Manfred von Brauchitsch  Germany

  • Full name Manfred Georg Rudolf von Brauchitsch
  • Nickname Der Pechvogel (Unlucky Bird)
  • Birth date August 15, 1905
  • Birthplace Hamburg, Germany
  • Date of death February 5, 2003 (97 years 174 days)
  • Place of death Gräfenwarth, Schleiz, Germany
  • Teams Mercedes
driver portrait

Manfred von Brauchitsch was one of the legendary Mercedes team which, along with the Auto Union outfit, dominated motor racing for much of the 1930s. However, he too often had to play second fiddle to team-mates such as Rudolf Caracciola, Luigi Fagioli and Hermann Lang, and his aristocratic upbringing meant he was often contemptuous of the working-class Lang. He never gave anything less than his all, and in an era when machines were less reliable, that often cost him success which he might have achieved had he been more circumspect. It was fitting his nickname was Pechvogel - the unlucky fellow. He had his days. In 1937 he drove brilliantly, albeit ignoring team orders, to hold off his senior partner Caracciola to record his first major win.

He was destined for a military career - his uncle was to become commander- in-chief of the German Army under Hitler before being dismissed after the failure to take Moscow in December 1941 - but a motorbike accident ended those hopes. While convalescing he became interested in fast cars and in 1929 entered and won his first race, a hill-climb near Salzburg.

A notable win at the AVUS circuit in Berlin in a Mercedes-Benz SSK earned him a spot on the newly-formed official Mercedes team which enjoyed massive budgets courtesy of hefty investment from the Nazi-controlled German government. But his excellent form deserted him as soon as he joined. In 1935 he only managed two podiums, but would have won the German Grand Prix had his tyres not shredded on the final lap, and in 1936 his best was seventh in the same race.

His fortunes turned in 1937 at Monaco and his second win came in the next year's French Grand Prix at Rheims, a victory followed by a near-death incident when his car was engulfed in a fireball at a pit-stop.

In 1939 Lang dominated with five wins in eight races, but von Brauchitsch finished with second place in the Belgrade Grand Prix, staged on the day was broke out all over Europe.

In the war he worked for the armaments ministry, and that allied to the family connections with the army made things hard for him after 1945. He tried and failed in business, and in 1953 he was arrested on suspicion of treason against the federal republic. On his release he defected to East Germany, partly to avoid massive debts, where he became head of the country's motor sports association.

After unification he made occasional appearances at Mercedes events where his haughty demeanour was still in evidence.

At the time of his death he was the oldest man alive to have driven in a grand prix and the last to have won one before the war.

He had little time for modern racing, dismissing the modern Formula One drivers as "overpaid pimps".
Martin Williamson

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