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A Race with Love and Death By Richard Williams

Release date: 18th March, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

List Price: 19.99
Our Price: 15.77
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The age of the charismatic, dashing, devil-may-care Formula One driver has long since disappeared. James Hunt was probably the last of that particular breed, but there’s no doubt that Dick Seaman, winner of the 1938 German Grand Prix, was the genuine article. His privileged background, obvious love of danger and controversial taste in women mark him out as a man with whom PG Wodehouse would have had plenty of fun.

Richard Williams, author of the acclaimed The Death of Ayrton Senna, has obvious F1 pedigree and once again has done a sterling job, introducing readers to a little-known racing ace who would, almost inevitably, die young at the wheel of a fast car.

Born into an exceptionally wealthy family in 1913, Seaman attended Rugby School and Trinity College, Cambridge. A strapping lad, he rowed for Trinity during the ‘bumps’ and later at Henley Regatta, but it was road speed that captured his heart.

By the time he was in his early twenties, Seaman was a regular on the European racing circuit. His potential was spotted by Mercedes who signed him in 1937 as war clouds loomed over the continent. An Englishman driving for a German team on the eve of World War II adds a measure of intrigue to the narrative; this is supplemented with an unexpected romantic thread when Seaman falls in love with Erica Popp, daughter of BMW’s general manager.

A year after signing for Mercedes, Seaman won the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring driving a Mercedes W154, much to the delight of the 300,000 crowd which included several senior members of the Nazi party. Seaman is seen wearing his winning medal (a swastika) effecting an awkward-looking Nazi salute, an action seemingly approved by the Foreign Office.

Five months after winning at Nurburgring, Seaman married Popp though he was uneasy about remaining with Mercedes as war appeared inevitable. He remained and in the early summer of 1939 travelled to the Belgian Grand Prix. It was here that disaster struck as Seaman careered off the track, hit two trees and his car burst into flames. Though he was rescued from the burning car, he died eight hours later, aged just 26.

At his funeral, a wreath arrived bearing a swastika and the sender’s name: Adolf Hitler. Following the funeral service, the wreath was discreetly removed; it was not taken to Seaman’s final resting place in Putney Vale cemetery.

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