Alfred Neubauer – the legendary racing manager at Mercedes-Benz.

In our print edition we tell the story of the triumphant

motor racing season of 1955. Alfred Neubauer was one

of the key figures in this success.

  • Alfred Neubauer – the legendary racing manager at Mercedes-Benz

  • The invention of the pit strategy.

    Without him there would have been no such position as racing manager, no pit strategy and none of the meticulous preparation that went into each race. From 1926 until 1955, Alfred Neubauer was one of the key figures in the Mercedes-Benz’s success. He was born on 29 March 1891 in Nový Jičín, near Ostrava, in what is now the Czech Republic. His father was a carpenter and cabinetmaker. As a child, Alfred had developed a passion for the then still relatively new invention of the automobile; it was a passion that he would never lose.

    The team signed on at the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG - Daimler Motor Corporation) in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim on 1 July 1923, where 32-year-old Neubauer became head of the driving and testing department.

    From 1923 on Neubauer worked for the DMG.

    In 1912 Neubauer joined Austro-Daimler in Wiener Neustadt to train as an artillery technician. He saw service in the First World War, but retained his links with Austro-Daimler throughout the war years 1914 to 1918, becoming the head of their automobile testing department following the end of the war. In 1922 Neubauer joined a group of fellow-employees leaving Austro-Daimler in the wake of director Ferdinand Porsche.

    From 1923 on Neubauer worked for the DMG.

    In 1912 Neubauer joined Austro-Daimler in Wiener Neustadt to train as an artillery technician. He saw service in the First World War, but retained his links with Austro-Daimler throughout the war years 1914 to 1918, becoming the head of their automobile testing department following the end of the war. In 1922 Neubauer joined a group of fellow-employees leaving Austro-Daimler in the wake of director Ferdinand Porsche.

    The team signed on at the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG - Daimler Motor Corporation) in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim on 1 July 1923, where 32-year-old Neubauer became head of the driving and testing department.

    Neubauer initially drove in races himself.

    Even back then, motor racing was Neubauer’s life – and he also drove in races himself. In 1924, for instance, he finished 16th in the Targa Florio, a race in which he had already competed in 1922 – back then in the “Sascha” racing car designed by Ferdinand Porsche. But he soon recognized that his forte lay more in organizing than driving. His first invention: a special system of flags and boards to keep drivers on the track properly informed.

    The birth of the “racing manager”.

    Neubauer’s idea made its debut at a race in 1926 on the Solitude circuit near Stuttgart, and immediately caused a scandal: the (true) manager, or steward, of the race demanded that Neubauer should give up his “antics”, as he was annoying the drivers. But Neubauer was undeterred. His obstinacy was rewarded with numerous triumphs, not least the winning of the 1931 Mille Miglia by Rudolf Caracciola in the Mercedes-Benz SSKL. This master stroke was actually achieved without full support from the factory, which apparently even spurred Neubauer on all the more.

    The dawn of the Silver Arrows era.

    Alfred Neubauer became famous in the years 1934 to 1939 when the first generation of the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows began racing, bringing in their wake success off the production line. His physical size soon became as legendary as the characteristic scream of the compressor engines.

    There was never any doubt about who was in charge in the pit lane when Neubauer was around. One of his little quirks was that, each time his team won, he would throw his hat underneath the wheels of the winning car as it crossed the finishing line.

    From 1939 until 1945 Neubauer was responsible for organizing the company's repair workshops before he set to work helping with the reconstruction of 'his' factory as of 1946.

    “Don Alfredo” was just one of his nicknames.

    Neubauer left absolutely nothing to chance, scribbling down everything of importance in meticulous detail in a series of little black notebooks. The Mercedes team referred to him reverentially as “the fat man” or “Don Alfredo” – but of course only when he wasn’t around to hear them! Their respect for the racing manager was too great to do otherwise. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, brought an end to motor racing for the time being.

    “Don Alfredo” was just one of his nicknames.

    Neubauer left absolutely nothing to chance, scribbling down everything of importance in meticulous detail in a series of little black notebooks. The Mercedes team referred to him reverentially as “the fat man” or “Don Alfredo” – but of course only when he wasn’t around to hear them! Their respect for the racing manager was too great to do otherwise. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, brought an end to motor racing for the time being.

    From 1939 until 1945 Neubauer was responsible for organizing the company's repair workshops before he set to work helping with the reconstruction of 'his' factory as of 1946.

    The Silver Arrows go from strength to strength.

    It was not until 1950 that Alfred Neubauer was once again invited to set up a department for motor racing. His meticulous planning first paved the way to success for the Mercedes-Benz sports cars. Wins with the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194) in Le Mans and in the Carrera Panamericana were the highlights of the 1952 season. In 1954 and 1955 Juan Manuel Fangio became Formula 1 World Champion in the W 196 R.

    This success was further enhanced in 1955 by victory in the World Sportscar Championship, including triumph in the Mille Miglia with the 300 SLR (W 196 S), and in the European Touring Car Championship with the 300 SL (W 198 I).

    The curtain falls at the end of the season.

    The victories of 1955 were overshadowed by the catastrophe that took place in Le Mans. 84 people died when Pierre Levegh’s 300 SLR was catapulted, through no fault of his own, into one of the grandstands. Even before this tragedy it had in fact already been decided that Mercedes-Benz as a company would withdraw from motor racing at the end of the 1955 season. Alfred Neubauer learned of this Board of Management decision on the evening of that famous double victory in the Targa Florio.

    The curtain falls at the end of the season.

    The victories of 1955 were overshadowed by the catastrophe that took place in Le Mans. 84 people died when Pierre Levegh’s 300 SLR was catapulted, through no fault of his own, into one of the grandstands. Even before this tragedy it had in fact already been decided that Mercedes-Benz as a company would withdraw from motor racing at the end of the 1955 season. Alfred Neubauer learned of this Board of Management decision on the evening of that famous double victory in the Targa Florio.

    The racing cars are mothballed.

    At the celebrations to mark the end of the season, the successful Mercedes racing cars were draped in dust sheets – an image with symbolic power. Neubauer, tears in his eyes, is one of those helping. He would go on to work for another seven years, helping to promote the history and tradition of Mercedes-Benz. Even after that, he was always a welcome guest at the museum, for his talent as a raconteur was as legendary as his reputation as an organizer.

    “The king among racing managers” died on 21 August 1980 at the age of 89.

    Photo gallery Alfred Neubauer.

    Photo gallery: The 1955 motor racing season.

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