Since 1994: Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1

Mar 10, 2014
  • Initial collaborations with Sauber and McLaren
  • World championship victories in 1998, 1999, and 2008
  • 2010 saw the return of the Mercedes-Benz works team
Mercedes-Benz officially returned to the pinnacle of motor sports, Formula 1 racing, in March 1994, in collaboration with Peter Sauber. What would eventually become Team McLaren-Mercedes was established in 1995 and won three driver’s world championships (1998, 1999. and 2008) as well as the constructors’ world championship in 1998. 2010 saw the return of a Mercedes-Benz works team. The signing of Michael Schumacher, arguably the biggest star in more recent Formula 1 history, created quite a sensation.
The path to its first works team since 1955 started with relatively small steps for Mercedes-Benz: the C 12 racing car used by the Sauber team in Formula 1 racing in 1993 was labelled “Concept by Mercedes-Benz”. The Stuttgart-based brand had yet to make the final decision on whether or not to return to the elite discipline of motor sport. However, Mercedes-Benz supported its long-standing partner from Group C racing with its know-how in the development of the Ilmor engine. Sauber drivers Karl Wendlinger and JJ Letho (Jyrki Juhani Järvilehto) finished in 11th and 13th position respectively in the drivers’ championship that year, with the team securing 6th place in the constructors’ championship with 12 points.
Then in 1994 the Sauber-Mercedes C 13 returned the name of the Stuttgart-based brand back to the racetrack for good. The car was again powered by a ten-cylinder engine built at Ilmor. It produced 515 kW (700 hp) of power at 14,000 rpm, propelling the car to a top speed of up to 340 km/h. At the end of a season marked by several rule changes, drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Karl Wendlinger, and Andrea de Cesaris finished 13th, 19th, and 20th, with an 8th place finish in the constructors’ championship. This was still well behind the leading teams of Williams-Renault and Benetton-Ford.
1995 saw the arrival of a new team on the Formula 1 stage: after the disappointing results of the collaboration with Sauber, Mercedes-Benz parted with the Swiss team at the end of 1994, and embarked on a collaboration with British racing team McLaren International. Its owner, Ron Dennis, had already established ties to Mercedes-Benz in the late 1980s. In just four-and-a-half months, the completely new FO 110 engine was designed for the 1995 McLaren-Mercedes MP4-10. This monoposto was the first result of the partnership between McLaren, Mercedes-Benz and engine specialist Ilmor. After fourth place finishes in the constructors' standings in 1995 and 1996, Mika Häkinnen and David Coulthard scored three victories in the 1997 season, securing 6th and 4th place in the world championship.
The German-British racing partnership achieved its goal of a world championship in 1998, with a two-fold triumph: Mika Häkkinen took the world championship in his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-13, and Coulthard won 3rd place in the drivers’ standings. McLaren-Mercedes also won the constructors’ championship by a wide margin, ahead of Ferrari and Williams. During that 1998 season, the Silver Arrows – back in their traditional silver racing livery since 1997 – were first across the finish line in Australia, Brazil, Spain, Monaco, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, and Japan (Häkkinen), as well as in San Marino (Coulthard).
While the basic concept of the MP4-13 of the world championship car was derived from the MP4-12 model of the previous year, substantial modifications in many details were required to comply with the changes to the regulations for the 1998 racing season. The track and overall width were reduced by 200 millimetres, which in turn necessitated extensive modifications to the aerodynamics. A characteristic feature of the MP4-13 was the low nose, ending just above the front wing. The now wider cockpit was moved further back in line with the regulations to optimise weight distribution. This resulted in a longer wheelbase than the MP4-12 had had, along with a slight increase in overall length.
However, the outstanding reputation of Mercedes-Benz as an engine partner of international racing teams was not limited to Formula 1. For example, the 1994 season became the stuff of legend when the American Penske team won the CART IndyCar World Series with a Mercedes-Benz engine built at Ilmor. The Penske cars won 12 out of 16 races that season, including the Indy 500. The Penske cars were powered by Mercedes engines between 1994 and 1999.
Mika Häkkinen successfully defended his world championship title in 1999 in his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-14, with David Coulthard finishing in 4th place. In the constructors’ championship McLaren-Mercedes finished as the runner-up. Häkkinen and Coulthard again secured the runner-up position in the constructors’ championship in the following years. Mika Häkkinen drove his McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 to second place in the drivers’ standings in 2000, behind Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, with Coulthard in 3rd place.
In 2008, Lewis Hamilton turned his narrow defeat of the previous season into an equally narrow victory: in his MP4-23 he decided the championship in his favour in the closing stages of the last race of the season. The Brazilian Grand Prix was raced in particularly difficult conditions, with rain before the start and again just before the end. In the last turn of the 71-lap race, Hamilton passed rival Timo Glock (Toyota) for 5th place. This was enough to win the world championship with 98 points. At the age of 23 years, 9 months and 26 days, Lewis Hamilton became the youngest champion in Formula 1 history at the time. This was the third drivers’ title for Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes in Formula 1, following wins in 1998 and 1999. Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes took 2nd place in the constructors’ championship.
In the 2009 season, Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes competed in the new MP4-24. But another team whose Formula 1 racing cars were powered by Mercedes-Benz engines was doing the winning: Englishman Jenson Button from Team Brawn Mercedes, driving a BGP 001, won five out of the first six races and was eventually crowned Formula 1 world champion, his team-mate Rubens Barrichello finishing 3rd.
