There are a great many things that irritate me about modern Formula One. But what I hate most is the modern F1 supporter who typically has no interest or appreciation for the history of this magnificent sport.
There was a time when the men who took part in motor racing did so knowing that each race could be their last. And yet they kept on, battling the types of conditions and dangers that most modern F1 drivers will never experience. That said, I suspect the spirit that pushed the flamboyant racers of the past to the limit and over are still present in most of the racers of today, and that the majority would continue racing, even if all the safety nets of today were stripped away. Such is the mentality of a true racer. Today they just operate in a bubble-wrapped world, as we all do.
I’ve spent the past two weeks reading the autobiography of one of motor racing’s greatest fighters, Rudolf (Rudi) Caracciola, a man who in his varied career scored 149 victories, 20 second places and 12 third places. Yet most modern F1 “supporters” don’t know about him.
I’m not going to delve into his history – read the book – but rather try and explain why his autobiography is a must-read for any true F1 fan.
“I believe that every man can achieve the goal he strives for. I also believe that every man who feels in himself a strong desire to do a certain job will eventually end up doing that job, no matter how many detours he has to take to get there.”
Those are the inspirational first few lines of the book. From there on Caracciola details the battles he fought to get into racing, the dangers, the life-threatening injuries, the deaths of his fellow racers (almost always one per race, at least), the loss of his father (page 1!), bar fights (page 3), his first wife dying in an avalanche, taking Hitler for a drive etc. And all the time colourful characters such as Alfred Neubauer (legendary Mercedes racing manager) and racers such as Rosemeyer, Varzi, Stuck, Fagioli and Chiron make appearances.
For once, we’re reading about racing in those early years from the perspective of one of the sport’s greatest heroes, and he doesn’t pull punches, yet comes across as a true gentleman. Why there hasn’t been a movie about his life yet I don’t know – there’s love, ambition, ferocious rivalry, death and wealth all against the backdrop of a world on the brink of/and then at war.
And yet, for Caracciola it was all about the racing, as I’ve often found with the classic racers, and not the fame or the money:
“I’ve had no other passion in life than to race automobiles, to be the fraction of a second faster than the other fellow.”
The book also details his close relationship with Mercedes-Benz and the almost father-like Neubauer. It is also clear that racers such as Caracciola were of immense value to car firms back then, and not merely disposable employees, as appears to be the case today. Near the end of Caracciola’s career he received the following communication from a Dr. Kissel at Mercedes-Benz:
“In view of the enormous services rendered us with the skill and courage of your driving throughout all the years in which you took part in racing and other sports events for our firm, we are allocating on your behalf the salary of a director. Let us take this opportunity to thank you once again with all our heart for the victories you’ve won for us. At the same time we wish to express our gratitude to your wife for the devoted co-operation she has so generously given us on every occasion.”
If you have just the smallest desire to know more about the history of motorsport, this book is a must. But you’ll struggle to get one. There are a few used copies for sale at Amazon, snap them up here