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MAY 21, 2002

Disobeying team orders at Monaco

Sixty-Five years ago the British journalist George Monkhouse travelled around Europe, reporting on the adventures of Dick Seaman, the English driver in the factory Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team. That summer Seaman was injured and rather than sit around while Seaman recovered from his injuries Monkhouse decided to go to Monaco for the 1937 Grand Prix.

His only problem was crossing the border into France because the customs officers seemed convinced that he was a German spy until he produced a photograph of Jean-Pierre Wimille at the wheel of a Grand Prix Bugatti.

When he arrived in Monaco Monkhouse found a mighty entry for 100-lap race. Auto Union had three cars for Bernd Rosemeyer, Hans Stuck and Rudi Hasse, Mercedes had four W125s for Rudi Caracciola, Manfred Von Brauchitsch, Christian Kautz and Freddy Zehender. Scuderia Ferrari was out in force with its Alfa Romeos, albeit without Tazio Nuvolari, who was too busy testing a new car in preparation for its debut at Pescara. The team had Giuseppe Farina, Antonio Brivio in 12Cs and Carlo Pintacuda in an older 8C.

Qualifying resulted in Caracciola setting the fastest time from Von Brauchitsch, Rosemeyer, Stuck, Kautz, Hasse and Zehender filling the first three rows of the 3-2-3 grid. The only non-German car as eighth-placed Farina but he was six seconds slower than Caracciola's best.

The race started with Caracciola heading off into the lead pursued by Von Brauchitsch and Rosemeyer. Hasse disappeared on the first lap when he wrecked his Auto Union in the tunnel and the rest were unable to keep up. It was not long before Rosemeyer ran into trouble because he was having to drive too hard to stay with the leaders and so he dropped back leaving the two Mercedes men out in front. Once things had cooled down he attacked again but on lap 19 he crashed into the sand bags at the Gasworks Hairpin.

This left Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch unchallenged. The Prussian aristocrat was not interested in team orders however and set the fastest lap as he closed on the leader. Mercedes-Benz team manager Alfred Neubauer became increasingly uncomfortable but Von Brauchitsch merely stuck his tongue out each time he went past the pits.

Caracciola fought hard to keep Von Brauchitsch behind him and on lap 41 this resulted in him being forced to pit with burnt spark plugs. He dropped a lap behind but drove hard enough to unlap himself on lap 55 and when Von Brauschitsch pitted on lap 69 the two men were back together again.

Brauchitsch began sticking his tongue out at the pits again as the cars hurtled past side by side with the team attempting to flag him down for lap after lap. Caracciola fell back for a period but then managed to get ahead again but Von Brauschitsch was not worried because he could see the white canvas showing through Caracciola's rear tires.

It was inevitable that Caracciola would have to pit - which he did on lap 80.

Despite the flagrant disregard for team orders the Mercedes-Benz team welcomed Van Brauchitsch's victory. Both men had pushed to the limit (Caracciola's lap record would not be broken until 1955) and the day ended with a Mercedes-Benz 1-2-3.

Much better publicity than a staged event...