Gottleib Daimler and Karl Benz were two pioneer builders of motor cars. Nazi propaganda led the world to believe that they were the first makers of automobiles, but this is not the case. They were predated by various makers of steam-powered machines - an automobile is not defined by having an internal combustion engine, else why would Daimler-Benz have invested so heavily in fuel cell technology?
From 1900 on, Mercedes was the name under which Daimler sold cars. It was not until 1926 that the independent companies of Daimler and Benz completed protracted negotiations to merge and the marque and Mercedes-Benz, was formed. Prior to that, each company could look back on a history of motor racing involvement, a distinguished history so far as Mercedes was confirmed.
The new company was to enjoy success in motor racing with a series of brilliant sports cars (S, SS, SSK, SSKL) designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and, stripped of mudguards and headlights, they were also superb in grands prix racing, and mountain climbs.
By the end of 1930, the economic position in Germany was such that Mercedes-Benz cut back its competition programme to nearly nothing. When Hitler came to power, he realised that motor racing could be a powerful propaganda tool and his government offered a subsidy to a viable project. Two companies were successful, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. The direct government subsidy amounted to no more than ten-per-cent of either team's budget, but the rest was more than made up by the award of lucrative military contracts.
Of the two, Mercedes-Benz was the most successful even though, in 1936, it got its car wrong and withdrew before the end of the season. Between them, however, the two German teams were responsible for a Golden (Silver?) Age of technical development.
After WW2, Germany was excluded from international motor sport until 1950. Besides, Daimler-Benz and Auto Union had other problems to deal with, such as a divided Germany and the rebuilding of shattered factories. In the board room of Daimler-Benz, however, the value of racing as a development exercise and publicity vehicle was seen as part of the strategy of rebirth. The question was not if the company would return but when, and the decision depended partly on the health of the company and partly on international politics.
In early 1951 Mercedes-Benz discreetly tested the water by sending a pair of 1939 3-litre supercharged W163s to Argentina to compete in a couple of Formula Libre races. Karl Kling and Hermann Lang finished second and third in both, on each occasion beaten by Gonzalez's blown 2-litre Ferrari. It gave the company a small indication of the strength of the opposition but, more importantly, there had been no outcry about their participation.
Soon afterwards the board of Daimler-Benz sanctioned a return to racing the following year with a sports car based on production components with a pukka GP effort to follow. Under the direction of that great engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, a team of Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupes was built for racing in 1952 and they acquitted themselves well with the highlight being 1-2 at both Le Mans and in the Carrera Panamericana. This design was then retired, a production version was marketed, and a new F1 design was laid down for the start of the 2-litre formula.
A design team led by Uhlenhaut and Hans Scherenberg produced a car which commanded respect rather than excitement. No matter how much money and personnel a team has, success can never be guaranteed or else Ferrari would have won every race in the last thirty years, but Daimler-Benz's W196 was extremely successful, so all credit to it. The interesting thing remains that it was not copied. The reason for this is that it was a complete package of a sort which could only be compiled by a major manufacturer.
On July 4th, 1954, Mercedes-Benz returned to GP racing at Reims with three cars for Fangio, Karl Kling and Hans Herrmann - one star and two second-string drivers who happened to be German. Externally, the cars were sensational for they were clothed in gorgeous fully-enclosed aerodynamic bodies which were ideally suited to Reims which was a high speed triangle of long straights with tricky corners at the end of each straight. This body has struck a chord in the imagination though W196s did not race in this form many times and they were actually not that clever.
Mercedes-Benz scored a 1-2 on its return, but some observers noticed that the cars looked a handful on the tighter corners at Reims and wondered how much aerodynamics had contributed to the win. If the stromlinienwagen had been an advantage at Reims it was a handicap at Silverstone where the enclosed wheels made the car difficult to place in the corners and its handling was a problem. Fangio could finish no higher than fourth a lap down, and his car's battered bodywork told its own story. In the medium fast corners at Silverstone, the car would lurch from understeer to oversteer.
