70 years ago - racing driver Richard Seaman killed in a crash

Belgian Grand Prix, 25 June 1939. Richard Seaman on Mercedes-Benz W 154 (number 26) in persuit of H.P. Müller on Auto-Union

Belgian Grand Prix, 25 June 1939. Richard Seaman on Mercedes-Benz W 154 (number 26) in persuit of H.P. Müller on Auto-Union

John Richard Beattie Seaman (1913 - 1939)

John Richard Beattie Seaman (1913 - 1939)

John Richard Beattie Seaman (1913 - 1939) practising his waterskiing

John Richard Beattie Seaman (1913 - 1939) practising his waterskiing

Masaryk Grand Prix near Brünn, 26 September 1937. Richard Seaman (number 6) on Mercedes-Benz W 125 finished fourth

Masaryk Grand Prix near Brünn, 26 September 1937. Richard Seaman (number 6) on Mercedes-Benz W 125 finished fourth



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. 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.

Richard Seaman – a racing career for Mercedes-Benz

Triumph and tragedy were closely intertwined in the career of John Richard Beattie Seaman, known to friends and colleagues as “Dick”. The Englishman, who had been driving cars since his student days in Cambridge, joined the Mercedes-Benz racing stable in 1937. He won the 1938 German Grand Prix driving the W 154 3-litre formula racing car. He suffered a fatal accident at the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix in Spa.

·           Born: 4 February 1913

·           1926: Public school at Rugby

·           1930: Presented with his first car, a Riley Brooklands Nine

·           July 1931: First hillclimb competition at Shelsley Walsh in the Riley

·           October 1931: Begins studies at Cambridge. Meets Whitney Straight. Seaman decides on a career as a racing driver.

·           1932: Rows for Cambridge

·           1932: Member of the Cambridge University Automobile Club (CUAC)

·           Parents present him with an MG Magna.

·           1933: He persuades his parents to buy him a 2-litre Bugatti. Enters the Bugatti for a race in Donington, but not placed. Later that year his father buys him a Lagonda.

·           December 1933: Whitney Straight forms a racing stable.

·           February 1934: Seaman joins Straight’s stable with a newly acquired MG Magnette.

·           March 1934. First class victory with the MG at the Intervariety Speed Trials in Eynsham

·           August 1934: Class victory at the “Prix de Bern” in Bremgarten

·           1935: Seaman drives for ERA. However, ongoing problems with the vehicle lead him to set up his own racing team with mechanic Giulio Ramponi.

·           August 1935: Wins in the ERA at Pescara (Coppa Acerbo) and Bremgarten (Prix de Bern)

·           1936: On Ramponi’s advice, Seaman buys a ten-year-old Delage from Earl Howe. Rebuilt by Ramponi, the Delage leads to winning ways: Seaman notches up victories in Donington, as well as on the Isle of Man, in Pescara and Bremgarten.

·           November 1936: Invited to test drive for Mercedes-Benz at the Nürburgring

·           February 1937: Contract with Mercedes-Benz

·           May 1937: First race in the W 125 Silver Arrow at the Grand Prix of Tripoli. Finished seventh

·           May 1937: 5th place at the AVUS Grand Prix

·           July 1937: 2nd place at the Vanderbilt Cup in New York, 1st Rosemeyer, 3rd Mays

·           1937: Moves to Dambach on Lake Starnberg, practises his waterskiing

·           July 1937: Serious accident as a result of colliding with Ernst von Delius at the German Grand Prix on the Nürburgring. Von Delius dies, Seaman breaks thumb and nose.

·           August 1937: Accident during qualifying in Pescara, nevertheless finishes 5th in Caracciola’s car at the Coppa Acerbo

·           September 1937: Two 4th place finishes in Livorno and Brno

·           October 1937: Crashes out of the Grand Prix at Donington

·           June 1938: Meets his future wife Erika Popp

·           July 1938: Wins the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. 2nd Lang / Caracciola, 3rd Stuck

·           August 1938: 2nd place at the Swiss Grand Prix in Bremgarten. 1st Caracciola, 3rd von Brauchitsch

·           September 1938: Starts in a Frazer-Nash BMW at the British Tourist Trophy. Finishes a disappointing 21st as a result of technical problems

·           October 1938: 3rd place at the Donington Grand Prix. 1st Nuvolari, 2nd Lang

·           December 1938: Marries Erika Popp, terminates contact with his mother

·           1939: In spite of mounting political tension, British racing colleagues advise Seaman to continue driving for Mercedes-Benz.

·           April 1939: Drives the fastest lap in practice at the Grand Prix de Pau, but only named as reserve driver

·           May 1939: Abandons the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring shortly after the start. A few days later takes part in filming for a documentary on the Silver Arrows

·           25 June 1939: Leads the field at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, but crashes in heavy rain and dies of his injuries later that day