Atlas F1

Rear View Mirror
Memories from the good old days
by Don Capps, U.S.A.

Many readers of Atlas F1 are fairly recent follwers of the sport. Nowadays, if it is a Formula One race, it's a round in the FIA's (Federation Internationale Automobile) World Championship for Drivers. The points are awarded from first place down to sixth place on a 10-6-4-3-2-1 basis. Indeed, thinking about it, the last F1 race not to count towards the World Championship was the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in April 1983. Incidentially, the race was won by the reigning WC, Keke Rosberg in a Williams FW08C, by the margin of .490 of a second over Danny Sullivan - yes, THAT Danny Sullivan - in a Tyrrell 011.

Plus, it is easier to decipher the final standings of the WC today, as well. Unlike the seasons from 1950 to 1990, starting with the 1991 season all points scored count towards the World Championship. Prior to 1991, only a certain number of scores could be counted towards the finals points tally by each driver. The system varied over the years and only failed to provide the WC to the driver scoring the most points each season: Graham Hill and Alain Prost outscoring but losing to John Surtees and Ayrton Senna in 1964 and 1988 respectively.

Which all brings me to the AIACR, the European Championship, the Grandes Epreuve, 1939, Hermann Lang, Hermann Muller, Chris Nixon, and Paul Sheldon....

Before the FIA, there was the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnu or the AIACR. It was the governing body of interantional motor racing between the two World Wars. It was replaced, by the way, by the FIA in 1947. Although in theory an international body, the AIACR was for all intents and purposes an European-centric body. In the 1920's and 1930's, it devised a series of racing formulae for what we until recently usually referred to as "Grand Prix" racing. Most of the formulae were, to be charitable, not that successful. Indeed, the 750 Kg formula was an outright disaster in achieving its stated intent: slowing down the GP cars. The others were not very successful either, so needless to say, the AIACR is not looked upon with any golden memories.

In late 1934, at the suggestion ("urging" might be a better term) of the German delegation, the AIACR announced that it would institute an European Championship for drivers commencing with the 1935 season. It was something of a given that the possibility of the winner being a German was very high, therefore, the French declined to participate. And, as it turned out, that was how it worked out. All five European Championships went to a German driver.

However, after the Second World War and for many years afterward, the system of how the European Championship was computed was lost to time and memory. The accepted European Champions were:

1935 -- Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz
1936 -- Bernd Rosemeyer, Auto Union
1937 -- Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz
1938 -- Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz
1939 -- Hermann Lang, Mercedes-Benz

It all seems to fit, since each driver listed was accepted as clearly the Champion that year and backed it up with excellent placings. In his 1986 book, RACING THE SILVER ARROWS, Chris Nixon credits each driver as listed as the Champion as well as many others, notably George Monkhouse, the noted racing jounalist. However, not much was there to back up the claims or determine how the championship worked. In his interviews for his book, Nixon found that the details to determine the championship were lost to memory. And scouring the available reference material proved of little help as well. Nothing seemed to exist to explain how the AIACR European Championship worked. Then Nixon was given access to a very rare 1938 book on German international motor racing results. Now available for thr first time in decades was not only the points table for 1938, but the details for the system used to determine the Champion!

What a revelation it was as well. Rather than a system based upon awarding maximum points to the the winner and a lesser number of points to the descending positions, it awarded the winner a single point! The basis of the system was clearly that the winner of the most events should emerge as the European Champion since it was based on a penalty system of scoring points. The lower the points the better, just like golf in other words. Here is the scoring system for the AIACR European Championship from 1935 to 1939:

1 point -- 1st place
2 points -- 2nd place
3 points -- 3rd place
4 points -- 4th place
4 points -- completing 75% of the race distance
5 points -- completing 50% of the race distance
6 points -- completing 25% of the race distance
7 points -- completing less than 25% of the race distance
8 points -- a non-starter or not competing in an event

Needless to say, quite a difference from our scoring system today! An interesting aspect of the scoring system was that the CAR that a driver started in was the car that his points were based upon. Given the car-hopping which was not uncommon in those days, this could lead to some interesting points situations.

