Tales from the Paddock: Successful start to delayed motorsport season
The new race season is starting to build momentum. Stefan Wendl, Head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing, looks back on early successes and forward to the standout events yet to come.
- This is what happened: Results and facts
- News from the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport teams
- Three questions for Stefan Wendl
- Social media news: What’s new online?
This is what happened: Results and facts
- Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton wins the Hungarian Grand Prix; Valtteri Bottas in third place
- Formula 1: After the first three rounds of the season, Lewis leads the drivers’ championship and Mercedes-AMG Petronas top the constructors’ standings
Three races, three victories: For the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, the 70th anniversary season of the highest echelon of motor racing began with three victories within the space of three weeks. In the delayed season opener, the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas secured the eighth Grand Prix victory of his career. Valtteri thus repeated his feat of the previous year when he won the first race of the campaign, albeit in Melbourne. His team-mate Lewis Hamilton was meanwhile setting a new record of successive Top Ten race finishes.
Formula 1 history was made the following weekend when, for the first time ever, two races were held on the same track. In the Styrian Grand Prix, Lewis secured his first win of the season. It was also the 200th race contested by Mercedes since the return of the works team to Formula 1 in 2010. Valtteri contributed to the milestone festivities by finishing second to record the team’s first one-two win of the year.
To round off the first triple-header of the new season, Lewis scored the 86th Grand Prix victory of his career in the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend and his eighth at the Hungaroring. At the same time, he equalled Michael Schumacher’s previous record for the most wins on a single track. Lewis also set a new track record in both qualifying (1:13.447) and the race itself (1:16.627).
Welcome to the team: After a five-month break from racing, the Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E Team returns to the track on 5th August for the season finale of the 2019/20 ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Berlin. New to the team is Nick Chester, who took up his duties as Technical Director in early July. The 51-year-old Briton, whose most recent position was Technical Director of the Renault F1 Team, brings with him three decades of experience in motorsport. After graduating from Cambridge University in 1991, he joined Simtek in Formula 1, and gained further experience at Ligier, Arrows, Benetton, Lotus and Renault in roles ranging from Design and Race Engineer to Engineering and Technical Director.
Riley Motorsports’ fortunes improve in the IMSA: After an enforced break of just over five months, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has resumed its season with races at the Daytona International Speedway (5th July) and Sebring International Raceway (18th July). The Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Team Riley Motorsports are on an upward curve: the number 74 Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Lawson Aschenbach and Gar Robinson (both USA) finished sixth in the GTD class in the 2hrs 40mins race at Daytona. Last weekend, Sebring hosted the third race of the year, and the duo took fourth place over the same race distance. The prospects are much improved for Riley Motorsports: in January’s season opener, the Daytona 24-hour race, the team finished outside the points in eleventh place. The IMSA season continues on the weekend of 31st July - 2nd August at the Road America circuit.
The 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge has already brought one memorable triumph with a historic one-two-three win for the Mercedes-AMG GT4. In the 24 Hours of Daytona, the four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge was won by the Riley Motorsports #35, the fourth victory for the Mercedes-AMG GT4 since it made its US debut in 2019, with the Mercedes-AMG GT4 #57 and #4 of Winward Racing completing the podium in second and third places. In the subsequent fixture of the season at the Sebring International Raceway, the track conditions frustrated the attempt by the Customer Racing Teams with their Mercedes-AMG GT4s to match this perfect result. The two-hour race was interrupted by a thunderstorm, and the duo of Indy Dontje (NED) and Russell Ward (USA) in the number 4 car fielded by Winward Racing had to settle for fourth. Sixth and ninth place respectively for the Murillo Racing #56 and the Riley Motorsports #35 meant that two more Mercedes-AMG GT4s finished in the points.
