From the first ever car competition in 1894 to the latest involvement in motorsport: the motorsport activities of Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor brands tell a success story that has its roots in the early days of the automobile. Since the 19th century the racing and rally cars have always been right at the front when it comes to sporting competition. Their successes exemplify innovative technology, the will to win of the drivers and efficient teamwork.
Outstanding moments in racing history of the brand include the participation in the world’s first car competition in 1894, the first win of a Mercedes at the Nice Week in 1901, the triple-win of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft at the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1914, the period of compressor cars after 1922 and, above all, the era of the Silver Arrows before and after the Second World War as well as at rallies and record drives in the period after that. Current successes such as the 2018 Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championship in Formula 1 or the 2018 Drivers’, Team and Constructors’ Championship in the DTM as well as customer sport build on this.
Reciprocal effect with top-class products
Involvement in racing must not be seen as detached from the daily work in laboratories, workshops and factory halls. Rather, motorsport has a reciprocal effect with top-class products in all other areas: experiences from the development of competition vehicles are integrated into production – and vice versa. The expertise of engineers from the comprehensive product programme of the global Mercedes-Benz brand and its predecessor companies provides impetus for improving racing cars. This direct exchange of technology and know-how is particularly impressive to behold in the first decades of racing.
In a larger context, this reciprocal effect applies to the present day. Technical expertise in racing combines with the enthusiasm for sporting competition. Customer requirements and markets are transforming on a global level, which the company has to continuously and actively respond to. This means that many technical innovations that open up new paths in automotive engineering have their roots in the pioneering developments of the racing engineers.
Racing has people and vehicles as protagonists. Without a team and brand in the background, however, neither top drivers nor the best racing cars can win. In motorsport, it is therefore clear in every race that the collective performance is decisive for success. Team, technology and tactics must interact seamlessly. This means that the importance and fascination of the races do not end at the finish line: anyone who is as diversely dedicated to motorsport as Mercedes-Benz as a brand and attains global victories will campaign for their own product far beyond the sport. This is proven wisdom both at Mercedes-Benz and the predecessor brands: “We consider the additional expenditure for races as an unavoidable necessity in order to claim the place that our brand deserves in international competition” – that was the case as far back as the Benz financial report of 1907/08.
Motorsport as a theme of the brand’s history
The car proved its performance and reliability in the first competitions right back in its early days at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. This is what convinced people of the “horseless carriage”. Vehicles by Daimler and Benz already take part in prestigious events in Europe and beyond in other countries around the world in this early period of the car. They win races and again and again break speed limits on record drives.
Motorsport experiences its hour of birth 125 years ago in France. The “Système Daimler” – a twelve-cylinder V-engine which was built in France with a licence according to the original plans of Gottlieb Daimler – drives on the victorious cars by Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor. In the first races in the world – Paris–Rouen (1894) and Paris–Bordeaux–Paris (1895) – the vehicles powered by Daimler engines occupy the first places.
International successes in motorsport come thick and fast for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) as well as Benz & Cie. The first Mercedes with its wins at the Nice Week in 1901 to 1903 is just as impressive an example as the Benz 200 PS record car which, in 1909, was the first land vehicle to overcome the magical mark of 200 km/h and quickly gained the nickname „Blitzen Benz“ . Many major successes are attained in France, such as the DMG victory at the Grand Prix in Dieppe in 1908; two of the vehicles by then still competitor Benz models finished second and third. Or the historic triple victory of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft at the Grand Prix in Lyon in 1914 – to this day one of the greatest victories of all time in motorsport.
Common racing expertise
The merger of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft with Benz & Cie. in 1926, becoming Daimler Benz AG, also binds the successful racing activities of the two brands together. This era is dominated in the late 1920s by the Mercedes-Benz supercharged sports cars, which win all important events. Above all, the vehicles of the legendary S-Series go down in motorsport history as “white elephants”. The crowning glory follows in 1931 at the strenuous Mille Miglia, in which Rudolf Caracciola steers the short-version SSK to a spectacular victory.
