Why the 1939 European Championship was never won
- Richard Armstrong
- November 7, 2002; revised on May 13, 2006; 2nd update on March 27, 2007
- 1939 Pau GP - Lang on a roll, by Hans Etzrodt
- 1939 German GP - Maserati nearly upsetting the rule book, by 'Uechtel'
- Auto Union Type E - The stillborn 1.5-litre car: why it (almost) did exist, by Jeroen Bruintjes
- Hermann Lang - The 1939 Championship mystery, by Leif Snellman/Don Capps
- Rudolf Uhlenhaut - The Mercedes-Benz tech brain, by Leif Snellman
Mercedes-Benz W154 3.0-litre (chassis no.7)
1939 Belgian GP (June 25, 1939)
Hermann Lang was the dominant driver of the 1939 season, taking seven wins from ten starts: the Pau GP, the Tripoli GP for voiturettes, the Eifel GP, the Kahlenberg hillclimb, the Belgian GP (seen here), the Grossglockner hillclimb and the Swiss GP. In two of the other three races he retired from a commanding lead. Even the most impartial observer would say that Lang is deserving of his
title as 1939 European Champion. But these two retirements happened to occur in Grande Épreuve events qualifying for the championship race, the French and German GPs. In the end he won his title with the narrowest of margins. Or did he in fact not win it?
Sometimes history plays games with accuracy. And motorsport is no exception. Take Hermann Lang and his 1939 European title. For over half a century, the received wisdom has been that Lang dominated the championship to become its rightful winner. Yet because of the outbreak of World War II, the organizing body, the AIACR, never officially named him as European Champion. And to make matters worse, he would have finished second to Auto Union's Hermann-Paul Müller in the title race with the 1938 points system still in place - even though he was the most successful driver of the season by far. The new-for-1939 system, that would have made him the champion, was never more than a proposal that was still being fought over by the time war drew dark clouds over Europe. So who declared Lang champion and on what grounds? Time for a chronological reconstruction of events.
The story of the 1939 European Championship starts in October 1938, at the end of season meeting of the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale) of the AIACR. It seems that some dissatisfaction was expressed with the complicated scoring system which had been used for the championship for the years 1935-38 and Monsieur Langlois, the Belgian delegate, was given the task of researching a new system which was to be used for 1939. We do not know why, but it seems to have been an onerous task for Langlois, for, as we shall see, it took him several months to come up with a draft solution although a press report suggests that he actually initiated the review himself. As we shall see, at present, it is uncertain whether any scoring system was actually mandated by the CSI for 1939, although there is no evidence that the previous system was cancelled or suspended.
Meanwhile the traditional European season opener took place at Pau on April 2nd with the old order restored: in 1938 René Dreyfus had humbled the mighty Mercedes here in his lumbering Delahaye, but this year the Germans made no mistake and Lang headed Manfred von Brauchitsch home after 100 laps. They were two laps clear of third-place man Philippe Étancelin, who in turn was three laps ahead of Raymond Sommer in fourth. As in 1938, Auto Union did not take the long road to the South of France.
The next race for the Grand Prix circus should have been the Tripoli GP on May 7th, but the Italians, who were fed up with losing to the German teams, had decided that for 1939 they would not run any events for Grand Prix cars. Libya was an Italian colony, so the Tripoli GP was to be run for 1500cc s/c Voiturettes, a class now dominated by Maserati after the works ERAs had reached the end of development. Alfa Romeo also had a new contender, the 158, in a category which was confidently expected to form the basis of the next Grand Prix Formula in 1941. Over the winter and spring of 1938-39 persistent rumours maintained that Mercedes-Benz were building a new car for Voiturette racing, but it was not until Tripoli that the rumour appeared in the metal – Mercedes-Benz arrived with two brand new W165 models for Lang and Caracciola. Although they were not initially fastest and a Maserati won pole position, Lang soon took the lead with Caracciola cruising in his wake – third-placed Emilio Villoresi was almost eight minutes behind at the finish. There would not be another chance for the W165s to show their mettle, since the other major race for which they were built, the Italian GP, would be cancelled – presumably Mercedes felt that the other Italian Voiturette races were not worth their attention.
The Grand Prix cars were back a fortnight later, when the Eifelrennen was held at the Nürburgring on May 21st; four Auto Unions faced no less than five Mercedes-Benz, with a Talbot and three private Maseratis making up the numbers. Despite tyre problems, Mercedes effectively dominated the race, although Tazio Nuvolari got his Auto Union into second place late on by running on one set of tyres throughout. The winner again was Lang, with Rudolf Caracciola third and von Brauchitsch fourth. Next came the three Auto Unions of Rudolf Hasse, Ulrich Bigalke and Müller, trailed by Hugo Hartmann’s Mercedes. These eight had lapped the four also-rans, while the only retirement had been Dick Seaman’s Mercedes.
The first race counting for the European Championship was the Belgian GP on June 25th (not the 26th as some books state). This time the German teams fielded four cars each opposed by just two works Alfa Romeos, two Delahayes and a solitary Maserati voiturette. This turned out to be a tragic race, run in pouring rain, which saw the death of Dick Seaman, whose car left the road while leading and caught fire after hitting the trees. Lang won again, narrowly if you read only the result – he had in fact wanted to withdraw after seeing Seaman’s car in flames and stopped at his pit but was persuaded to continue in what became a race of attrition. Hasse came second, with von Brauchitsch third: all the other German cars retired.
Two weeks later came the French GP, the second race counting for the championship. According to a report in the Portuguese magazine O Volante, to which further reference will be made below, Monsieur Langlois presented his recommendations for a new scoring system to a meeting of the CSI held this weekend. However, a copy of those recommendations has recently been located in the Auto Union archives – it bears the date July 18th, whereas the French GP took place on July 9th. In view of the dating discrepancy, the assertion that these proposals were presented at Reims must be open to doubt. From Auto Union records, it also appears that by now they already knew that the Italian GP would not take place, meaning that the championship would consist of just four races. By the end of July the Swiss Automobil-Revue was quoting un-named Italian magazines which were reporting that the Italian GP would definitely be cancelled.
Meanwhile Mercedes arrived with just three drivers after the death of Seaman – they again faced four Auto Unions plus two Delahayes, three Talbots and three semi-private Alfa Romeos. The works Alfa Romeos and Maseratis had been withdrawn because of the serious diplomatic situation which had put Franco-Italian relations at a low ebb: Mussolini had forbidden them to race in France.
Reims was a disaster for Mercedes-Benz: all three cars retired, Lang from a comfortable lead after 36 of 51 laps. Müller thus won easily for Auto Union, leading his team mate Georg Meier home by over a lap: Meier had actually rejoined the race after a fire was extinguished in his car.
