A Briton in the 1930s Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows team
One of the most promising drivers of his time
His dream came true when he drove for the Mercedes-Benz team
The era of the classic Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows in the period 1934 – 1939 is linked to the racing driver John Richard Beattie Seaman. The Englishman drove his first race in a Silver Arrow in the Tripoli Grand Prix on 9 May 1937. He drove his last race on
25 June 1939: he crashed in the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa and died from his severe injuries a few hours later.
Seaman was born into a wealthy, upper-class family on 4 February 1913. Becoming a racing driver was certainly an unusual career path for someone from that background. But Richard Seaman, known as Dick, showed an early and keen interest in cars and prevailed over his parents’ wishes in the choice of his career. From 1931 onwards, at the age of 18, he competed in motor-racing competitions and showed early talent. The young man soon began to dream of driving for one of the great German racing teams. In the summer of 1936 he is quoted as saying, “If I ever get a drive for Mercedes, I shall never drive for anybody else”. The dream came closer to reality when he received a telegram from racing manager Alfred Neubauer at the end of the 1936 season, inviting him to take part in trials at the Nürburgring in November. Seaman won through against 18 other competitors and was given one of two novice slots on the Mercedes-Benz team. His first race was in a W 125 racing car on 9 May 1937 in the Tripoli Grand Prix. Seaman only came seventh; however, he was in second place behind Hermann Lang and in front of Rudolf Caracciola for several laps of the race.
Seaman held his ground well in the international racing scene in the 1937 and 1938 seasons. He won the German Grand Prix on 24 July 1938, for instance. It was not easy for him, being an Englishman in Germany in the 1930s and driving for a German team, and he met with frequent hostility. When he then married a German, his mother broke off all contact with him. But by then, Seaman had long since centred his life in and around Germany.
25 June 1939 was a fateful day for Dick Seaman. At the Belgian Grand Prix he was desperate to put one over on the “Rain Master” Caracciola – for on the day of the race it was raining heavily on the track at Spa-Francorchamps. Seaman drove well: he was leading after only a few laps. He was already 31 seconds ahead of team-mate Hermann Lang after twelve laps. Yet despite his comfortable lead, Seaman maintained his high speed even when the rainfall intensified. That was his undoing: his car skidded, shot off the track at 200 km/h and crashed into a tree. Within seconds the car was in flames. Seaman could not get himself out of his car. When a brave first-aider pulled him from the inferno, he was already suffering from severe burn injuries. On the journey to the hospital, Seaman joked to his wife that, unfortunately, he would not be able to take her to the movies that night. To Neubauer he admitted that the accident had been caused by driving much too fast and that it was his fault. But this insight came too late for him. Dick Seaman, one of the most promising drivers of the 1930s, died of his injuries a few hours after the accident.