This very atmospheric photograph shows the tribunes on the left and the pits building across the Ruote Nationale, all filled with spectators, excited for the coming start of the French Grand Prix on the Reims-Gueux public road circuit on July 4, 1954. This was a special Grand Prix because it marked the first return of Mercedes-Benz since the prewar years. Mercedes returned as if nothing had changed: they put two of their three entries on the front row of the grid.
The large gentleman standing on the left near the mechanic with the starter equipment with his back to the camera is none other than the famous Mercedes team manger Alfred Neubauer. What would happen on this day was probably more important to him than to anyone else. Standing in front of Neubauer at the front of the grid, his well-known blond hair blowing in the breeze, is Mike Hawthorn, doing some Mercedes inspecting. The two drivers standing in front of the n. 2 Ferrari 553 Squalo which will be driven by Froilán González are on the left Juan Manuel Fangio who win the race for Mercedes-Benz, while speaking with him is Prince B. Bira who will drive his own Maserati 250F into fourth place. With his hands on Bira’s back, probably waiting for an interview, is British racing commentator James Tilling. In the crowd on the right, wearing a hat and with the white shirt and tie is Captain George Eyston, former land speed record holder.
The spectators and photographers on the grid have been swept away by the gendarmes and here they go! Fangio is on pole with Karl Kling’s Mercedes W196 streamliner next to him and with Alberto Ascari’s works Maserati 250F apparently squeezed to the outside. Gonzalez in Ferrari n. 2 is visible directly behind Fangio’s Mercedes. Behind Ascari’s Maserati in Maserati 250F n. 12 is his teammate Onofre Marimon, the new Argentinean sensation and Fangio pupil. Hawthorn in Ferrari 553 Squalo n. 6 is directly behind Marimon.
Ascari will not last the first lap and both Gonzalez and Hawthorn will have their Ferraris expire form the heat and the fast Mercedes pace. Herrmann in the third Mercedes will set fastest lap before retiring with engine problems and leaving third overall to Robert Manzon in a private Ferrari 625 entered by Louis Rosier. But the race will be only a two-car affair between teammates Fangio and Karl Kling with Fangio being given the win under team orders by 1/10th second.
Photos by Alan R. Smith ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com
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