Atlas F1   Mercedes-Benz Now:
The Tradition Continues

ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 1 by Roger Horton, England

On the front of every Mercedes-powered McLaren car there is the famed Three-Pointed Star, one of the most recognised corporate symbols in the world. It has adorned Mercedes racing cars throughout their history, and is synonymous with cars that win races. Roger Horton reflects on the continuation of a tradition, as reflected in current decade of the auto manufacturer's increased involvement in motor racing, and in particularly Formula One

No major motor manufacturer has a more illustrious racing history than Mercedes-Benz. By the late 1980s, however, the memories of the company's past successes had faded, with new generations of racing fans having grown up with only distant memories of the all-conquering Silver Arrows of the 1950s.

All that was to change, when on 12 January 1988 the Mercedes-Benz board approved the company's return to the race tracks, making official its links with the Swiss Sauber team, who had been using the Stuttgart-based manufacturer's engine in their Group C sports car programme during the previous year. In true Mercedes-Benz style, a Sauber C9/88 Mercedes-Benz won its first race at Jerez less than three months later.

The following year, the Sauber-Mercedes partnership would sweep all before them, securing the FIA World Sports-Prototype Championship after just six of the eight rounds, with the dominant C9s finishing first and second at Le Mans. The results were hugely satisfying for the company, and everyone wondered just how long it would take before the German giant was ready to move on to the ultimate challenge - Formula One.

The Mercedes-Benz approach to their racing return had been extremely cautious, though. Initially, it had just supplied an engine to the Sauber team and kept its involvement low key. The following year it had made its return 'official' and entered its cars as Sauber-Mercedes. Only during the third year had they painted their cars silver and allowed them to be branded as true 'Silver Arrows'. The company already had a superb racing reputation; they were in racing to enhance it, not to cheapen it.

It would come as no surprise, then, that when the Sauber team made its entry into Formula One for the 1993 season, the only visual connection with its powerful backer was the 'Concept by Mercedes-Benz' sticker on the engine cover. Only at the last race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, would Mercedes at last make the announcement that had been expected for so long. Next year, the Sauber cars would again be known as Sauber-Mercedes, marking the company's official return to F1 competition after a break of nearly forty years.


A Star is Born
100 Years of Mercedes
Atlas F1 Special

  • Ludvigsen on the first car
  • Capps on Neubauer
  • Racing in 1934-1955
  • Mercedes at Indy
  • Tytler on the Ilmor engine
  • Horton on modern success
  • Norbert Haug Speaks
  • Ludvigsen on the industry
  • Mercedes Photo Album
  • The facts and stats
  • The Mercedes Quiz
  • Quotes about Mercedes

    It's worth looking back at the wording of the '93 announcement - which also included Indy car and GTCC programmes - in more detail, as it laid out the philosophy that would guide Mercedes-Benz's competition policy throughout the next decade:

    "In comparison with other manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz is spending a small amount of money on these projects, although it is represented in these three championships, the present strategy is not to have Mercedes-Benz teams because that would cost a lot more. (Our strategy) is to work together with strong partners, although it is difficult to say how things will develop in the future."

    The Sauber spokesman Hans-Peter Brack also confirmed that M-B had bought a 25% share of Ilmor Engineering, the company that had initially supplied the engines to the Sauber F1 team.

    Although Mercedes-Benz has since withdrawn from CART (as the Indy car series became known), its F1 programme has gone from strength to strength. The

      The Silver Arrows make their long awaited return to the track
    McLaren-Mercedes combination won its first Grand Prix in Australia at the start of '97, and has since taken back to back Drivers' titles with Mika Hakkinen in '98 and '99, along with the Constructors' title in '98. In January 2000 they took a 40% shareholding in their current Formula One partner, the TAG McLaren group, having severed their Sauber relationship after just one 'official' season at the end of '94.

    At every stage, the cautious nature of the Mercedes-Benz policy is evident. They spent a year observing Ilmor's capabilities, before buying an interest; They stayed in the background with Sauber's sports car programme until success looked likely; and dumped Sauber for McLaren when they realised that they were not likely to ever win in Formula One. For a company with the revenues of Mercedes-Benz, the amounts paid for the stakes in their F1 partners was little more than small change, and yet it cemented their relationships, ensuring that they will always have the status of full partners and not just sponsors.

