Going into The British Grand Prix there were many arguing that Formula One had lost its edge. Declining television audiences and a much reduced turn out in Austria seemed to point to fans increased disenchantment. The British Grand Prix served to dispel some of those fears. A record 340,000 spectators attended the weekend with 160,000 ensuring a full house on race day itself. A particularly startling fact was that there were more people at Silverstone for Friday practice than there were spectators for the Austrian Grand Prix itself.

Drivers Parade

The race itself turned out to be a thriller and produced the result Lewis Hamilton’s is adoring fans had hoped for. It had everything: strategy, surprises, overtaking, thrills and spills. On such that it was hard to argue that Formula One needed any revisions.

 

Lewis and Nico on the parade lap

Silverstone put on a fantastic show. Yes tickets were expensive but the full house showed that they had perhaps got the pricing right. The view from the general admission areas can be good if you can find yourself a decent place early enough. I always get a weekend ticket and on race day sit in the Club Corner grandstand which provides a great view of the last two corners and the finish line – not to mention the podium at the end of the Wing building. For qualification I like to sit in the general admission areas at Becketts to really see the cars move about at high-speed.

Lewis takes the chequered flag

The bad old days of Silverstone, the muddy carparks,  the chaos and the huge traffic queues, seem to be a thing of the past. And (say it softly) Bernie must take a lot of the credit for the transformation. If he had not threatened to remove the race from the calendar I suspect little would have been done to improve the fans race going experience.

 

Lewis hoists the famous gold RAC trophy up in the air. No rubbish plastic trophy this year!

 

The race weekend also had more than just the F1 race. The support races were exciting, we were treated to the sight of Stirling Moss demonstrating his 1955 British GP winning Mercedes, and the air displays by the Red Arrows and a thunderous Eurofighter Typhoon were thrilling.

Crofty cross examines Lewis

 

I stayed at the circuit for the after show party and was glad I did. Not only did I get to see part of the Spice Girls perform (guilty pleasure) but the Q&A sessions between Crofty and the drivers were eye opening. Away from their PR people it was amazing how open the drivers were able to be. Lewis’s  delight in winning his home Grand Prix for a third time was evident. But it was Nico who stood out. Honest and down to earth, good humoured and gracious, he came across very differently from the demonic Nico portrayed by the press. He certainly won the fans over.

So all in all a fantastic Grand Prix. I have already booked my tickets for next year!

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After a hiatus of 50 years, April saw the return of the Goodwood members’ meeting. Intended originally for GRRC members only, disappointing ticket sales saw invitations extended to other motoring clubs and subscribers to various motoring magazines. The comparatively light crowds may have been disappointing for the Earl of March but they were fantastic for those who attended. Not having to force your way past crowds of bored wives and girlfriends was a welcome contrast to the Revival Meeting as was the lack of corporate sponsors.

The event was blessed with remarkable weather – warm bright sunshine in what was otherwise a wet and miserable spring. The sun, coupled with the lack of crowds created a relaxed atmosphere most unlike other Goodwood events. But the best thing about the event was seeing cars that most of us had never seen before. Wonderful though the Festival of Speed and Revival are, many of the top cars return year after year. Having gone to both events for nearly 20 years I am afraid I have become a little blasé about even the most expensive exotica. Embarrassingly, at the last Revival, I found myself spending more time looking at the cars in the car park than in the paddock.

It’s this overfamiliarity with the usual Goodwood fare which made the cars at the Members meeting so interesting. For the first time we were shown cars that raced after the date the circuit closed in 1966. Le Mans prototypes and Turbo Era F1 cars did demonstration laps whilst colourful 70s touring cars battled it out in full on races. It was fascinating stuff and I can only hope that the event is repeated in a similar format next year.

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In a previous post I mentioned my love of the Matra 670 that Graham Hill and Henri Pescarolo raced to victory at Le Mans in 1972. Imagine my delight when I found the very car at the members meeting. I also got to hear its V12 howl as it accelerated away from the chicane – something I had been longing to hear for years.

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The fantastic 70s touring car race is going to do wonders for the price of neglected 70s saloons. Dolly Sprint anyone?

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The Dolly Sprints below seem to have lost a little oil….

