichello, driver-rated at 1002, had 0.1 in hand over the Button/BAR-Honda combination, and scored four poles and two wins to the one pole and no win for Button.

2005: with the Ferrari cars sidelined by an unexpected lack of speed, this season was opened to two new cars and a new young generation of star driver championship challengers: Alonso/Renault R25 and Raikkonen/ McLaren-Mercedes MP4/20. Alonso won the championship in his Renault car that rated at 100.2. He scored seven wins to equal Raikkonen’s seven! Their pole-setting was 5:6 in Raikkonen’s favour. The results indicate car equality, but analysis of the 19 races, in four of which Raikkonen’s McLaren was grid-penalised ten places each. Consequently he arguably lost at least one or two more wins, for the McLaren-Mercedes worked out as the fastest car at 100.0 rating. That is 0.2% faster than Alonso’s Renault.

2008: this was one of the closest-fought seasons of all; not as many cars vying for the championship as in 1982, but the four combinations that did were close-matched. Championship winner Hamilton’s McLaren-Mercedes MP4/23 car-rated at 100.4, and ranked only third fastest to the Ferrari F2008 at 100.0 and the BMW-Sauber F1.08 at 100.1. Hamilton won five races and set seven poles for McLaren, Massa six poles and six wins for Ferrari. Each scored two seconds, Hamilton three thirds to Massa’s two. Obviously close-matched results. But in my opinion, my ratings tell a fuller, more accurate comparative picture between combinations, cars and drivers than race results. Hamilton was slightly the superior driver to Massa.

2009: Button won the six of the first seven races to clinch the championship in what was initially the fastest car, the Honda-designed, Brawn-Mercedes. As the season progressed other teams adopted the Brawn-Mercedes’s rear-end, double-diffuser, aerodynamic configuration. Consequently the Red Bull-Renault became the season’s fastest car on average, to top-rate at 100.0, relegating the Brawn-Mercedes to 100.1. Button won no more races in the second half of the season, while Red Bull-Renault drivers Vettel and Webber scored five wins. Compared to Brawn-Mercedes’s other driver, Barichello’s two wins in the last half of the season, confirms the Red Bull-Renault car’s superiority, for Button and Barricchello were very evenly matched as drivers with the Red Bull-Renault pair of Vettel and Webber, all driver-rating at 100.3 to 100.4. So Button really did not win this championship in a slower car.

These 26 occasions of the 63 seasons since 1950 represent 41% when drivers won championships in cars that were not the fastest. That means that 59% of seasons were won by drivers who had the fastest cars.

CONCLUSIONS:
However, as with all analyses of F1 racing, the complexities are such that each season requires careful and detailed study and explanation before, indeed if, any general conclusions can be drawn from this topic. For some idea of the several factors involved, see my previous blog-post “Dominant Drivers”. No direct driver comparisons can be drawn from this essay. For example, Piquet won the championship in 1981 with numerically the slowest car ever, his Brabham-Cosworth BT49 being rated at 100.9 versus the fastest, the turbo Renault at 100.0. However the bare figures do not tell all: his real rival was not the fastest-rated but unreliable Renault, but the Williams-Cosworth FW07 which rated at 100.5; this reduced Piquet’s Brabham-Cosworth’s disadvantage to just 0.4%, which is not so exceptional.

Five or six seasons’s titles were won by cars 0.5% off-pace (Rosberg/Williams similar situation to Piquet/Brabham in 1981) ; three at 0.4% including Piquet in 1981; six at 0.3% off; five at 0.2% and six or seven at just 0.1% off. My approximate figures here are based on measures against the strongest rival car as well as the mathematically fastest, as in the 1981 example.

While championships and race results provide some indication of driver and car comparison, in my opinion my Rating System is a more accurate assessment of inter-driver and inter-car comparison. Championships involve too many outside factors for too-close comparisons to be made.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sunday, 17 February 2013

HEAVY METAL

Between 1926 and 1935 Sunbeam, Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Bugatti built ‘monster-engined’ cars to exploit the fast circuits. Were they successful?

Imagine in 2013 McLaren, Red Bull or Ferrari building special fast-circuit models, powered by two 2.4 litre V8s producing a combined1400 horsepower? In the McLaren laid side-by-side as a W-16-cylinder, in the Red Bull end-to-end to form a V16 and in the Ferrari one in front of the cockpit, the other behind. How fast would they be? Would they perform better than the standard cars at the high-speed venues Silverstone, Monza and Spa?

WHY SUCH MONSTER CARS?

After the end of the 2.0 litre Grand Prix Formula of 1922-1925 and during the poorly-supported 1.5 litre Formula of 1926-1927, many major grand prix races reverted to Free Formula for the years 1926 to 1933.

Most grand prix cars of the 1926-1933 period had engines of between 2.0 and 3.0 litres. However in those carefree days of the late twenties and early thirties, when grand prix engine formulae capacities were unrestricted, the top manufacturers produced ‘monster-engined’ cars of at least twice the capacity of the ‘standard’ models. These ‘Heavy Metal’ cars’ engines ranged in capacity from 3.5 to 7.1 litres, and all were supercharged.

