A racing driver for Daimler-Benz from the 1920s, continuing to race until 1952
Hardly a race that he didn't win
Rudolf Caracciola was born in Remagen, Germany, on 30 January 1901. Both his parents were enthusiastic about motor sports and, at the age of 15, he obtained special permission to take his driving test. He started his over 30-year racing career as a motorcyclist. Aged 21, he won the 'Round Cologne' race in 1922, as a result of which car manufacturer Fafnir entered him in the Avus Race in Berlin. Having finished a respectable fourth and quickly going on to win at Berlin's Grunewald stadium in an Ego compact car, Caracciola applied to Daimler-Benz AG – starting his racing driver career in the era of compressor cars. In 1923, he raced for the first time as a works driver in a Mercedes 1.5-litre racing car in Baden-Baden and went on to take eleven more first places that year. He achieved an impressive level of success over the years, notching up victory after victory. There was hardly a race that he didn't win. His ability to drive quickly and safely even in bad weather resulted in admiration among his fellow racing drivers and earned him the nickname 'rain master'.
The course of history meant that Caracciola drove during three different racing eras during his more than 30-year career. Before the Second World War, he first dominated the era of compressor cars with their sheer power and then took a succession of victories in cars with a much more sophisticated construction. These 'Silver Arrows' increasingly evolved into finely integrated single systems. Caracciola put on a virtuoso performance in both types: He secured countless victories in the K, S, SS, SSK and SSKL racing cars, including taking the title in the European Hill Climb Championship in 1930 and 1931. Between 1934 and 1939, in the Mercedes-Benz racing cars known as 'Silver Arrows', he came first in 16 Grand Prix races and, in 1935, 1937 and 1938, won the European championship – the equivalent of the Formula 1 world championship today. Caracciola also set numerous records. Particularly spectacular was his record-breaking drive in January 1938, when he reached 432.7 km/h on the motorway between Frankfurt am Main and Darmstadt – the fastest speed ever achieved on a public road to the present day.
After the war, it appeared that he would emulate his past successes, for example when he came fourth in the 1952 Mille Miglia. But an accident ended his racing career permanently. At the Berne Grand Prix in 1952, the left rear wheel of his Mercedes-Benz 300 SL locked up on the 13th lap and he skidded into a tree. He shattered his left leg and was reliant on a wheelchair and crutches for a long time. From 1956 he worked in a representative capacity for Daimler-Benz and was in charge of Mercedes-Benz vehicle sales to the families of US and British troops stationed in Europe. On 28 September 1959, Rudolf Caracciola died in Kassel at the age of 58.