It is at this point that the first published championship table appears. Already noted above is Langlois’ report, dated July 18th. In the same week, in the run-up to the German GP, the German magazine Motor und Sport printed a list of scores, based on the old minimum point system: Lang and Müller, having won one race each and retired after half way in the other were at the head of it with five points each.1
The German GP was held on July 23rd. This time, five Auto Unions had the advantage of numbers over four Mercedes-Benz, with two works Maseratis, three Delahayes, a private Alfa and two small Maseratis making up the field. Rain was again a factor in the race, the damp conditions affecting both German teams: Caracciola won in the surviving Mercedes, followed by Müller in the only remaining Auto Union. Paul Pietsch, who had run very well in the early stages and had actually led at the end of lap 2, was third in a Maserati.
Lang’s testimony to Chris Nixon in Racing the Silver Arrows about the German GP is at variance with some of the published eye-witness accounts, something we will encounter again in Geneva. At the end of lap 1, he led by 28 seconds, a point about which there is no dispute. He completed lap 2, still at the head of the field, but according to the report in The Motor he pitted for new plugs, at which point Pietsch took the lead. Yet Lang does not mention this to Nixon, saying that by the end of lap 3 he had a lead of 57 seconds: strange when you consider that he was apparently in the pits for two and a half minutes. [I believe this to be a mistake in identification and the driver who pitted was almost certainly von Brauchitsch – certainly Neubauer does not mention it.] Race reports and Alfred Neubauer’s autobiography say that Lang retired on lap 3, coasting in with engine trouble, but according to his own account he lasted until the end of lap 4. He also implies that he was still in the lead at this point, but felt the engine tighten up on the straight leading to the pits.
However, crucial evidence is provided by the story of Heinz Brendel, driver of the fourth Mercedes. Pietsch’s lead lasted only briefly, and he was passed by Nuvolari’s and Müller’s Auto Unions and the Mercedes of Caracciola and Brendel. Brendel was running fourth by the end of lap 3, harried by the determined Pietsch, and actually setting fastest lap up to that point – he was so preoccupied with this battle that he failed to notice a mechanic who had been sent up the course by Neubauer to signal him into the pits in order that Lang could take over his car. Brendel continued onto the fourth lap, only to spin out at the Adenauer Brücke while trying to avoid Pietsch, who had presumably got past him again. That fact alone makes it difficult to believe Lang’s assertion that he lasted until the end of lap 4.
Inter alia it might also be evidence that Mercedes-Benz were already trying to use the new rules proposed by Langlois: providing Lang took over Brendel’s car by the end of lap 5, he would still be eligible for 75% of the points for his finishing position (see Appendix 2). Neubauer had been unhappy that Lang had retired what appeared to be an undamaged car, but the driver – who had experienced the same problem at Reims – was proved right when the engine was stripped down the following day.
From this point on, contemporary published sources suddenly become more plentiful. It may be that the German teams, having realised that the next race would be their last opportunity to race for the championship, embarked on a publicity drive to make the case for their preferred scoring systems. The official German line appears to have been to prefer the older minimum points system and this was also apparently favoured by Auto Union. Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, seem to have wanted the new system proposed by Langlois, for reasons which will become clear later.
The August newsletter of the RAC of Belgium includes this brief note from Langlois (translation by author and Marc Ceulemans):
Les victoires de Lang, Müller et Caracciola classent ces coureurs en bonne position pour le titre de champion européen de l'automobile, titre qui est décerné à la fin de la saison par la commission sportive internationale, avec toutefois un avantaage pour Muller qui fut (déjà) premier et second.
Le Grand Prix de Suisse et d'Italie doivent intervenir pour la désignation de l'homme qui méritera en 1939 de figurer sur le palmares incomparable du championnat.
Que la lutte sans merci que se livrèrent Mercédès et Auto Union rendit en 1939 tout à fait angoissant.
The victories of Lang, Müller and Caracciola have put all those drivers in good positions for the title of European Champion which will be awarded at the end of the season by the CSI. Muller has however an advantage [over the other two] with (already) one win and one second place.
The Swiss and Italian GPs will determine the name of the man who will wear the garland of champion for 1939.
The struggle between Mercedes and Auto Union makes this championship quite stressful.
Mention of Caracciola is proof that this was written after the German GP. Langlois also refers to the rule which he has inserted into his proposals regarding placings for the champion (see Appendix 2). It also appears from this that there is no intention of deciding the championship before the end of the season, a position implicitly confirmed by the next press report, an article called "How is the European Championship Doing?" published on August 4th in the Swiss magazine Automobil-Revue:2
The outcome will be decided in Bern, now that the Italian GP has definitely been cancelled. It should generally be known that the results of the “grandes épreuves”, carried out according to the international racing formula, count towards the European Championship (these are the Grands Prix of Belgium, of France, of Germany, of Switzerland and of Italy). Because the Grand Prix of Italy at Monza, originally fixed for September 10, has definitely been cancelled as the reconstruction work on the track and grandstands will not be completed by that date, the VI. Grand Prix of Switzerland, taking place on August 20, has acquired the important role of the final race for this year’s European Championship.
After the races at Spa, Reims and the Nürburgring, interim classifications of the European Drivers Championship have been published in French and German speciality and daily newspapers, which differ greatly from each other and which we have refrained from publishing until today, simply because they lack any official status. The A.I.A.C.R. has previously instructed the President of the Sporting Commission of the Royal Belgian Automobile Club, Mr. Langlois, to carry out a survey regarding the classification method of the European Championship for the different national federations who organize a grande épreuve. Mr Langlois has submitted a calculation scheme to these federations, which is based on the (presently) valid French championship. At the moment, not all grand prix organizations have commented on this problem, which in the meanwhile does not keep the French press from tracing the standings of the European Championship on the basis of the French championship valid classification system (maximum point system), while on the German side they base the calculation method on last year’s European Championship (minimum point system). A comparison of both classifications results in considerable differences. In this matter we learn, from an informed source, that the International Sporting Commission (CSI) will involve themselves with the 1939 European Championship classification within the next few days. In a way for internal use and with an explicit warning that neither is officially sanctioned, we pass on below the interim classifications on the basis of the maximum point system as well as the minimum point system, prefaced with details of the two scoring systems:
Maximum Point System
Winner: 10 points
Second: 6 points
Third: 5 points
Fourth: 4 points
Fifth: 3 points
Other classified and started: 1 point
Minimum Point System
Winner: 1 point
Second: 2 points
Third: 3 points
Fourth: 4 points
Starters (whether classified or retired) who complete;
at least half the distance covered by the winner: 4 points
at least one third the distance covered by the winner : 5 points
at least one quarter the distance covered by the winner: 6 points
All other starters: 7 points
|PRESENT STANDING OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP|
|a) Maximum point system|
|b) Minimum point system|
Whether by accident or design, the information that non-starters were allocated 8 points under the minimum points system has been omitted above. In addition it is vitally important to note that the totals for both Müller and Lang in the minimum points table are wrong (Müller should have 8 points and Lang 13): see appendix 1 and corrected table below (alterations in bold):
|b) Minimum point system|
The French newspaper l'Auto had published the same maximum scoring list in its issue of July 24th, the day after the German GP, but giving only the totals assigned to the drivers without comment or explanation, presumably leaving its readers to work it out for themselves. It is tempting to think that l'Auto was in favour of this table purely because it was the one used for the French Championship and the following week, on August 2nd, l'Auto published, again without explanation or even a mention of the European
Championship, a pen-portrait of Müller, written by Maurice Henry: at this point, of course, Müller was leading the championship under both points methods. Like most commentators, Henry must have assumed he was a shoo-in for the title.
