The greatest of the Titans

The Psychology of the Professional Racing Automobilist

> Rudolf Caracciola had been the dominating character of all racing drivers. < George C. Monkhouse

This question nearly is as old as the sport itself. Which criterion should be used for answering the question of being the greatest driver of all times. Is it the number of wins or scored pionts ? Pure car control ? The so-called fundamental quickness ? Or the ability for technical analysis partnered by the possibility to transfer it as a driver (what is not the case  automatically) ? Or even the courage at the Fight for Metres and Seconds (the title of Manfred von Brauchitsch`s fascinating autobiography).

The way to power and glory always had been a arduous one, influenced by privations and also, until nowadays, by great dangers. Raymond Mays, contemporary witness on both sides of the safety barrier once said, for a Grand Prix driver one season counts a much as twenty-five years in life. That all does not bring us further progress to answering the question, that is not only asked by the groups of regulars. Alfred Neubauer (1891 – 1980), for three decades the legendary team manager of the Silver Arrows of Mercedes-Benz,  called der Dicke, Don Alfredo, Stallmeister or simply the Boss, son of an ordinary carpenter from Maehrisch-Ostrau, once being himself an officer of the Austrian artillery, had met them all in his long life, from The Good Bear Otto Merz to the Armenian descending Professor Alain Prost and he is taking the personality as a whole into the account. This criterion seems to be that one making most sense. According to this the number of the greatest racing automobilists is reduced to only two ones: Rudolf Caracciola in the time before World War II; Ayrton Senna for the epoque after it.

Rudolf Otto Wilhelm Caracciola, born on 30th January 1901 as a son of a hotelier from Remagen at the river Rhine, was, like Niki Lauda, a real lord; his ancestors had come from an old Italian aristocracy near Napels, that`s origins can be traced back until 780 AD. The asthete within the cockpit, the universal genius in the racing car, had begun as a mechanic, volunteer and student at the Dresden Technical University after passing his high school exam. For a while he also had been a sales-person at the Dresden branch of Mercedes-Benz. How the pictures are looking similar, because you cannot really  imagine neither Caracciola nor Senna (who had been a CEO at a spare part plant of his father for a short time) making a bourgeois career as an industrialist. I am absolutely sure, that Rudolf Caracciola was the a greatest of all drivers, said Alfred Neubauer. He was everything else, than an extrovert speed king. He was the contrast of that: He was calm, consistent, more reserved. His style of driving was of the same kind: No spinning wheels, no smoking tyres on the concrete, no show.

Rudolf Caracciola behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz W25 while, in 1934, drives along the well-known and not yet paved hairpin turns of the Klausen Pass.

He drove a proper and precise style and when taking a corner at powerslide, it was done so discreetly, that you nearly were not  able to notice that, George C. Monkhouse, journalist, photographer and maybe the most intimate expert on the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows of the first and second generation, characterizes him. Follow the star: Like later Juan Manuel Fangio and Mika Hakkinen, risen from the dead  then to become world champion twice also Rudolf Caracciola was a synonym for the make from Untertuerkheim. Once also with  one`s cards, when Stuttgart had not been able to take part in motor racing any more for financial reasons caused by the world economic crisis at the beginning of the thirties, also great Caracciola had been sacked, but in 1931 he continued competing as Mercedes private driver in his own rights and under the management of Neubauer. So also this had been there in his history: Caracciola as a team owner

Twenty-six wins in Grandes Epreuves, like all nation Grandes Prix are traditionally called, three European Championship titles, won against toughest national and international rivals, but above all against the enemy in his own body, because during the most successful period in his career Caracciola was a sports invalid in the stronger sense of the meaning: In 1933, when in Germany the National Socialists had taken over the political power, Caracciola, meanwhile driving for Alfa Romeo, had crashed into a massive lamp post at the Monte Carlo tunnel exit, caused by a brake failure and this way he had sustained a rubble fracture of the  head of the right thighbone.

