WHAT Mercedes GP 115hp 4. 5 Grand Prix
WHERE Lyons, France
WHEN July 4, 1914
ercedes-Benz may not always produce
racecars fundamentally faster than the
opposition; the focus is on being quick for
longer, and history has shown this approach
is usually devastatingly successful.
Such was the case 100 years ago when
Mercedes entered the Grand Prix de France,
which that year consisted of 20 laps of a
23.38-mile course in Lyon, made up of
public roads, which in those days were
more akin to gravel tracks.
But the German team knew exactly what
it was getting into, because its five drivers
– Max Sailer, Louis Wagner, Theodore
Pilette, Christian Lautenschlager and Otto
Salzer – had amassed more than 30,000
test miles around the course in the mighty
4.5-liter (274cu. in.), 115hp inline-four GP
Mercedes. The engines weren’t unbreakable
but could rev to 3,200rpm at a time when
their rivals couldn’t hit 3,000. And all that
R&D beforehand reduced the likelihood of
some other component failing. This
Mercedes grand prix car was tough.
But could the five Mercedes beat the
three new Peugeot EX5s? Local fans –
there were rumored to be 300,000
around the course on race day – hoped not.
but solidly built
Mercedes GP 115hp.
That French crowd
filling the hillsides
isn’t going to like
how this ended.
Christian Lautenschlager and observer. The
1914 victory was his second French GP win;
he won the race for Mercedes in 1908, too.
40 years later, Mercedes-Benz W196s made
their GP debut at Reims, in France. The
streamliners scored an easy 1-2 finish.
Their hero, Georges Boillot, had won for
Peugeot in the previous two French GPs
(Dieppe in 1912, Amiens in ’ 13), and
these 345 cu. in.-engined EX5s could stop
as well as go, since they were equipped
with four-wheel braking, whereas the
Mercedes had rear brakes only.
The start involved 37 cars leaving in
pairs at 30sec intervals, and before quarter-distance, Mercedes’ strength in numbers
proved worthwhile: Pilette’s propshaft
broke, while Sailer’s car, leading by three
minutes on lap six, also blew its engine.
This left Boillot’s Peugeot in the lead,
but it could only be tenuous. While the
Mercedes’ Continental tires needed to be
changed just once in the course of the
467-mile race, Boillot’s Dunlops were
replaced no less than eight times!
So Mercedes’ methodical pre-race prep
had paid off, and Lautenschlager led
Wagner and Salzer home in a crushing
1-2-3 for the team after more than seven
hours of racing. After Boillot’s engine
blew on the penultimate lap, it was left
to the previous year’s Indy 500 winner,
Jules Goux, to bring home Peugeot’s
consolation prize, a meager fourth place.