On August 15th, the Portuguese magazine O Volante published the following article:3
Müller takes the lead in the European Drivers’ Championship
Last October, the International Sporting Commission initially decided to keep the European drivers’ championship points system, with the Grands Prix of Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to count. The Belgian delegate then suggested that the system be modified. Meeting in Reims, for the running of the French GP, the delegates of the interested automobile clubs decided to adopt for the European championship the formula of the French drivers’ championship, that is: in each round 10 points will be given to the winner, 6 to 2nd, 5 to 3rd, 4 to 4th, 3 to 5th and a point to all other starters. As two rounds had been completed, the GPs of Belgium and France, the order of the European Championship was established thus: Lang and Müller, equal with 11 points; Meier and Sommer, equal with 7 points; von Brauchitsch and Hasse, equal with 6; Le Bégue, with 5; Etancelin, 4; Mazaud, 3; Carraciola and Nuvolari, 2 each; Stuck, Farina, Gérard, Dreyfus, Mays, Raph, Matra, Chinetti, Mandirola each with 1 point.
* * *
After the running of the German GP, third round of the championship, the order was: Müller, 17 points; Lang and Caracciola, 12; Meir and Sommer, 8; von Brauchitsch and Hasse, 7. The International Association will confer a gold medal on the winner.
In view of the note by Langlois and the article in Automobil-Revue, the assertion that the new system had been adopted at Reims can be discounted. Nevertheless, this is further confirmation that wheels were in motion: it has been suggested that neutral Portugal was already taking on its wartime role as a channel for German propaganda - in this case, in favour of Mercedes.
In the same week, in an issue dated August 18th, Automobil-Revue followed up their previous article with another, restating the position, but with a few more details:4
Regarding the Grand Prix of Switzerland, counting towards the European Championship, there are still as few clues about the scoring method on the evening before the decisive battle as there were at the beginning of the month, when we publicized two unofficial interim classifications. It seems to us that there is an unprecedented situation, in that at present, the scoring system which should be applied has not yet been determined. Or have you ever heard, esteemed reader, that the influential authority at a soccer-, tennis-, flying championship etc. assembles at the green table to puzzle out the classification only when the championship is already history? Probably not. However, this is the case regarding a completely impossible situation with this year’s European Championship of the AIACR, the World Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs. By a lucky chance Müller of Auto Union has a clear advantage in the Minimum as well as in the Maximum classification (although both are still unofficial), so, if he finishes in one of the leading positions, the title is certainly his. In order that the public can acquaint themselves in general terms about the situation, we reproduce the interim classification of the Maximum and Minimum point system once again:
|a) Maximum point system|
|b) Minimum point system [as amended above by author]|
From the tables above it will be seen that three drivers had a realistic chance to win the championship using the maximum system: Müller, Caracciola and Lang – Meier and Sommer can be ignored, since neither raced in Switzerland anyway. Using the minimum points system Müller has the best chance.
To take the title under the minimum points system Müller needed to score five points or fewer – even if Lang won the race, he could not finish with a total lower than 14. In other words Müller only had to complete one third of the race in order to win the title. (Paul Sheldon says one quarter in his Record of Grand Prix and Voiturette Racing, but he based this on an incorrect scoring table – see appendix 1.)
For the maximum system it was just as clear-cut for Müller, but not as easy to achieve – to be safe he needed to score six points for second place and that would assure him of the title even if Lang or Caracciola won. In the event that none of the three drivers won the race then Caracciola or Lang must finish second if Müller started – Langlois’ proposals say that the champion must have at least a win and second place – but in that case if Müller finished fifth he would be sole champion, otherwise the title would be shared with the second-place man.
On the same day, August 18th, the British magazine The Light Car also informed its readers about the championship, nailing its colours firmly to the mast:5
A Misleading Championship?
Cancellation of the Italian GP rather upsets the European Championship. This is decided only on the results of the Belgian, French, German, Italian and Swiss Grands Prix, and now that the Italian event is out of it we have only the Swiss GP to come.
Until that race is won it is too early to pass a final opinion, but at the moment there seems every chance of the championship producing a rather peculiar result.
Up to the present Lang has easily and unquestionably been the most successful driver this year in GP racing. He has won the Pau, Eifel and Belgian Grands Prix - all Formula events - and has, into the bargain, a win to his credit in the remarkable Tripoli race when Mercedes sent the Italians into a flat spin by producing their 1500cc model. Against this, Muller can lay claim only to a win in the French GP and a "second" in the German GP.
Yet Muller now leads on points with 17 to his credit and Lang shares second place with Caracciola with 12 points apiece. Next in order come Meier and Sommer (each 8) and then von Brauchitsch and Hasse (each 7).
A better scheme would obviously be to retain the same marking scale (10 for a win, 6, 5, 4 and 3 for the next four places respectively and 1 for starting), but to include all Formula events in the contest.
From the foregoing, it seems likely that the Langlois proposals had been released to the press, although by what means is unclear. It may be that the CSI meeting was reported in a source as yet not uncovered. Alternatively, one of the German teams may have leaked it, in which case the prime suspects would be Mercedes-Benz, who favoured the maximum points system. At any event, the leading maximum points scores were also published in the Belgian newspaper Les Sports during this week.
While the journals set the scene, the teams were gathering in Bern for the grand finale. Recently discovered in the Auto Union archives is a telegram sent to Dr Feuereissen of Auto Union at his hotel: no doubt the same text was sent to Alfred Neubauer of Mercedes-Benz.
To Dr Feuereissen at the Bellevue Palace in Berne. Since there are varying viewpoints regarding the European Championship points system we have postponed the decision on the European Championship until the autumn meeting. Motorsports department Berlin.
From this, we can safely assume that the decision had not yet been taken as to which scoring system was being used – the autumn meeting is presumably a German-only affair, rather than the CSI October meeting, at which the scoring system was to be chosen. However, as the principal protagonists in the championship, the German teams were in the unenviable position of being at the mercy of Korpsführer Hühnlein of the NSKK – as things turned out in Bern, he would be able to choose the European Champion.
