Since 1994: Mercedes-Benz in Formula 1

Nov 10, 2011
  • 2010 sees the return of Mercedes-Benz with its own works team
  • Collaborations first with Sauber, then McLaren
  • World championship victories in 1998, 1999, and 2008

Mercedes-Benz officially returned to the pinnacle of motor sport, Formula One, in 1994, in a collaboration with Peter Sauber. This was followed by the establishment in 1995 of the McLaren-Mercedes team, which won three drivers’ world championships (1998, 1999, and 2008), and the constructors’ championship in 1998. And in the 2010 season, Mercedes-Benz finally entered its own works team – having sensationally engaged arguably the greatest star of recent Formula One history: Michael Schumacher. In December 2009, Daimler AG announced that the new Mercedes Grand Prix Petronas racing stable would start the 2010 season with the driver line-up of Schumacher and Nico Rosberg.
Daimler’s route to entering a works team began somewhat tentatively. The C 12 racing car used by the Sauber team in Formula One races in 1993 was described as a ‘concept by Mercedes-Benz’. The company had yet to make the final decision on whether or not to return to the elite discipline of motor racing. However, Mercedes-Benz was happy to support its long-standing partner from Group C racing with its know-how for the development of the Ilmor engine. Sauber drivers Karl Wendlinger and JJ Letho (Jyrki Juhani Järvilehto) were placed in 11th and 13th position respectively in the drivers’ championship that year, with the team finishing in 6th place for the constructors’ championship in its first Formula One season with 12 points.
Then in 1994, the ‘Mercedes’ in the name of the Sauber-Mercedes C 13 confirmed that the Stuttgart brand was definitely back on the racetrack. The car was again powered by a ten-cylinder engine built by Ilmor. The 2175 B unit developed 563 kW at 14,000 rpm, propelling the car to a top speed of 340 km/h. At the end of a season marked by several rule changes, the performances of drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen (13th in the drivers’ championship), Karl Wendlinger (19th) and Andrea de Cesaris (20th) secured eighth place in the constructors’ championship – still well behind the leading teams of Williams-Renault and Benetton-Ford.
1995 saw the arrival of a new team on the Formula One stage: after the disappointing results of the collaboration with Sauber, Mercedes-Benz parted from the Swiss firm at the end of 1994, and embarked on a collaboration with McLaren International, a British racing stable with a long tradition behind it. Its owner, Ron Dennis, had set up some links with Mercedes-Benz at the end of the 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 the engine specialists at Ilmor. The V10 with displacement of 3 litres reached engine speeds of up to 15,600 rpm.
Drivers Mika Häkkinen (seventh in the drivers’ championship) and Mark Blundell (tenth) secured fourth place in the 1995 team standings for these cars. In the improved MP4/11 for the 1996 season (particularly with regard to driver safety), the achievements of Häkkinen (fifth) and his new fellow-team member David Coulthard (seventh) again delivered fourth place in the constructors’ championship – a result replicated in 1997 in the MP 4/12 (with Coulthard third place and Häkkinen in sixth). For the first time, however, McLaren-Mercedes succeeded in winning three races in the 1997 season: the Australian and Italian Grand Prix (Coulthard), and the European Grand Prix (Häkkinen) in Jerez, Spain.
The German-British partnership finally achieved its goal of a world championship in 1998, with a twofold triumph: Mika Häkkinen took the world championship in his McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13, and Coulthard won third place in the drivers’ standings. McLaren-Mercedes also won the constructors’ championship by a wide margin, ahead of Ferrari and Williams. During that epic 1998 season, the Silver Arrow – back in its traditional livery since 1997 – was first across the line in Australia, Brazil, Spain, Monaco, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, and Japan (Häkkinen), and San Marino (Coulthard).
While the basic concept of the MP4/13 of the world championship car was derived from the MP4/12 from the previous year, substantial modifications to 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 20 centimetres, for example, which in turn required extensive modifications to the vehicle’s aerodynamics. A characteristic feature of the MP4/13 was the marked downward slope of the nose, ending just above the front wing. The cockpit – broader than before, in line with the regulations – was pushed further back to optimise weight distribution. This led to a longer wheelbase than in the MP4/12, along with a slight increase in overall length.
The outstanding reputation of Mercedes-Benz as an engine partner for international racing teams was not limited to Formula One. In the 1994 season, for example, a legend was created 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 Indianapolis 500. The Penske cars were equipped with 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 in 4th place. McLaren-Mercedes was runner-up in the constructors’ championship. During the year Häkkinen won the Grand Prix races in Brazil, Spain, Canada, Hungary, and Japan, and Coulthard won in the UK and Belgium.
