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Mercedes W196 against Lancia D50: The duel of the giants

Daimler AG
Mercedes W196 versus Lancia D50
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E s was an unequal duel. Mercedes W196 versus Lancia D50. One car was an S-Class for the racetrack, crammed full of high-tech technology. The other is an uncompromising racing car with design features that were a role model for racing car designers even decades later. The Mercedes embodied what was technically feasible. The Lancia is the future.

Mercedes provided 200 people and military drill for its Formula 1 comeback in 1954. Lancia did not start the 1954 season until the final race and gave up a year later after three races due to financial difficulties. 51 days after the fourth and final GP outing of the Lancia D50, Gianni Lancia handed over six chassis, spare parts and vans to Enzo Ferrari.

Mercedes showed what was technically feasible

Despite the unequal conditions both cars have something in common. They didn't make it to the start of the season in 1954. Mercedes made its debut at the French GP in Reims, the fourth of nine races. Lancia wasn't finished until the season finale in Pedralbes, Spain. Mercedes had mobilized Juan-Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Hermann for the revival of the Silver Arrows. Lancia relied on the two-time world champion Alberto Ascari and veteran Luigi Villoresi.

Julius Weitmann
GP Monaco 1955: Fangio in the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R in front Louis Chiron in the Lancia D50.

The Mercedes overshadowed everything that was standard in Formula 1 at the time. The plant from Stuttgart ran down the competition with high-quality technology, an unbelievable commitment of money, people and material and a general staff planning. Direct injection, desmodromic, internal drum brakes to reduce theUnsprung masses, independent wheel suspension with torsion bar suspension and a motor inclined by 50 degrees to the side to reduce the frontal area were among the features of the Silver Arrows. A full cladding was put over the tubular frame on fast stretches.

The S-Class for the racetrack

Fritz Nallinger, Member of the Board of Management for Design and Development, and Rudolf Uhlenhaut as head of the test had a 2nd Build a 5-liter eight-cylinder in-line engine that was divided into two four-cylinder blocks and delivered the power in the middle in order to avoid excessive twisting of the extremely long crankshaft. To minimize frictional losses, the pistons ran in chrome-plated liners and the shafts were on roller bearings. Instead of valve springs, there was a forced control with additional cams on the camshaft to close the valves. That made the engine more speed-stable.

The gasoline direct injection of the W196 was new, a technology that until then had only been used in two-stroke engines in automobile construction. They were developed by Hans Scherenberg and Karl-Heinz Göschel. The fuel in the W196 was a special mixture of benzene, methanol, gasoline, acetone and nitrobenzene brewed by Esso. It was stored in a tank with a capacity of up to 220 liters. In the 1954 season the engine delivered around 260 hp.

The premiere of the Silver Arrows in Reims was a demonstration of strength. On July 4th, 1954, there was two good news from a German perspective. The first: Germany had become the soccer world champion in Switzerland in the final against Hungary. The second, a little later: Mercedes won the big comeback in Reims. The appearance of the Silver Arrows was a sensation. With their streamlined shape, the cars looked like they were from another planet. Juan-Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling celebrated a superior double victory.

A car with extreme technical features

The Lancia D50 was the alternative to the Mercedes W196. Vittorio Jano designed a consistent racing car with a low center of gravity, lightweight construction, the approach of aerodynamics and balanced weight distribution. The engine, designed by Ettore Zaccone Mina, was positioned 8 degrees to the longitudinal axis, diagonally in the chassis, so that the cardan shaft could be guided past the seat and thus the driver could be lowered by 15 centimeters. The dry weight was only 620 kilograms. Almost 140 kilograms less than the original Mercedes version. Gianni Lancia actually planned with four-wheel drive, disc brakes and a preselection gearbox, but rejected the projects again.