The Swiss GP of 1939 was run to an unusual format, with two heats and a final. The first heat was the Prix de Berne, one of the big races of the Voiturette season, and the top six finishers were awarded a place on the grid for the final of the GP. The GP heat was uneventful, with the Mercedes of Lang, Caracciola and von Brauchitsch finishing 1-2-3, but it was really only a 20-lap rehearsal for the 30-lap final. By now, it was obvious to even the most fervent Auto Union fan that they had very little chance of an overall victory – in practice, Stuck had been their fastest driver, but his best time was 2.6 seconds slower than Lang. The fastest seven were:
Lang (MB) 2’33.2”
Von Brauchitsch (MB) 2’34.3”
Caracciola (MB) 2’35.6”
Stuck (AU) 2’35.8”
Nuvolari (AU) 2’36.2”
Müller (AU) 2’39.6”
Hartmann (MB) 2’40.9”
Note that von Brauchitsch was faster than Caracciola – this is significant in view of what happened in the race. Note also how much faster Nuvolari was than Müller.
In the heat, the four Mercedes drivers and Nuvolari (who was fourth, ahead of Hartmann) lapped the entire field at least once, including of course Stuck and Müller. Müller apparently lost time towards the end, but as long as he finished he would make the final – perhaps his car had hit trouble of some sort?
So, we reach the dénouement of the championship – without knowing how it was to be scored! But the teams and drivers were equally in the dark. They knew that Müller led the table under both options, but as stated above, his target was unclear. Should he play safe and just cruise round, knowing that once he had completed ten laps he was European Champion under the minimum points system? Or should he attempt to take the fight to Mercedes-Benz? Under the maximum points system he had to do that, since he needed to finish second in order to guarantee the title – a by-product of this would be that he had secured the championship under both methods of scoring, which would surely put an end to the arguments and uncertainties.
It seems he chose the latter course, but it all nearly went horribly wrong for him on the grid. Just before the start it began to drizzle with rain, the heats having been run in the dry. Quite what caused it is unclear, but when the lights changed for the start Müller’s car was not firing properly – possibly in desperation he floored the accelerator to clear it and the car did a perfect 360-degree spin on the grid! Amazingly, the seven drivers behind him managed to avoid the spinning Auto Union, but he took off last. Fired up, he was eleventh by the end of lap 1: his game plan was now obvious! He was going for the double…
By lap 5 he was up to sixth, but as the rain eased the Mercedes drivers took up station in the same order they had finished the heat. Müller must have known by now that his chance of winning under both systems had gone, barring extreme good fortune. Nevertheless, when he completed ten laps, he must have heaved a sigh of relief. He got past Giuseppe Farina’s nimble Alfa Romeo 158 as the Italian car slipped down the field after the rain stopped and also passed his team-mate Nuvolari, to reach fourth place. It seems very likely that Nuvolari let him past, in order that he might have a better chance should one or more of the Mercedes hit trouble. But the Mercedes were running well, with Lang and Caracciola pulling away from von Brauchitsch at about a second a lap. He in turn was gaining a second a lap on Müller and Nuvolari, who were running close together. Caracciola had been seriously delayed by Farina, but once he got past the Alfa he had set about catching Lang, his team mate. As the track dried, he got closer and closer, pushing Lang harder and harder, and by the end there was less than three seconds between the two of them – Lang actually set the fastest lap on the final lap, such was the pressure he was under from Caracciola.
And so it seemed to have finished: Müller was the champion under the old system of scoring, but his fourth-place finish meant that he was only second behind Lang under the proposed new method. We shall return to Müller later, but we must now examine the case of Lang and Caracciola in more detail.
Most of what follows here is a personal view, based on an analysis of the events and on published comments from Lang.
In Racing the Silver Arrows Lang repeats a statement which first appears in his 1943 German-language autobiography, that he was leading the European Championship going into the Swiss GP. He also adds that "standing between me and victory was - Caracciola". Now this is palpable nonsense, since Müller was leading under both scoring systems for the European Championship. However, this statement might make more sense if his memory was at fault in some way.
And it certainly seems to have been in other ways, as we have already seen in his account of the German GP; the quotes below are all from Racing the Silver Arrows:
"... if I could win the Swiss GP I would make sure of the title."
Only under certain circumstances. A win under the minimum system made no difference if Müller completed 10 laps of the final. Under the maximum system even a win meant that he needed Müller to finish fourth or lower to clinch the title.
"The starting grid for the final was arranged by alternating cars from each heat - the fastest car from the 3-litre heat next to the fastest from the 1500cc heat, and so on. Caracciola and I were therefore on the front row with Farina between us in the Alfa."
Er - no! Not unless the published grids are very wrong. The front row was Lang - Caracciola - von Brauchitsch. Row 2 was Nuvolari - Hartmann. Row 3 Farina - Stuck - Biondetti. Row 4 Müller - Hasse, etc. etc. Farina was therefore directly behind Lang on the grid, but two rows back. He had a very good start and was in second place, right on Lang’s tail, by the first corner. This may be why Lang claimed he was on the front row. Farina chased Lang hard until the rain stopped and Caracciola was finally able to get past the Alfa – even Der Regenmeister had found it impossible to pass him on the twisty Bremgarten track.
Like Christopher Hilton, who expressed similar doubts in his book Hitler's Grands Prix in England,6 I am of the opinion that Lang’s memory of the exact events was at fault and that over time, he had rearranged events in his head to fit what he wanted remembered as the truth, summarised by the bald statement to Nixon:
"The European Championship was mine without question."
Consider this passage from Racing the Silver Arrows:
"Now I was getting signals from the pit that my team mate [Caracciola] was catching me. For some reason my wife, Lydia, was in the pits that day - normally she never watched from there - and she heard Neubauer say 'Now we have to slow Lang a little bit.' Then I saw a sight I had never seen before - Neubauer standing by the track giving me a 'slow' signal and Lydia standing behind him, urging me to go faster! I knew immediately what was going on, so I speeded up, keeping Caracciola about five seconds behind me until the end.
Afterwards he was quite angry. 'Why were you going so fast?' he said. 'I would never have passed you.'
'Listen Caracciola,' I replied, 'it's better to be on the safe side!'"
By the time this occurred, the rain had stopped and Mercedes were sitting 1-2-3, with Lang leading Caracciola and von Brauchitsch. Müller was making his way up to fourth place, but Neubauer would have known that providing none of his three leading cars retired, under the scoring system which Mercedes preferred (and for which they were no doubt lobbying hard) the Championship was now a straight fight between Lang and Caracciola: whichever of them won the race was champion. And presumably Frau Lang was just as aware of that too!
I suspect also that von Brauchitsch was ordered to act as tail-gunner. He was not in a position to win either the race or the title, but he had been over a second a lap quicker than Caracciola and a second slower than Lang in practice. Yet in the final he could only run third, averaging two seconds a lap slower than Lang. Was he ordered to slow down and block Müller’s progress?
So what went on in Neubauer's head? He would have known that Müller was now unbeatable under the minimum system but there was still all to play for under the maximum system - a Mercedes driver would be champion, and he could choose which one! So - who to go for: the coming man or the old campaigner? Lang or Caracciola? Lang would surely have more chances of titles, Caracciola maybe not. Lang had seemingly blotted his copybook at the German GP, even if he had subsequently been proved right - yes; it had to be Rudi again!
