On July 4, 1954, over 300,000 eager motor racing fans descended on Reims in anticipation of the start of the 41st ACF Grand Prix. The race on the triangular circuit promised a feast of entertainment since, in addition to the Italian Ferraris and Maseratis and the French Gordinis, Mercedes-Benz was now also making a re-appearance for the first time since 1939. Three Silver Arrows with spectacular state-of-the-art streamlined bodies were to take on the opposition; the cars’ designers were convinced they would Prove more than capable of upholding the Mercedes tradition and continuing the legend of the Silver Arrows and their winning formula.
Sure enough, in what proved a sensational first outing, Mercedes driver Juan Manuel Fangio broke the 200 km/h mark on a European road circuit within the first hour of time trials to join Karl Kling on the front row of the starting grid alongside the 1953 World champion Alberto Ascari in a Maserati. The third member of the team, rookie Hans Herrmann, surprised even himself by taking the fifth position in the starting line-up, hemmed in on all sides by Ferraris and Maseratis. With 61 laps and 506.42 kilometers to cover, the starter’s flag got the race underway at 2:45 pm Fangio and Kling immediately took the lead and proceeded to hold on to it for the rest of the race. Ascari was forced to retire during the first Lap, and by lap seven Hans Herrmann had moved up to third place, recording the fastest lap of the day in the process. But he had perhaps demanded too much of his engine, which, given the time pressure the team was under, had undergone Less than thorough testing in preparation. His car finally gave up the ghost on lap 17.
To the delight of the German fans, the lead changed hands between between Fangio and Kling. In the end, it was Fangio who took the checkered flag just one hundredth of a second – less than a meter – ahead of his teammate. A one- And there were five more such double victories to come in the remaining races of the 1954/55 season, not to mention the four single wins and the sprinkling of second, third, and fourth places – in total, 10 wins from 13 Grand Prix races.
With the in-house designation W 196 R, Mercedes-Benz staged a comeback in an impressive style. To the general delight of the race-going public and press alike, new life had been breathed into the legend of the Silver Arrows.