Today`s therapy in the shape of implanting an artifical hip joint, a routine operation given to patients up to  the age of eighty, had not been available at that time. The doctors giving him medical treatment, declared the end of Caracciola`s career, but the man, who had won the 1931 Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz SSKL as the first Non-Italian in history, fought back into the cockpit being the stage of his life, against Neubauer`s doubts, a juridical clause within his contract and now again driving for his traditional make Mercedes-Benz: Great heart with a lot of charisma. Millions of people, following car races at the radio and at the cinemas` news-reels loved him. He was the idol of of a whole generation, like later only Taffy Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, also being  a Rhinelander, also being a great German at Ferrari. Up to 500 000 spectators were coming to the Eifel mountains for the winner of the first ever German Grand Prix held at the AVUS in the capital of Berlin in the year before the construction of the  Nuerburgring was finished.

Until today Rudolf Caracciola is the man being fastest ever on a public road, the world record is at 432.7 km/h, also never reached at the long Le Mans straight  before the installation of the chicanes. The never cured injury with bestial pains until the end of his life, the the cosmopolitan Caracciola was hit by another stroke of fate: His wife Charlotte, only called Charly by all people, he once had got to know at Dresden, was killed at an avalanche accident in Switzerland.

Caracciola, getting no control of the physical and mental pains anymore, above all the right leg five centimetres shorter than the left one caused by the accident, retired from the public for several months to hide himself in his Lugano house. Long before Bonnier, Stewart, Rindt and European Touring Car Champion Sir John Whitmore, Caracciola had moved to neutral Switzerland, their`s citizenship he was given in 1946. The maverick Manfred von Brauchitsch had preferred to do it  the same way during the time of the Nazi government, but the Swiss immigration authorities did not permit that. After the end of the war von Brauchitsch joined the GDR, that he considered being the better Germany. Here we should put away the prejudice, that the German racing teams of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union were Nazi financed and by  remote control operated tools of the criminal regime. The part of the Silver Arrows budgets at Stuttgart and Zwickau financed by the state`s subsidies was about 20 per cent, nothing more.

The absolutely biggest part of the bill was paid by the companies`cashdesks, and that was clearly less than one per cent of a year`s turnover, despite car racing also was very expensive at that time. The state criminals in uniform, all above Hitler, had shown theirselves with pleasure at the side of the prominent racing automobilists. But these ones did not like it the same way, most of them considered the contact with those powerful people from being uncomfortable up to disgusting. Caracciola`s greatest rival, young daredevil Bernd Rosemeyer from Lingen in Lower Saxony near the Dutch border, Auto Union`s undoubted number one, took off his hand only slovenly for the Hitler-Gruss  after having won a race, while the national anthem was played and in his left hand he kept, this gesture does not need a further interpretation, in many cases a burning, filter-plain  Eksteincigarette.

Rosemeyer,  in 1936 European Champion in an Auto Union, was married to aviatress Elly Beinhorn; they were the dream couple like later Helen and Jackie Stewart or Victoria and David Beckham. Manfred von Brauchitsch always had wished young daredevil an accident, if possible with some fractures, knowing from his own experience, what  greater than great risks the Auto Union driver always was taking. Rosemeyer, born in 1909, died on the motorway from Frankfurt to Darmstadt in 1938 at trying to break Caracciola`s world speed record; Elly Beinhorn celebrated her 100th birthday on 30th May 2007. In sport there are, not only in motor racing, typical winner and loser characters, their socialisations and also their biographies are corresponding to that. You are born to be winner, but, the example of Graham Hill shows it clearly, you can become such one by working very hard. Any respect for the contemporaries von Brauchitsch, Nuvolari, Stuck, Seaman, Varzi and others, the only winning characters of the thirties only were Caracciola and Rosemeyer – strong rivals, because they, not corresponding to the old fundamental rule, were so similar, but so different.