So - Caracciola was angry with reason: he was the chosen one, but Lang had spoiled the plan. And here's where Lang’s memory played tricks again:
"Afterwards he was quite angry. 'Why were you going so fast?' he said. 'I would never have passed you.'"
This does not tie in with Lang’s previous assertion that "standing between me and victory was - Caracciola". From Lang’s point of view Caracciola only comes into the equation once it is clear that Müller is no longer a threat. And why would Caracciola have said that? It makes no sense, especially as he was matching or exceeding Lang’s pace in the latter part of the race. Why press on when you are a minute ahead of the next driver if not to catch and pass the man in front of you?
What I think he might have said was -
'Listen Caracciola,' I replied, 'it's better to be on the safe side - I had no idea where Müller was.'
'Müller? He didn't matter - Manfred was dealing with him! By racing me you have cost me a fourth European Championship.'
So why did Lang say the championship was "mine without question"? Perhaps the clue lies in a sentence in the first German-language edition of his autobiography Vom Rennmonteur zum Europameister (From Race Mechanic to European Champion) published in 1943:
Korpsführer Hühnlein festively concluded the last racing year in 1940, nominating me now also officially as European Champion and presenting me with the "Golden Motor Sport insignia", sponsored by the Führer.
Unsurprisingly, this sentence does not appear in the English-language translation, called simply Grand Prix Driver, and published after the war:
I had to wait for the official nomination of Champion of Europe, this could only be done by the international sporting commission.
An interesting self-contradiction, especially when you consider that he never tells us whether or not that confirmation came from the CSI.
For the moment the last word must go to the historian Norman Smith, who included this sentence in the discussion of the 1939 Swiss Grand Prix in his 1958 book Case History:
Lang’s victory deservedly gave him the leadership in the 1939 European Championship, but the outbreak of the war ruined the season and officially the title was never awarded, which was jolly hard luck for a very fine driver.
After the Swiss GP, the minimum points system almost disappears from sight in the published record. On August 21st, Maurice Henry's race report in l'Auto was headlined "Lang leads from start to finish and also for the title of European Champion". He also finally let his readers in on the secret of how it had happened by pointing out that Lang would be European Champion with 22 points providing:
(1) the Italian Grand Prix is cancelled, which would make the Swiss Grand Prix the last of the season.
(2) the points system is the same as for the French National Championship, which we will not know officially until October.
On August 22nd, two Belgian newspapers, Les Sports and Le Matin, both printed reports with tables proclaiming Lang as champion with 22 points. In the same week, both the German magazine Motorpost7 and the Swiss Automobil-Revue8 reminded their readers that the scoring system was still undecided. The Swiss report was headed:
The Champion unknown!
As is well known, the Grand Prix of Switzerland was the last of four races for this year’s European Championship. If now, on the day of the decision, it is still not in the least certain of who actually became champion; our readers know the reason for this impossible, unpleasant situation, namely the fact that a classification method does not officially exist at all. By coincidence, after applying each classification to the results of the Swiss Grand Prix, either Lang or Müller would earn the title of European Champion. If one places the calculation based on last year’s effective Minimum classification, Müller comes out on top. If one follows instead the French classification rules, then Lang has won the European Championship. A third formula wants to award the title only to the driver who has victoriously completed at least two “Grandes Épreuves”; in this case the championship would certainly be Lang’s again. The decision at the green table will take place at the October meeting of the A.I.A.C.R., and we can well imagine that either Mercedes-Benz or Auto Union will justifiably be annoyed, when the Gentlemen Delegates of the different national organizations give their approval to one procedure and reject the other. We can only emphasize once more, how much the incident appears to us as being absurd in the highest measure and that the championship rules will be decided only after it has finished. One can only hope that the A.I.A.C.R. will succeed to find a solution acceptable to all parties.
Below, we reproduce the final classifications of the European Championship in both the Maximum and Minimum formulae and firmly point out that these classifications have no official character whatsoever.
|a) Maximum point system|
|b) Minimum point system [amended as above by author]|
The following week, the British magazines weighed in too. First to publish was The Motor, on August 29th, with two pieces by “Grande Vitesse” (Rodney Walkerley):
Fahrer Lang 9
At the moment it seems that Hermann Lang will be European Champion of 1939. He is leading at present with Muller (which is fairly surprising) next up, ahead of Caracciola. The last race counting to the championship is the Italian Grand Prix and it looks as if that won't be held. Instead I fancy there will be a 1500cc race with some such title as the Prix de Monza or something. Lang has had a marvellous season, winning at Pau, Tripoli, Eifel, Spa and Berne, plus the record for the Grossglockner. When he didn't win he didn't finish, as at Rheims and the German Grand Prix. Muller, of course, won the French Grand Prix, and was second in the German ditto. Caracciola, next man up, retired at Pau, was second at Tripoli, third at the Eifel, retired at Spa and Rheims, won the German Grand Prix and was second at Berne.
The races counting for the European Championship are: German Grand Prix, French Grand Prix, Swiss Grand Prix and Belgian and Italian Grands Prix - in fact each "national" Grand Prix.
European Champion, 1939? 10
Great racing drivers may come and great racing drivers may, alas, go (although Nuvolari goes on for ever), but rarely in motor racing history has there been so meteoric a career, or for that matter so meteoric a driver, as young Hermann Lang, the quiet little German ex-mechanic who is now the fastest driver in Grand Prix racing.
You may or may not agree with the whole principle of Grand Prix racing, but it must be admitted that at present this sort of racing is the highest peak to which the sport has ever attained, and the men who handle these ultra-light cars at nearly 200mph in full road-racing trim are undoubtedly super-men. There are so few that they can be counted on the fingers.
Of all these, pre-eminent to-day is Lang, typical of his kind. Quiet, reserved, even shy, he is quite content to take Number Three in the Mercedes-Benz team, but his consistent string of victories has displaced the great champion Caracciola and it looks as if Lang will be declared European Champion for 1939.
So far this year he has won six events - every one in which he finished at all, for he retired in two. In practice he usually makes the fastest lap, and all this with a modesty and absence of that "behold me, the great man!" which characterizes all the really first-class drivers.
Lang is small, but broad of shoulder. He is 27 years of age - the ideal age for a racing driver - and has a great future before him. He left school to become a mechanic, and when 18 took to motor-cycle competition work in his spare time, and did particularly well in hill-climbs, both with solo machines and sidecars. In 1931 he was German Sidecar Champion. In 1933 he joined Mercedes-Benz in the racing and research department and helped to build the old 750kg Formula cars. It was then that Luigi Fagioli, who was driving for Mercedes at the time, picked him out to be his own mechanic, and thus it was Lang began to learn the intricate technique of motor racing from a wily old-hand who knew every trick of the game.
In 1935 Lang got his first wheel in the Eifelrennen and finished fifth, and was fifth again in 1936, showing great promise without a reckless desire to show off and beat the masters. In 1937 he began to show what he could really do by winning the Tripoli Grand Prix and the amazing race at the Avus in rapid succession. In the Italian Grand Prix he challenged the great Caracciola himself, racing wheel to wheel, sometimes getting ahead, sometimes a length behind, and finished almost level.