Mercedes-Benz covered that fact by claiming that the enveloping bodywork meant that Fangio had difficulty in placing his car in corners, and while they were spreading that story, they were busily making open-wheelers. Fangio, a sportsman, went along with the official line.
It was one of a whole string of occasions when the Mercedes-Benz PR machine put out a false story to preserve the image of Teutonic invincibility. At the very next race, Hermann Lang spun out of second place. The team blamed the driver, and the driver went along with the story, but film of the incident shows that the transmission locked up.
When the great prewar ace, Rudolf Caracciola, crashed his 300SL in Switzerland in 1952, a crash which finally ended his career, it was again officially driver error. Film of the crash reveals that a front wheel locked.
On the other hand, Fangio was rewarded with a Mercedes-Benz agency in Buenos Aires, Lang received a sinecure working for the Daimler-Benz Museum until the end of his days, and Caracciola was found a job demonstrating cars to NATO servicemen stationed in Germany. The company has always looked after its personnel, but its PR department has an appalling record of pedalling falsehoods.
Fangio succeeded in winning the World Championship in 1954 (he won the first two rounds in a Maserati 250F) and he was joined in the team the following year by Stirling Moss. Apart from an uncharacteristic spate of failures at the Monaco GP, Mercedes-Benz dominated the season and also won the World Sports Car Championship, with Moss winning the Mille Miglia, Tourist Trophy and Targa Florio.
Moss and Fangio were paired at Le Mans and held an easy lead when the team withdrew. One of its drivers, Pierre Bouillon, who raced under the nom-de-guerre, 'Pierre Levegh' had been involved in an accident not of his making. His car was launched into the crowd, killing the unfortunate 'Levegh' and more than 80 spectators.
The accident was set in motion by a misjudgement by Mike Hawthorn, and the carnage was so great because of the circuit's design, 'Levegh' and Mercedes-Benz were both blameless. The factory withdrew partly because it was horrified by the crash, partly because it felt that had it gone on to win, as it probably would have done, it would be a tarnished victory.
Work was proceeding on cars for 1956 when, on 22nd October, came the announcement that it was to withdraw from racing. Among the developments it had in the pipeline was four-wheel-drive.
After that, rumours of a return popped up every few years. Then, in the late 1980s, it returned to sports car racing through giving financial and technical support to Sauber. As part of its programme, it established a junior team to bring along talent of the order of Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger. In 1993 it supported Sauber's entry to Formula One and backed the team for two years, adding Keith Wiggins ill-fated Pacific GP team to its roster in 1994.
In 1995, Mercedes, which was keen to establish a relationship with a proven winning team, began a long and fruitful partnership with McLaren. In reality, the engines were built by Ilmor Engineering a British company established by Mario Illien and Paul Morgan in Northamptonshire in 1984, however, DaimlerChrysler provided technical input and funding.
The partnership went from strength to strength with McLaren-Mercedes cars winning the Drivers' Championship in 1998 and 1999 and the Constructors' Championship in 1998.
In 2002, following the death of Ilmor co-founder Paul Morgan a year earlier in a flying accident, DaimlerChrysler increased its shareholding to 55% and renamed the company Mercedes-Ilmor. Three years down the line DaimlerChrysler became the sole owner and promptly renamed the company Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines.
In addition to buying Ilmor, Daimler bought a 40 percent stake in McLaren however, while all appeared to be sweet and light on the outside by 2008 there was talk of all not being well between the two parties.
In 2009, for the first time since 1995, Mercedes supplied powerplants to outside teams with Force India and Brawn GP both keen to get their hands on what was reputed to be the best engine on the grid.
To the German manufacturer's frustration Brawn took both titles for to look at the un-branded cars the casual observers would be blissfully unaware of Mercedes involvement.
