The Mercedes-Benz W196
The Mercedes-Benz W196 was the Mercedes-Benz Formula One entry in the 1954 and 1955 Formula One seasons. It won 9 of 12 races in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss.
Firsts included the use of desmodromic valves and fuel injection developed by Mercedes engineers through experience gained on the DB 600 series of engines used on the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter and others during World War II.
The 300SLR was derived from the W196 for the 1955 World Sportscar Championship season.
The W196’s delayed debut on the 1954 French Grand Prix circuit saw the introduction of the aerodynamic aluminium “Type Monza” body for the high speed track at Reims-Gueux, Fangio and Karl Kling claiming a 1–2 finish and youngster Hans Herrmann posting fastest lap. The same body was later used at Monza, where it picked up its nickname.
Attractive as it was, the streamlined Monza body was not suitable for twistier tracks, leading to defeat at its second race at Silverstone. A conventional open-wheel-version was introduced at the Nürburgring. Fangio, who had already won the first two GPs of 1954 with a Maserati, won this and the two following GPs, securing his 2nd World Championship.
At the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix in late October the low-mounted Mercedes air-intake clogged with leaves, costing the race and leading to its relocation atop the hood.
In the shortened 1955 Formula One season, abbreviated after the 1955 Le Mans disaster, the W196 won all but the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix, Hans Herrmann crashing in practice, and the other three team Mercedes cars failing to finish. A highlight for driver Stirling Moss was his finish 0.2 seconds ahead of stable mate Fangio at his home event, the 1955 British Grand Prix, his first GP win, a race where Mercedes romped home with a 1-2-3-4 finish.
After capturing all three world championships it competed in, Mercedes withdrew from motorsport at the end of the 1955 season. Despite its strong reliability and good track performance, drivers Fangio and Moss described the car in MotorSport magazine as being “a bit difficult to drive, with a tendency for snap oversteer”. Moss also later said that “I’m surprised that the Merc wasn’t a little bit easier to drive, because it wasn’t. It was a driver’s car, but not an easy car to drive.” Fangio shared similar feelings, also saying in MotorSport Magazine in 1979 that the car was “not so nice to drive as a Maserati, but you were almost sure to finish. So the Mercedes was incredible in that way.”
The new 1954 Formula One rules allowed engines of 2.5 litres naturally aspirated or, alternatively, 0.75 litres supercharged. The expected target range for competitive engines was 250 to 300 bhp (190 to 220 kW).
Mercedes’ 1939 2-stage supercharged 1.5-litre 64.0×58.0 mm V8 (1,493 cc or 91.1 cu in) gave 278 bhp (207 kW) at 8,250 rpm with about 2.7 atm (270 kPa) pressure. Halving this would have only produced 139 bhp (104 kW).
Studies by Mercedes showed that 290 bhp (220 kW) at 10,000 rpm could be achieved from 0.75 litres with a supercharger pressure of 4.4 atm (450 kPa). 390 shp (290 kW) would have been developed with 100 hp (75 kW) being required to drive the supercharger. Fuel consumption would have been 2.3 times higher than a naturally aspirated engine developing the same power. Since 115 bhp/l (86 kW/l) at 9,000 rpm was being developed by naturally aspirated motorcycle racing engines, it was decided that a 2.5-litre engine was the correct choice. This was a significant change of philosophy, since all previous Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix engines since the 1920s had been supercharged.
The 2,496.87 cc (152.368 cu in) straight 8 (76.0×68.8 mm) gave 257 bhp (192 kW) at the 1954 French GP which was its first race. During 1955, this had increased to 290 bhp (220 kW) at 8,500 rpm. The 2,981.70 cc (181.954 cu in) sports car (78.0×78.0 mm) gave 310 bhp (230 kW) at 7,500 rpm and was a bored and stroked version of the F1 engine complete with desmodromic valves and fuel injection. Variable length inlet tracts were experimented with and four wheel drive considered. An eventual 340 bhp (250 kW) at 10,000 rpm was targeted for the 2.5-litre F1 motor.
All versions used well triangulated spaceframes of round-section tubes.
The diameter of the drum brakes was too large to allow them to be fitted inside the wheel rims, so they were fitted inboard front and rear, with short half shafts and two universal joints per wheel.
Torsion bars, fitted inside the frame’s tubes where used in the double wishbone front suspension and the rear suspension, which featured a modified swing axle, with long arms and a low pivot point for each side, the pivot points near the other side wheel, not unlike later Ford’s Twin-I-Beam type front suspension, in an effort to overcome the undesirable camber changes of swing axle suspensions. Nevertheless, as cited above, nasty snap-oversteer was not eliminated.
Sale in 2013
The Mercedes-Benz W196 was sold in 2013 at Bonhams auction for $29.6M.