Last year he won at Tripoli and Leghorn, and was second in two races, third in another. this year he has won six events - Pau, Tripoli again, Eifel, Belgian Grand Prix, and Swiss Grand Prix, plus the Grossglockner hill-climb record.
On September 1st, Light Car also hailed Lang as champion, following up their piece before the Swiss GP:11
Hermann Lang, brilliant Mercedes pilot, will, it seems, be European champion for 1939 - which is as it should be. The only thing that could happen which might disturb this result would be for the Italians to hold their GP - which has already been declared off but would count for the championship if held.
Lang's total points to date are 22, and Muller runs him very close with 21, followed by Caracciola with 18.
Lang's record this season is five wins and two retirements in seven races - an astonishing performance. His wins were in the Pau, Tripoli (1500cc), Eifel, Spa and Berne races, and his retirements at Rheims and in the German GP. In addition he annexed the record for the Grossglockner hill-climb a week or two back.
On the day that short article was published, the German Wehrmacht rolled over the Polish border. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on the Third Reich, but, amazingly, there was a final act to play out on the track between Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz. This was the Belgrade GP (often erroneously called the Yugoslav GP), which took place on September 3rd on the streets of the city while the German Panzers advanced towards Warsaw. Two Mercedes-Benz faced two Auto Unions, with the only other participant a brave (or foolhardy?) local driver in an elderly Bugatti. From the start there was a fierce fight between the Mercedes drivers von Brauchitsch and Lang, which lasted until a stone, thrown up from von Brauchitsch’s wheel, hit and smashed Lang’s goggles. Lang handed over to Baumer, who managed to impede von Brauchitsch while leaving his pit. Meanwhile, in the Auto Unions, Müller had passed Nuvolari and set off after von Brauchitsch, who later spun and stalled, restarting by illegally rolling back down a hill he had just ascended, nearly taking out his pursuers in the process! For the rest of the race fortunes ebbed and flowed, each driver leading for a while before hitting tyre trouble and having to pit. After all the shake-outs, Nuvolari came home first to provide Auto Union with their final victory – the Bugatti was 15 laps behind in a 50-lap race!
Inevitably, events off-track seemed more important to the press, but in a valediction by Rodney Walkerley published in The Motor on September 12th, Lang was once more assumed to be European Champion:12
Hermann Lang, I suppose, must be adjudged European Champion, and Johnny Wakefield is the BRDC Road Racing star man and Ian Connell the Track star winner - at least moral winners. I expect the German boys are at the moment more concerned with being Storm Leaders and Staffel Korps Ober-whatnots and things.
Incidentally, Walkerley's surmision regarding the BRDC Gold Stars was correct, although it would be nine years before the stars would be officially awarded. At the club's 21st birthday celebrations in December 1948, HRH Prince Philip finally presented the stars to Connell and to Wakefield's widow.
Automobil-Revue also reminded their readers of the absurdity of the situation on September 15th:13
Incidentally, there is no reason to believe that the title of European Champion 1939 will ever reach presentation. The proclamation of the victor should have taken place at the autumn meeting of the AIACR, the holding of which in the meanwhile is naturally out of the question.
Light Car had not forgotten either. Their valedictory piece regarding the British championships gave detailed points standings for the Gold Stars and was concluded with this repetition of their statement of three weeks before:14
Whilst on this subject of end-of-the-season honours, I might as well add the position with regard to the European Championship. As I pointed out a week or two back, only one event counting for the 1939 title has not yet been run. This is the Italian Grand Prix which had already been called off when war started and certainly isn't likely to be reinstated now.
Presuming that fairly obvious fact, Hermann Lang, the brilliant Mercedes driver, is the 1939 European Champion: and (giving honour where honour is due and all that) I can only say I'm glad. Lang has been most astonishingly successful this year but it looked at one time as though – owing to the curious working of the marking system – a less successful driver might have gained the title.
Runner-up to Lang is Muller, with 21 points to Lang's 22, and third is Caracciola with 18.
It is interesting to note that Light Car was the only one of the four British magazines to print the points scores: it may be significant that the usual Grand Prix correspondents of both Autocar and The Motor were not present in Bern. The Motor was represented by photographer Robert Fellowes rather than Rodney Walkerley, while it seems that there were no reporters from either Autocar or Motor Sport at Bremgarten.
Then, for a while, there was silence, broken only by isolated skirmishing on the Franco-German border while Poland was dismembered.
As foreshadowed by Automobil-Revue the AIACR meeting scheduled for Paris in October was cancelled, so the expected decision never came. The championship remained in limbo.
But moves were afoot in Germany. On November 30th the official Nazi Party newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, published a statement by Korpsführer Adolf Hühnlein of the NSKK (Nazional-Sozialistische Kraftfahrkorps) on behalf of the ONS:
Since, as a result of the war, the A.I.A.C.R. as well as the F.I.C.M. cannot meet, I declare on the basis of the presented, clear points results regarding the European Championship's internationally counting automobile and motor cycle races as European Champion for racing cars, the NSKK-Staffelführer [squadron leader] Hermann Lang of Mercedes-Benz with 23 points…
The same text appeared in Motorpost on December 9th. At first glance, the casual reader would assume that Hühnlein was confirming Lang’s title on the basis of the maximum point system, the apparently expected adoption of which had been used as the basis of the reports we have already seen from Britain and Belgium. But appearances can be deceptive. Motorpost had previously said the scoring system was undecided: and so it was. Recent correspondence from the archives of both Mercedes-Benz and Audi indicates that Hühnlein had used not the new system, but the old, which confirms a statement in a German book published as long ago as 1972, Die Avus Story by Richard Kitschingen:
In 1939 the Third Reich caused the world to have worries other than the usual trouble about the obvious unbreakable superiority of German cars and drivers in the sport of motor racing; the championship was not run to the end because of the outbreak of war. Korpsführer Hühnlein added the points and made Hermann Lang European Champion after his victories at the Grand Prix of Pau, of Belgium and Switzerland, at the Eifelrennen, the Wiener Höhenstraße (Kahlenberg hillclimb) and the Great Mountain Prize of Germany (Großglockner hillclimb).
The first clue to this is the total of 23 points assigned to Lang – his total should be 22 if the maximum points scores were applied.
So – why 23 points? That question exercised a number of minds for some years – it seemed not to tally with the minimum points system either. Was it a simple typing error? A mistake in addition? Or something else? The answer may be here, in a recent letter from Harry Niemann, head of the archives at DaimlerChrysler:
As you wrote, it’s true, Korpsführer Hühnlein (Head of the NSKK and ONS) nominated Hermann Lang as Champion, because the AIACR couldn’t have their normal session in October 1939 in Paris, due to the beginning of WW2. In that year Hermann Lang participated in ten major races and was with seven wins indisputably the best driver of the year, although in consideration of the results for the four Grande Épreuves the score of the Auto Union driver Müller would have been better by two points than that of Lang. Because the AIACR couldn’t nominate the Champion, Hühnlein decided to add on all results of the season.