The racing car for the 1999 season was externally similar to its predecessor, but was actually a completely new development project. Innovations included mechanical and aerodynamic boosting of the contact pressure on the front axle. The downward slope of the nose in the MP4/14 was still more pronounced, and the overall centre of gravity in the monoposto powered by the FO 110 H engine was lower than in the 1998 vehicle.
Häkkinen and Coulthard again secured runner-up position for the team 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 third place. The car had a flatter front nose and enhanced head guards on the sides of the cockpit, and the engine, the 3-litre V10 FO 110 J, was 2 centimetres shorter. An important innovation was the seven-speed gearbox, developed by McLaren. In the 2000 season, the Silver Arrow won races in Spain, Austria, Hungary and Belgium (Häkkinen), and in the United Kingdom and France (Coulthard).
The 2001 season saw major changes to the Formula One rules. This meant that the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/16 was almost completely different from its predecessor. The front wing now had to be 50 millimetres higher – double the clearance from the track surface required previously. The position of the driver’s legs was raised, and the rules also required a substantially smaller rear spoiler. There were restrictions on the number of elements in the spoiler – a maximum of four, three at the top, one at the bottom. The Mercedes-Benz FO 110 K V10 engine, displacing 3 litres, was also a completely new development project.
David Coulthard was second in the drivers’ championship that year, with Häkkinen in fifth place. Victories in Brazil and Austria (Coulthard) and in the United Kingdom and the USA (Häkkinen) again gave McLaren-Mercedes the runner-up position in the constructors’ championship. Mika Häkkinen retired from Formula One racing at the end of the 2001 season, and was replaced by his compatriot Kimi Räikkönen.
At the starting line for the Melbourne Grand Prix at the beginning of the 2002 season, it was not just the driver in one of the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/17s who was making his debut – the racing car with the FO 110 M ten-cylinder engine was a new vehicle, and Michelin had also come on board as the tyre supplier. In the engine development sphere, Mercedes-Benz had decided to strengthen still further the relationship with the British specialists at Ilmor, and acquired a majority stake in the capital of the company, now known as Mercedes-Ilmor. The 2002 season ended with Coulthard and Räikkönen in fifth and sixth places, respectively, in the drivers’ standings, and
McLaren-Mercedes was third in the brand championship. The sole victory during the season was Coulthard’s win at the Monaco Grand Prix.
For the 2003 season, McLaren-Mercedes developed a new monoposto, the MP4/18. Obvious differences from its predecessor included the shorter and lower nose and more compact rear, in a shape similar to a dorsal fin. The new Mercedes-Benz V10 engine, the FO 110 P, was placed lower than in the predecessor vehicle, which also further lowered the car’s centre of gravity.
However, the revolutionary vehicle did not see any racing action: the team competed in the season’s Grand Prix races with a further improved variant of the previous year’s car called the MP4/17D, while development work on the MP4/18 continued. Kimi Räikkönen was runner-up in the drivers’ championship in his second season with
McLaren-Mercedes, with Coulthard in seventh place. McLaren-Mercedes was third in the constructors’ standings. Coulthard won the Australian Grand Prix in the MP4/17D, and Räikkönen won his first race in a Silver Arrow in the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The team was unable to emulate these results in the 2004 season. Räikkönen drove the further enhanced McLaren-Mercedes MP4/19 car, based on the MP4/18, to seventh place in the drivers’ championship, with Räikkonen and Coulthard in seventh and tenth positions respectively. McLaren-Mercedes posted just one victory (Räikkönen’s win in the Belgian Grand Prix), and ended the season in fifth position in the constructors’ championship.
The McLaren-Mercedes MP4/20 for the 2005 racing season – now with a total of around 10,800 components – clearly reflected some major changes to the regulations. Engines now had to last for at least two races, and further changes were made to the aerodynamics requirements. Accordingly, the engineers spent around 3,600 hours in the wind tunnel alone working on the new MP4/20. The new Mercedes-Benz FO 110 R engine also had to be exhaustively tested and reworked.
Because of the injuries suffered by Juan Pablo Montoya, four different drivers appeared at the wheel of a Silver Arrow during the season: Kimi Räikkönen was runner-up in the drivers’ championship, behind Fernando Alonso for Renault, and Montoya was fourth. The replacement drivers were Alexander Wurz (17th) and Pedro de la Rosa (19th). McLaren-Mercedes was runner-up in the constructors’ championship. The team won Grand Prix events in Spain, Monaco, Canada, Hungary, Turkey, Belgium, and Japan (Räikkönen), and in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Brazil (Montoya) – a total of 10 victories in 19 races.
