Simon Says… Change Drivers!

Simon Says… Change Drivers! - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston

Sehr geehrter Herr Kollege! There has been some last-minute drama. ‘Mercedes-Benz-Team’ cannot field their driver. A substitute has been chosen, and he is already revelling in the ‘Mercedes-Benz-Formel-rennwagen’. The drive has gone to… André Simon.

Who?! What?!

Mercedes Driver Announcement, Monaco 1955 - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston
Mercedes Driver Announcement, Monaco 1955

Monaco and Mercedes have history. The race began in 1929 – as Caracciola and the SSK were creating legend – and was Mercedes-Benz dominated, 1935-’37. It would be eleven years before Grands Prix – the new Formula One – would return to Monte Carlo. Seven more until Mercedes-Benz returned to the streets.

The 1955 Monaco Grand Prix – the first European World Championship race of the season – saw an exceptional entry of drivers & marques. Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari… Mercedes-Benz, who brought three different versions of their W196. Moss & Fangio got new short-wheelbase models, with outboard front drum brakes. Unsure how the short car would handle, the two had slightly different engine positions.

The Herrmann / Simon W196 (normal wheelbase, inboard brakes) at Monaco, 1955 - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston
The Herrmann / Simon W196 (normal wheelbase, inboard brakes) at Monaco, 1955

There was little to fear. In first practice on Thursday afternoon, Fangio – on his short, engine-forward W196 – smashed Caracciola’s 1937 lap record. The new 2.5-litre Mercedes lapping 5.4sec faster than the 5.6-litre, supercharged 1937 model! Ascari would later match Fangio’s time, on the works’ Lancia D50.

The third W196 – a familiar, conventional open-wheel version – was to be driven by Hans Herrmann. Lang was still recovering after the Mille Miglia. A fourth W196 acted as T-car. Allowing engineer Uhlenhaut to see how his machines coped with the streets of Monte Carlo.

All was well, organised, accounted-for – in the Mercedes-Benz fashion. Then Herrmann lost it at Massenet, smashing through the stone pallisade. Car wrecked, man broken.

André Simon - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston
André Simon

Luckily, 34-year-old Parisian André Simon was entered on a private Maserati. Thankfully, he was also a Mercedes-Benz reserve who was being considered for Le Mans. And so, a press release from Untertürkheim… and Simon on a W196 for the 6am Friday practice.

The Herrmann crash was the start of a uncommonly poor, unlucky weekend for Mercedes-Benz.

Fangio started from pole position, Moss from third – and they soon settled into that so familiar ‘train’ at the front of the race. Fangio, commanding. Until lap 50 – half distance – when his transmission broke, at the station. Moss assumed the lead, a victory certain, until… smoke! The W196 blew out its oil, and Stirling parked it at the pits.

Moss & Uhlenhaut confer - Racing Daydreams by Colin Johnston
Moss & Uhlenhaut confer

But what of our substitute, André Simon? He qualified 10th but his engine also let go, just before quarter distance. The entire Mercedes-Benz squad out of the race, the way was clear for Ascari on the brilliant Lancia… until Alberto put it in the harbour!

Mercedes-Benz would have to wait until 2013 for their first Formula One Monaco Grand Prix win.

André Simon would get his chances later in 1955 on the Mercedes W196S sportscar. Notably finishing 3rd at the Dundrod TT, with Kling and von Trips. A placing that meant the Championship would go down to the wire at the Targa Florio. His journeyman career would continue through to the mid-sixties. His greatest success, winning the 1962 Tour de France on a Ferrari 250 GT.

Hans Herrmann would go on to become a sportscar legend. But ‘Lucky Hans’ would sit out the rest of 1955 as he recovered from his injuries. His seat for Le Mans went, instead, to Pierre ‘Levegh’…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Racing Daydreams - Ardscull
Featured Grands Prix Ireland

The Road to Ballyshannon – Gordon Bennett

It’s not so much raining as there’s more humidity than the sky can bear. It pattered down most of the night. Now it hangs in the air – spritzes as you walk. I quietly leave the rooms, grab a cap from the car, and walk to the town square. Past the memorial plaque, and the […]

Read More...
Racing Daydreams - Imola 1982
Featured Grands Prix

40 Years of Daydreams

This Sunday, Ferrari will line-up a pair of turbocharged, ground-effect Grand Prix cars on the Imola grid for their two, young hot-shoes. And I will smile, perhaps raise a glass. Think about what motorsport has given me, and those no longer with us. The day after the 2022 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, Monday 25 April, will […]

Read More...
Racing Daydream - Lewis Hamilton
Grands Prix

The Best, or Nothing – A New Grand Prix Formula for 2022

Director Sailer, who was in great form at the Mercedes dinner, made a most amusing speech concerning his early motor-racing career, and ended up by saying, “Some people think that motor-racing is no longer interesting, because Mercedes-Benz always win – we cannot help this, as we have been winning races for forty years, and do […]

Read More...