Which results he included are unclear, but here is one interpretation, by Marcel Schot and Hans Etzrodt. As noted above there are minor points discrepancies between this table and some of those published at the time. On balance, it seems likely, based on research by Leif Snellman, Don Capps and others, that the scores shown here are the nearest thing to a definitive 1939 European Championship table. Even at the time, the scores published by the various magazines showed discrepancies (see comparison in appendix 1), and often depend on individual journalists’ interpretation of the rules, especially regarding the rounding up or down of the number of laps completed – the figures for which often vary from publication to publication.
The Automobil-Revue scores, which have been demonstrated to be wrong anyway, are unlikely to have been used by Hühnlein – his initial source was almost certainly Motor und Sport.
So, here is possible proof that Hühnlein and the NSKK ultimately preferred the older scoring system. In a wartime climate, they would have found it very difficult to justify using a French-originated scoring table, especially since it had not yet been mandated by the AIACR. But the international press had already hailed Lang as champion, even before the war started: an announcement that Müller was the champion would be greeted with derision and might have been used by the Allies to ridicule Germany.
Hühnlein must therefore have been presented with a dilemma: how to present Lang as champion to the world without giving propaganda ammunition to the enemies of the Reich? Perhaps he hit on an elegant solution: confirm to Auto Union that the old scoring system would apply and manipulate it afterwards to make Lang champion. But how could he keep the lid on it? Both teams would have been lobbying hard for their preferred scoring method – Auto Union for minimum scoring, Mercedes-Benz for maximum scoring. His answer must have been to tell them both what they wanted to hear.
"Herr Neubauer, you may be assured that the ONS will confirm Lang’s title when it meets in November."
"Herr Doktor Feuereissen, you may be assured that the ONS will follow the AIACR minimum points scoring system when making its announcement of the European Champion."
The ONS met on November 20th 1939, with representatives of (among others) Mercedes-Benz, Auto Union and Continental Tyres present. The last paragraph of the minutes reads as follows:
'Die ONS wird die Europameister 1939 bekanntgeben' (The ONS will announce the European Champions for 1939).
Lang’s is the first name, followed by the three European motorcycle champions – Kluge, Fleischmann and Serafini.
Contact has recently been made with Müller’s widow Mariele. According to her, when Müller heard that Lang had been announced as champion he exclaimed:
"Jetzt bin ich aber schön beschissen worden!" ["Now I have really been ripped off!"]
So – why "ripped off" or cheated? Because he and Auto Union had been told that the old system was valid as far as the ONS were concerned? That the announcement of the champion would be made by the ONS in November using that scoring system? No wonder he felt ripped off! But for reasons not yet explained, Auto Union did not apparently protest this decision.
The war continued, of course, and Hühnlein’s announcement probably passed almost unnoticed on the Allied side – the British motoring press, at least, seems not to have picked it up. Light Car, in a seasonal review published on January 6th 1940 once more repeated the points score:15
In the sphere of racing, the outstanding figure is, without question, the brilliant young German driver, Hermann Lang. His title of European Champion for 1939 alone entitles him to first consideration, but this honour alone is not all. Indeed, the peculiarly restricted system of marking for the Championship almost bestowed the title elsewhere. It is Lang's overall racing record this season that earns our respect.
Think back. He won his first event of the season, the Pau GP, at record speed. He won his second, the 1500cc Tripoli GP, also at record speed for this size car and also set up a new 1½-litre lap record. He won the Formula race at the Eifel meeting, yet again at record speed. His fourth race of the year, the ill-fated Belgian GP, he also won. After retiring in the French and German Grands Prix he annexed the German Hillclimb Championship at the Grossglockner and won the Swiss GP. All in Mercedes, of course.
The Motor and Autocar both published similar reviews, but neither mentioned the European Championship at all.
Nevertheless, there was another attempt to resolve the question in the spring of 1940. On May 12th, two days after the German invasion of the Low Countries and just as the Panzers were emerging from the forests of the Ardennes, the AIACR met in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the committees scheduled to assemble was the CSI, but the only member present was the Italian delegate, Ing. Furmanik: accordingly, the meeting was cancelled.
And that was it. The AIACR went into hibernation until 1946 and when they reassembled the matter seems to have been ignored. In the fog of war, the controversy had been forgotten and gradually it became the accepted wisdom that Lang was European Champion for 1939. The old scoring system was lost, forgotten by all but a few, until Chris Nixon unearthed a copy of it in the archives of Mercedes-Benz, unwittingly starting off the search which has culminated in this essay. Even the new system was almost unknown until researchers working via the Atlas F1 Nostalgia Forum uncovered separate confirmations of it, firstly in Switzerland, then in Portugal and finally in the Auto Union files in the Saxony State Archives.
History continued to regard Lang as the champion, with some writers even assuming that he and his predecessors had been elected Champion of Europe each year by the members of the CSI. Occasionally points tables of varying accuracy appeared in books and magazines, usually accompanied by comments from authors that they were "obscure" or "uncertain". In 1987, Nixon wrote an article for Autosport16 in which he explained the system and published reasonably accurate tables for the years 1935-38: unbelievably, the table for 1939 shows Lang as champion, with a total of 13 points, and omitting Müller completely, although he does concede that he won the French GP. The casual reader, without access to the full results, would assume that the rest of Müller’s season was unfruitful, but Nixon was taken to task by one Reinhard Windeler, who wrote to Autosport16 to point out the error. Nixon replied as follows:
Hermann Lang has always rightly been accepted as European Champion for that year, and this, together with his battle with Rudolf Caracciola in the last Grande Epreuve of the season, obscured my view of Müller's claim to the title. This was my mistake, for a closer look at the results of the four Grandes Epreuves of 1939 clearly shows that Müller finished with one point fewer than Lang!18
Yet, despite this, the received wisdom continued to be that Lang was champion and Chris Nixon seems never to have followed this up, perhaps because he considered Lang "rightly accepted".
Why Chris Nixon took this course is unclear, apart from the fact that it would have been a clear contradiction of his own otherwise excellent book Racing the Silver Arrows. One of the researchers involved in this article once remarked that it seemed to him that Lang was considered to be European Champion because everyone said he was: I would submit that Lang was said to be European Champion "without question" because Lang said he was. Paul Sheldon, in Volume 4 of his Record of Grand Prix and Voiturette Racing, was the next to point out in print that Müller should have won if the old system had been in place, without acknowledging the subsequent Autosport correspondence, of which he seems not to have been aware, perhaps because Nixon's answer was published nearly two months after the original article – other authors picked up the point, but there has been a deafening silence from both Chris Nixon and the authorities.
This is an unfinished tale. There are still several questions which require answers:
- Is it possible to definitely determine which events Hühnlein included and which scoring system he used?
