The New Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes, Reims,French GP, Fangio, klemcoll

This very streamlined Formula 1 car is the initial version of the Mercedes-Benz W196 as it first appeared at the French Grand Prix at Reims on July 4, 1954. This particular W196, sitting in the Reims pits during practice, was to be driven by Karl Kling with second and third examples being driven by Juan Manuel Fangio and Hans Herrmann. Mercedes arrived in their dominating prewar style with many extra parts and a fourth car as a spare.

The French Grand Prix was organized by the Automobile Club du Champagne and overseen by the often bizarre acting and rather large Raymond “Toto” Roche. Roche was known for his impromptu dropping of the starting flag while almost standing in front of the grid and leaping aside as if he were a toreador. As usual, Roche got two bites at that apple in that he also started the Reims 12 Hour sports car race at midnight on Saturday, although with that race having a Le Mans type start he could dash off rather more slowly.

Practice made it obvious that Mercedes was back and would need to be reckoned with. Fangio broke the 200 kph speed for a lap average when he set an early practice time of 2′ 29.4″ which no other car or driver could equal. Kling, second fastest, was a full second slower but with Alberto Ascari (Maserati 250F) and José Froilán González (Ferrari 553 “Squalo”) right behind him. Herrmann, not yet an experienced F1 driver, was a full five seconds slower.

Mercedes, W196 French GP, Reims, klemcoll, Fangio

Once Roche had scampered away at the start, Fangio quickly passed Kling on the second lap after Kling had led initially. Ascari, from the outside of the front row of the grid, completed the first lap slowly and retired with something broken in the driveline of his Maserati. González kept up with the “Mercs” for the first couple of laps and then slid back by some 20 seconds into the pursuit of Herrmann who got by him following which González retired with a well blown up motor in his Ferrari.

While the Mercedes ran away by themselves, as left, there was a good midfield battle among a group of cars, but they were a long way behind the leading three Mercedes. As cars began to retire after such hard and fast running, they were joined by Herrmann whose motor expired at the Thillois hairpin.

At the end Fangio crossed the finish line first, having led from the second lap, except when swapping places on occasion with Kling, who finished right behind him. Third, a lap down, was Robert Manzon in Louis Rosier’s Ferrari 625 and right after him came Prince Bira in his Maserati 250F after a long battle with the Ferrari.

Although the Mercedes streamliners benefitted from their aerodynamics at Reims, they would experience the design’s limitations at Silverstone two weeks later.

Photos by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection –

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  1. · · Reply

    The photo of both Mercedes leading with not another car in sight says it all,.!

    Mercedes ,,Back with a Bang, after 15 years away.

    Jim sitz


  2. · · Reply

    Evidently years later, it was discovered that Daimler Benz had planned an all German team of drivers, but somebody wiser chose to send a rep to Argentina to convince Fangio, a proven champion to come on board. They also

    had to assure him the new radical car would be be a winner,

    The impact of that victorty was positively stunning, leaving a trail of broken Italian cars behind.

    Jim sitz


  3. I can’t thank you enough for constantly coming up with beautiful images and enlightening text to re-live “our” wonderful era of racing. The depth with which you bring these images back to life also brings back the smell of Castrol. There is no way you can compare a W-196 with a modern F1 machine. And why should you. Our era was without comparison. I was shocked to actually see one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Keep these magnificent images coming. Historically yours, Allen R Kuhn


  4. Thank you, Allen, much appreciated. We try to find a little something to say to help the images.


    1. It is my pleasure, Peter. While the images you include speak for themselves, the facts are always appreciated. Wonderful site, and one of the few that I read beginning to end. Historically yours, Allen


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