At the age of 97, Manfred von Brauchitsch, member of the successful Mercedes-Benz racing team in the Silver Arrow era in the 1930s, died on February 5, 2003 in Gr?fenwarth near Schleiz in Thuringia.

Although his last GP victory was in 1938, von Brauchitsch remained close to Mercedes until the end, and was one of the first to congratulate Mika H?kkinen on his 1998 world title.

von Brauchitsch was a daredevil at the wheel of a racing car and the darling of the spectators who jumped up from their seats and cheered - while the radio reporters' voices cracked - on that historic day in 1934 when he drove one of the new 'Silver Arrows' to victory in its very first race, at the fearsome N?rburgring.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, on August 15, 1905, von Brauchitsch discovered his love of motorcycles - and of course motorcycle racing - after graduating from school. A serious accident in 1928 put an abrupt end to his career not only as a motorcycle racer but also as a regular officer.

This did not, however, prompt the 23 year old to forego his passion for racing. Instead he turned his dynamism and enthusiasm to motor racing on four wheels.

As early as 1929, he won his first race in a private 225 hp Mercedes-Benz SS sports car: not only was he the first to cross the finishing line in the international Gaisberg hillclimb race in Austria, he also established a new track record for touring cars at an average speed of 72.6 km/h.

von Brauchitsch had his breakthrough in the AVUS race in Berlin in 1932. His greatest rival in that arduous race was driving an Alfa Romeo at the time: Rudolf Caracciola, later to become his teammate at Mercedes-Benz.

Throughout the race, von Brauchitsch, driving a streamlined Mercedes-Benz SSKL, hung onto the rear-end of Caracciola's monoposto Alfa. Von Brauchitsch went easy on his engine and waited for his chance - and it came on the last lap: at just the right moment he activated the re-serves of his mighty supercharged engine for a couple of seconds, dashed past Caracciola and across the finishing line to the spectators' frenzied cheers.
Not only had he won the race in the last couple of meters; but at an average speed of 194.4 km/h in the race over 200 kilometers, he had also established a new world record in the class of car he was driving.

von Brauchitsch was able to continue his series of successes with the SSKL in the following year, among other things with victory in the Kes-selberg and Schauinsland hillclimb races. In 1934 he was officially recruited for the Daimler-Benz factory team by the legendary racing manager Alfred Neubauer.

But after winning that 1934 Eifel Race at the N?rburgring in a Silver Arrow, von Brauchitsch seemed to be dogged by bad luck.

Only a few weeks later, during practice for the German Grand Prix on the same race-track, he had a serious accident and it was not until 1937 that he won again: in the Monaco Grand Prix. And as before, he combined victory with a new track record.

von Brauchitsch celebrated his last great victory in the 1938 French Grand Prix.

After the war, he launched into a new professional career and in the fall of 1948 was elected Sports President of a newly founded motoring club - AvD - in Germany.

In 1954, he moved to the GDR and successfully ran for Sports President of the General German Motor Sport Association (ADMV) when the latter was founded in 1957. In 1960 he was appointed President of the "Association for the Promotion of the Olympic Spirit in the GDR".

But even after his active career, von Brauchitsch remained closely associated with motor sport and the Mercedes-Benz brand.

He took a keen interest in Formula One and was delighted to see the same sort of sporting spirit that had been his hallmark among present-day F1 drivers like Mika H?kkinen and David Coulthard.

Prof. J?rgen Hubbert of DaimlerChrysler AG, paid tribute to his acheivements: "Manfred von Brauchitsch's ability and enthusiasm for motor sports endowed us with major successes of the silver arrows. He will be unforgettable to us and every-one with a passion for motor sports."

"We are sad about the death of Manfred von Brauchitsch. He was one of the founders of the Silver Arrow legend and the first winner in a Grand Prix car with this name," added Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.

"Manfred von Brauchitsch was close to our racing team until the end. He was one of the first to congratulate us on Mika H?kkinen's first world championship title win in 1998. He and us enjoyed a close relationship until his death and we will all keep him in our memory as a great racing driver of our company," concluded Haug.

Until his death, Manfred von Brauchitsch and his wife, Liselotte, lived in Gr?fenwarth near Schleiz in the Federal German state of Thuringia.