- Leif Snellman
- 8W November 2000 issue
- Rudi Caracciola - Mercedes' most successful driver, by Leif Snellman
- Luigi Fagioli - The Abruzzi robber, by Leif Snellman
- Hermann Lang - The mechanic that became the best of Benz, by Leif Snellman/Michael Ferner
- Hermann Lang - The 1939 Championship mystery, by Leif Snellman/Don Capps
Manfred von Brauchitsch
Mercedes-Benz W125 5.6L
III Donington Grand Prix (2 October 1937)
Auto Union C 6.0L
III Donington Grand Prix (2 October 1937)
These two pictures represent the end of the 750kg formula, the 1937 Donington GP, and the two German constructors that had dominated the formula. Also it shows clearly how the car behavior gives away the different design philosophy of those two constructors, the front-engined vs. the rear-engined car, and also the problems associated with the contemporary cars. With so much of the total weight allocated for the engine it was impossible for the constructors to distribute the weights to make the cars handle neutrally.
Here in the picture the momentum of the 223kg M125 engine seems to pull the front of the Mercedes-B up in the air at Melbourne rise. It looks scary and it was scary for the driver! In the other picture, while the front wheels of the Auto Union are already close to the ground, the giant 6-litre engine almost seems to live its own life and continues to lift the rear of the car upwards, a manoeuvre hardly appreciated by the driver, who is sitting much closer to the front than in other contemporary cars and only can guess what's happening further behind.
In the late 30s the dream for a racing organizer was to have the big German teams or part of them in their entry lists. Little Pau had the luck to be in the right place in the calendar to become a test for new constructions while the teams went to Belgrade in 1939 more as a goodwill trip than to look for competition. Sometimes the teams split to be able to go to more races, the 1937 Belgian GP and Vanderbilt Cup are prime examples, and Stuck made a trip to South America in 1937 and to Bucharest in 1939 while the other drivers were racing elsewhere.
Others were not so fortunate, and for example the organizers of the Finnish GP tried unsuccessfully to bring a German GP car to their race. What such organizers failed to understand was that several years of hard work had to be done to create their race in a way that was able to attract the big teams. You had to have a good track, good organization, good prizes and a good place in the race calendar.
Fred Craner was a man who understood such things. He was a former motorcycle driver who had taken part in seven Isle of Man TTs. As the energetic secretary of the Derby & District Motor Club he had seen the opportunity and he then took the motorcycle grass course of the club to the very top.
The track was situated in East Midlands, ten miles southeast of Derby, in Mr J.G. Shields' park near the 17th century Donington Hall. Motorcycle racing had started there in 1931. In 1933 Craner had obtained permission to build a permanent 2.19 miles (3.52 km) tarmac track on some of the park roads and a major successful race was held that year. The following year the length of the track was increased to 2.55 miles (4.13 km) and car racing was added to the program. The Nuffield Trophy became a yearly handicap event in the British calendar. The impressive Donington Hall with its 80 bedrooms that had fallen into disrepair and among other things served as a camp for German prisoners of war during WW1 had now been restored and had become a fitting hotel and clubhouse.
In 1935 the first Donington Grand Prix was held, the first ever Grand Prix held in Britain on a road track. (The RAC refused Craner to use the term "British Grand Prix"), Shuttleworth winning that race with his Alfa Romeo Tipo B. Donington had by now replaced Brooklands as the most important track in England and as to show it the British Empire Trophy was moved from Brooklands to Donington in 1936. The second Donington Grand Prix was held on 3 October 1936. The race was won by Hans Rüesch who shared his Alfa Romeo Tipo 8C-35 with Dick Seaman.
But bigger things were to come. The 1936 RAC Tourist Trophy, a race first run in 1905, was as usual run on the 13.7 mile Ards circuit in Ireland as it had been run since 1928. But this time it would end up in the worst catastrophe in the history of British motor sport. Going at high speed through the little country town of Newtowards local driver Jack Chambers lost control of his Riley on Regent Street and skidded into a horde of spectators lining the pavement. The result was 8 dead, 15 seriously injured and the end of the Ards as a racing circuit.
RAC had now to look for a new track for their Tourist Trophy and even if several Irish tracks were considered it was finally Fred Craner who came out on top after having promised several alterations to the Donington track. About the same time Craner also managed the convince Daimler-Benz to take part in the Grand Prix. Later Auto Union also decided to enter their cars and the event changed its nature from a mere Mercedes-Benz demonstration run into a Grande Epreuve.
