Stepping back in time
in the Silver Arrow
Juan Manuel Fangio hardly had any buttons
to push in 1955 – yet he was still
Today's drivers like Rosberg make more than 200 inputs per lap.
Steering, changing gear, pushing buttons – drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher had to make more than 200 inputs per lap during the last Monaco Grand Prix in order to negotiate their Silver Arrow through the narrow streets of the principality. But what was it like in the cockpit in the early years of the Formula One World Championship?
Back in 1955, as many as four Mercedes-Benz drivers took to the wheel of the Mercedes W 196 for the Monaco Grand Prix. Alongside racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio, the likes of André Simon, Hans Herrmann and Stirling Moss also raced in the Silver Arrow. Fangio was the fastest man on the street circuit, taking pole position and also setting the fastest lap of the race.
Drivers sat in the W 196 like sitting on a sofa.
In those days the cockpit looked completely different to what it does today: while today's modern Formula 1 drivers virtually sit in a horizontal position in their Silver Arrows, their 1950s counterparts sat behind the wheel pretty much as if sitting on a living room sofa. Their legs were spread wide apart to be able to reach the pedals positioned on the far left (clutch) and far right (accelerator, brake). The seat consisted of various upholstered individual elements – not quite the custom-made moulded carbon elements which today's drivers sit in.
Initially, the seat fabric came in a blue/yellow/orange check pattern, but over the years this gave way to a check pattern primarily made up of green and red.
Incidentally, the traditional check pattern was revived for the team presentation in Stuttgart in 2010. Likewise the name: the "W" in the MGP W01/MGP W 02 stands for "Wagen" (German for car), just as with the previous Silver Arrows.
A special steering wheel for Stirling Moss.
The steering of the W 196 consisted of a compact steering gear with Daimler-Benz cam-and-lever unit mounted on top of the frame. The lack of a push rod meant that the steering axis was relatively long. The steering wheel had four spokes and wood-clad aluminium core. Only British driver Stirling Moss insisted on using a specially produced version: his steering wheel had three spokes.
The focal point of the dashboard, which was somewhat spartan by today's standards, was the rev counter which had a red zone starting at 8750 rpm. Apart from that, there were only two or three analogue displays to update the driver on the temperatures of the main systems – that was basically it.
Compare that with the current MGP W 02, whose steering wheel alone features around 32 individual functions, including ten different display functions. These are features that Juan Manuel Fangio and the others drivers could only ever have dreamed of - nevertheless, they were still extremely fast drivers.