Mercedes’s return to grand prix racing is well documented. On the 4th of July 1954, Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling secured a dominant one-two in Reims, France, right as the German football team took a shock win in the World Cup final in Bern. It was also 40 years to the day since Christian Lautenschlager, Louis Wagner and Otto Salzer had taken a one-two-three for Daimler-Benz at the French Grand Prix in Lyon. But the real return had started even earlier, some 70 years ago in Argentina.
In hope of a way out of the economic crisis, the German nation had followed a brutal ideology that had brought death and devastation all over Europe. In the wake of this man-made catastrophe, the dominance of German racing teams Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union came to an end as well. Following the war, bombed-out Europe required a laborious rebuild. In order to escape their dreary everyday lives, some motorists quickly took up motor racing once again. The racing cars that survived the war, some of which had been stashed in hiding places, were brought back to life. In the autumn of 1945 the first race was held in Bois du Boulonge in France. Not long after that, the construction of new racing cars started. In Germany, where the loss of both human lives and materials had been high, motorsport got back off to a sluggish start. The country allowed motor racing to resume in July 1946, the German scene initially made up of self-built cars or small manufacturers like Veritas and AFM. It wasn’t until 1950 that Germany rejoined the international scene.
Once it had its production manufacturing up and running again, Mercedes-Benz returned to motor racing. When general director Dr Wilhelm Haspel asked Alfred Neubauer whether they should resume a racing programme, it was probably a rhetorical question. After all, the former race director had already been back attending races for some time, keeping his finger on the motor racing pulse. Mercedes initially planned to race three cars in two Formula Libre races in Argentina in February 1951. An entry into the new Formula 1 world championship, meanwhile, was waiting on the regulations to come out of Paris. If the 1.5-litre rules were extended until 1954, Mercedes would enter. There were also plans to race at Indianapolis in 1951.
The Argentinian Adventure
To preface the Pan American Games in March 1951, Argentinian president Juan Perón organised two races in Buenos Aires. The ‘Gran Premio Presidente de la Nacion Juan Domingo Perón’ was scheduled to take place on 18 February and the ‘Gran Premio Eva Perón’ on 24 February. Mercedes-Benz initially wanted to race in both events with its three top drivers from 1939, Rudolf Caracciola, Manfred von Brauchitsch and Hermann Lang. However, Caracciola was still shaken from his huge crash in practice for the Indy 500 in 1946 and, after some testing, didn’t see any prospect for success. Neubauer gave von Brauchitsch the thumbs-down due to several negative incidents, not least von Brauchitsch’s visit to Argentina in 1949. But veteran Lang was ready. He’d already won the first post-war race in Germany, the Ruhestein hillclimb in July 1946…
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