On November 16, two weeks after the conclusion of the 2009 season, and three months after McLaren and Mercedes celebrated their 250th Grand Prix as a partnership, Daimler and McLaren announced that they were bringing their business partnership to an end with the McLaren Group buying back the German manufacturer's 40 percent shareholding.
At the same time, Daimler AG announced that in partnership with Aabar Investments PJSC, a global investment company owned through a series of subsidiary companies by the Abu Dhabi Government, it would be taking over 75.1 per cent of the Brawn GP team. The remaining 24.9 percent of Brawn GP would remain with its original stakeholders who include Ross Brawn and Nick Fry.
"The background to this decision are the new terms and conditions for Formula 1," said Mercedes. "The Resource Restrictions set by FOTA and FIA effectively limit expenditure for the design, construction and running of the racing cars. In addition, there will be a significantly higher income available for a Formula 1 team generated by the commercial rights of the racing series following the signing of the new Concorde Agreement."
"Mercedes-Benz resumes its marvellous motor racing history on the 75th anniversary of the Silver Arrows, the world's most unique racing cars," the manufacturer was keen to point out. "Mercedes wants to continue the tradition in the style of these flawless Silver Arrows, which put their stamp on each era by winning the majority of the races they competed in."
Shortly after announcing the purchase of Brawn GP, Mercedes announced that it had signed Nico Rosberg, giving the Brackley outfit an even more Germanic look. However, the best was yet to come.
On December 23, as most of us wound down and prepared for the Christmas holiday, the team announced that it had persuaded seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher to come out of retirement, thereby reuniting the German with the company that brought him to F1 - Mercedes having paid for his Jordan drive back in 1991 - and the man (Ross Brawn) with whom he'd won all seven titles.
It had been an odd journey, one that began in Germany well over a hundred years ago and includes some of the greatest names in motorsport history. As we looked ahead to 2010, salivating at the thought of the line-up - Mercedes, Brawn, Schumacher and Rosberg - we all wondered if they might conjure up more of the Silver Arrows magic, especially in the wake of Brawn's own fairytale. Sadly, the season proved to be something of a nightmare for all concerned.
While Brawn had secured both titles in 2009, many appear to have forgotten how the team dropped off towards the end of the season. As money ran out, development dropped off, not to mention the fact that the team needed to 'lose' around 40 percent of its workforce. Whereas, certainly in the first half of 2009, Brawn led the way, for Mercedes much of 2010 was about catch-up.
Initially, the car showed a respectable pace, though it was no real match for the McLaren and Red Bull. In the latter half of the season however, the team, having now been surpassed by Ferrari, was now under intense pressure from Renault.
In addition to the fact that that the short gearbox - certainly when compared to those on the McLaren, Renault and Ferrari - didn't fully exploit the benefit of the double diffuser, the team was off the ball when it came to the F-duct, the blown diffuser and even its engine cover.
At times, the team appeared lost, witness the decision to introduce a longer wheelbase car at Barcelona, while the blown diffuser, introduced at Valencia, was then scrapped before being reintroduced.
Overall, the W01 was good on circuits with slow and medium speed corners but lost out in high speed corners due to its lack of downforce.
In terms of its drivers, Rosberg continued to impress, the German totally unruffled by his superstar teammate. Schumacher, on the other hand, was disappointing.
While some of his performances, by other drivers' standards, would have been seen as excellent, certainly when one considers the equipment at his disposal, by his lofty standards they were relatively lacklustre. That said, the German, who certainly improved as the season progressed, appeared far more relaxed than during his hey day. Indeed, one could say that despite the lack of results he really enjoyed himself.
In his favour, the lack of testing, regulation changes, the characteristics of the Bridgestones and the weaknesses of the W01 made things difficult for the seven-time champion, but one has to wonder why Rosberg did such a clearly better job.
While the podium finishes in Malaysia, China and Britain were clear indication of the Nico's talent, let's not forget that other than out-qualifying Schumacher 14 times, the youngster was surely destined for a second place in Korea until he encountered Mark Webber's Red Bull. Certainly, despite claims in the media that he would be seen off by Schumacher, Nico got on with his job, never rising to the bait certain sections of the media were throwing in his direction.