In 2006, for the first time since the return of Mercedes-Benz to Formula One racing, the Silver Arrows did not have a ten-cylinder engine. Instead the new regulations required a V8 engine, which impacted on the entire design of the MP4/21. As in 2005, the new engine had to be used on two consecutive Grand Prix weekends. The Mercedes-Benz FO 108 S V8 engine was a completely new design and construction project, and was tested for the first time in 2005. The rules for the engines included a cylinder angle of 90 degrees, no more than two intake and exhaust valves, a minimum weight of 95 kilograms and other parameter requirements. The V8 monoposto again brought McLaren-Mercedes third place in the constructors’ championship, and the drivers placed 5th (Kimi Räikkönen), 8th (Juan Pablo Montoya) and 11th (Pedro de la Rosa).
2007 came close to being a year of triumph for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, as the team was called following the advent of the new main sponsor. There were two new drivers at the wheel of the MP4/22: the young Briton Lewis Hamilton, a young talent nurtured by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz over many years, and the Spaniard Fernando Alonso. In his very first season, Hamilton achieved podium positions in each of his first three races – an exploit unprecedented in Formula One history. During the season, he won Grand Prix races in Canada, the USA, Hungary and Japan. Alonso won in Malaysia and Monaco, at the European Grand Prix and in Italy. Hamilton had a precarious lead in the drivers’ standing going into the last race of the season in Brazil, but in that final race he fell one point behind Kimi Räikkönen for Ferrari.
In 2008, Lewis Hamilton turned his narrow defeat the previous year into an equally narrow victory, when an overtaking manoeuvre in his MP4/23 in the closing stages of the last race of the season brought him the world title. The Brazilian Grand Prix was raced in particularly difficult conditions, with rain just before the start and again soon before the end of the event. But by overtaking Toyota driver Timo Glock on the last turn of the 71-lap race, Hamilton secured fifth position – enough to take the world championship with 98 points, just one more than the tally of Ferrari driver Felipe Massa.
At the age of 23 years, 9 months and 26 days, Lewis Hamilton became the youngest champion in Formula One history. This was the third driver’s title for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes in Formula One, following Häkkinen’s wins in 1998 and 1999. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes took second position in the constructors’ championship. The second Silver Arrow driver in 2008 was Heikki Kovalainen, who ended the season in seventh place in the drivers’ standings.
In the 2009 season, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes competed with the new MP4/24. At the wheel again were Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. But another team whose Formula One racing cars were powered by a Mercedes Benz FO 108 W engine was doing the winning: Jenson Button from Brawn Mercedes, driving a BGP 001, won five out of the first six races and was finally crowned Formula One world champion, his team-mate Rubens Barrichello finishing third. The McLaren-Mercedes drivers finished 5th (Lewis Hamilton) and 12th (Heikki Kovalainen). Team Force India F1 was a third team to use Mercedes-Benz engines.
For the 2010 season, Daimler AG then revived a tradition that had been in abeyance since the end of the 1955 season, by entering a Formula One works team. The new Team Mercedes Grand Prix was created from the takeover of the British racing stable Brawn GP. After concluding a long-term sponsorship deal with the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas in late 2009, the new partners agreed on the team name Mercedes Grand Prix Petronas, or Mercedes GP Petronas for short.
In 2010, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren continued to work in partnership in spite of changes to the joint venture agreement, with Mercedes-Benz agreeing to supply engines to Vodafone McLaren Mercedes potentially until 2015.
The sensation for the 2010 season was the announcement that Michael Schumacher had signed up as a Mercedes-Benz driver for the new works team. The two Silver Arrows were to be driven by the seven-time Formula One world champion and team-mate Nico Rosberg.
This meant that events had come full circle for both Michael Schumacher and for Mercedes-Benz motor sport, since Schumacher had driven as a Mercedes-Benz junior in Group C and DTM in 1990 and 1991, and it was with assistance from
Mercedes-Benz that he had entered the world of Formula One in 1991 – with Jordan on 25 August at Spa-Francorchamps.
With Mercedes GP Petronas, Schumacher was now following in the footsteps of the great Formula One drivers that had starred for Mercedes-Benz last time around, including five-times world champion Fangio, Karl Kling, Stirling Moss, and Piero Taruffi. Schumacher was also resuming a working relationship with team boss Ross Brawn, with whom he won his seven world driver’s titles at Benetton and Ferrari.
Nico Rosberg scored three third places during the season 2010, ending in place seven in the drivers’ standings. Michael Schumacher was close behind in ninth place, while Mercedes GP took fourth position in the constructors’ championship.
On 1 February 2011, Mercedes-Benz presented the MGP W02. The new Silver Arrow for the 2011 Formula One championship is fitted with the KERS kinetic energy recovery system, which made its debut in the 2009 season but was not used in 2010. Other new features included a driver-operated adjustable rear spoiler flap for overtaking manoeuvres, and Pirelli tyres.