Career Summary:

Richard 'Dick' Seaman

  • February 04, 1913
  • June 25, 1939
  • United Kingdom
  • Not Active
  • 19
  • 3
  • 6
  • 1
  • 2
  • 15.79%
  • 31.58%

Starting in the mid-thirties and going strong all the way until 1939, Nazi Germany's technical progress was particularly mirrored in Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz racing programs. The famous Silver Arrows were extremely fast and powerful even by today's standards, and they were being piloted by the best drivers in the world. Some of them were Italian, most of them were German, but one pilot stood out. It was Richard Dick Seaman, a young Brit from Chichester.

Richard was lucky to come from a family who supported his passion

Seaman was born on February 4, 1913, in a wealthy family, and even as a young kid, he loved cars. As a schoolboy, he spent hours sketching racing automobiles, and was lucky enough to have parents, especially his mother Lillian, who understood and financed his passion. As soon as he got a driver's licence, Seaman got a Riley from his mother and started contesting in the local hillclimb events.

At Trinity College in Cambridge, he soon befriended Whitney Straight, a fellow racer with whom he went to some local races as well as Brooklands and Donnington. Soon after, Seaman made a decision to leave college and dedicate his life to racing. So, in 1934, he joined Whitney's team, the Whitney Straight Stable, and made his international debut at Grand Prix d'Albi in the smaller, less powerful voiturette class. He scored pole position in his MG K3 3011, but the automobile's engine boiled at the start of the race, so he had to retire after a pushing start and a few completed laps.

Richard Dick with mother Lilliane

Richard with his mother Lillian

Maiden victory at Bremgarten circuit

He achieved his first international victory at the Prix de Berne, a support event to the Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten, but the win was overshadowed by the death of his teammate Hugh Hamilton. Reportedly, the news traveled to England, but with Seaman as the casualty and Hamilton as the winner, resulting in Seaman's father suffering a heart attack from which he didn't recover. By the end of 1934, Seaman drove three more races, one in Brno, one in England where he finished second to Raymond Mays' ERA, and one in South Africa, where he finished fourth.

After Riley, Seaman started driving the ERA R1B

In 1935, Whitney Straight quit racing and closed his team after promising his wife he would stop racing. That led Seaman to look for other options, so he managed to convince his mother to buy him one of English Racing Automobiles' voiturettes, the ERA R1B. Soon after, Raymond Mays signed Seaman for ERA factory works, but Richard was quite disappointed after finishing five races with five retirements due to numerous mechanical issues.

He entrusted his R1B to the Mille Miglia winner and ex-Alfa Romeo, but also ex-Whitney Straight Stable chief mechanic Giulio Ramponi. The tandem was virtually unbeatable in the next couple of months, winning the Coppa Acerbo Junior at Pescara, achieving the second triumph at Prix de Berne at Bremgarten and the Masaryk Grand Prix at Brno, as well as a second overall place and first in class at the international Freiberg hillclimb event in Germany.

Richard Seaman in a Delage 8C (1936)

Richard Seaman in a Delage 8C

Racing with Delage 8C in 1936

Despite having much success in his ERA after teaming up with Ramponi, Seaman decided to sell the car and get a new one. Ramponi managed to convince Richard to buy a 1927 Delage 8C for the 1936 season. Specifically, it was The Black Delage, a car driven by Earl Howe. Delage, Seaman and Ramponi proved to be a perfect match, and together, they led the voiturette championship.

After starting the season strong, Seaman was invited to join Maserati's factory works and drive the V-8R1 at the Nurburgring. He declined the invitation once more for the Coppa Acerbo. He finished eight seconds ahead of Trossi, but faced a protest by Maserati, demanding inspection of Delage's engine capacity. All hopes for cooperation ended there, and the rest of 1936 wasn't as successful as its start. After surviving two big accidents in just fifteen days, Seaman sold his Delage, broke up the team, and pulled out of the plans to build a world speed record car with Ferdinand Porsche.

Seaman driving his Silver Arrow in Brno, 1937

Richard Seaman driving his Silver Arrow in Brno, 1937

Moving to Mercedes in 1937

Bacause of his great results in 1936, he was approached by Alfred Neubauer and signed for Mercedes-Benz for the season of 1937. In February, Seaman crashed one W125 Silver Arrow in the testing, but continued racing for Mercedes-Benz as a reserve, scoring one second place, two fourths, two fifths and a seventh, with one crash and two retirements in nine races. However, the signing didn't go well with one person, his mother, who strongly opposed him driving for a Nazi German manufacturer.

Nurburgring, 1938, Seaman

Seaman leading at Nurburgring in 1938

Winning at Nurburgring and saluting Hitler

In 1938, Seaman's position in the team's hierarchy was the same, if not worse - he was allowed only four starts, but used them well, scoring a victory at the Nurburgring. It all happened when Manfred von Brauchitsch's car caught fire while refueling. The famous German pilot managed to return to the track, but soon crashed, narrowly escaping death, which left Seaman in the lead. Afterwards, he was presented to Hitler, and that's where he made a highly unwilling salute.

In addition to that win, he scored one second place in Switzerland, one third in Donnington and retired in Italy. At the end of the year, in December 1938, Seaman married Erica Popp, daughter of the BMW chairman Franz Josef Popp, again opposed to his mother's wishes.

Video : How Richard Seaman won the Nazi Grand Prix in 1938

Losing a life in a crash at wet Spa circuit

Year 1939 saw the world slowly preparing for the war. As a Briton in Nazi Germany, Seaman was in a very uncomfortable position, but he stayed as the reserve driver. At Pau, Seaman did not start despite having the fastest practice lap. At the next event, the Eifelrennen, he burned the clutch on the grid.

The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps was the last for this daring driver. The weather was so bad that even Caracciola spun his Auto Union car on lap nine, but Seaman continued driving. He pushed the Silver Arrow to its limits, overtaking the cars until he lead the race when Muller made his scheduled pit stop. On lap 18, Seaman crashed his W154 when he tried to turn using the line which was normally only used in dry conditions. The Silver Arrow hit a tree and was badly deformed, so Seaman was trapped in the burning car with his hand broken.

Richard Seaman at Spa-Francorchamps in 1939

Seaman at Spa-Francorchamps in 1939

A minute later, but a minute too late, stewards managed to evacuate him, but he was already badly burned. When Neubauer visited him in the hospital, severely injured Richard Seaman heroically remarked: "I was going too fast for the conditions - it was entirely my own fault. I am sorry". Those were some of his final words - around midnight on June 25, 1939, Richard Seaman passed away at just 26 years of age.

The sad news echoed around Europe and Mercedes-Benz ordered its dealerships to display Seaman's portrait in their windows. Richard Seaman was buried at Putney Vale Cemetery in London, and the funeral was attended by many Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union officials and his colleagues. Since then, Mercedes-Benz always pays a tribute to one of their best drivers by leaving flowers every June 25th, also tending to his final resting place.

Richard Seaman's Mercedes W154, 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa

Richard Seaman's Mercedes W154 split in two at the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa

At the time, Dick was the most accomplished English driver

Richard Seaman was no stranger to taking risks - he was always pushing his cars to the very limit, and his passing was a result of a risk too big while trying to prove himself as more than just a reserve. In the times when German cars and drivers dominated the tracks, Seaman represented his country in the best way possible during a very tense period that culminated in the greatest war world has ever seen. In his short life and career, Richard Seaman made a big mark as the best British pre-WW2 racer who paved the way for many great drivers coming from Great Britain.