The motivation for building these ‘brutes’ was to exploit the wide difference in circuit speeds that then existed. Lap speeds at the slowest circuits, the Madonie in Sicily, Monte Carlo, Alessandria and Montenero did not exceed 100 km/h (62 mph). At the fastest road circuits, Tripoli, Tunis, Pescara, Monza, Reims and San Sebastian, the cars averaged over 160 km/h (100 mph). At the banked Avus, Littorio and Miramas tracks up to 260km/h (160mph) was attained.

Taking the slow street circuits at a base speed figure of 100.0%, this variation represents an increase in speed of 60% for the road circuits and up to 160% faster for the banked tracks. By modern comparison in 2012 the lap average speed at the slowest circuit, Monaco, was just over 160 km/h (100mph) while at the fastest, Monza, it was 250 km/h (155 mph). That is a difference of about 56%, much less than the circuit speed differences of the 1926 to 1935 period.

The manufacturers in the late twenties and early thirties wanted to exploit the fast circuits and considered it worthwhile building special, large-engined cars for that purpose. Bizarre as they were, these ‘Heavy Metal’ cars certainly were the fastest of their day as well as technically adventurous and exciting. Some were surprisingly successful.

The races included here are all among the major, classic grand prix events tabled in my 1993 analytical book, ‘Grand Prix: a Century of Racing; 1894-1993’.

1926 SUNBEAM TIGER, 4.0 LITRE, V-12: CAREER 1926-1932

1926 Sunbeam Tiger
The first manufacturer to experiment with a ‘Heavy Metal’ option in grand prix racing was the British Sunbeam. Their ex-Fiat-engineer designed, six-cylinder cars had been England’s first successful grand prix winners in the 2.0-litre Formula years 1923 and 1924. In 1926, Brooklands-influenced and with an eye to further utilising their now-obsolete but outstanding, 2.0-litre, supercharged, six-cylinder engines, Sunbeam built two blocks into a V12 of 4.0-litres. Mounted in a larger car named ‘Tiger’, the supercharged, four overhead-camshaft, V12 engine produced 296 BHP (225 Kw) and set a new world land speed record at 245 km/h (152 mph). This at a time when the fastest grand prix cars managed about 200km/h (124 mph) flat-out.

The first race the Sunbeam Tiger entered was the Spanish GP in July 1926 at the fast, 17 kilometre/10.6 mile Lasarte road circuit at San Sebastian. There was strong opposition from powerful, 2.0 litre Delage V12s and nimble, 2.0-litre Bugatti Type 35s. The Sunbeam Tiger’s experienced and very refined driver Henry Segrave took the lead from the Delages shortly after the start, until a wheel bearing failed after 85 of the 693 kilometres (430 miles). The Sunbeam’s handling was obviously good, for the narrow Lasarte roads consisted of some sinuous parts that suited the lightweight Bugattis.

The big Sunbeam’s next classic grand prix appearance was the 1932 Avus Rennen. This time the driver was the aging Malcolm Campbell, nowhere near Segrave’s class or speed. In addition the circuit was much faster than Lasarte and the opposition included some new Heavy Metal: Maserati’s 16-cylinder, 5-litre V5, Bugatti’s 4.9 litre Type 54 and Mercedes-Benz’s 7.1 litre, aero-bodied model SSKL which won. The eight year old Sunbeam Tiger retired without featuring near the front. It was a good looking car, well-proportioned and but for that wheel bearing failure, would probably have won its debut at San Sebastian.

1927-1932 MERCEDES-BENZ S/SS/SSK/SSKL, 6.8 TO 7.1 LITRE, 6-CYLINDER: CAREER 1927-1932

1929 Mercedes SSK
During the depths of the German depression the two pioneering firms Daimler and Benz combined in 1926 for financial survival. Daimler-Benz continued their long-time racing involvement, but due to financial constraints, could no longer fund special grand prix car manufacturing. They had to make do with modified versions of their big, roadgoing, touring four-seater, the Typ S. The engine was a powerful, supercharged six of 6.8 litres, which partly overcame the racing disadvantages of the large, heavy and unwieldy touring body and chassis. Careful development, initially under Dr Ferdinand Porsche, produced surprisingly successful results for this unpromising behemoth during the six seasons 1927 to 1932.

In assessing the competitiveness of any car one has to take the opposition into account. Mercedes-Benz carefully picked most of their races, understandably, in view of their car’s size and weight. These white cars performed exceptionally well at their ‘home-tracks’ the Nurburgring and the high-speed AVUS, against strong opposition from the lighter, nimbler, ‘normal-sized’ 2.0- to 3.0- litre cars as well as against rival Heavy Metal models. Their prime weapon was their outstanding driver Caracciola, who ranked with Nuvolari, Varzi and Chiron the best of the era. Additionally the company ran such a competent racing department and used the Nurburgring as their own test-track. Mercedes-Benz were meticulously-prepared for these ‘home’ events.

1927 S
The first major race for the big, heavy Typ-S, four-seater was the German Grand Prix of 1927 on the magnificent, new, 22.8 kilometre Nurburgring in the Eifel Mountains. The big, white cars dominated against weak opposition, consisting of several 1.5 litre, privately-owned Bugattis. They scored the first three places and set fastest lap for a hollow victory.