As soon as Craner got the final announcement from RAC, work on the alterations necessary for the Tourist Trophy started. The track had to be widened in several places, trees had to be removed and spectator areas had to be opened. The main straight had to be lengthened to enable the sports cars to reach top speed, thus increasing the length of the track to 3.125 miles (5.028 km). New run off areas were added as was parking for 6000 cars. The grandstand was enlarged and a totally new pit complex had to be built.
Let's now take a look at the pre-war Donington track. The first corner after the start line was the Red Gate, not a right-hander as nowadays but a tight left-hander. The track continued under the Dunlop bridge and into Holly Wood. From there it went downhill, passing the Donington Hall down to Hairpin bend that wasn't a hairpin bend in modern Grand Prix racing sense, and passed under a stone wall through a narrow gate. A series of left-handers took the cars upwards to McLean's corner. Then it continued through Coppice Wood to Coppice Corner and the Coppice Farm, where the track passed between the farm houses and sheds! The long Starkey's straight was next and it ended in a steep downhill, just at the place where the cars had to brake for the new Melbourne corner, a hairpin named after a nearby village.
The new track wasn't ready for the 12 hour sportscar race held on 24 July nor the Junior Car Club 200 miles race in August but on September 4th, at 7 a.m., 35 sportscars lined up for racing the RAC Tourist Trophy on the new track. The race was a triumph for Anthony Lago's Talbot team, their drivers Comotti and Le Bégue finishing first and second. Comotti also set the lap record for the new track, 2:37. Talbot had to race at Donington under the name Darracq as the Rootes Group owned the Talbot brand name in Britain.
Four weeks later it was time for the Donington Grand Prix. Auto Union had for a long time hesitated over whether they should come and considered a recall of their entry. Mercedes-Benz cars had dominated the Swiss, Italian and Czech GPs and Caracciola had taken the European Championship with Rosemeyer finishing a low 7th in the AIACR championship table. The driver situation was also in shambles as Stuck had recently been sacked and Varzi had de facto already left the team even if he had a contract to race to the end of the year. So Rosemeyer said he wasn't too keen to make the long trip for what seemed to be a new Mercedes triumph.
Elly Rosemeyer says in her biography that money did not matter in Rosemeyer's decision whether to race at Donington or not. We know that Stuck had shown his own contract to Rosemeyer during the season and that a surprised Rosemeyer after that had asked Auto Union for a big raise, an episode that seemed to have ended with Stuck being sacked for breaking the contract rules that forbade the drivers to show their contracts to each other.
From Peter Kirschberg's book we get some idea of what the drivers from the era earned. Rudolf Hasse, the long, dark, bespectacled driver from Sachsen, had been selected a junior driver for the Auto Union team after tests at Nürburgring in autumn 1935 and he got a contract for 1936 that gave him 500 RM per month plus 500 RM for each GP start and 250 RM for each hill climb start. A fourth position at the German GP and a fifth at the Swiss GP gave him a new contract for 1937 when he earned 1200 RM per GP start. With half the GP field away in America Hasse had seen his chance in the 1937 Belgian GP at Spa and raced a magnificent race that day to take his first and only Grand Prix victory. He could now look into a 1937 season when he would earn 1000 RM per month during the season and 1250 RM per month off season with 2000 RM per GP and 1000 RM per hill climb and with a guarantee of at least 20,000 RM per year. (As a comparison: The prize for the winner of the German 1936 GP was 20,000 RM, a numbered seat at the main grandstand at Nürburgring cost 20.20 RM, while you could sit in the grass and see the race for as little as 1.10 RM.)
At the end Auto Union however decided that it would be bad policy to announce a withdraw with such a short notice and sent three drivers, Rosemeyer, Müller and Hasse, to Donington. As could be expected Varzi never showed up for the race and Hasse thus took over the third Auto Union car.
Mercedes came to Donington with their standard drivers, Caracciola, Lang, von Brauchitsch and Seaman and with Swiss Christian Kautz as reserve. The team arrived at Dover a week before the race and was, after having reached Donington, installed in the yard of Coppice Farm, with Auto Union installed in a big barn opposite.
Facing the Germans were the British Grand Prix and Voiturette elite, the ERA works team with Mays and Howe as drivers, the private ERAs of Whitehead, Martin and Dobson, Prince Birabongse, Hyde and Hanson in Maseratis, Powes-Lubbe in an Alfa Romeo Monza and Maclure in a Riley.
