France 1954 - Mercedes return in style 02 Jul 2003
The 1954 French Grand Prix was notable for more than one reason. Not only did it mark the return of Mercedes to Grand Prix racing after a 20-year absence, the race also produced one of the closest finishes in the history of Formula One racing.
With Germany banned from international motor sport in the immediate post-war era, Mercedes had plenty of time to prepare their comeback, and they made it in some style at the picturesque Reims circuit.
Alongside Mercedes' gleaming silver W196 cars, with their streamlined profile and fully enclosed bodywork, the rest of the field looked instantly outdated. And that was before they even took to the track.
Mercedes had prised championship leader Juan Manuel Fangio away from Maserati to head the team and he was joined by German drivers Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann. Fangio promptly put the new car on pole, with Kling and the Maserati of Alberto Ascari alongside him.
Kling got the better start and led into the first corner from Fangio, with the Ferrari of Froilan Gonzalez moving up from the second row into third. Fangio soon passed his team mate, though, to assume a lead he would keep, unchallenged, to the chequered flag.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, was helpless to stop the two German cars pulling away and soon had the third Mercedes of Herrman on his tail. The pair's hard-fought battle came to an abrupt end on Lap 13, when the Argentine's Ferrari spun out of contention, its engine ablaze. Herrman's race then ended just three laps later, also in engine failure.
However, Herrman's retirement was of little consequence, thanks to the crushing defeat inflicted by Mercedes on their rivals. Fangio backed off in the closing stages to lead home a formation finish, crossing the line just 0.1 seconds ahead of team mate Kling, but a lap ahead of the third-placed Ferrari of Robert Manzon.
Fangio went on to win three of the five remaining rounds of the 1954 season and to clinch his second drivers' title, all at the wheel of the W196. The three-pointed star of Mercedes was most definitely shining again.