1928 SS
In 1928 the Stuttgart team again entered just one major race, the German GP at the Nurburgring. This was with a lighter, lower, upgraded 7.0 litre version, still four-seated, re-named SS. The Stuttgart team achieved an even better 1, 2, 3, 5 result and fastest lap. This time the big Mercedes-Benz’s surprisingly and soundly beat strong rivals in the form of four official Bugatti team 2.3 litre 35Bs of Conelli and Minoia and the 2.0-litre 35Cs of Chiron and Brilli-Peri, all top-rate drivers. Outclassed, the best Bugattis finished fourth, sixth and seventh. Birkin’s 4.4-litre, ‘Blower’ Bentley finished eighth, 31 minutes down on Caracciola’s winning Mercedes-Benz SS, after nearly five hours, a margin of almost 11%.

1929: SSK
For 1929 the white cars in SSK for ‘kurz’ or shortened-chassis form, were now two-seaters. They competed in the Monaco, Rome, German and Monza grands prix. In Monte Carlo in one of the great drives of all time, Caracciola charged through from second-last on the 16-car grid to the lead! Let down by an uncharacteristically slow refuelling stop, he yet managed a third place finish! This against far nimbler Bugattis which finished 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

On Rome’s Trefontana circuit Caflisch and Momberger both retired their SSKs, being completely outclassed by the resuscitated 1925, 2.0-litre, P2 Alfa Romeos.

Back home for the German GP at the Nurburgring, the German cars were at last beaten by the Bugattis, the Chiron and Rothschild 2.0-litre, Type 35s, and only managed third and sixth places. Caracciola led initially, but the big car was too exhausting to drive. The season’s finale at Monza saw the Momberger and Caflisch SSKs unable to cope with the Varzi Alfa Romeo P2 and Nuvolari’s 1.7 litre Talbot-Plate, nor with the 16-cylinder Maserati V4’s speed until it had tyre problems. This despite the German cars’ 7.0, supercharged litres and the circuit consisting only of the high-speed, banked oval. Momberger finished third, Caflisch fifth.

1930 SSKL
Further lightened as the ‘Licht’ in the model name, the SSKL entered only two events with star driver Caracciola , and several other events with private owners. The long, low white car now produced 300 bhp and was capable of 215 kmh/135 mph. But its 1600-odd kilogram startline weight told against it. Completely outclassed at Monza by the 2.0-litre, P2 Alfa Romeos, the 2.5-litre, 8C2500 Maseratis and by the 2.3- and 2.0-litre Bugattis, Caracciola came in seventh. This seemed to indicate the end of the road for the big German car.

1931 SSKL
At Monaco, using his car which had won the Mille Miglia the week before, Caracciola could not match the normal-sized cars, the new 2.3-litre, Type 51 Bugattis and Monza Alfas and the 2.8-litreMaseratis. He retired with clutch trouble without featuring in the top six at all. At the Nurburgring’s Eifelrennen and in the absence of other works teams the Caracciola SSKL managed to win from privateer Von Morgen’s 2.3-litre, 35B Bugatti, with Mercedes-Benz SSKL team-mate Von Brauchitsch third. Caracciola’s big white car was then trounced for speed in the French GP at Montlhéry by the works 2.3-litre Bugattis and 2.8 and 2.5-litre Maseratis, and retired.

In the German GP at the Nurburgring however, Caracciola scored another of his great wins. He beat the three other best drivers of the day in their normal-sized, 2.3-litre cars, the Chiron and Varzi Bugattis Type 51which finished second and third and the Nuvolari Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monza which was fourth. This was a great race, started in drizzle which increased to a heavy downpour until lap eight of the 22. Unexpectedly, in the rain the SSKL outhandled the smaller cars! Caracciola was famed for his wet-weather ability, but veteran team-mate Merz finishing fifth and Stuck sixth in the other SSKLs underlined that Caracciola’s skill was aided by the SSKL’s marked competitiveness at the Nurburgring. Nuvolari, Chiron and Varzi, like most great drivers, were also renowned for their wet-weather abilities.

Another great Rudi Caracciola win followed at the high speed Avus track outside Berlin. Again it was Rudi’s renowned sensitivity and tyre-saving drive that saw him edge out Von Morgen’s faster, 5-litre, Type 54 Bugatti, with Von Brauchitsch’s SSKL third.

The season- ending Masaryk GP saw Caracciola’s SSKL damaged by the opening lap bridge crash which involved and sidelined the normal-sized grand prix cars of Fagioli/Maserati 8C2500, Nuvolari/Alfa Romeo 8C2300 and Varzi/Bugatti 51. Von Brauchitsch’s SSKL managed a fine second place behind Chiron’s 2.3-litre Bugatti 51.

1932 SSKL
After three wins in 1931 and the appearance for 1932 of the new single-seater, ‘P3’ Alfa Romeo 8C2600B, the big Bugatti T54s and Maserati V5, it seemed that the huge, sports-tourer based Mercedes-Benz’s days were over. In addition Caracciola had left to drive for Alfa Romeo! The Stuttgart engineers had other ideas...

For the 1932 Avus race Daimler-Benz had an aerodynamically-efficient body designed, which added 25 km/h to give the SSKL a top speed of about 240km/h (150 mph). Despite Caracciola’s best efforts in his 2.3 litre Monza Alfa Romeo and early leader Dreyfus’ sixteen-cylinder Maserati V5, Von Brauchitsch drove a canny, tyre-conserving race to win right at the end! The huge Berlin crowd were ecstatic, especially as their man and car had beaten Caracciola’s red Alfa Romeo. Stuck in a standard-bodied SSKL was fourth, behind Stuber’s 2.3 litre Bugatti T51. This fine win was in fact the SSKL’s last.