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Sports Car Heaven – Alfa leads Aston Martin and Jaguar C Type

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Jaguar Le Mans Prototypes exit the chicane

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Jaguar XJR8LM

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Martini Lancia Abarth 038 Delta S4 – this Group B rally car won the 1986 Monte Carlo Rally

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Group B Rally Renault 5 GT Turbo

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Prost and Lauda Turbo Era McLarens

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Beatrice team Haas Turbo Ford’s

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Visiting Rolls Royce Phantom with serpentine horn!

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Donald Campbell’s Jaguar XK150 Coupe – in Bluebird blue.

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The great Sir Stirling Moss checks out the 70s touring car grid. He drove touring cars in that period as an unsuccessful reprise to his career.

On the way up to a conference in Manchester I dropped into Donnington Park, Leicestershire, to take a look at the largest collection of Grand Prix racing cars in the world. I had been to Donnington before but that was many years ago when founder of the collection Tom Wheatcroft was still alive. I wanted to see whether his son, Kevin, had put his own stamp on the place. He certainly had!

A visit now begins with a walk brought two halls full not of racing cars but military hardware. One of Kevin’s passions is military vehicles and he has an amazing collection of immaculate and rare tanks, half tracks, lorries and bikes. Whilst I like that sort of thing too I’m not sure it should be displayed with the racing cars. Indeed some of the most famous cars from the collection were not on show. Where was the 3 litre Sunbeam, the Alfa Bimotore, the Lancia D50, the Rob Walker ex Moss Monaco winning Lotus 18/21, the ex Ickx Ferrari 312B, the JPS Lotus 72 and the ex Stewart Tyrrell 006? Maybe the cars are being fettled for the beginning of the season? But I would have liked to see them rather than a load of brooding German half tracks..

Still there was a lot else to see…

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Jackie Stewart’s exquisite Matra Tyrrell

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Pure 70s kitch – Penthouse sponsored Hesketh

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Damon Hill’s 1996 Championship winning Williams

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Red Five! Mansell’s Championship winning 1992 Williams

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Jaguar’s inappropriate attempt at F1 – which ended in failure..

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New Zealand Racing Orange! Part of the fantastic McLaren collection

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Fine selection of Vanwalls including streamliner designed for use (like the equivalent Merc – see below) at the fast circuits such as Reims and Monza. It was not, however, a success.

Across town from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart is another striking modern building dedicated to motoring history. The Mercedes-Benz Museum is, like its owner, on a different scale to its Porsche rival.  Entering through the ground floor you are required to take a lift to the top of the hollow concrete drum that houses the Museum and work your way down to the bottom on a long spiral ramp.  A sort of motoring version of the Guggenheim Museum in New York!

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Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart

The Museum starts by looking closely at the work of the company’s founder and the inventor of the high-speed petrol engine, Gottleib Daimler.  Daimler was a pioneer of the internal combustion engine and with his business partner, Wilhelm Maybach, founded Daimler in 1890. The company merged with Karl Benz’s eponymous company in 1926 to form Daimler Benz.

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Daimler Motorised Carriage, 1886. This is the world’s first four wheeled motor vehicle and was powered by the “grandfather clock” engine.

The Museum holds an example of the first petrol engine that Daimler and Maybach produced in 1885, a 264cc single cylinder air-cooled engine, nicknamed (because of its appearance) “the grandfather clock engine”.  Initially Daimler were more concerned with licensing the designs of their innovative engines than in building their own cars. In France Peugeot began installing Daimler designed engines in their early motor cars and in 1894 British industrialist Frederick Simms bought the UK  licence to the latest Daimler engine and the right to use the name Daimler. This led to the establishment of the British company, Daimler Motors, now a dormant brand owned by Jaguar Land Rover, but until recently responsible for producing luxurious cars much favoured by the British Royal Family.

Mercedes-Benz is now a division of the industrial behemoth that is Daimler AG.  The Mercedes part of the name stems from the name of the daughter of Austrian motor dealer, diplomat and racing driver, Emil Jellinek.  He had ordered and modified a racing Daimler in 1901 which he used to win many of the early French motor races.  He called the car Mercedes after his daughter and the name soon became associated with success.  So much so that Daimler changed the name of their cars to “Daimler Mercedes”. On the merger with Benz it was the Daimler part of the name that was dropped.  Mercedes-Benz motor cars have long been favoured by the wealthy and powerful. Hitler was very fond of them, obviously not seeing the irony of driving a car named in part after a young Jewish girl.

