Stuttgart – From the first automotive competition in history to the company’s return to the Formula One championship with a works team for the 2010 season and the triple victory in the DTM championship that same year, the success story of the racing activities of Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor brands goes right back to the early days of the automobile. Since the 19th century, racing and rally cars ‘made in Stuttgart’ have consistently been well to the fore in sporting competition. Their successes are testimony to innovative engineering, the drivers’ will to win, and flawless teamwork. Outstanding moments in the brand’s racing history include participation in the world’s first automobile competition in 1894, its first Grand Prix victory in 1908, the period of the supercharged car from 1922 onwards, and above all the Silver Arrow era. These are the foundations on which recent victories in Formula One and the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) have been built.
Such racing success cannot be seen in isolation from the routine work done in laboratories, workshops, and production plants. On the contrary, motor sport is closely interlinked with top-quality products from all other areas, since the experience gained from the development of competition vehicles feeds into series production, just as the skills of the engineers working on the comprehensive product portfolio of the global Mercedes-Benz brand and its predecessor companies provide the inspiration needed to constantly improve its racing cars. This direct exchange of engineering and expertise was particularly evident in the early decades of motor racing.
But in the wider context this interaction can still be found today, as engineering competence pairs up with a passionate commitment to motor racing. The company is continually adapting to ever-changing customer demands and markets in the global environment. Many technical innovations that have opened up new vistas in car manufacturing have their roots in the pioneering developments of racing engineers. This was demonstrated, for example, at the exhibition ‘Fast Forward: 20 ways F1TM is changing our world’, which opened in March 2009 at the Science Museum in London. The exhibition, a joint production between Team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and the Science Museum, showed examples of how technology developed for Formula One has also been used in everyday technologies as diverse as cycle design, medicine and furniture-making. Organisational processes applied to pit stops in motor sport even serve as models for improved workflows in emergency medicine.
Drivers and cars are the protagonists of racing. But without the support of the team and the brand, even top drivers and the best racing cars can never hope to win. In motor sport, therefore, every race demonstrates anew that collective performance is what makes the difference between success and failure. Team, technology and tactics must blend smoothly together. And so the importance and excitement of racing does not end once the chequered flag is waved. The commitment of a brand such as Mercedes-Benz to motor sport promotes its products far beyond the confines of the racing circuit. This is a long-established maxim at Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor brands. The Benz annual report of 1907/08 stated: ‘We consider the extra cost of racing an absolute necessity if we are to defend the rightful position of our brand in international competition.’
Motor sport as a leitmotif of brand history
Even in its early days, during the outgoing 19th and early 20th centuries, the automobile was already demonstrating its capability and reliability in the first competitions. Vehicles from Daimler and Benz took part in all the prestigious events throughout Europe and in other countries all over the world. They won races and broke one speed barrier after another in record attempts. Impressive examples of this include the first Mercedes of 1901 and the record-breaking 200 hp Benz, which in 1909 became the first automobile propelled by an internal combustion engine to exceed the magic mark of 200 km/h. It held the absolute land speed record of 228.1 km/h from 1911 to 1924, earning the nickname of ‘Blitzen-Benz’, or Lightning Benz.
The merger of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) with Benz & Cie. in 1926 to form Daimler Benz AG also merged the two brands’ racing activities. The supercharged Mercedes-Benz sports cars dominated this period in the late 1920s, winning all major events. The K, S, SS, SSK and SSKL models, a family known as the ‘White Elephants’, wrote automotive history.
The Silver Arrow era, which was interrupted by the Second World War, lasted from the 1930s to 1955. The Silver Arrow name is used by brand historians to refer to a whole family of racing cars, record cars and racing sports cars characterised by their silver-painted body and superb engineering. Prior to the war Mercedes-Benz dominated the European Grand Prix scene with its Silver Arrows. Then in 1952, the Silver Arrow family staged a comeback with the 300 SL racing sports car, back-to-back titles with the W 196 R in the Formula One world championship in 1954 and 1955, and victory in the sports car world championship with the 300 SLR (W 196 S) in 1955.
In the face of the enormous challenges involved in the development of new passenger cars, the Stuttgart brand withdrew from motor sport for several years as from 1955. But private teams, with support from Mercedes-Benz, carried on the motor racing tradition, especially in international rallies. Highlights included victories won by a wide range of model series, including the W 111, C/R 107, W 115/114 (‘Stroke Eight’), W113 (‘Pagoda’) and the G model.
Successes in events ranging from rallies to long-distance marathons such as the Paris–Dakar were achieved not just by Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, but also by various Unimog models and all-terrain trucks.
Heavy-duty commercial vehicles from Mercedes-Benz also starred on the truck racing circuit. In 1989, Axel Hegmann, driving for Mercedes-Benz, won a first European Truck Racing title in Class C (14,101 cc to 18,500 cc displacement), and in 1990 he repeated the feat in Class A (max. 11,950 cc displacement). Numerous victories followed, including those after the revision of the classification for the 1994 season (race trucks and super race trucks). The 2007 and 2008-2009 championship titles went to drivers for the Daimler brand Freightliner (Markus Bösiger and David Vršecký respectively).
Alongside its racing cars and racing sports cars the company has also regularly produced record-breaking vehicles. Some have been based on experimental vehicles such as the C 111; others were derived from production vehicles, such as the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 Nardo of 1983.
In the 1980s, Mercedes-Benz returned to the racing circuit, initially with Group C racing sports cars and racing touring cars. In the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and the International Touring Car Championship (ITC), Mercedes-Benz was three times champion and four times runner-up between 1986 and 1996. Then in 1994 came the return to Formula One with Sauber (1994) and McLaren (from 1995). During this period world driver’s titles were won by Mika Häkkinen (twice, in 1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton (2008) along with one constructor’s title for Team West McLaren Mercedes (1998). There were also ten runner-up places in the championship. A new era began in 2010, when Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula One with its own works team and engaged Michael Schumacher as its number one driver. Engines produced by Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines are used not only by Team Mercedes Grand Prix Petronas, but also by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and Force India F1.
Since 2000, Mercedes-Benz has also competed in the new DTM, winning the championship in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006. In 2003, the team even swept the first three places, with Bernd Schneider as overall winner followed by Gary Paffett and Christijan Albers. This triumph was reprised in the 2010 season, with Paul di Resta as the overall winner, and Gary Paffett and Bruno Spengler in second and third place respectively in the championship rankings.
More than a century of motor sport under the three-pointed star: the history of
Mercedes-Benz is inseparably linked with the history of motor sport. And in retrospect, this racing involvement can be seen to have repeatedly provided the driving force for the rapid advancement of motor vehicle technology. In this sense, motor sport is always a venture into the future.