Unbelievable, but true: At the 1937 Italian Grand Prix practice in Monza they changed their cars each other and they both were the same way enthusiastic about the competing products. Some times there were  enormous tentions between the team mates Rudolf Caracciola and Hermann Lang; the Italian origin aristocrat did not only assume the Swabian working class child to be given preferential treatment, but also having got a dangerous affinity to the Nazi ideology; but had not Jackie Stewart  once compared young, turbulent Senna with Hitler ? The great communicator Alfred Neubauer, who had wanted to become an actor in his youth, who had invented the until today usual communication with the drivers by pit signals for his star Caracciola, must have felt like a referee or a justice of the peace.

Hatred is supporting very often, but not always, good performances; Rudi Gutendorf, who is the origin of this knowledge being correct in the majority of the cases, surely has made this experience in his long career as a soccer coach. After months of deepest depression Rudolf Caracciola had found a new love with Alice Hoffmann. Baby, as she was generally called, originally had been the girl-friend of Louis Chiron. The charmer and hedonist from Monaco, a world class driver, winning a Grand Prix even at the age 50 (in 1949 at Reims), had himself got out of marriage for several decades, especially before the war, concerning that he was considered of having got a certain miserliness. After his retirement from active competition Chiron was the organizer of the Monte Carlo Rally and the race director of the Grand Prix of Monaco. The fast left corner down by the harbour, near to the swimming pool, had been called after him; Chiron lived in his home town, highly respected domestic and abroad, until 1979. One sentence, it does not matter if being correct or not, is said to be from him: The Grand Prix drivers of today are not able to die correctly at least.

Bernd Rosemeyer and Rudolf Caracciola driving aerodynamic race cars.

The heroes of the Golden Age of Grand Prix Racing had a much more honest attidude of mind, than a lot of cowards and weaklings coming after them to consider their sport, absolutely in the spirit of the predator capitalists, a chance to earn as much money as possible at a minimum risk. To compete in races is passion, to take part in races is love, racing is life, a fact that is known earlier than from Steve McQueen`s famous Le Mans movie from the years of 1969 and 1970 – that is pretty well paid for many people involved in the sport is a positive side effect, but nothing more. Rudolf Caracciola and Baby Hoffmann married in 1937, at that time he was on the climax of his career. Engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who designed the cars and also tested them, driving as fast as his active Grand Prix drivers, Alfred Neubauer, who organized and also was the representative in the public, and the titan Caracciola in the cockpit of the Silver Arrows were the first triumvirate in history, half a century before the Red Axle Todt-Brawn-Schumacher at Maranello.

Baby Caracciola was a genius as a time keeper; she was able to stop a complete Grand Prix field on a tenth of a second and to document the data without gaps. Perfect like TAG Heuer and LONGINES, but with parfume and lipstick (sometimes also with a cigarette) instead of computer and transponder. Baby Caracciola`s performance only was reached by two further ladies later in history: Michelle Dubosc, coming to this sport by her boy-friend; racing driver and journalist Josè Rosinsky, as the first professionell time keeper at Matra and, of course, Bette Hill, Graham`s wife, Damon`s mother: The famous Queen of Motor Racing. Alice and Rudolf Caracciola remained together until his death in 1959. Both are buried in Lugano, but the pictures are deceptive: The grave looks pretty scruffy in reality and nobody feels responsible for keeping it in order. Heroes of the present, heroes of the past:

We, the younger ones, exactly those ones, standing on the other, not always safer side of the armco barrier, have got a much greater duty than spending admiration on them. The Caracciolas survived the catastrophe of World War II unhurt together with two of the famous Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows in Swiss Lugano. The Italian lord from Germany had become a naturalized Swiss citizen, when he tried a return to the business at the Indianapolis 500 on the invitation of the organizers. The man, who was called the Rainmaster for decades,  came back to his beloved sport exactly in the brickyard, where no race takes place in the wet. Indianapolis, where the car must be qualified, not the driver, where the driver having the slightest contact with the wall has to be taken to hospital by ambulance car, where all drivers`wives were strictly forbidden entering the pits until the end of the sixties, there a very,  very senseful regulation had existed very early: The essential wearing of a crash helmet (that was introduced in Grand Prix Racing in 1952 at least).