At the next race on the Nurburgring for the Eifel Trophy, Von Brauchitsch drove the aero-bodied version and Stuck the normal model. Caracciola’s 2.3-litre, Alfa Romeo Monza dominated and Von Brauchitsch could only manage fourth place behind the 2.3 litre Bugattis of Dreyfus and Chiron, with Stuck’s standard-bodied SSKL fifth. The Caracciola/ Alfa Romeo was fortunate that Chiron’s Type 51 Bugatti suffered ignition trouble from the start, for Chiron’s was a far faster package. The last SSK and SSKL appearances were at the 1932 season-ending races at Pescara for the Coppa Acerbo and at Miramas for the Marseilles GP. All the white cars retired, being totally outclassed by the 2.6-litre, 8C2600B Alfa Romeos.

Six wins in six seasons, four seconds and eight thirds from 20 grand prix events was outstanding, especially for a big, tourer-based car. This was a triumph of development over concept! As well as superb driving by Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch.

1929 MASERATI V4, 4.0-LITRE, 16-CYLINDER: CAREER 1929-1934

1929 Maserati V4
The Maserati brothers were perhaps encouraged by the Sunbeam Tiger. They certainly had their eye on the high speeds possible at Tripoli, Monza and Rome’s Littorio banked oval. For 1929 they built their own ‘monster’, by setting two of their 2.0 litre supercharged straight-eights side-by-side, each with its own compressor, to make the 4.0 litre, 16-cylinder, Tipo V4. This referred not to the engine configuration but to the capacity. Power was initially 280 bhp at 5500 rpm, later improved to 305 bhp. This compares with the 155 of the ‘normal’ 2.0-litre, Maserati Tipo 26B grand prix model. The big V4 was well-proportioned and handled well too. It was certainly no monster. Except in terms of being about 300kg/660 lbs heavier than their normal grand prix model. The V4’s maximum speed set a new grand prix top-speed record at 246kmh/152 mph, timed on the road circuit at Cremona.

The aging Alfieri Maserati debuted the powerful, hefty, 16-cylindered, V4 in September 1929 at the First Monza GP. Cruising to finish just a fifth of-a-second behind a 7.1-litre Mercedes-Benz SSK in its heat, Alfieri then displayed the V4’s superior acceleration and top speed in the final by taking the lead from the start. However he soon suffered tyre troubles, the consequent pit stops delaying the heavy car to finish sixth. It did set a new grand prix, lap-speed record at 200 kmh/124 mph. This was against a pair of revamped Alfa Romeo P2s, 2.0 litre Maseratis and 2.0 and 2.3-litre Bugattis and the big, 7.1-litre SSK Mercedes-Benzes.

Early in 1930 second string driver Borzzachini dominated the Tripoli GP in the V4, his closest rival being team-mate Arcangeli in the ‘standard’ 2.0-litre, Tipo 26B which finished second. In the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara Luigi Arcangeli drove the big V4. He revelled in its power and speed on the 10-kilometre-long Adriatic seaside straight, the climb up into the hills and then down the five-kilometre straight back to the seafront. From the start the 16-cylinder V4 led a strong field of team-mates Varzi and Fagioli in the latest Maserati 8C2500 models and Nuvolari in a P2/30 Alfa Romeo. This was until one third distance when Arcangeli spun off and crashed. He had set fastest lap and was timed at 246km/h (152 mph) on the long straight. This grand prix road-race record exactly equalled the Sunbeam Tiger’s speed on the beach at Southport.

In the 1930 season finale at Monza younger brother Ernesto Maserati drove the V4 to win the heat for cars over 3.0-litres. But in the final he could not cope with his top-rated team-mates Arcangeli and Varzi in the 2.5-litre, 8C2500 models who finished first and second. Ernesto’s V4 finished third, but did beat team-mate Fagioli’s 8C2500 and Caracciola’s 7.1-litre, Mercedes-Benz SSKL.

In 1931 at the huge, steeply banked Littorio track outside Rome, Ernesto became the first owner-driver to win a grand prix. This pre-dated Jack Brabham’s 1966 feat by 35 years. Ernesto’s V4 averaged 163 km/h (101 mph) to beat team-mates Fagioli and Dreyfus in 8C2500s and the 2.0-litre Nuvolari and the 2.3-litre Varzi Bugattis. The moderate average speed was due to the tight, hair-pinned section before the pits, which drastically reduced speed from the banked oval. This proved the V4 was no brutish, ill-handling monster; just as the 1926 San Sebastian race showed that the big Sunbeam Tiger was no freak either.

The last major grand prix appearance for the V4 was in the 1934 Tripoli GP. Driven by privateer Gazzabini, the now five year old, 16-cylinder car retired early on.

1931 ALFA ROMEO TIPO A, 3.5 LITRE, 12-CYLINDER: CAREER 1931

1931 Alfa Romeo Tipo A
Since 1929 Alfa Romeo had been racing their cars under the management of Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia Ferrari based in Modena. Inspired by the Maserati V4, engineer Bazzi proposed building a twin-engined Alfa Romeo for the fast circuits. He used two of the Tipo 6C1750 sports car, six-cylinder engines side-by-side, to create the Tipo A, a 3.5-litre twelve. Like the Maserati V4, this car appeared well-proportioned and handled well.