The red car was shorter, flatter, narrower than its silver rival. It had a 2.5 liter 90 degree V8 engine that produced 260 horsepower. The engine was a supporting part. The front suspension and the front transverse bulkhead were connected to the front engine. Jano invented the side box. He mounted high pontoons between the wheels that not only held the 200 liter gasoline reservoir andhoused the oil tank, but should also absorb the air flow from the front wheels and direct it over the rear wheels. The central location of the fuel ensured constant driving behavior.

Hans-Peter Seufert
2.5 liter 90 degree V8 engine with 260 hp in the Lancia D50.

Jano allowed his car a long development phase. During the test phase there was always trouble with the reliability but also with the road holding. Ascari and Villoresi served in the meantime as mercenaries with other teams. Jano was only satisfied before the 1954 season finale. Eight months after the first test on an airfield in Turin. And the Lancia debuted with the same bang as the Mercedes in Reims. Ascari put his D50 on pole position and was a full second faster than Fangio in the Mercedes. Villoresi was fifth at the start. The Lancia show only lasted 10 laps. Then Ascari gave up the lead to Harry Schell in the Maserati because of a clutch failure. Villoresi was stranded after just two laps with falling oil pressure.

Mercedes upgraded the W196 for 1955

Despite the world championship title for Fangio, the use of the Mercedes in the 1954 season was absolute Missing precision. Four defects prevented the total march through. In addition, the version with the free-standing wheels was finished too late, which gave Ferrari victory at Silverstone. The Silver Arrows were optionally used with a streamlined body and open wheels. The full fairing was 40 kilograms heavier. The GP England taught the Stuttgart engineers that the closed body was a disadvantage on winding roads. The drivers could not aim at the corners.

The Lancia's appearance in Pedralbes was a warning shot to Stuttgart. There was a car here that was so extreme in its foundations that it could endanger the German tanks. Mercedes therefore entered in 1955 with modified W196s, which had shorter wheelbases and delivered 290 instead of 260 hp. The cars had lost 70 kilograms. The young English star Stirling Moss joined Juan-Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. Hans Herrmann dressed like this in a training accident in Monte Carloserious injuries caused his season to end. His place was sporadically taken by André Simon and old master Piero Taruffi.

Lancia's counterattack fizzled out. Although the bore and stroke of the V8 engine had been changed for the second time, the wheelbase was shortened, the rear axle was modified and the car only weighed 608 kilograms. The D50 had the speed to scare Mercedes, but not the necessary stability. Or he was out of luck. Ascari was leading the 1955 GP Argentina when he was blown off the track. In Monte Carlo, Ascari was on the front row at the same time as Fangio. The Italian had just inherited the helm from Stirling Moss when he flew into the harbor basin. Newcomer Eugenio Castellotti finished second.

Ascari's death was the beginning of Lancia's end

With Alberto Ascari's death, the racing team lost its figurehead after just two Grand Prix. Four days after falling into the sea at the Monaco GP, Ascari died on a test drive in a sports car in Monza. He tried a Ferrari 750 in a suit and tie and a borrowed helmet. For Luigi Villoresi and new signing Eugenio Castellotti, the season was over shortly after Ascari's accident.

Gianni Lancia had major financial problems. Castellotti again begged a car to start in Belgium. He started the race from the best grid position, but later retired with a gearbox damage. In the middle of the year, Lancia gave away its inventory and design office to Ferrari. Castellotti got a contract with the Italian competitor in 1956. The Lancia D50 lived on with Ferrari under the internal type designation 801 for two years in various versions. Although Fangio drove to the world title in 1956 with the D50 successor, the car did not necessarily improve. Drivers often complained about difficult driving behavior. Ferrari had transferred the petrol tank back to the rear according to good old tradition and thus robbed the D50 of its soul.

auto motor und sport is celebrating the 1,000th. Formula 1 races this season with a large series in 100 parts. In the daily countdown we provide you with an exciting story and interesting video features from the history of the premier class. You can find all previous articles on our >> Overview page for the big anniversary Grand Prix.


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