120 years of Mercedes-Benz motor racing history
80 years of the Silver Arrows
From history’s first automobile race in 1894 to the various current involvements in motor sports, the motor sport activities of Mercedes-Benz and the predecessor brands tell a story of success whose roots date back to the very early days of the automobile. Since the 19th century the racing and rally cars from Stuttgart have consistently been at the head of the pack in sporting competitions. Their victories are a testimony to innovative technology, the drivers’ will to win and efficient teamwork.
Outstanding moments in the brand’s racing history include participation in the world’s first-ever car race in 1894, the first Grand Prix victory of a Mercedes at the Nice Race Week in 1901, the one-two-three finish of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1914, the age of the supercharged cars after 1922, and, above all, the era of the Silver Arrows before and after the Second World War, as well as rally races and record-setting runs thereafter – these are the foundations of the current success in Formula 1, the DTM (German Touring Car Masters) and customer sport.
An involvement in motor sport cannot be seen in isolation from the work that is being done every day in laboratories, workshops and factory buildings. There are close links between motor sport and first-class products in all other areas that work in both directions: knowledge gained from the development of competition vehicles is transferred to series production – and vice versa. The skills of the engineers acquired from working on the comprehensive product range of the global brand Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor companies provides inspiration for improving the racing cars. This direct exchange of technology and engineering know-how was particularly evident during the early decades of motor sport.
In a broader context, this mutual exchange still applies today, however. Engineering expertise in motor sport pairs up with the passion for sporting competition. Customer preferences and markets are changing in the global environment and the company constantly adapts to these changes. Many technical innovations that open up new avenues in automotive engineering have their roots in pioneering developments from motor sport engineers.
Individuals and cars are the protagonists of motor sport, but without the backing of the team and the brand neither the best drivers nor the best racing cars can win. In motor sports every race therefore demonstrates anew that it is the collective input that makes the difference between success and failure. The team, the technology and the tactics must dovetail smoothly. Consequently the significance and fascination of the races does not end with the chequered flag: a brand that fully commits itself to motor sports and wins victories worldwide as Mercedes-Benz does promotes its products far beyond the confines of the racing circuit. This is recognised at Mercedes-Benz and was also appreciated by its predecessor brands: the Benz annual report of 1907/08 stated: “We consider the extra cost of racing an absolute necessity to defend the position befitting our make in international competition.”
Motor sports as a leitmotif of the brand’s history
Right from its early days in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the automobile proved its effectiveness and reliability in initial competitions and in so doing won people over to the “horseless carriage”. From the early days of the automobile, Daimler and Benz vehicles were taking part in all notable events throughout Europe and in other countries around the world. They won races and consistently shattered speed barriers during record-breaking runs. Motor sport was born 120 years ago in France. The “Système Daimler” – a two-cylinder V-engine built under licence in France from Gottlieb Daimler’s original plans – powered the victorious automobiles from Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor. The vehicles powered by Daimler engines took the top positions in the world’s first races from Paris to Rouen (1894) and Paris–Bordeaux–Paris (1895).
International success in motor sport quickly materialised for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. Impressive examples of this are the first Mercedes and its victories at the Nice Race Weeks in 1901/02/03 and equally the Benz 200 hp racing car, which was the first automobile to break the magic barrier of 200 km/h in 1909 and was quickly dubbed the “Blitzen-Benz” (Lightning Benz). Many major victories were won in France, such as DMG’s win in the Grand Prix in Dieppe in 1908 – with two vehicles from Benz, which were still rivals at the time, finishing in second and third place. Or the historic triple win of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the Grand Prix in Lyon in 1914 – still one of the greatest victories in motor sport ever.
The amalgamation of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. in 1926 to form Daimler Benz AG also merged the successful motor sport activities of the two brands. This era of the late 1920s was dominated by the supercharged Mercedes-Benz sports cars, which won all major events. In particular, the vehicles of the legendary S-Series made motor sport history as the “White Elephants”. The crowning glory followed in 1931 in the gruelling Mille Miglia, where Rudolf Caracciola won a spectacular victory piloting the short-wheelbase SSK model.
The era of the Silver Arrows lasted from the 1930s to 1955, interrupted by the Second World War. Brand historians use the name Silver Arrows to refer to a whole family of racing cars, record-breaking vehicles and racing sports cars which became legendary on account of their silver-coloured bodies, superb engineering and historic victories.
Before the war Mercedes-Benz dominated the European Grands Prix with the Silver Arrows. In 1952, the brand returned to motor sport with the 300 SL racing sports car (W 194), followed ultimately by the Formula 1 world championship titles in 1954 and 1955 with the W 196 R and the sports car world championship title with the 300 SLR (W 196 S) in 1955.
In the face of the major challenges involved in the development of new passenger cars, the Stuttgart-based brand withdrew from motor sport for several years after 1955. However, private teams, with support from Mercedes-Benz, continued the motor sport tradition and had a strong presence on the international victory podiums. A wide range of different vehicles frequently made their mark in various competitions: in the early 1960s the “Tailfin” saloons (W 111/112) and the 230 SL (W 113) dominated the international rally tracks. The SLC luxury coupé also sent a clear message in the late 1970s before the G-Model won the Paris–Dakar rally in 1983. Heavy-duty commercial vehicles from Mercedes-Benz were equally successful at rally races, endurance runs, and in the European Truck Racing Championship. In addition to these racing cars and racing sports cars, the company regularly produced record-breaking vehicles. Some were based on research vehicles, such as the C 111 (C 111–II D of 1976 to C 111–IV of 1979). Others were derived from production vehicles, like the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 in 1983, which set three world records and nine best-in-class records in Nardò in southern Italy.
In the late 1980s, Mercedes-Benz returned to circuit motor sport and won two Group C racing sports car world championships. At the same time, the Stuttgart-based brand also competed in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and later in the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Between 1986 and 1996 Mercedes-Benz won three championship titles and finished four times as the runner-up. Since the year 2000, Mercedes-Benz has also been competing again in the reorganised DTM, racing to overall victory in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006. In 2003, the team even claimed the first three places, with Bernd Schneider as the overall winner. Mercedes-Benz repeated this triumph in the 2010 season with Paul di Resta as the overall winner.
After celebrating major victories in Group C racing and in the DTM in the early 1990s, Mercedes-Benz finally returned to Formula 1, the pinnacle of motor sport, in 1994 – at first via the teams Sauber-Mercedes (1994) and McLaren-Mercedes (since 1995). During this period world championship titles were won by the drivers Mika Häkkinen twice (1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton once (2008) and Team West-McLaren-Mercedes won a constructors’ title (1998). Mercedes-Benz also finished as the runner-up ten times.
A new era dawned in 2010: Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with its own works team and signed top driver Michael Schumacher, who after his retirement was replaced by Lewis Hamilton in the 2013 season. In 2008, at the age of 23 Hamilton became the youngest world champion in the history of Formula 1 at the time and since 2010 has stood on the very top of a Grand Prix victory podium eleven times in total. Nico Rosberg celebrated his first GP win with a Silver Arrow at the race in Shanghai in 2012. The MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS works team secured second place in the constructors’ championship at the end of the 2013 season.
120 years of motor sports under the Mercedes star: the history of Mercedes-Benz is inseparably linked with the history of motor sport. And in retrospect, the sporting involvement has repeatedly proved to be a driving force behind the visionary advancement of automotive engineering. Viewed in this light, motor sports is also always a fast-paced ride into the future.