The Tipo A was of course bigger, wider and heavier than the ‘standard’ Alfa Romeo Tipo 8C2300 Monza models. Its startline weight of about 1200 kg/2640 lbs compared with the Bugatti T35’s 975 and the 1020 kg/2244 lbs of the Alfa Romeo P2/29 and Maserati 8C2500. The Tipo A’s power at about 220 bhp was much less than the 300 bhp of the Sunbeam Tiger, the Maserati V4 and the Mercedes-Benz SSKL.

The Alfa Tipo A’s debut was tragic: practising for the Italian GP at Monza in June, Luigi Arcangeli crashed fatally. Nuvolari and Borzzachini shared the remaining Tipo A in the race, but soon withdrew due to high-speed tyre problems. In August Campari drove the Tipo A to win the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara’s fabulous road circuit. Team-mate Nuvolari had set the fastest lap in the other Tipo A, but troubles delayed him to finish third. The field included strong opposition from the ‘normal-sized’ brigade, Fagioli, Dreyfus and Klinger in 8C2800 and 8C2500 Maseratis, Chiron and Varzi in Type 51 Bugattis and the Monza Alfa Romeos of Borzzachini and Severi. This was great win that displayed the all-round capabilities of the Tipo A on fast road circuit.

The third and final appearance for the Tipo A was at the Monza GP. On this event’s slower version of the circuit however, Nuvolari’s Tipo A never led before retiring with piston failure. The Maserati 8C2800s of Fagioli and Dreyfus dominated to finish 1-2, sounding the death knell of Alfa Romeo’s twin-engined Tipo A.


1931 BUGATTI TYPE 54, 4.9 LITRE, 8-CYLINDER: CAREER 1931-1933

1931 Bugatti T54
The next manufacturer to join the Heavy Metal ranks was Bugatti from Molsheim in Alsace, north-eastern France. Ettore Bugatti’s team used their existing big, twin-cam, supercharged, 5.0-litre, straight-eight engine and three-speed gearbox from the Type 50 sports-tourer.
Installed in a new chassis and body, the new model Type 54 looked like scaled-up Type 35 Bugatti. It was good-looking and very fast on the straights, but surprisingly for Molsheim, was deficient in handling and braking. The big engine developed about 300 bhp, enough to reach top speeds of 250-260 km/h (155-160 mph). The startline weight at about 1270 kg/2790 lbs was about 30% more than the normal’, 2.3-litre, Bugatti Type 51’s 970 kg/2134 lbs.

Debuted by Chiron and Varzi in the 1931 Monza GP in September, the big Bugatti beat the Tipo A Alfa Romeos driven by Nuvolari and Campari as well as Ernesto Maserati’s V4 in their heat. However in the final on this slower version of the Monza circuit, Varzi’s Type 54 could only finish third behind two ‘normal-sized’ grand prix cars, Fagioli’s 8C2800 Maserati and Borzzachini’s Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monza.

For the 1932 season the five Type 54s built appeared in works team and private hands for six events. In the Tunisian GP in April Lehoux’s Type 54 finished second to Chiron’s normal-sized Type 51 Bugatti, with Czaikowski’s Type 54 fourth while the other privateer, Von Morgen’s Type 54 retired. The Type 54’s next appearance was in June on the Avus circuit. This very high-speed track utilised two ten kilometre-long lanes of the new autobahn south-west of Berlin, joined by a steeply-banked curve at one end. Veteran Albert Divo’s Type 54 set the fastest practice lap at a grand prix record 220 kmh/137 mph, as well as the fastest race lap. However that other Heavy Metal car, the Maserati V5 led from the start and Divo’s Type 54 retired early. The race was won by another Heavy Metal machine, the aero-bodied SSKL Mercedes-Benz. The other Type 54 of privateer Prince Lobkowicz crashed fatally in practice.

Two weeks later the Bugatti team entered two Type 54s for Chiron and Varzi in the Italian GP at Monza, run on the combined road and banked, oval-track sections. Each led briefly before being overtaken by Fagioli’s 5.0 litre, 16-cylinder Maserati V5. Both Bugatti’s retired before half-distance.

At the fast Reims road circuit for the French GP a month later, Varzi was joined by Divo, with privateers Lehoux and Howe, all in Type 54s. The big Bugattis were completely outclassed from the start by the 2.6-litre, Alfa Romeo 8C2600Bs. The Type 54s all suffered brake and gearbox problems and none featured high-up in the race.

For the Monza GP in September Chiron and Varzi again drove Type 54s. They could only finish fifth and sixth in the final, being beaten by three Alfa Romeo 8C2600B’s and again by the big V5 Maserati. At the season-finale on the Miramas banked oval, the Chiron and Varzi Type 54s were again outpaced by the 8C2600B Alfa Romeos and the 16-cylinder, V5 Maserati. Both Type 54s retired.

At the 1933 season-opening Tunis GP, despite two straights over three kilometres long, Lehoux’s solitary Type 54 Bugatti did not shine against the normal-sized Alfa Romeos , Maseratis and Bugattis, retiring early on with piston failure.

