Grands Prix are typically named after the country or location they are held in, but this weekend’s race is a little different and instead commemorates a very special milestone: 70 years of the Formula One World Championship.
The sport has changed a lot from that first F1 championship event at Silverstone in 1950 to the modern F1 we know today. However, the essence of F1 remains the same – to put the greatest cars and drivers up against one another, to battle it out on track for wins and Championship titles.
Mercedes made its first F1 appearance at the 1954 French Grand Prix, just over 66 years ago, with the stunning Mercedes-Benz W 196. A car that quickly became renowned for being ahead of its time, the Silver Arrow conquered the sport from its very first race and won nine of the 12 rounds that it competed in across the ’54 and ’55 seasons.
So, to mark F1’s remarkable milestone this weekend, we’re taking a closer look at the first Mercedes F1 car to race a Grand Prix – the W 196.
- The W 196 was run in two versions during its time in F1: the ‘Monoposto’, open-wheel version and the ‘Streamliner’, closed-wheel version – which was optimised for straight-line speed.
- The ‘Streamliner’ version of the W 196 has become an icon of motorsport history, but it was actually the ‘Monoposto’ that competed in more races.
- The ‘Streamliner’ version of the car was used for the opening two races of the 1954 season and it wasn’t until the third round that the ‘Monoposto’ variant first appeared.
- 14 W 196s, including the prototype, were built during its short but highly successful stint in F1.
- The ‘Streamliner’ W 196’s three victories at the 1954 French Grand Prix, 1954 Italian Grand Prix and 1955 Italian Grand Prix are the only F1 races to be won by a closed-wheel car.
- It was the first F1 car to use direct injection (where fuel is injected into the combustion chamber rather than the inlet manifold) and desmodromic valves (engine valves that have two cams and two actuators, each for positive opening and closing without a return spring)
- The W 196’s 2.5-litre 8-cylinder engine produced 256 hp in 1954, but this was improved to 290 hp for the next season. It reached top speeds of over 300 km/h.
- 1955 also introduced three different wheelbase lengths for the W 196, in order to better suit specific tracks. The shortest of the three was specifically built for Monaco but was also made available at other tracks.
- During the course of the 1955 season, Mercedes also managed to trim off around 70kg from the weight of the car.
- You can tell the difference between the 1954 W 196 chassis and the 1955 variant, because the 1955 car has an air scoop fitted to the front-right of the car.
- Of the nine victories the W 196 scored, eight of them were with Juan Manuel Fangio behind the wheel. The other was Sir Stirling Moss’s famous 1955 British Grand Prix win, in which he led home a Mercedes 1-2-3-4.
- A non-Championship race in Buenos Aires in 1955, just a few weeks after the official Argentinean Grand Prix, was won by Fangio in a W 196 that was fitted with a 3-litre engine, with Mercedes using this open-formula race to test a new engine that was later used in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
- The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR race car from 1955 was heavily based on the W 196, sharing many of the same components but instead wearing a two-seater sports car bodywork over the top.
- Just four F1 teams have won their debut F1 race: Alfa Romeo in 1950, Mercedes in 1954, Wolf in 1977 and Brawn GP in 2009.