Paul Pietsch

Basic human relationships are often overlooked in the motor racing world but are sometimes the explanation behind what looks from the outside like erratic behaviour amongst the Formula 1 stars. It is a fact of life that now and then one driver will fall for the wife of another and so on. The story of Paul Pietsch is perhaps a good illustration of that.

Born in Freiburg in southern Germany in 1911, he worked for the family brewery and in 1932 was able to buy himself a Bugatti Type 35 from Hans von Morgen. He was successful in many hillclimb events and although the Bugatti was already outmoded he raced in the German GP that year. He went on to buy an Alfa Romeo Monza and in 1934 won not only hillclimbs but also the Norwegian and Swedish ice races and showed well at AVUS and in the Eifelrennen. Unfortunately he had a big accident on the Gabelbach hillclimb and broke his leg badly. The Auto Union team manager Willy Walb had been impressed however and when Pietsch had recovered he went for an Auto Union try-out at the Nurburgring, along with another youngster Bernd Rosemeyer. Pietsch was quicker.

Both men were hired as the junior drivers alongside Achille Varzi and Hans Stuck Sr. The Type B AutoUnion was by no means an easy car to drive but Rosemeyer quickly became the ascendant star while Pietsch seemed to struggle. It was perhaps due to the fact that his wife Ilse had started an affair with Varzi. At the end of the year Pietsch was dropped by the team but Ilse went on to influence racing considerably the following year when she introduced Varzi to morphine, a drug with which he quickly became addicted. It took the great star 10 years to get over the addiction.

Pietsch returned to racing in the voiturette classes with Maseratis in 1937 and 1938. In 1939 he was entrusted with one of the 3-litre Grand Prix Maseratis, causing consternation amongst Nazi officials by leading the silver cars in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. In the end however he spun twice and lost time in the pits and so finished third.

The war robbed Pietsch of what would have been his greatest years as a racing driver but he raced again in the post-war years, campaigning Alfa Romeos. He was still racing when the World Championship began in 1950 and made his F1 debut at the age of 40 in the 1950 Italian GP.

Later he founded the highly-respected "Auto Motor und Sport" magazine in Stuttgart, a magazine on which Norbert Haug made his name in the 1980s before becoming the head of Mercedes-Benz motorsport activities.