At the AVUS Rennen in May though, the big Bugatti Type 54s won at last. Varzi, Czaikowski and Williams competed against works 2.6 litre Monza Alfa Romeos and the aero-bodied, 7.1-litre, Mercedes-Benz SSKL. Czaikowski had just completed setting class world records at AVUS in his Type 54. That he knew the car and the circuit were obvious when he led Varzi’s T54 from the start, set fastest lap at 222 kmh/138 mph and averaged over 205 kmh/127 mph for the race. However the crafty Varzi had followed him closely all the way until the last few hundred metres, when he nipped passed to win by three lengths. This one-two was the Type 54s only success.

Czaikowski retired his Type 54 from the next GP, the French at Montlhery. At season’s end on Miramas’s banked oval Dreyfus’s singleton Type 54 did manage to lead one lap in a close struggle with the ‘normal’ 2.6-litre Alfa Romeos and 3.0-litre Maseratis. The Type 54 then shed a wheel and crashed at half-distance. This was the Bugatti Type 54’s last major grand prix appearance. Two weeks later Czaikowski crashed his Type 54 fatally in the Monza GP. This event I have not included in my classic grand prix tables. It had dropped in status, being run in two short heats and a 60 kilometre final, and was held on the same day as the Italian GP.

1932 MASERATI V5, 5.0 LITRE, 16-CYLINDER: CAREER 1932-1934

1932 Maserati V5
For the 1932 season Maserati built an bigger-engined, more powerful car, using two of their 2.5 litre, twin-cam, supercharged straight-eights from the 8C2500 that had dominated the 1930 season. Set alongside each other as in the V4, the resultant 5.0-litre, 16-cylinder model V5 developed 330 to 360 bhp. The V5 weighed about 1290 kg/2840 lbs, about 35% more than the new, single-seater ‘P3’Alfa Romeo 8C2600B.

The V5 scored a debut win on Rome’s banked Littorio track, despite a tight road-type section that drastically reduced average speeds. Fagioli’s V5 easily outpaced the main opposition, team-mate Dreyfus’s 2.8-litre Maserati 8C2800 and Varzi’s 2.3 litre Bugatti Type 51.

The next outing at the AVUS track featured two V5s driven by Ernesto Maserati and René Dreyfus. They faced the old Sunbeam Tiger, two Bugatti Type 54s and the aero-bodied Mercedes-Benz SSKL. Dreyfus proved his V5’s superior power and speed to lead convincingly for one fifth distance, before troubles sidelined both Maseratis. The V5 set fastest lap at 200 kmh/124 mph.

In the next major race, the Italian GP at Monza, Fagioli led the field in his V5 with ease. Until one of his notoriously slow pit stops carelessly delayed the big V5 to finish second behind Nuvolari’s 2.6 litre Alfa Romeo 8C2600B. The V5 again set the fastest lap, at 184 km/h (115 mph). At Pescara the trio of Alfa Romeo Tipo Bs were too competent all-round on this fast but varied road circuit; Fagioli’s V5 could only manage a fifth place finish. Fagioli and the V5 did better at the Monza GP, where he beat the Nuvolari Alfa Romeo 8C2600B in the heat. The exciting final saw Fagioli’s V5 mixing it with the Nuvolari and Caracciola Alfa 8C2600Bs to finish second. At the huge, featureless, shallow-banked Miramas track near Marseilles, Fagioli’s V5 managed to wrest the lead from Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo 8C2600B for five laps. Then the customary leisurely Fagioli-Maserati pit stop dropped him from contention to finish fifth! Two potential V5 wins squandered.

The last appearance for this big Maserati V5 was at Tripoli in 1934 when Piero Taruffi led the formidable field from the start. Then the brakes started locking, and on lap eight, when travelling at 255 km/h (155 mph) approaching the corner at the end of the straight, the fronts locked solid. As Piero himself described it in that excellent book ‘Il Lotteria Gran Premio di Triploi’: “I can still see the spectacle of my immobile front wheels and the smoke from the tyres as they melted […] it was an appalling situation, the bend was coming nearer […] finally the wheels unlocked, but I dared not touch the brake pedal and I tried rubbing off speed along the sand dunes […] I decided to leave the track forwards to prevent rolling the heavy car. I took off and had the sensation of being one of those flat stones I used to skim across the water of the Adriatic as a boy.” The car bounced three times before plunging into a sandbank; Taruffi was concussed and suffered a broken arm and shattered leg. Fortunately his father was a surgeon and after months of painful treatment he recovered.

The big V5 never raced again.

1935 ALFA ROMEO BI-MOTORE, 16-CYLINDER, 5.8 AND 6.4 LITRE: CAREER 1935

1935 Alfa Bi-Motore
With the advent of the 750 kilogram Formula in 1934 and the appearance of the technically advanced, larger capacity, 4.4-litre Auto-Union and 3.4-litre Mercedes-Benz cars, it seemed that extreme, monster-car experiments would no longer be viable. By 1935 when the Scuderia Ferrari realised their Alfa Romeo grand prix cars were no longer fast enough, engineer Bazzi reckoned they had little to lose by trying again. He proposed building a new car using two of the current 8-cylinder engines, one in front of the cockpit as per normal, and one behind! The resultant Bi-Motore ended up being big and heavy, but amazingly fast, Nuvolari setting a world road-speed record on the Milan-Como Autostrada at 320 km/h (199 mph).

