Richard John Beattie Seaman

Richard John Beattie Seaman

3/2/1913 - 25/6/1939

Seaman was one of if not the greatest British pre-war Grand Prix driver. He famously drove for the Mercedes-Benz team from 1937-1939, winning the 1938 German Grand Prix in the W125 car. He was killed while leading the the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. In the wet, he crashed into a tree on lap 22.

Seaman was one of if not the greatest British pre-war Grand Prix driver. He famously drove for the Mercedes-Benz team from 1937-1939, winning the 1938 German Grand Prix in the W125 car having been personally selected by Adolf Hitler.

Garlanded in a giant laurel wreath, he took the podium and gave a Nazi salute. Not once, but twice. His friend, George Monkhouse, an engineer for Kodak and a celebrated trackside photographer, was there to record the scene.

Perhaps it had been a rather half-hearted salute and Dick had, it's true, whispered down to John Dugdale of the Autocar: 'I wish it had been a British car'; but he may well have said this out of courtesy. There was no British Grand Prix team at the time. No British car could get anywhere near the Reich's mighty Mercedes-Benzes and Auto-Unions.

As a sportsman, and a young man who chafed against incompetence, Dick was proud of the Germans' success. It might even encourage the chaps back in Blighty to get a grip. Seaman was born into a wealthy family and developed an enthusiasm for motoring in his childhood.

After studying at Cambridge University, in 1934 he resolved to become a racing driver and took his MG car to the European mainland to gain experience. He won the Voiturette race at Bremgarten at his first attempt. He won other small races for ERA and eventually Mercedes team chief Alfred Neubauer invited him for a trial at the Nürburgring.

Both Silver Arrows teams used to have at least one foreign driver, if available. In 1937 he signed for Mercedes-Benz against the wishes of his mother, who did not want him to drive for a Nazi team. Having a solid start to his career with Mercedes in 1937, he excelled in the 1938 season - he won the 1938 German Grand Prix and came second in the 1938 Swiss Grand Prix.

In December 1938 he married Erica Popp, the daughter of the director of BMW, again against his mothers' wishes. Leading the the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps during a wet race, he crashed his car into a tree during lap 22. It is thought he was using a line through a corner that was only normally used in the dry. On his death bed he remarked to the Mercedes chief engineer I was going too fast for the conditions - it was entirely my own fault - I am sorry. He died some hours after, at only 26 years of age, as Mercedes' only fatality during that time.

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