By Charles Jennings
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Extra resources for Burning Rubber: The Extraordinary Story of Formula One
They built a special high-speed car transporter, which could whisk a GP car across Europe at speeds of over 100 mph. They had, eventually, over 270 people directly involved with the racing team, obeying the orders of Alfred Neubauer and engineering director Rudi Uhlenhaut. And as principal driver, they employed the Argentian Juan Manuel Fangio, who was about to take two World Championships, back to back, and who thought he was in Heaven. Through the long lens of history, it now all seems like a foregone conclusion: Fangio + Mercedes + Alfred Neubauer = Grand Prix supremacy.
And the sports cars of the 1920s and 1930s testified to this: Bugattis, Alfa Romeos, Sunbeams, Fiats, and, later on, the authentically terrifying Mercedes and Auto Unions, all used the grammar and vocabulary by which we now understand the idea of the motor car. Unlike the pre-First World War horseless carriages, these machines were light, compact, low, and had a wheel at each corner. Their engines used clever, modern alloys and higher compression ratios. Camshafts multiplied, and lubrication systems got more efficient.
For the next few years, motor races were all city-to-city, along unmade roads, in conditions of appalling danger and discomfort, generally starting in Paris, and watched by tens of thousands of hysterical spectators – these separated from the hurtling motor cars by nothing more than dust and thin air. They did Paris – Amsterdam; Paris–Berlin; Paris–Vienna. And, by 1903, most of the world was ready for the big one: a sprint from Paris to Madrid, boasting a field of more than 270 cars (and motorcycles) of wildly varying capabilities, several of which could reach 100 mph on the open road, and many of which weighed as much as a gun carriage.