Class wins in the season openers of other international GT series: Last weekend, several other GT series also made a late start to their season. In the curtain-raiser to the Italian GT Championship at Mugello, Mercedes Customer Racing Teams chalked up two class victories: Stefano Colombo, Lorenzo Ferrari and Francesca Linossi (all ITA) in the number 27 Mercedes-AMG GT3 fielded by Antonelli MotorSport prevailed in the GT3A class. Luca Magnoni (ITA) and Aleksander Schjerpen (NOR) in the number 277 Mercedes-AMG GT4 Nova Race were meanwhile fastest in the GT4A class. The start of the Campeonata de España Resistencia in Navarra also resulted in a class win for the Mercedes-AMG GT4, this time courtesy of NM Racing. In the second of the two 48-minute races, Jesús A. De Martin Muñoz and Rafael Villanueva (both ESP) driving the number 126 car finished fifth overall and first in the GT4 class. In the opening race of the 2020 Japanese Super GT, the Mercedes-AMG GT3s of Customer Racing Teams LEON RACING and GOODSMILE RACING & TeamUKYO registered Top Ten results. And in the season opener of the Michelin Le Mans Series at Circuit Paul Ricard, the French duo of Patrice Lafargue and Erik Maris driving the number 17 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of IDEC Sport Racing finished sixth in their class.
Three questions for Stefan Wendl
After a long break from motorsport, the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Teams returned to the Nürburgring-Nordschleife at the end of June. In the season opener of the Nürburgring Endurance Series, the newly founded Haupt Racing Team (HRT) were runners-up at the first attempt before claiming overall victory in rounds two and three of the season two weeks later. Team GetSpeed Performance with their Mercedes-AMG GT3 also finished in the Top Three.
Stefan, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport has made an extremely successful return to the Nürburgring-Nordschleife after this long break from racing. The teams and drivers obviously did their homework during the lay-off. How would you sum up the start to the campaign?
Stefan Wendl: Some of the drivers and teams had spent the intervening period in the ‘virtual world’ so everyone was eager to get back into the real cockpit. The return to the race track couldn’t have gone better. The successes in the Nürburgring Endurance Series double-bill confirm just how well the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 is working after only making its debut this year. Two overall wins, a Top Three finish in the general classification, a class podium, and all the Affalterbach-built GT3s that started the race crossing the finish line without any problems on both occasions. We’ve also had a great start to the season with the Mercedes-AMG GT4. Three victories in three races in the Nürburgring Endurance Series for BLACK FALCON Team TEXTAR in the SP8T class speak for themselves and give us confidence that we are contenders for victory in this category in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.
How are the preparations for September’s standout fixture on the calendar going?
Stefan Wendl: So far, we see ourselves as being fully on schedule; the last few weeks at the Eifel circuit have been more than satisfactory for us. What is important now is to give our drivers as much driving time as possible on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife, which won’t be easy with the races coming thick and fast. Furthermore, it is important that we make the right strategic decisions. As the 24-hour race has been postponed to September, we will most likely have different weather conditions from what we would have had in May. The biggest differences will be in the preselection of tyres, but the teams will also need to prepare themselves for the longer hours of darkness.
What does the motorsport programme look like for the rest of this year?
Stefan Wendl: Due to the compressed calendar, we have a lot of racing ahead of us in the next few weeks, and we have set ourselves ambitious targets. The GT World Challenge Europe starts this weekend in Imola. We intend to have a say in the destination of the Endurance and Sprint Cup titles as well as the overall championship. At the beginning of August, the GT Masters gets underway at the Lausitzring, and there too we will be represented by cars with excellent crews. In addition to the Nürburgring 24-hour race, we have another major highlight to look forward to in October, namely the 24 Hours of Spa. As in the GT World Challenge Europe, the starting grid in Belgium will have one Mercedes-AMG GT3 fielded by AKKA ASP and one entered by the HRT Team with extended support from Affalterbach. But the most important thing in the current situation is that the rest of the planned racing events can take place this year and that all of us together – fans, drivers, teams, manufacturers – get to see plenty of exciting races.
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