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Mercedes Simplex 1902. This is the oldest Mercedes in the existence and bears the name of Emil

Jellinek’s daughter, Mercedes.

The Museum covers all aspects of Mercedes-Benz, from buses and trucks to aero engines. There is a fine selection of solid but frankly dull road cars too. But what I was at the Museum to see was the fine examples of the company’s motor sport heritage.  Mercedes-Benz have been involved in motorsport on and off since the earliest days of the company. A Benz competed in the world’s first motor race, the 1894 Paris to Rouen road race.  The 1930’s brought the glory years of the Silver Arrows when great drivers such as Caracciola, backed by the industrial might of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler himself,  dominated Grand Prix racing.  After the war Mercedes-Benz again returned to racing and again dominated Grand prix racing in a technical tour de force that saw Fangio win the world title twice in 1954 and 1955.

Fangio's MB W196 in which he won his third world title in 1955.

Fangio’s MB W196 in which he won his third world title in 1955. Behind is Caracciola’s 1938 MB W154 in which he won his third European title.

Fangio's MB W196 Streamliner, used at the high speed tracks such as Reims and Monza.

Fangio’s MB W196 Streamliner, used at high speed tracks such as Reims and Monza.

Stirling Moss was also a Mercedes-Benz works driver at the time and, with Motorsport’s legendary journalist Dennis Jenkinson, he won the Mille Miglia in 1955 in the fabulous MB 300 SLR.  Sadly the Le Mans disaster of the same year, when Leveagh’s 300SLR collided with Macklin’s Austin Healey 100 and somersaulted into the stands killing over 80 spectators,  led Mercedes-Benz to withdraw from motor sport.

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The Moss / Jenkinson 1955 Mille Miglia winning MB 300SLR. This car is probably worth in excess of £50m.

The 1955 MB 300SLR "Uhlenhaut Coupe". A hard top version of the Moss / Jenkinson car intended for use in 1956. It never raced after MB's withdrawal from racing in 1955 and instead became the company car of MB chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut!

The 1955 MB 300SLR “Uhlenhaut Coupe”. A hard top version of the Moss / Jenkinson car intended for use in 1956. It never raced after MB’s withdrawal from racing in 1955 and instead became the company car of MB chief engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut!

For many years thereafter Mercedes-Benz concentrated on road cars but they did support those who wanted to go rallying.  The Museum holds a particularly interesting car for me, the MB 280E that carried a British crew to victory in the London – Sydney Rally in 1977.  My uncle Adi competed in the same rally in a Lotus Cortina Mk2. I can remember as an eight year old standing in the cold early morning watching this very Mercedes Benz being flagged away from the start in the centre of London.

MB 280E, winner of the London - Sydney Rally 1977

MB 280E, winner of the London – Sydney Rally 1977

Mercedes Benz returned to mainstream racing in 1987 with an assault on Le Mans and German Touring Car racing.  Examples of their diverse racing machines are displayed in the Museum alongside the car from their 1930’s and 1950’s glory days.

MB Touring Car (DTM)

MB Touring Car (DTM)

In F1, Mercedes Benz also supplied engines to Sauber and until recently part owned McLaren.  They now own the old Brawn racing team who are looking strong this year already. Given Mercedes Benz’s past record in motor sport and their recent recruitment of Lauda and Hamilton (two men determined to be winners)  I have no doubt that the world title will, before long,  again return to the Silver Arrows.

The Mercedes Benz Museum is exceptional and well worth the visit to Stuttgart alone. One comes away in awe of the company’s technical achievements and with a firm belief that they have always thrived, and will no doubt continue to do so, by adhering to Gottlieb Daimler’s famous dictum “Das beste oder nichts” (“The best or nothing”).

Welcome to morewheelspin, a blog dedicated to all things motoring related.  In particular this blog will focus on modern cars and manufactures, motorsport (including F1), and the classic car scene. It will catalogue my various struggles in keeping my fleet of cars (ranging from a new Jaguar XKR to a 1952 MG racing saloon) fettled and road and track ready. In the meantime here is a photo of the great Sir Stirling Moss, reunited after 50 years with his Goodwood TT winning DBR1. I hope you enjoy visiting morewheelspin.

Sir Stirling Moss, Aston Martin DBR1, Goodwood 2009