Rudolf Caracciola – Mercedes-Benz’s Secret Weapon

Rudolf Caracciola

One of the most famous racing drivers ever, Rudolf Caracciola was born 120 years ago and the Mercedes-Benz works driver became the star of the first Silver Arrows era in the 1930s.

Success and tragedy is no stranger to any accomplished sportsman and Caracciola was no different when he died September 28, 1959, in Kassel at the age of only 58.

Much like every great racing driver, the Mercedes-Benz works pilot carved his success in history through his own personal sporting achievements, becoming European Grand Prix Champion in 1935, 1937 and 1938 – comparable to the Formula 1 World Championship that has existed since 1950.

Rudolf Caracciola said in his biography ‘My World’ published in 1958:
I believe that everyone can achieve anything they want. I wanted to be a racing driver from the age of fourteen

Rudolf Caracciola – Man Of All Seasons

Unlike the specialist GP drivers of today who can dedicate every given second to their chosen Formula 1, Caracciola was part of an era that until well into the 1970s, was occupied by Formula 1, Formula 2, sports car and touring car races, hill climbs and even rallies within a calendar that was bursting at the seams.

Rudolf Caracciola

His career spans a rich automobile and racing history, demonstrating a range of driving skills not often seen in today’s clinical environment with his first successes in the 1920s, instantly turning the heads of the then Daimler-Benz AG gurus. Enlisted as a works driver in the Mercedes-Benz Type SS, he wins the ‘International Tourist Trophy’ on the Isle of Man covering almost 660 kilometres.

Rudolf Caracciola
Rudolf Caracciola – Mille Miglia 1931

In mountain races, he also secures the title of European mountain champion three times in a row: 1930 and 1931 in the Mercedes-Benz (SSK and SSKL) and in 1932 in a Alfa Romeo (2.6-litre monoposto). With the SSKL model, he became the first foreign racing driver to win the Mille Miglia in 1931. Numerous triumphs followed in the highly potent Grand Prix racing cars from Mercedes-Benz and Alfa Romeo.

Record Breaker

Seven years later, On January 28, 1938, Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz record-breaking car was clocked at a staggering 432.69 km/h on the Frankfurt – Heidelberg motorway over a single kilometre. A record that was only broken 79 years later, on November 4, 2017, when a Koenigsegg Agera RS exceeded this on a highway in Nevada / USA.

‘Raining’ Champion

On July 11, 1926, the newly founded Daimler-Benz AG provided Caracciola with a supercharged Mercedes 2-liter / 8-cylinder racing car for the first German Grand Prix on the Avus in Berlin. In front of 230,000 spectators, torrential rain sets in during the race but a skilful Caracciola carves his way to the front and in the prosses earns himself the reputation of being the ultimate ‘rain master’. This is his breakthrough as one of the great racing drivers.

The Silver Arrows

In 1934 Mercedes-Benz’s W25 arrived on the racing scene and was the first of the now-famous Silver Arrows with a top speed of 300 km/h – within touching distance of the 2020 Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance. The W25 was incredibly high-tech for its time with drivers often seen without helmets or secured, up until the 1950s.

Rudolf Caracciola

Relative success was achieved in 1935, but 1937 saw the brand joining the market with the new W125, and Caracciola once again dominating the Grand Prix season. The next racing car formula came into force in 1938. Mercedes-Benz runs the W154. At the end of the year, the European champion is again called Caracciola.

Manfred von Brauchitsch judges the champion’s driving style:
Rudolf is perhaps the greatest of all because he managed to drive as if on rails. He was a pure, sober, ice-cold mind driver

Rudolf Caracciola

Accident In Training

Rewind to the Great Depression around 1930 and the big manufacturers are withdrawing from motorsport. In order to be able to continue driving, Caracciola founded the private racing team Scuderia CC together with his friend and racing driver colleague Louis Chiron in 1933. Prior to the Monaco Grand Prix in 1933, his Alfa Romeo spins in training and collides with a concrete pillar; the Italians hip is completely shattered leading to the right leg being two inches shorter than the left.

Final Race

Rudolf Caracciola competed for the last time on May 18, 1952, at the Grand Prix of Bern – 30 years after his first race in 1922 on the Berlin Avus and 28 years after his first victories in a Mercedes-Benz. On the thirteenth lap on the Bremgarten-Ring, the left rear wheel of his 300 SL locks up and sends the car head-on into a tree, leaving Caracciola with serious injuries to his left leg, which was previously intact, and the kneecap was also broken. Caracciola is now 51 years old and never drives again.

Rudolf Caracciola remained friends with ‘his’ Mercedes-Benz brand and was highly respected attending many occasions. In September 1959, doctors diagnose severe inflammation of the liver and after a few days in a coma, Rudolf Caracciola passed away September 28, 1959, in Kassel.

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