Now for the first time in many years the British spectators got the chance to see Grand Prix racing at its best. The Germans found the track to be slow, narrow, bumpy and extremely hard for the chassis but started working on it and were soon able to put in some awesome lap times. During Wednesday practice Rosemeyer was fastest with a lap of 2:14.6, over 22 s faster than the lap record. The same story continued during the next sessions. While the British drivers made laps in the 2:30s the slowest German car was nine seconds faster than the fastest British one. Rosemeyer was fastest on Thursday with a time of 2:12.2 and von Brauchitsch finally took the pole at Saturday with a time of 2:10.8.
Manfred von Brauchitsch was nephew to Walther von Brauchitsch, who at that time was a lieutenant general. In February 1938 Walter von Brauchitsch became commander in chief of the German army, later being the formal leader of the campaigns against Poland, France, Greece, Yugoslavia and Russia. He knew that plans were made by army officers against Hitler and was several times asked by general Beck to join the resistance but refused. Torn between loyalties he preferred instead to resign in December 1941.
Born in 1905, the aristocratic Manfred had started racing in his cousin's Mercedes in 1929. In 1932 he had made a sensation by winning the AVUS GP with a private Mercedes-Benz SSKL streamliner. Manfred von Brauchitsch had been a Mercedes-Benz works driver since 1934. He had the speed to win GP races but was more famous for losing them by bad luck. But sometimes he seemed to have created his own misfortune because his driving style was not sophisticated. It included violent braking, hard working with the steering wheel and he was infamous for destroying both engine and tyres. To the German crowd Manfred became known as Der Pechvogel ("unlucky bird"), his most infamous losses being the 1935 German GP, where he lost his lead half a kilometer from the end with a puncture, and the 1938 German GP, where his car was involved in the famous pit fire.
50,000 spectators turned up for the Donington Grand Prix curious to see if the rumors about the speed of the German cars were true. The unfamiliarity of international Grand Prix racing was shown by the bookmakers, who offered ridiculous odds such as 4:1 on Caracciola and 5:1 on Lang, Seaman and Rosemeyer. The German mechanics saw their chance and put most of their savings on their own drivers.
Newcomer Archie Hyde had withdrawn his entry because he was afraid that he would be in the way of the top drivers during lapping, a sign of real British sportsmanship. Half an hour before the start the 15 cars were moved to their positions. With five minutes to go the British drivers began to start their engines one by one. It wasn't until half a minute before the flag fell that the German joined the concert.
One week earlier Lang had been involved in a nasty accident in the Czech Grand Prix when his car slid into the ditch killing two people and injuring 12 others. If Lang was troubled by the crash he did not show at the start as he immediately took the lead as the flag dropped. He was followed by Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Seaman, Rosemeyer, Müller and Hasse.
Caracciola on a one stop strategy started off calmly and let both von Brauchitsch and Rosemeyer by. Lang held the lead for 12 laps until his Mercedes started to handle badly with a broken front damper and he had to give the lead to von Brauchitsch. After von Brauchtisch had to stop for new tyres Rosemeyer held a lead by 30 seconds. He was followed by Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Müller, Seaman and Hasse. Seaman's rear damper had been damaged in a collision with Müller and on lap 29 it broke forcing Britain's great hope to retire.
On lap 32 Rosemeyer made his first pit stop leaving the lead over to Caracciola. Von Brauchitsch drove brilliantly, making the fastest lap and taking the lead from his teammate on lap 36. Four laps later Caracciola made his only pitstop and fell back to third. Von Brauchitsch now led by 24 seconds over Rosemeyer, who tried in vain to close the gap, equaling the lap record during the attempt. But von Brauchitsch was also driving on the edge with the car all over the road and he had in fact opened up the gap to 26 seconds when he made his second stop.
Rosemeyer continued at full speed, trying to increase the gap before his second stop, when von Brauchitsch's bad luck once again struck as suddenly a front tyre burst on his car. Von Brauchitsch managed to handle the slide and enter the pits but Rosemeyer could do his second stop and return to the track with a 30 seconds lead. From that on the race was over. Rosemeyer dominated the last laps of the race and took the flag as winner.
Caracciola, whose one-stop strategy had failed, finished third behind von Brauchitsch. Hasse finished with a badly handling Auto Union as fifth and last German, but still in front of Bira in the Maserati who led the "rest" of the drivers home.