The era of the Silver Arrows spans from the 1930s until 1955 – interrupted by the Second World War. The brand historians gather together a whole family of racing cars, record vehicles and racing sports cars under this name which, with their silver-coloured body, their outstanding engineering and the historical victories, become a legend. Before the war, Mercedes-Benz dominated the European Grand Prix with the Silver Arrows; in 1952, the return takes place with the 300 SL racing car (W 194) and ultimately the double World Championship of Formula 1 in 1954 and 1955 with the W 196 R as well as the victory in the World Sportscar Championship with the 300 SLR (W 196 S) in 1955.
In the face of the major challenges that are created by the development of new passenger cars, the Stuttgart brand withdraws from motorsport at the end of the 1955 season for several years. Private teams supported by Mercedes-Benz continue the motorsport tradition and have a strong presence on the international winners’ podiums. Very different vehicles place significant emphasis again and again in various competitions here: at the start of the 1960s, the “tail fin” saloons (W 111/112) and the 230 SL (W 113) dominate the international rally tracks. The SLC luxury coupé (C 107), however, also makes a real mark at the end of the 1970s, before the G-model wins the Paris–Dakar Rally in 1983. The heavy Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles are just as successful at rallies, marathon drives and at the Truck Racing European Championship.
Alongside these racing and racing sports cars, record vehicles are created over and over again. Several are based on research vehicles such as the C 111 (C 111-II D of 1976 to C 111-IV of 1979). Others are derived from production, such as the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 in 1983, which sets three world records as well as nine class records in Nardò, Southern Italy.
Return to the circuit
In the late 1980s, Mercedes-Benz returns to circuit motorsport and wins two World Championships with Group C racing sports cars. In parallel to this, the company from Stuttgart takes part in the Deutsche Tourenwagen-Meisterschaft (German Touring Car Championships or DTM) and later on in the International Touring Car Championship (ITC). Overall, between 1986 and 1996, Mercedes-Benz wins three championships and is runner-up four times. From 2000, the brand again takes part in the re-organised DTM (German Touring Car Masters), with brand victories in 2000 to 2003, 2005 and 2006, 2008 to 2010 as well as 2018 and drivers’ titles in 2000, 2001, 2003 (each by Bernd Schneider), 2005 (Gary Paffett), 2006 (Bernd Schneider), 2010 (Paul di Resta), 2015 (Pascal Wehrlein) and 2018 (Gary Paffett). The years 2003 and 2010 were the high points as the team attained triple victories in each year. At the pinnacle of its success, Mercedes-Benz withdraws from the DTM at the close of the 2018 season and instead focuses on getting involved in the Formula E racing series.
After the company from Stuttgart was able to celebrate such success in Group C and the DTM since the end of the 1980s, in the 1994 season, Mercedes-Benz once again enters the premier class of motorsport: Formula 1 – initially via the Sauber-Mercedes and McLaren-Mercedes teams (from the 1995 season). During this time, Mika Häkkinen wins two (1998 and 1999) and Lewis Hamilton one world championship title (2008). The West-McLaren-Mercedes team also becomes the 1998 Constructors’ Champion. This is supplemented by being runners up ten times.
A new era comes into view in 2010, when Mercedes-Benz returns to Formula 1 with its own works team and signs on top driver Michael Schumacher, who after his retirement in the 2013 season is replaced by Lewis Hamilton. In 2008, Hamilton becomes the youngest world champion in Formula 1’s history at just 23 years of age. From 2007 to 2012, he stands centre stage on the podium of a Grand Prix race no fewer than 21 times. Nico Rosberg celebrates his first GP victory with a Silver Arrow at the race in Shanghai in 2012. As the 2013 season draws to a close, the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS works team secures second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
The 2014 season marks the beginning of another golden age for the Silver Arrows as the team goes on to win five one-two victories in a row: from 2014 to 2018, MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS is the Formula 1 Constructors’ World Champion. The drivers’ titles are won a total of four times by Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018) as well as by Nico Rosberg (2016). This is added to by three runner-up titles in the Drivers’ Championship won by Nico Rosberg (2014 and 2015) and Lewis Hamilton (2016), and a third-place title won by Valtteri Bottas (2017).
125 years of motorsport with the sign of the star: the brand history of Mercedes-Benz is inseparably connected with the history of automotive racing. And, upon reflection, the sporting involvement again and again shows itself to be a driver for visionary development of vehicle technology. This is why motorsport is always a rapid drive into the future.