The AIACR designated certain events each years as the races that would count towards the championship. These races were to be the premier event of each designated country. Rather than being mere "grands prix," these events were designated as "Grandes Epreuve" by the AIACR. Although the original intent was that there be five Grandes Epreuve each season, this was not always the case as we shall see in this listing of the Grandes Epreuve:

1935 -- Belgium (Spa-Francorchamp, 14 July), Germany (Nurburgring, 28 July), Switzerland (Bremgarten, 25 August), and Italy (Monza, 13 September).

1936 -- Monaco (Monte Carlo, 13 April), Germany (Nurburgring, 26 July), Switzerland (Bremgarten, 23 August), and Italy (Monza, 13 September).

1937 -- Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps, 11 July), Germany (Nurburgring, 25 July), Monaco (Mante Carlo, 8 August), Switzerland (Bremgarten, 22 August), and Italy (Livorno, 12 September).

1938 -- ACF (Reims, 3 July), Germany (Nurburging, 24 July), Switzerland (Bremgarten, 21 August), and Italy (Monza, 11 September).

1939 -- Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps, 23 July), ACF (Reims, 9 July), Germany (Nurburgring, 23 July), and Switzerland (Bremgarten, 20 August).

Now enters Paul Sheldon, the mastermind behind the fabulous series "A RECORD OF GRAND PRIX AND VOITURETTE RACING". In checking the top several drivers on the tables provided by Chris Nixon against the information in volumes three and four of the Sheldon series, outside of several quibbles with the season tallies, the two are essentially in agreement.

That is, except for the 1939 season. Here enter the two Hermanns, Hermann Lang of Mercedes and Hermann Muller of Auto Union. Hermann Lang was a Mercedes works meachanic in the racing shop where during the 1934 season he served as Luigi Fagioli's chief mechanic. In 1935, he was given the opportunity to try out for the works team as a driver and make the second string, moving up to the first string in 1937. Hermann Muller came to Auto Union, as did Rosemeyer, from the motorcycle ranks, in this case DKW. He joined as a second string driver in 1937 and matured into a consistent and persistent driver. While not of the same bolt of cloth as Lang, Muller was clearly a very good driver and one fully capable of driving the Typ D Auto Union to its limits.

Wherever the Champion for 1939 is mentioned, the concensus is always Hermann Lang. Chris Nixon lists the 1939 Championship standings as:

Hermann Lang, Mercedes-Benz -- 13 points
Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz -- 17 points
Manfred von Brauchitsch, Mercedes-Benz -- 18 points
Tazio Nuvolari, Auto Union -- 19 points.

And no sign of Hermann Muller anywhere!

On the other hand, Paul Sheldon lists the results for 1939 as follows:

Hermann Muller, Auto Union -- 11 points
Hermann Lang, Mercedes-Benz -- 14 points
Rudolf Caracciola, Mercedes-Benz -- 17 points
Tazio Nuvolari, Auto Union and Rudolf Hasse -- 19 points

Who's right?

First, Hermann Lang's 1939 season record for the Grandes Epreuve. In Belgium, he emerged from the tragic race the took Richard Seaman's life in first place, so one point. At Reims, he retired after 36 laps for 5 points. At the Nurburgring, Lang only completed two laps before retiring, so seven points. And at the final round at the Swiss race, he won once again for one point. The points total for the season, 14.

Now for Hermann Muller's 1939 record in the Grandes Epreuve. At Spa, he retired after 28 laps for four points. At Reims, Muller emerged the victor, so one point. At the Nurburgring, he was second to Caracciola for two points. And, finally, at the Bremgaten he finished fourth for another four points. The total points for the season -- 11.

Clearly the nod goes to Hermann Muller, not to Hermann Lang. Perhaps, it seems a bit unfair to deny a title to such a great driver as Hermann Lang, but there it is, it was Muller who ended up with the best record when it counted. Hopefully, some day the history books can be changed to reflect this error.

Out of curiosity, I applied the AIACR system to the 1998 season and found not a single change among the top five drivers! Only a tie at the sixth place level, Hill and Fisichella, as a notable deviation from the FIA system. Oh well, it was a thought...

Don Capps© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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