NEWS FEATURE

Mercedes-Benz returns to Formula 1

Mercedes-Benz is one of the great names of motor sport, the Stuttgart company's involvement in racing going back to 1900 when the Austro-Hungarian consul in Nice Emil Jellinek asked Gottlieb Daimler to build his a run of 36 new racing cars. Daimler agreed that these could be called after Jellinek's daughter Mercedes. Success was immediate and at regular intervals the company has appeared in Grand Prix racing, won and then disappeared again.

The Le Mans disaster in 1955 put paid to Mercedes racing involvement and it was not until Peter Sauber seduced the company back into sportscars racing in the late 1980s that the silver star was again seen in racing.

Sauber's success was such that finally the team became a fullblown Mercedes factory effort. And, once sportscar racing was conquered and the Mercedes Junior Team drivers Michael Schumacher, Karl Wendlinger and Heinz-Harald Frentzen were all set on their paths to Grand Prix racing, Sauber looked to F1. In November 1991, however, Mercedes decided that it would not be directly involved.

It was a surprise, but given the economic recession at the time, it was not a surprise. Mercedes-Benz had to be seen to be cutting back. And so Sauber, discreetly supported by Mercedes, decided to go it alone. There were many suggestions that the Swiss team was a Mercedes 'stalking horse' as it had been in the early days in sportscar racing, testing the water to see the strength of the opposition.

Sauber was a success and last week Mercedes-Benz AG announced that it had taken a shareholding in Ilmor Engineering to develop high-performance engines in both Indycar racing and F1.

"Mercedes will be in F1 next year," says Sauber spokesman Hans-Peter Brack. "The Sauber engine will be a Mercedes and the company will develop it with Ilmor. I expect it will have a Mercedes star on the engine and the car will be called a Sauber-Mercedes.

"This year was the last year of a five-year agreement between Mercedes and Sauber," continues Brack. "We had mainly financial support but Mercedes also helped us to find sponsors. What the announcement means is that Sauber and Mercedes have a future together. It means that we have been able to finalize what was started in 1991 when Sauber and Mercedes decided to think about F1. As you know in November 1991 Mercedes decided not to enter F1, but now we are going ahead together."

But Mercedes-Benz will not be restricting itself to F1 and will enter Indycar racing in 1995 with Penske, the programme backed up by a strong advertisement campaign in North America. At the same time the Stuttgart manufacturer will be continuing in German touring car racing with its latest product, the Mercedes C-Class. In Germany the cars will carry the slogan 'Made by Mercedes-Benz'. In F1 Sauber will continue with the 'Concept by Mercedes-Benz' badging while in the United States the Penskes will run with the slogan 'Powered by Mercedes-Benz'.

The three-pronged attack is a clear commitment by Mercedes to motor sport and will be supported by a worldwide marketing campaign. But Mercedes is not working with a blank cheque.

"Right now it is very important for Mercedes-Benz to take part in racing at the lowest possible cost," says Brack. "This is what they are doing at the moment through partnerships with Sauber, Ilmor and AMG. In comparison to other manufacturers Mercedes is spending a small amount of money. They are in the three championships and at the moment the strategy is not to have a complete Mercedes teams. That would cost a lot more. It is to have strong partners and work together with them. It is difficult to say what will happen in the future."

The reason for this caution is the current slump in the automobile industry.

"Mercedes-Benz, like many other car manufacturers, has had problems," says Brack, "but they have been sorted that now. I think the company has a good future, particularly with the launch of the new C-class, which has been very successful. It looks like things are going upwards for Mercedes-Benz."

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