- Why did Auto Union not protest the decision?
- Was Hühnlein ultimately merely a tool of the German propaganda machine – a mouthpiece for Goebbels – and under pressure to show how Lang had won the European Championship?
- Was there a high-level bias within the Nazi party in favour of Mercedes-Benz and against Auto Union? All the evidence so far suggests that there was.
- Was there a valid scoring system in place for the 1939 championship or had the old method been suspended by the CSI? The Automobil-Revue reports of August 4th, 18th and 25th all suggest that there might have been no points system in place at all.
- Why did Chris Nixon choose to ignore the evidence, not investigate Lang’s statements and thus perpetuate the myth that Lang was officially European Champion? He was never so designated by the AIACR.
This search is being opened up to a wider audience in the hope that others may have already come across some pieces which might complete the jigsaw. The clues regarding the dates of the major events are here: all that is required is that someone might give up a little of their time and spend a few hours searching archives and libraries in a quest for the truth. Italian and further French sources are particularly welcome, as much of the Swiss press reporting seems to originate from one or both of those countries.
The most important scoring discrepancy between the tables published at the time is the scores assigned to Müller and Lang in the Belgian and French GPs respectively in the tables in Motor und Sport and Automobil-Revue. In Müller’s case, Automobil-Revue’s own report actually contradicts their table, since they report that he retired “on the 26th lap”, which might mean 25 or 26 completed: which does not matter, since neither figure is more than three-quarters distance in a 35-lap race. Most contemporary reports give him 26, some 25; only Allgemeine Auto Zeitung says 27.
All published reports indicate that Lang retired on or about lap 36 of the 51-lap French GP, yet to score 4 points he would have had to complete 39 or 40 laps.
|MOTOR und SPORT, July 23, 1939|
|AUTOMOBIL-REVUE, August 22, 1939|
|Paul Sheldon & group, 1993|
|Leif Snellman & group, 1999|
This is a translation from the French of the Auto Union archive copy of the original text of Monsieur Langlois’ proposal to the CSI (translation and notes by the author and Frank Verplanken).
Brussels, July 18th 1939
PROPOSAL FOR A POINTS SCORING SYSTEM TO DETERMINE THE “EUROPEAN CHAMPION DRIVER” FOR THE YEAR 1939
The 1939 Championship is determined on the results of the five “Grandes Épreuves” on the International Sporting Calendar, open only to cars which are constructed to conform to the racing formula determined by the AIACR for the triennial period 1938-40. These events are:
Grand Prix of Belgium
Grand Prix of the ACF
Grand Prix of Germany
Grand Prix of Switzerland
Grand Prix of Italy
METHOD OF ATTRIBUTION OF POINTS
For each event as stated above, the following will be attributed:
10 points to the driver classified first
6 points to the driver classified second
5 points to the driver classified third
4 points to the driver classified fourth
3 points to the driver classified fifth
1 point to each other driver participating in the race.
Each driver participating in the start is considered to be the “entitled” driver for the car in which he begins the race.
In a case where, during the course of a race and for whatever reason, an entitled driver moves to another car or cars of other drivers in the same team, he will only receive: Either ¾ of the points, ½ the points or a ¼ of the points corresponding to his final classification in the race, depending on whether he covered ¾, ½ or ¼ of the race distance in the car he took the start with. [see below]
Note : this rule will prevent a team from favouring one of its drivers at the expense of another.
DESIGNATION OF THE CHAMPION
The title of “Champion Driver of Europe” cannot be awarded unless the driver who has obtained the most points has scored [at least] one win and one second place in the five Grandes Épreuves of 1939.
In the case of a tie [for first place in the final European Drivers Championship standings], the title of "Champion" will not be awarded, as no driver will have proved to be dominant.
Note : if, next year, more than five events are to be taken into consideration [for the title], then the champion must have two victories in those races.
The addition of [at least] is to highlight what we believe to have been Langlois’ intention. In French, the words “au moins” should surely have been included, otherwise the rule becomes too specific. He appears to have wanted to ensure that the winner on points was also demonstrably the most successful driver of the year – as a theoretical example, had five races taken place, a driver who had a consistent but unspectacular season finishing with two second places and three third places (27 points) would outscore one who won twice, finished fourth once and retired twice (26 points). This was also probably the intention with the minimum points system, but the flaw in this was assigning eight points to non-starters – a driver absent from just one race through injury or other legitimate cause could see his chances disappear, even if he won every other race!
Left unsaid is what would have been counted as domination if, as actually occurred, less than five events took place.
In reference to shared drives, if a driver takes over another car somewhere between 50% and 75% through the race, he will only score 25% of the points corresponding to his finishing position, but if he switches during the first 25% of the race he will receive 75% of the points and if he switches at between 25% and 50% he will receive half points.
This article could not have been written without the collective international efforts of the Atlas F1 Nostalgia Forum, inspired by Hans Etzrodt, who initiated the search for the truth – almost all original German-language sources, other than those from the Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz archives, are the fruits of his diligent research. The author uncovered most of the English-language magazine sources, while Jeroen Bruintjes spent much time on the Auto Union files. Holger Merten provided letters from the archives of Audi Tradition and Mercedes-Benz, among other documents and help. Hans Etzrodt, Holger Merten and Leif Snellman were collectively responsible for locating and interviewing Mariele Müller.
In no particular order, those who have made significant contributions to the research and discussions include:
Hans Etzrodt (D/USA), Jeroen Bruintjes (NL), Mattijs Diepraam (NL), Ray Bell (AUS), Richard Armstrong (GB), Marcel Schot (NL), Holger Merten (D/CH), David McKinney (NZ/GB), Marc Ceulemans (B), "O Volante" (D), David Jones (GB), Leif Snellman (SF), Felix Muelas (E), Frank Verplanken (F), Don Capps (USA), Tony Kaye (USA) and Reinhard Windeler (D).
Full results of the races, together with complete Championship tables and further details of the scoring systems, can be found at Leif Snellman’s website, The Golden Era.
- Motor und Sport, July 23rd 1939, page 31
- Automobil-Revue, August 4th 1939, page 3
- O Volante, August 15th 1939, page 13
- Automobil-Revue, August 18th 1939, page 3
- Light Car, August 18th 1939, page 425
- Christopher Hilton, Hitler's Grands Prix in England, Haynes, Sparkford 1999, pages 228-9
- Motorpost, August 26th 1939, page 8
- Automobil-Revue, August 25th 1939, page 10
- The Motor, August 29th 1939, page 169
- The Motor, August 29th 1939, page 178
- Light Car, September 1st 1939, page 485
- The Motor, September 12th 1939, page 239
- Automobil-Revue, September 15th 1939, page 9
- Light Car, September 22nd 1939, page 570
- Light Car, January 6th 1940, page 194
- "One point for victory!", Autosport, March 12th 1987, pages 30-34
- Autosport, April 30th 1987, page 14
- Autosport, May 14th 1987, page 14