Though Mercedes didn't take that all important step forward in 2011, it didn't slip back either and remained a fairly comfortable fourth best. That said, the team scored significantly fewer points than in its maiden season and failed to secure a single podium finish.
With the MGP WO2, Ross Brawn and the team opted for a short wheelbase car. However, the Englishman subsequently admitted that this had not proved as advantageous as originally thought. While Mercedes KERS system once again proved to be one of the best out there, the team struggled to get to grips with the new exhaust technologies, it also had problems with the new Pirelli rubber, the German car proving to be extremely hard on its tyres.
With pre-season testing suggesting that the Brackley team was not going to be troubling the three pace-setters, the season got off to a less than auspicious start in Melbourne when both drivers retired with accident damage.
Schumacher scored the team's first points of the season in Malaysia, with teammate Rosberg finishing a distant twelfth. However, in China the youngster finished a convincing fifth and his teammate eighth, Rosberg having led the race at one stage.
In Turkey, Rosberg qualified a superb third, bringing the WO2 home in fifth next day. In Canada, Schumacher equalled his best finish for the team, finishing fourth after running as high as second, while in Valencia, Rosberg finished seventh, and Schumacher seventeenth after contact with Vitaly Petrov.
Having attracted criticism in 2010, Schumacher gave a far better account of himself in 2011. Though Rosberg continued to have the better of him in qualifying, the seven-time champ looked more like his old self on Sunday afternoons. Indeed, as he fought various battles over the course of the season - most notably Lewis Hamilton at Monza - he appeared to be having the time of his life.
In Belgium, where he celebrated twenty years since his first F1 start, Schumacher was forced to start from the back of the grid after losing a wheel in qualifying. However, a typically determined performance on his favourite track, not to mention the opening lap of the season, saw the German finish a convincing fifth.
Reliability was excellent with the team only suffering two retirements - air box fire in Monaco and gearbox failure in Hungary, both for Schumacher - as the drivers continued to mop up the points not taken by Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. Top speed was amongst the best out there, while the pit crew is widely considered to be amongst the best - and quickest - in the business.
Over the course of the season, both drivers finished in the points on eight occasions, yet while the German team was never under threat from Lotus Renault GP or Force India, so too the Silver Arrows will not have kept the leading trio awake at night.
The recruitment of Bob Bell, Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis demonstrated that Mercedes most definitely meant business as it looked ahead to 2012. Ex-Ferrari man Costa was to head the aerodynamic department while ex Red Bull and Hispania man Willis would look after the mechanical side. Both men would report to the new technical director, ex Renault man Bob Bell.
It's difficult to know how best to describe the team's 2012 season. On the one hand Nico Rosberg gave the German outfit its first win since Monza 1955, however, on the other hand the team appeared to have taken one step forward and two back.
That it failed to score a single point in five successive races at the end of the season, losing out to Lotus and under pressure from Sauber, just about says it all, and one wonders how the suits in Stuttgart must be feeling.
Having seemingly conquered the problem with overheating tyres that first appeared in pre-season testing, the German outfit was completely mystified when the problem reappeared later in the year. Then there was the questionable merit of it much trumpeted double DRS device.
Both drivers did the best they could, under the circumstances, Rosberg taking a well deserved win in China, thereby making him the first German driver to win a Grand Prix driving a German car since Hermann Lang's victory at the 1939 Swiss Grand Prix. However, following the Shanghai victory, other than a podium in Monaco, it was lean pickings for the youngster.
That said, while there those couple of excellent performances, one should not forget that Schumacher gave him a run for his money, out-qualifying him 10 times and taking pole at Monaco. Indeed, for much of the season it was the veteran who appeared to have the fire in his belly, even if he continued to get involved in controversial incidents.