The day ended with some bad sportsmanship by the Brits. First the British organizers "forgot" to play the German anthem and then the bookmakers fled the field before the German mechanics could come to collect their wins. The Derby and District Motor Club had to intervene to prevent a scandal and generously paid out the mechanics in full from their own means.
The 1937 Donington GP was to be Rosemeyer's last victory. There was another Donington GP in 1938 before the war ended racing.
Rudolf Hasse died on the Eastern front, 12 August 1942, at the time when Hitler's armies had reached Stalingrad and Caukasus and soon would be starting the way backwards.
Manfred von Brauchitsch was rejected for military service due to the injuries he had received during his racing career and spent the war doing paper work for a general in Berlin. He also got married. After the war he seemed unable to adapt to the new age. He organized motorcycle races in the late 40s getting himself into trouble with the authorities as motor racing was forbidden. Due to East German contacts he was arrested for suspicions of high treason in the early 50s but fled to East Germany leaving behind him unpaid bills and a wife who committed suicide. In East Germany he worked at the Ministry of Sports.
Then suddenly in 1997 he turned up at the McLaren show in the Alexandra Palace together with Häkkinen, Coulthard & the Spice Girls! A visit from a past era!
"The year of titans". Ten years after the second British GP, England was involved again in top international racing on its soil where the German teams competed for the first time. This beautiful picture taken up the bumpy hill after the Hairpin at Donington gives the idea of the mightiness of the car and of the strong resolution of the driver, and it is a perfect symbol of the racing fury of the period. Lawrence Pomeroy called the 1937 racing season "the year of titans". For fifty years since, motoring historians have copied this term, making a rather repetitious slogan out of it, however an image was seldom so up to the point in describing a period of racing.
The struggle between the two German teams and the battle between drivers and their ill-handling cars with engines of never-seen-before power was rightly to be called "titanic". AIACR had extended the validity of the maximum weight formula for 1937 having given to manufacturers too short a notice of the new Formula based on the concept of a fixed ratio between the capacities of supercharged and atmospheric engines with some minimum weight provisions; Mercedes Benz had seen the failure of their W25C short wheelbase cars in 1936 so their designer team headed by Max Wagner with young Rudolf Uhlenhaut as assistant in charge of development set up to design an entirely new car for 1937. The original straight eight, two ohc with four valves per cylinder M25 engine was radically modified. Following Mercedes tradition, welded steel cylinders were retained with four valves per cylinder but the crankase was of the split type on nine main roller bearings and all moving parts were adequately dimensioned. The engine was hardly at all unusual except in the superb workmanship and metallurgy that made its high performance possible, but its combination with the chassis made the design epoch-making. Indeed, it was mounted on a new welded steel chassis with two main oval tubes with a wall thickness of 2.5 cms. The new chassis was about 30cms longer than the W25C one and new suspensions were also fitted. In the front, wishbones and coil springs were used while the rear one was of an entirely new conception. A De Dion layout was resuscitated from the beginning of the century and improved by longitudinal torsion bars and radius arms; this choice made the car gain whereby an enormous advantage over all its rivals and set a new fashion that was to be followed by virtually every successful GP car until 1959. This form of suspension gave the car a combination of traction, cornering power, directional stability and immunity from torque reactions. For sure the Mercedes W125 could spin its rear tyres on a dry concrete road at 230kmhs in top gear and only a few competent drivers could exploit its potential in fearsome huge powerslides, nonetheless in this inspired design Mercedes enabled the chassis to almost catch up with more than 20 years of engine development. In its original form the engine gave little less than 500bhp, and the car was successful from the beginning with newcomer Herrmann Lang winning at Tripoli at an average speed of 212.580kmh and at the AVUS on a 1936 allonged chassis with a 125 engine and streamlined, all-enveloping body at the average speed of 261.800kmh. The car knew honourable defeats in the following three consecutive races: Eifelrennen, Belgium and the Vanderbilt Cup in the US. In this period a significant change in the engine was made by switching the carburettors on the suction side of the supercharger. In this more rational form it gave an astonishing 646bhp, a power output only to be matched in International Formulae by the turbocharged 1.5L engines in the '80s and the car won all the subsequent races that it entered: the German, Monaco, Swiss, Italian, Czech GPs with the only exceptions of the usual Rosemeyer's inspired Pescara drive and of this final Donington GP. Spectators in the hundreds of thousands watched in awe the few drivers competent to handle this car and its rival Auto Union C hectically dicing for victory in one of the best racing seasons ever. The cars were spectacular and the drivers at the top of their form, though only Caracciola and Rosemeyer "mastered the problems caused by [these] oversteering cars with a laden weight of 900kgs and an engine output of 600bhp..." [Pomeroy].