Two Bi-Motores were built using the current straight-eight engines in 2.9 and 3.2 litre forms, to make 5.8 and 6.4 litre models. Although these two Alfa Romeos were 18% and 30% larger in engine capacity than any of the previous Heavy Metal cars, except for the Mercedes-Benz SS-SSKL range, this was partly negated by the large engines of the latest 1935 German cars with 5.6-litres for the Auto-Union and 4.3 litres for the Mercedes-Benz. Where the Sunbeam Tiger, Maseratis V4 and V5 and the Bugatti Type 54s were about double the capacity of contemporary ‘normal’ grand prix machines, the Alfa Romeo Bi-Motores were not: the 5.8 Bi-Motore was 13.5% up on the Mercedes and just 3.5% up on the Auto Union; the bigger 6.4 litre Bi-Motore was 15% up on the Mercedes-Benz and 11% larger capacity than the Auto-Union. However the Bi-Motores were prodigiously powerful: at 510 and 540 bhp against the 380 and 350 of the Auto-Union and the Mercedes-Benz respectively. It must be pointed out that the Bi-Motore’s exceeded the 750 kilogram Formula weight limit, so Alfa Romeo/Ferrari only entered them in the two, free-formula events at Tripoli and AVUS.

On their Tripoli debut, Nuvolari showed his 6.4 litre, Bi-Motore’s pace by ostentatiously overtaking Fagioli’s Mercedes at full speed in front of the main grandstand. This speed was false though, for Nuvolari had to make the first of his thirteen tyre stops on lap three of the 40! The rubber technology was not up to the weight and speed of the Bi-Motores. Nuvolari’s finished fifth, Chiron’s smaller 5.8-litre version sixth.

Two weeks later at AVUS Nuvolari and Chiron ran again. The German cars had various special ‘tweaks’ for this high-speed venue: faired-in suspensions, behind-wheel fairings, high-sided cockpits, smaller radiator air intakes and one Auto Union even had a fully-closed, clear plastic bubble cockpit cover. To such effect that an Auto-Union and a Mercedes-Benz lapped at an astounding 260 km/h (160 mph) lap average! The Bi-Motores could not do more than a few seconds at 305kmh/190 mph before stripping tyre treads. In his heat Nuvolari had to pit for a tyre change so only finished an unclassified sixth. Chiron drove a canny, tyre-conserving race in his heat, non-stopping to finish fourth and qualify for the final. Using his renowned sensitivity and race-craft, Chiron finished second to Fagioli’s Mercedes-Benz in the final. An outstanding drive from this vastly under-rated driver.

The most audaciously conceived and fastest of the Heavy Metal cars, the Bi-Motores never again raced in a grand prix.

COMPARING THEIR RESULTS

Measuring success in terms of bare win-rates, the best were the Mercedes-Benz S of 1927and the SS of 1928, which each won their single, albeit carefully selected, races for a 100% win-rate. Next was the 1931-1933 SSKL with four wins from 10 races and an impressive win-rate of 40%. Then the 1931 Tipo A Alfa Romeo with one win in three races for a 33% win-rate. The 1929 Maserati V4 won once in six appearances for a 17% win-rate; the V5 Maserati at one win in seven races for 14%; then the Bugatti 54 with one win from 12 races and a rate of 8%. The Sunbeam Tiger and Alfa Romeo Bi-Motore did not score wins.

The total victories for the ten Heavy Metal models from five manufacturers was eleven wins from 52 races for a rate of 21%. This one-in-five win-rate would be very good for any grand prix car over a period of ten seasons. So it can be said that the monster cars were a success. Bear in mind that they only entered a few, selected events in that frenetic period of up to 16 classic, grand prix races per season.

MONSTER VS MONSTER
These brutes met each other only occasionally, so I am going to briefly state how they fared:
*1930 Monza GP: the Ernesto Maserati/Maserati V4 beat the Mercedes-Benz SSK, finishing third to the German car’s seventh place.
*1932 AVUS Rennen the aero-bodied Mercedes-Benz SSKL won against the Maserati V5 and the Bugatti T54. Initially the Fagioli and Dreyfus Maserati V5s led, running 1-2 and set fastest lap, until they struck trouble.
*1932 Italian GP at Monza: the Fagioli/Maserati V5 easily beat the Chiron and Varzi Bugatti T54s and lost the lead through a slow pit stop, which dropped the V5 to finish second to Nuvolari’s 2.6 litre Alfa Romeo 8C2600B.
*1932 Marseilles GP at Miramas: the Maserati V5 was again easily faster than the Bugatti T54s, but again lost the lead due to slow pit stops and only finished sixth
*1933 AVUS Rennen: theVarzi and Czaikowski Bugatti T54s dominated from the start and finished 1-2, to beat the aero-bodied 7.1-litre, Mercedes-Benz SSKL.

