Mercedes-Benz Classic Insight: 125 years of Motorsport, Silverstone, Day 1 - Jürgen Tap

The 2019 Chinese Grand Prix is an historic event – it will mark the 1000th round of the Formula One World Championship. But the Chinese Grand Prix is not the only special anniversary the team is looking forward to. In fact, 2019 holds a number of historic anniversaries.

How it all Began for Mercedes…

On 29 January 1886, Carl Benz filed patent no. DRP 37435 with the German Imperial Patent Office in Berlin for his “gas-powered vehicle”. It was the day the automobile was born. Later that year, Gottlieb Daimler built his motorised carriage – independently of Carl Benz. The two inventions mark the beginnings of the long history of the automobile – and they ultimately lay the foundation to motorsport. Although it would take a little while before the first race was held.

125 Years of Motorsport

Eight years after the car was invented, the French daily newspaper “Le Petit Journal” organised the first ever competitive automobile race. It was a form of endurance race, held on public roads from Paris to Rouen on 22 July 1894. Of the 21 entrants lining up at the start, 17 made it to the finish – including nine vehicles powered by engines that were invented by Gottlieb Daimler and produced under license by the French vehicle manufacturer Panhard & Levassor.

The objective of the race was to make the trip from Paris to Rouen as quickly as possible in a horseless carriage that was “not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey”, the main prize was given to the competitor “whose car comes closest to the ideal”.

The 5,000 francs prize money for the top position were ultimately shared between a Panhard & Levassor and a Peugeot, both of which were powered by the two-cylinder V-engine that had been developed by Gottlieb Daimler and manufactured according to his original plans. A Benz vehicle also took part in the competition. The 3.7 kW (5 hp) car was 14th to cross the finish line but was promoted to fifth in the final standings for the “successful improvements to the motor car with petrol engine”.

The Birth of the Silver Arrows

2019 also marks the 85th anniversary of the Silver Arrows. The Eifelrennen, held on 3 June 1934 at the Nürburgring, was the first race in which the Mercedes-Benz W 25 – which would later be known as the first Silver Arrow – competed. The car was a completely new development, conceived in 1933 to be raced in a new formula for Grand Prix racing.

According to the regulations of the new series, cars could not exceed a maximum weight of 750 kilograms without fuel, oil, coolant, and tyres – but there were no other design restrictions, leaving lots of room for innovation. The Mercedes engineers from Stuttgart chose a classic vehicle architecture; an in-line eight-cylinder engine was mounted in the front and drove the rear wheels via a transmission on the rear axle.

The supercharged 3.4-litre engine produced an output of 354 hp (260 kW). And what about that one limitation of 750 kilograms? Legend has it that the car was slightly above the limit when it was weighed the day before its first race; but the team was able to bring the starting weight of the W 25 down to the regulatory limit by grinding off the car’s white paint, thus exposing its metallic silver skin – he first Silver Arrow was born.

The following day, Manfred von Brauchitsch won the Eifelrennen in the W 25 while also setting a new track record with an average speed of 122.5 km/h. It was the first of many wins for the Silver Arrows. The W 25 would compete until 1937, the last year of the 750-kg formula, its design being modified to find more and more performance.

The engine displacement was increased to a maximum of 4.7 litres, almost doubling the output to 646 hp (475 kW). The W 25 was raced by other motorsport legends such as Rudolf Caracciola and Luigi Fagioli during 1934 and 1935.

Mercedes in Formula One

65 years ago, on 4 July 1954, Mercedes made its Formula One debut at the French Grand Prix in Reims. The driver line-up included Juan Manuel Fangio, who would go on to win not only the French Grand Prix, but also the 1954 and 1955 World Championships, Karl Kling, Hans Herrmann and Hermann Lang.

The team entered the series with a newly developed racing car, the W 196 R. It was powered by a 2.5 litre, inline 8-cylinder engine which produced 256 hp (188 kW) in its first race. The W 196 came in two different body options – the famous “streamliner”, aerodynamically optimised for drag reduction on long straights; and the classic monoposto with open wheels.

While the streamlined version quickly became an iconic race car due to its unconventional looks, it was actually the monoposto that was raced more often in 1954 and 1955, the two seasons that Mercedes competed in Formula One. But streamlined or not, both versions of the W 196 turned out to be extremely successful, winning nine out of the 12 Formula One races in which they competed.

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