One of these drivers was German Manfred von Brauchitsch who in that 1937 season found again the victory that had eluded him since 1934. The "unlucky bird", der Pechvogel, of German racing, was born in 1905 in an aristocratic family of high ranking military people, but was prevented in following the military career by a motorcycle accident with fractured skull in his youth. Supported by a cousin who was a supercharged Mercedes' owner, he took up racing in 1929 and showed considerable speed at the 1931 Eifelrennen. The breakthrough came at the 1932 AVUS race when he was convinced that he should fit his SSKL Mercedes with a cigar-shaped aerodynamical body that enabled him to beat Caracciola's Alfa by a narrow margin. Von Brauchitsch was invited to join the Mercedes Benz works team in 1934 and stayed with them until 1939. His debut was splendid with a win in the very first race of the Mercedes W25, the Eifelrennen, but a crash at the German GP with again a lately detected fractured skull spoiled his season.
Von Brauchitsch was a crowd favourite who never spared himself during a race and his vigorous drive throwing his elbows all around was spectacular, but, in truth, he never seemed at ease at high speed: he was violent on tyres, brakes and gearboxes and the mechanics of his cars always suffered. Von Brauchitsch set an impressive string of pole positions and fastest laps in his six years with Mercedes Benz, but he became famous for his last minute losses, the most known being the one to Nuvolari's Alfa at the Nürburgring in 1935 when his tyre burst in sight of the flag while leading. Other ones were consumed at the German GP in 1938 when Neubauer saved him from his car in flames, at Leghorn in 1938 and at Pau in 1939. His second win came at Monaco in that 1937 and it was a beautiful one since it was obtained after a big struggle with Rosemeyer and a come back on team mate Caracciola. His last win came in the 1938 GP de l'ACF.
When the sounds of war were approaching, von Brauchitsch sent his trunks with the Caracciolas in Lugano and took off for Beograd with a return ticket for Zürich in his pocket. When on the Saturday before the race the news came of the German invasion of Poland, von Brauchitsch hurried himself to the airport where Neubauer was able to reach him and to bring the reluctant driver back to his duties. He finished second the last GP before WWII and a sharp personal decline started from then. He spent the war doing paperwork in Berlin and subsequently he lost all his ties with Mercedes. His business shipping interests in Hamburg failed and nothing could be done to restore his financial security and driving career: entered, with Caracciola's help and an Argentinean license, in the Winter 1949/1950 Temporada Argentina, he never started due to the uncompetitiveness of the locally owned Maseratis he was given to drive; as a short-term president of the German Auto Club he had contacts with East German officials. Arrested for espionage, while on bail he defected to the East starting there a new life. He was sentenced in absence and his much chagrined young wife committed suicide. Nothing was heard of him until 1997 when he was invited to a McLaren Mercedes fête. Von Brauchitsch is still alive, apparently.
In this Donington GP, von Brauchitsch set yet another pole position and the fastest lap. In hot pursuit of Rosemeyer, who eventually won his last GP, a front tyre, cut by a stone, disintegrated in perfect von Brauchitsch style, and he had to go slowly to the pits. This time he did not lose much but he had to be satisfied with second placing.
Rudolf Hasse, at 1.87 meters, was the tallest of all the German drivers during the thirties. Regardless of his height, he remained the most unpretentious and humble grand prix driver. Rudi was born on 30 May 1906 in Mittweida, Saxony, in the middle of Germany. In 1926, he started racing Wanderer motor cycles at age 21. After three years he changed over to four wheels where he became a successful long distance driver. He had over thirty wins and gold medals. The lanky German changed to Adler sports cars in 1932 and was able to sit behind the wheel in a 5000km long distance race without being relieved. He was also captain at the local fire brigade.
Usually overlooked, the modest, unpretending Saxon was a great talent who never drove fastest laps but instead could be relied upon bringing the car home. Hasse always drove with a white cap and since he was a bespectacled driver, he was unable to wear the small racing goggles. Instead he wore large goggles with a black rubber frame to accommodate his glasses within his racing goggles.
