Open to alternatives since 1894: an innovative force and an open mind towards what is new have formed part of Mercedes-Benz's motorsports history from the outset. History's first ever automotive competition 125 years ago was already a battle of drive systems. Back then, vehicles featuring Daimler combustion engines prevailed against their steam-powered counterparts that had been dominating up to this point. In the 21st century, the brand with the star is celebrating five consecutive double world championship titles in Formula 1 with hybrid engines. At the end of 2019, the brand will also launch in Formula E.
Stuttgart. Victories in motorsports require a willingness to compete. This not only applies to the competition between drivers and racing teams, but also to the rivalry between technological concepts. For this reason, alternative drives have continued to form part of the unique motorsport history spanning 125 years at Mercedes-Benz.
Consecutive winner: In 2014, a new 1.6-litre V6 power unit featuring turbocharging and enhanced hybrid functions premièred in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula 1 Silver Arrows. Since that particular season, the racing team has won five consecutive Formula 1 constructors' and drivers' world championship titles. The development of new Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles is also benefiting from the experience gained in motorsports. Applications range from electrical brake energy recuperation to high-voltage technology for electric drives.
Electrical: On 22 November 2019, Mercedes-Benz will première in the fully electric Formula E racing series. The Mercedes-Benz EQ Formula E team is heading to the starting grid with two Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrows 01. Their development also involves expertise gained as part of working on drives in current Formula 1 racing cars.
Big bang: Steam engine or high-speed combustion engine – which system would prevail in history's first ever automotive competition? Spectators and experts alike asked themselves this question on 22 July 1894 at the start of the run from Paris to Rouen. By the end, the decision was clear: Peugeot and Panhard & Levassor won joint first prize. Both manufacturers' vehicles were driven by Daimler two-cylinder V-engines generating around 2.6 kW (3.5 hp). Panhard & Levassor built the assembly on licence. The first prize was simultaneously a victory for the combustion engine, a technology that was still new in automotive engineering. An alternative drive system technology so to speak, compared with the tried-and-tested steam engine and the still very common modes of transport involving horse-drawn carts or teams of oxen.
Transformation: Developments that have proven their worth in motorsports also have an effect on series-production technology in automotive engineering. This had already become obvious as part of the race from Paris to Rouen. History's first automotive competition was not only a race for the best time, but mainly focussed on reliability and everyday suitability. The two French manufacturers relying on Daimler engines won because their vehicles fulfilled these criteria in the best possible way as they were "safe to use, easy to operate and not too expensive to run" ("être sans danger, aisément maniable pour les voyageurs et de ne pas coûter trop cher sur la route"). These were criteria that the "Le Petit Journal" tabloid newspaper had specified as the organiser of the competition.
Mixture: The combustion engine had only just started prevailing as the preferred automotive power source when clever engineers already started developing alternative drives. A vehicle with electric drive already started at the second ever race ─ the Paris–Bordeaux–Paris long-distance competition in June 1895 ─ but it did not finish. Ferdinand Porsche, who would become Technical Director at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in Austria from 1906 and was then to take over this position at DMG in Untertürkheim from 1923, was already working on a hybrid drive at the start of the 20th century: a Daimler engine used an alternator to generate electrical energy and drive the electric wheel hub motors. On 7 May 1902, Porsche won the race to the top of Exelberg mountain near Vienna in such a so-called Mixte racing car on the basis of the Mercedes-Simplex generating 28 hp.
Compression ignition engine: The four-stroke petrol engine had been dominating racing cars since the start of the 20th century. Mercedes-Benz was very successful with it. However, the Stuttgart-based brand was also looking at the diesel engine, most of all for rally cars and vehicles attempting to break records. The milestones included:
- Class victory at Mille Miglia 1955 with the Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120)
- Overall victory at the 1959 Méditerranée-Le Cap Africa Rally with the Mercedes-Benz 190 D (W 121)
- Diesel world records with the Mercedes-Benz C 111-II D and C 111-III (1976 and 1978)
- 30-day world record drive with the Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI (W 211) in 2005
- Class victory at 2015 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race with the Mercedes-Benz C 300 d 4MATIC (W 205)
Solar-powered winner: In 1985, apprentices at Mercedes-Benz factories in Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim designed and built the Mercedes-Benz Alpha-Real solar-powered car. Photovoltaic panels with a total of 432 cells jointly supply its two electric motors generating 1.8 kW (2.4 hp) with power. The solar-powered racing car came out top at the "Tour de Sol" rally from Lake Constance to Lake Geneva with 21-year-old Peter Bauer at the wheel. Its top speed is 71 km/h. Today, the solar-powered car forms part of the permanent exhibition at Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart in Legends 7 entitled "Silver Arrows – Races & Records".
Hybrid première: The year 2009 marked the first time that the kinetic energy recuperation system KERS was permitted to be installed in Formula 1 racing car drive trains as a hybrid component. That particular season, Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix and the Singapore Grand Prix in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-24. In 2010, Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula 1 with the company's own racing team, and since 2014, the company has once more been at the forefront of motorsports history with a unique series of victories. The racing cars' hybrid drive is being continuously evolved and improved to this day. For instance, compared to 2009, the weight of the battery system has been cut by over 80 percent, while the energy storage unit's efficiency has increased from 70 percent to 96 percent.
Born in hell: In 2013 the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive set a new record at Nürburgring Nordschleife. It completed a lap around the so-called "Green Hell" circuit in 7:56.234 minutes and is thus the first series-production electric vehicle to race around the legendary race track in under eight minutes. In Legends 6, entitled "New Start – The Road to Emission-free Mobility, 1982 to Present" at Mercedes-Benz Museum, the SLS AMG Electric Drive represents the development of alternative drives in top-class series-production sports cars.