The heavy British helmet made of massive steel taken from the British tank division the otherwise so reasonable Caracciola felt to be an athetic cheek. But it became a rescuer, despite Caracciola had to go through a long reconvalence from his fracture at the base of the skull. At the 1952 Mille Miglia  Caracciola came home fourth position in the famous Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with the characteristic wing doors, the same year Karl Kling and Hans Klenk won the Carrera Panamericana with it, despite a blood bath in the cockpit (a giant vulture had broken the windscreen). The  decision to return to Grand Prix Racing already had been made at Mercedes-Benz; Neubauer, the man of media and power, had done brilliant jobs in convincing and the first great successes after the war had shown, that he had been right.

After the triumph of Kling and Klenk in Latin America, Germany`s Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, also  coming from the Rhineland,  said in the Schaumburg Palais, his Bonn based office: This win opens us the way for export. After the years of bitterness the economic miracle really came into action, engineer Uhlenhaut had got the Silver Arrows of the second generation on his drawing-board and things looked very promising. At that moment fate hit Rudolf Caracciola a second time. At the Grand Prix of Switzerland, in 1952 a sportscar race, he crashed into a tree because of a blocking rear wheel when being in direct duel with his old rival Hermann Lang. This time the left lower leg was smashed, Caracciola was lying in a plaster for five months and sitting in a wheel-chair for two further years. When the  Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows with the fully covered, stream-lined W196 reported back to the front of the Grand Prix races by an impressive one-two – Fangio won very closely to Kling – Caracciola slowly was learning to walk again. His career was over and also an office of honour within the house of Mercedes-Benz, like later done by Fangio, Kling and Hakkinen, he was not able to fill out.

Many years later, in the autumn of the 1970, Alice Caracciola sends a letter to Begnins in the Swiss canton of Vaud; she has added a collection of clippings of newspaper articles, because I also was happy, when somebody was collecting for me, when I had lost Rudi: Comfort for Jochen Rindt`s young widow Nina and her small daughter Natascha. Rindt, in his citizenship a German, in socialisation an Austrian, born in Mainz at the river Rhine, grown up  in Graz, lived in Switzerland for a while. He had died at Monza in 1970 caused by a technical defect, but became world champion the same year despite that, as the first German language speaking driver ever.

The way from the Palace of Wilhelmshoehe over the old Lion Castle (that once had been constructed as a ruin for the camouflage because of the fear of enemies`attacks) up to the far over the city visible symbol, the Herkules. is, at least as a pedestrian, a pretty tough one, because Kassel`s famous hillclimb race course is surrounded by forests, dense like at the Nuerburgring-Nordschleife, steep nearly like the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. Here the rising star Rudolf Caracciola had driven some of his first great hillclimb races. Down in the valley the big city in the heart of Europe is lying like being in giant soup bowl. Kassel in June of 2007 – a few days before the second  revival of the Internationaler ADAC Herkules Bergpreis and also before the opening of the documenta 12, the world`s biggest exhibition on modern art. Nearly in the middle of the city, above today`s university, there is the Klinikum, a typical fifties` building from the time of the economic miracle, rebuilt for a while and increased by some modern complexes.

Here Rudolf Caracciola died on 28th September 1959, he  had become only 58 years of age. His doctor, Professor Kalk, a specialist for liver deseases of international reputation, also treated the wife Evita of Argentine`s dictatorial president, General Peron, whose extraordinary biography had made a musical film of a few years ago, not completely out of controversy, with Madonna in the leading role. Half a year after Caracciola`s death, in March 1960, Ayrton Senna was born in Sao Paulo. Only he was equal to Caracciola concerning power and glory, concerning charisma and also in his whole personality. So sad, that they never were able, in contrast to Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher, to meet each other, so sad,that they could not get to know. Fate has decided in another way.