In late September, after weeks of rumour and denial, it was finally confirmed that Lewis Hamilton was to join the Brackley-based outfit, the Englishman leaving the comfort zone of the McLaren 'family'.
Losing fourth to Lotus in 2012 was bad enough however, another uncompetitive season, especially in light of the money being spent, was not likely to go down well in Stuttgart, and having dumped Norbert Haug it was not impossible that Brawn would be told to fall on his sword. Then again, in having Hamilton as his teammate, Rosberg would also have to up his game.
Ahead of the 2013 season we warned that it could be a make or break year for the Brackley outfit, for we were already hearing through the grapevine that Stuttgart was under pressure to justify the spending.
Ahead of the start of the season the team announced that Toto Wolff had joined as shareholder and executive director, while Lauda's new role was to be chairman of Mercedes-Benz Grand-Prix Ltd. With Wolff retaining his financial interest in Williams, there was much confusion in the F1 paddock.
Despite a much publicised crash on one of his first outings for the team, Hamilton settled in well, scoring points on his debut whilst teammate Rosberg retired with an electrical issue.
The team slowly built up momentum on race day however, it was in qualifying where it really impressed taking 8 poles between China and Belgium. That said, with only three of those poles converted into race wins the team was fully aware that while single lap race pace was excellent it was badly losing out over race distances. Not for the first time it was the four black round things that were hurting the Brackley team.
As it struggled to overcome heating and degradation issues, the team became embroiled in one of those scandals that appears in Formula One with alarming predictability. Over the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix it was revealed that Mercedes had taken part in a 'secret' test with Pirelli at Barcelona, a scandal that was to be called 'Testgate'.
Despite the furore that ensued, Mercedes walked away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, the German team merely excluded from the mid-summer Young Driver Test. While some say that this still hurt the team, the subsequent changes to the compounds did the real damage allowing Vettel and Red Bull to cruise to the titles.
Other than Testgate the German team continued to make the headlines for events away from the track, most notably the recruitment of Paddy Lowe from McLaren, a move which immediately put the future of Ross Brawn in the spotlight.
As expected, the driver pairing seemed well matched indeed, Rosberg's pace suggested that those who had rubbished Michael Schumacher's performances over the previous couple of seasons may have jumped the gun.
Dutifully obeying when told not to overtake his teammate in Malaysia - unlike some - Rosberg went on to show his true class in Monaco, leading every lap and taking an emotional victory in the Principality where he has spent much of his life. His win at Silverstone was a little more fortuitous while he impressed in India. Finishing the season sixth overall, on that basis it was the German's best year since entering F1 in 2006.
Surprisingly, though the first podium came in Malaysia and the first pole position in China, it was not until Hungary that Hamilton scored his first victory. Ironically, this came at just the time Red Bull finally got to grips with its tyres and headed off into the sunset.
At Monaco, where teammate Rosberg scored a lights-to-flag victory, having out-qualified him for three successive races, Hamilton admitted that he was struggling to control the car under braking. Indeed, the 2009 champion was noticeably vocal about various aspects of the car (and tyres) for much of the season.
Despite a strong mid-season sequence, including that maiden win for Mercedes, it was Rosberg who had the better run-in to the climax of the year, though Hamilton was able to claim fourth in the championship for the third time in his career.
As expected, at the end of the year Brawn parted company with the team, the Englishman's role being shared by Wolff (Executive Director Business) and Lowe (Executive Director Technical). While Hamilton suggested that Brawn's departure wouldn't damage the team, Lauda insisted that it left a "big hole".
Weeks later the team announced two further signings, Mark Ellis joining as Performance Director (in June 2014) and Giles Wood as Chief Engineer, Simulation and Development, both men poached from Milton Keynes.
Finishing second in the championship, albeit 236 points adrift of Red Bull, but ahead of Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren, was a major improvement for Mercedes. However, 2014, with its raft of new changes will be crucial to the Brackley squad... with Stuttgart watching very carefully.