MONSTERS VS NORMAL GP CARS
The big cars did not usually compete on the slower circuits, but they did nevertheless start in many road circuit races. How they fared against their ‘normal-sized’grand prix rivals is stated briefly:
  • 1926 Spanish GP at San Sebastian: this was the first Heavy Metal appearance and clash. The Sunbeam Tiger was leading the 2.0-litre Delages and Bugattis comfortably until a wheel-bearing seized at lap six of 40. The Sunbeam must have had very good handling to lead the Bugattis on this sinuous circuit, where the French cars always performed so well.
  • 1928 German GP at Nurburgring: the first race won by a ‘monster’ car when the huge Mercedes-Benz SS driven by Caracciola and Christian Werner beat the Bugatti team’s four 2.0 and 2.3-litre Type 35B and 35C models.
  • 1929 Monaco GP: Caracciola’s SSK climbed from the back of the grid to lead at half-distance. It should have won but for a slow refuelling stop, which dropped it to a third place finish. Amazingly for this huge, heavy car, at 1680 kg being over 70% heavier than the Type 35 Bugatti’s 970 kg (startline weights), especially on this slow, tight and confined street circuit, it was faster than the 2.0- and 2.3-litre Bugatti 35Bs, 35Cs and a Maserati 26B 2.0 litre.
  • 1929 Monza GP: the V4 Maserati was leading the Alfa Romeo P2, Bugatti 35Bs and 35Cs and a Maserati 26B, until delayed by tyre troubles.
  • 1930 Tripoli GP: the Borzzachini Maserati V4 beat Arcangeli’s 2.0-litre Maserati Tipo 26B, Varzi’s 2.3 litre Bugatti 35B and Biondetti’s 1.7-litre Talbot-Plate.
  • 1930 Coppa Acerbo at Pescara: the Arcangeli Maserati V4 was leading the Nuvolari 2.0-litre Alfa Romeo P2/29 and 2.5-litre Maserati 8C2500s when it spun off at lap four of ten.
  • 1931 Eifel Rennen at the Nurburgring: the Caracciola SSKL beat three private Bugatti T35Bs.
  • 1931 Rome GP at Littorio: Ernesto Maserati’s Maserati V4 beat the 2.5-litre Maserati 8C2500, the 2.0-litre 35C Bugattis and the 1.7-litre 26R Maseratis.
  • 1931 German GP at Nurburgring: the Caracciola Mercedes-Benz SSKL scored a great win in this rainy race, over the Chiron and Varzi and 2.3-litre Bugatti T51s and Nuvolari’s 2.3-litre Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monza, which finished 2-3-4.
  •  1931 Rome GP at Littorio: the Maserati V4 beat a Maserati 8C2800 and Type 35 B and 35C Bugattis.
  • 1931 Coppa Acerbo at Pescara: the Campari Alfa Romeo Tipo A won against Maserati 8C2800s and 8C2500s, Bugatti T51s and Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monzas.
  • 1932 Rome GP at Littorio:the Fagioli Maserati V5 won, beating 8C2500 Maseratis and two T51 Bugattis.
  • 1932 AVUS Rennen: the aero-bodied Mercedes-Benz SSKL won, beating an Alfa Romeo 8C2300 Monza, Bugatti T51s and Maseratis 8C2800 and 8C2500.
  • 1932 Italian GP at Monza: the Fagioli Maserati V5 led the Alfa Romeo 8C2600Bs, Maseratis 8C2800 and 8C2500, Type 51 Bugattis and Monza Alfa Romeo 8C2300s. However, surprisingly casual pit stops dropped it to finish second, handing a debut win to Nuvolari’s 2.6-litre Alfa Romeo 8C2600B.
  • 1932 Marseilles GP at Miramas track: Fagioli’s Maserati V5 overtook Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo 8C2600B to lead until it made another slow pit stop, dropping to finish sixth in this frenetic, high-speed race. The V5 was faster than the smaller-engined Maserati 8C2800 and 8C2500, the Type 51 Bugattis and the Monza Alfa Romeo 8C2300s.
  •  1933 AVUS Rennen: the Bugatti T54s dominated for a 1-2 finish, against Alfa Romeo 8C2600 and 8C2300 Monzas and Bugatti T51s.
  • 1934 Triploi GP: Taruffi/Maserati V5 was led all the works Alfa Romeo 8C2900Bs, the new Maserati 8CM300s and 8C3000, Type 51 Bugattis and private Monza Alfa Romeos from the start. Unfortunately on lap seven of the 40 the big car crashed when the brakes locked on.
The Heavy Metal cars won eleven grand prix races, twice beating rival ‘monsters’ and nine times defeating normal-sized cars in the process. Had it not been for some slow pit stops and tyre troubles, this score could well have been five or six wins more.

The bald statistics however ignore the exciting contribution that these Heavy Metal cars brought to grand prix racing. In the hands of the best drivers of the day- Segrave, Divo, Caracciola, Chiron, Nuvolari, Varzi, Arcangeli, Fagioli and Dreyfus- they set many lap, race and top-speed records and led a great number of laps. The sight and sound of Segrave’s big V12 Sunbeam accelerating on the winding Lasarte roads and echoing through the narrow, village streets; the twin-six Alfa Romeo Tipo A blasting along Pescara’s Adriatic coast road at 225 km/h (140 mph) and passing the ‘standard’ cars with 20 km/h in hand; the heftily powerful, 16-cylinder roar of the Maserati V4 and V5 models, hitting 250 km/h at Tripoli and Littorio; the dominant Bugatti Type 54s finishing an impressive first and second at AVUS outside Berlin in 1933, which sparked Hitler’s propagandist mind; these big, booming Bugattis whooshing past the smaller Alfas and Maseratis on the long straights among Reims’s wheatfields; and Nuvolari’s big, dark red, Alfa Romeo Bi-Motore passing the German cars at 300 km/h (187 mph) in front of Tripoli’s packed, elegant, white-concrete, cantilevered grandstand...

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.

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