1939 European Championship Was Title Nobody Won

HARD RACERS: Rudolf Caracciola (left) and Hermann Lang during the 1937 European racing season. (Mercedes Photo)
HARD RACERS: Rudolf Caracciola (left) and Hermann Lang during the 1937 European racing season. (Mercedes Photo)

In the 1930s, The International Ass’n of Recognized Automobile Clubs sanctioned a European Drivers Championship for Grand Prix cars consisting of the established national Grand Prix races, called Grandes Epreuves, literally “great tests.”

The scoring system was unusual to say the least — the lowest score won. A race winner received one point, with two points for second and three for third.

That was the simple part. Any driver below third who finished the full distance tallied four points, running more than 75 percent of the laps garnered five points, more than 50 percent six points, more than 25 percent seven points, and less than 25 percent eight points.

The math was difficult, but there were no arguments when Rudolf Caracciola won the title for Mercedes-Benz in 1935, 1937 and 1938, or when Bernd Rosemeyer won for AutoUnion in 1936.

For 1939, five races were on the championship schedule. A plan for a simpler, “high score wins” point system had been submitted to the International Sports Commission, but it was tabled for 1939.

Hermann Lang won the opener in Belgium for Mercedes-Benz while Hermann Muller took the French Grand Prix in an Auto Union. Each retired late in the race he did not win for five points. So Lang and Muller were tied after two races with six points each. The German Grand Prix saw Lang retire before the halfway mark as Muller finished second to Caracciola. Muller now led the point race eight to 13.

In Switzerland, Lang won his second Grande Epreuve in four tries, but Muller was fourth on the lead lap. Unable to shake his bad race on home ground in Germany, Lang was still down 12 to 14 with the Italian Grand Prix in September becoming uncertain due to delays in construction work at Monza.

That became irrelevant when the Nazi blitzkrieg was unleashed on Poland on Sept. 3. With war in progress, the CSI could not meet to either award Muller the title or declare it vacant. With no such reticence, the Nazi Ministry of Sport declared Hermann Lang “Europameister” by the authority of the der Fuhrer himself.

Certainly, Lang was more successful during the season than Muller. Lang won seven races overall, while the French Grand Prix was Muller’s only victory. But Muller led the championship by the scoring system on the books of the governing body. In the absence of a CSI verdict, it became the championship nobody won.

Both Lang and Muller survived the war and raced with success afterward. Lang won LeMans in 1952 and drove for the Mercedes-Benz F-1 team in 1954. Muller returned to motorcycles and became 1955 250 cc world champion for NSU.

Muller died in 1975 and Lang, a faithful Daimler-Benz company man until his retirement, passed away in 1987.