    The 'partner' approach is also increasingly at odds with the strategies adopted by most of the other motor companies with an F1 programme. Ford and Renault have both bought teams; Toyota is to go at it alone, whilst BMW and Honda build their own engines in house. Yet only Ferrari could claim to have matched Mercedes-Benz in the amount of positive rub off associated with running a winning F1 effort. And Ferrari, although about to celebrate selling more than 4000 road cars for the first time, are mere minnows when compared to the over one million vehicles that were sold worldwide by Mercedes-Benz last year.

    Yet, for all their conservatism, Mercedes-Benz were responsible for by far the most adventurous and successful driver development programme in the history of modern motor sport. Jochen Neerpasch, who had previously set up a similar programme on behalf of BMW, signed up the three most promising young drivers in Germany, at a time when it looked likely that Mercedes-Benz would quickly extend their racing activities into Formula One.


    The Original Mercedes

    The Original Benz
    The three drivers, Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, and Karl Wendlinger, would spend much of the 1990 season testing and taking it in turns to race in the Sauber-Mercedes Sports car team, whilst racing each other in the German F3 series. There was little to choose between the three, but most observers were amazed that the three young and relatively inexperienced drivers quickly mastered the heavy 900 horsepower turbocharged group C monsters.

    It had always been Neerpasch's intention that these young drivers would make it into F1 along with the return of the Silver Arrows in the early nineties, but the plan was scuppered by the Mercedes-

      The car that marked Mercedes-Benz's official return to Formula 1, the 1994 Sauber-Mercedes
    Benz decision in late '91 not to enter F1 immediately. Eventually both Frentzen and Wendlinger would drive under the Sauber-Mercedes banner, but would never race the famed Silver Arrows in Formula One. Nor would Michael Schumacher, the young kid from Kerpen, upon whom Mercedes-Benz had lavished so much time and money in '90 and '91.

    Schumacher would have his path smoothed into F1 firstly with Jordan, then Benetton, by Jochen Neerpasch on behalf of Mercedes-Benz, on the basis that he could be reclaimed by the Stuttgart based team if and when they entered Formula One in their own right. This they never did, so ironically, the greatest German driver ever has never raced with his nation's most renowned automobile company. Indeed, his talent behind the wheel for Ferrari has become arguably their biggest obstacle in their quest for total domination.

    It would be easy to assume, then, that this driver development programme was a failure. On the contrary, however: it has reaped Mercedes-Benz a huge return, although, admittedly, not in the way they may have originally intended. The success of Michael Schumacher over this last decade has transformed the racing scene in Germany beyond recognition. F1 now rivals football as the country's most watched sport. 'Schumi' is one of the few sportsmen to have become a legend whilst he is still actively competing in his chosen sport.

    Acknowledged as the world's best driver, some 18 million Germans now tune in to watch him as he lines up on the grid for each race, and as they do so, they can bask in the reflected national pride each time he mounts the podium to celebrate yet another triumph. But if he is the best driver, why does he gets beaten more times than he wins? The only answer in the public's mind must be that the driver beating Michael Schumacher must have a better car, and that car is, of course, the Mercedes-powered McLaren, which has scored 23 victories over the last three years. Six more than Schumacher has won in his Ferrari over the same period.


    The Original Daimler

    The Original Maybach
    When it has come to adding up those points at the end of the season to decide the winner of that all-important drivers' title, twice in the last three years it has been the Mercedes-Benz marketing men that have had the pleasure of planning their victory photo shoots, which then feeds into their worldwide marketing programme. The technology of Mercedes can be seen ending the season triumphant over the driving ability of the world's best driver, a powerful message for a hi-tech company like Mercedes-Benz.

    Last year, for the first time ever, Mercedes-Benz captured more than 11% market share in the company's all important home market, and the successful F1 racing programme must have

      The McLaren-Mercedes team celebrate their double title triumph at Suzuka in 1998
    played its part in achieving these figures.

    Later this year, the driving combination of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard will line up for an unprecedented sixth straight season in the cockpits of their McLarens. Behind the scenes, Mercedes-Benz has always been a steadying influence, supporting their drivers, even during difficult times, when it is very easy to destabilize the situation with added criticism. Coulthard, who has so often been in the shadow of his faster teammate, has especially benefited from the considerable support offered by the M-B hierarchy.

    On the front of every Mercedes-powered McLaren Grand Prix car of the nineties, has been the famed Three-Pointed Star, one of the most recognised corporate symbols in the world. It has adorned Mercedes-Benz racing cars throughout all their history and is synonymous with cars that win races. It is a tradition that looks set to continue.


    Roger Horton© 1995-2005 Kaizar.Com, Inc.
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