For the 2010 season, Daimler AG revived a tradition that had been in hiatus since the end of the 1955 season by entering its own Formula 1 works team. The new Team MERCEDES GRAND PRIX was created by the acquisition of British racing team Brawn GP. After concluding a long-term sponsorship deal with the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas in late 2009, the new partners settled on the team name MERCEDES GRAND PRIX PETRONAS, or MERCEDES GP PETRONAS for short. The sensation of the 2010 season was the signing of Michael Schumacher as a Mercedes-Benz driver for the new works team: the seven-time Formula I world champion drove one of the two Silver Arrows. His team-mate was Nico Rosberg.
This meant that events had come full circle for both Michael Schumacher and for Mercedes-Benz. Schumacher had driven as a Mercedes-Benz junior in Group C and the DTM in 1990 and 1991, and it was with assistance from Mercedes-Benz that he had entered the world of Formula 1 in 1991 – on August 1991 at Spa-Francorchamps with Jordan. At MERCEDES GP PETRONAS Schumacher now followed in the footsteps of the great Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 works drivers, who in addition to five-time world champion Fangio included Stirling Moss, Karl Kling, Hans Herrmann, and Piero Taruffi. Schumacher also resumed his working relationship with team boss Ross Brawn, with whom he had won his seven drivers’ world championships at Benetton and Ferrari. Nico Rosberg, who scored three third place finishes during the season 2010, ended up 7th in the drivers’ standings. Michael Schumacher finished the year in 9th place of the drivers’ standings and MERCEDES GP in 4th in the constructors’ championship.
In the 2012 season, the works team competed under the new team name MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS F1. Nico Rosberg won the Grand Prix of Shanghai and finished second on 27 May in Monaco. Michael Schumacher recorded his best result of the season with a 3rd place finish at the European Grand Prix in Valencia on 24 June. The record world champion ended his active career at the end of the year. His successor at the wheel of the Silver Arrow was Lewis Hamilton – the 2008 world champion.
In 2013, the Mercedes team raced the W04. At the start of the season new Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton finished in 3rd place at the Grand Prix races in Malaysia and China. Nico Rosberg was victorious on 26 May in Monaco. More podium finishes for the works team followed in Canada (Lewis Hamilton, 3rd), Hungary (victory for Hamilton), Belgium (Hamilton, 3rd), India (Rosberg, 2nd), Abu Dhabi (Rosberg, 3rd). The Mercedes team ended 2013 with 360 points and second place in the constructors’ standings. Lewis Hamilton finished 4th in the overall drivers’ standings, Nico Rosberg 6th.
The 2014 season will again present major challenges for all teams, with new regulations governing the new vehicles. These include a turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 power unit, expanded hybrid functions, an eight-speed instead of a seven-speed transmission and new specs for the aerodynamics components to reduce downforce levels. Fuel is limited to 100 kilograms per race and vehicle. All in all, the specifications impose a cut in fuel consumption by around 30 per cent for the V6 engine compared with the V8 in use before.
The crew around new Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff and Technical Director Paddy Lowe will tackle the fifth attempt to win the drivers’ and constructors’ crowns since the comeback with their new F1 W05 Silver Arrow, which is a hot tip among experts to be the fastest car in 2014 for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
The W05 Silver Arrow has a so-called vacuum nose with a rather broad shape. The front section features a hump towards the cockpit. As is the case for many competitors, the car has a slim waist and a graceful overall appearance. The colour scheme is classic Mercedes and features the traditional silver – with the light green accents of title partner Petronas, a Malaysian oil corporation. The cars will again sport the logos of smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry. A message to former driver and brand ambassador Michael Schumacher (45), who has been in a medically induced coma since his skiing accident in Meribel, France, on 29 December 2013, has been painted on the sides of the cockpit: “ KeepFightingMichael” – the hashtag for social media posts intended to give the legendary driver and his family courage.
His successor, Lewis Hamilton, who has his eyes in particular on the Grand Prix of Monaco, will be going all out to win this race in his home away from home and hoping to fight for the second world championship title (after 2008) of his career wearing starting number 44, a number he picked himself.
Lewis Hamilton during the Grand Prix of Monaco, 26 May 2013.
His first big win: the first Formula 1 race that Lewis Hamilton won for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team was the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007.
English Gold at Silverstone: the British-born McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won his home Grand Prix as well in the year in which he won the World Championship (2008).
Home win for the British: the Scot David Coulthard wins the 2000 British Grand Prix in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-15.
Italian Grand Prix, 13 September 1998. The later world champion in 1998 ─ Mika Häkkinen in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13.
Silver Arrow at Silverstone: David Coulthard in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-15 at the British Grand Prix in 2000.
The double World Champion: Mika Häkkinen wins the Formula 1 drivers’ title for the second time in a row in 1999. Here, McLaren Mercedes’ Finnish driver is seen on course at the French Grand Prix in Magny-Cours in his MP4-14
The champion of Interlagos: David Coulthard wins the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-16.
On track in the Principality: David Coulthard on his way to victory at the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-17.
Smoking tyres: Kimi Räikkönen wins the 2004 Belgian Grand Prix for McLaren Mercedes.