In 1935, he became a cadet driver for Auto Union. At his first race, the German Grand Prix, he nevertheless finished fourth at the old Nürburgring, ahead of Fagioli and Caracciola in the fastest Mercedes-Benz. He became a rugged and dependable cadet driver with the grand prix car. In May 1937, he came third in the International Avusrennen and fourth at the Eifelrennen.
Later the year, only half of each team was present at the Belgian Grand Prix where Hasse won, over half a minute ahead of the famous Stuck and Lang. A steady driving Hasse was the unexpected winner at the fast Spa circuit, ahead of the chargers Stuck and Lang. While Hasse decided on a one pit stop race, the two chargers, Stuck and Lang, planned for a faster pace and had to stop twice for tires. In their battle, Stuck, Lang and Hasse swooped the lead several times and the outcome of the three-hour race was not decided till near the end. This kept everybody on their toes and all records got shattered. When it looked like Lang was going to seize the lead for the last time, his Mercedes let him down and he had to contend himself with third place. Stuck's faster pace required two pit stops but did not work to his advantage. So he got fairly beaten by his very well driving and calculating teammate Rudi Hasse. This was his first and only win in grand prix racing.
Four weeks later at the 1937 Monaco Grand Prix, Hasse had a lucky escape in a first lap sensational crash. Following Zehender's Mercedes, his Auto Union's tail slid wide when he exited the curved tunnel along the coast. In spite of applying opposite lock, the left rear wheel hit the left tunnel wall just before the exit, breaking the left rear suspension. The car kept its spin outside the tunnel, shot to the right side cliff wall from where it bounced back to the left side of the street. Hasse was violently thrown out and landed in the middle of the street minus socks and shoes. Unable to walk, Rudi quickly crawled on all four to the safety of the sidewalk. At the same time the closely following cars arrived with screeching brakes and tires, avoiding the crawling driver and the wrecked car. Hasse was lucky to escape with only a bleeding cut under his chin, a contusion of the shoulder and a broken foot, reason for a six-week pause in plaster.
At the end of the year, the German teams traveled across the Channel to race at the Donington Grand Prix. In our 8W contest picture Rudi Hasse is seen leaping through the air over the brow coming up from Melbourne corner and touching down on the finishing straight before going past the pits to Red Gate Corner. Both the Mercedes-Benz and Auto Unions became airborne at this place, the Mercedes cars landing with their rear wheels first due to the inertia of the heavy engine in front of the car. Auto Unions instead landed first with the front wheels, the inertia keeping the heavy rear end longer in the air. From the three Auto Union Grand prix cars at the start, Hasse was the slowest driver during qualifying. On the starting grid he was behind his teammates Rosemeyer and Müller in seventh place on the second row. Hasse kept his seventh place in the early laps, moving one place up after the Mercedes pit stops. After 26 laps, Hasse came to his pits for his first stop to change rear wheels and add fuel. He had time for a quick drink and joined the race having moved up another position after Lang and Seaman had retired in their faster Mercedes-Benz cars. Hasse, driving a fast steady race, finished in fifth place, over eight minutes behind his temmate and winner Bernd Rosemeyer in the Auto Union.
At the French Grand Prix in 1938, on the first lap, when braking on the hot, softened tar for Garenne corner, Hasse slid off the street, plowing over a marker stone and stalled the damaged Auto Union. Outside help was not allowed and he tried to push-start the car himself without success and gave up. Obviously, the driver was not used to the new fuel heavy car or the new tires had yet not enough grip on the first lap. Already during practice, Hasse had used a new Auto Union Streamliner and spun accelerating out of a corner through a cornfield. He complained that there was no time to correct the car once it started to slide away (the expression oversteer was still unknown at this time).
He came a close second behind Lang's Mercedes-Benz at the tragic 1939 Belgian Grand Prix, where he beat von Brauchitsch in appalling weather conditions. Hasse's success was derived from regularity and smoothness, which paid dividends driving in the rain. At the 1939 German Grand Prix, Hasse had another crash. After having lead for some laps, it started to rain and Hasse spun out at the Fuchsröhre with a full tank on lap 13. He won one out of 12 Grandes Épreuves and also did eight additional major Grands Prix.
At the start of WW II, he volunteered and since he was not accepted right away, he joined the Truppenbetreuung army welfare. In 1940, he was drafted and after his basic training came to the war activity at the front. Due to his high technical knowledge, he worked as a technician and was involved with the service of the front vehicles. He was well liked and brave but at age 36, Rudi died on 12 August 1942 of a malicious sickness in a military hospital at the Russian front.