1934 marked the beginning of a new era in motor racing history: the W 25 won victory in the Eifel race. The unprecedented string of successes of the Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows continues to this day.
It was a simple idea in 1934 that made silver the colour of racing success – success that persists through today. It all began on the eve of the Eifel race at the weighing station on the Nürburgring. The regulations allowed no vehicle to weigh more than 750 kilograms. The brand new W 25 weighed one kilogram too much however. Alfred Neubauer, manager of the Mercedes-Benz racing team, had the white paint ground off, leaving a purely aluminium body that sparkled in silver. The next morning Manfred von Brauchitsch took his seat at the wheel of the lightened, 750 kg car and won the race with a commanding performance. Later he was to tell the press: “To drive a Silver Arrow is an honour.”
Victory followed upon victory, and soon everyone was talking about the Silver Arrows, which were not given this name until later. The Silver Arrow legend was born, originating in the story of the “scraped off paint” and in an unrivalled series of successes.
Shortly after the war-related interruption of racing ceased, it was again gleaming Silver Arrows and brilliant drivers who were ahead of their time in motor racing – first and foremost, Juan Manuel Fangio in the W 196 R Formula One car in 1954 and 1955. After a 40-year absence from Formula One racing, the Silver Arrows again won the World Championship in 1998 and 1999 with Mika Häkkinen capturing the title.
The string of successes continues to this day: in 2008, Lewis Hamilton, in a McLaren-Mercedes, became the youngest World Champion in the history of Formula One to date. The following year saw Jenson Button win the World Championship title for Mercedes-Benz partner team Brawn GB, now MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS. In the 2012 season, Nico Rosberg’s victory in the Chinese Grand Prix was the first win by a Silver Arrows works team since that of Juan Manuel Fangio at Monza in 1955.
What exactly makes the Silver Arrows so exciting and fascinating is hard to say. Is it their continuous success? Their superior power? Their incomparable engineering? Their matchless shape? Or is it the colour that makes the spirit of the most famous racing car a talisman for the most courageous drivers of a period? Presumably everything together – plus passion.
The Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows are a byword for remarkable technical feats and continuous success. Every era has its winners. For over 75 years, the Silver Arrows have put their stamp on three eras in which they have been among the best on the racing circuits of the world – down through today, and for many years in each era. Currently, we are witnessing the longest and most successful phase, beginning with the factory’s involvement in the world championship for sports prototypes and the DTM (the German touring car championship) in 1988. With the return to Formula One racing in 1994, the Silver Arrows resumed successful Grand Prix racing.
Part one of the success story began on the Nürburgring on 3 June 1934. Straightaway, Manfred von Brauchitsch won the Eifel race on the first start of the new W 25. No wonder: the technology of the first Silver Arrow was revolutionary, and Mercedes-Benz dominated motor racing. The W 125 developed in 1937 also set standards, and, when a new racing formula was introduced in 1938, the series of wins was perpetuated by the three-litre W 154 racing car.
Its engineering made it a winner 750 kilograms overall weight: in 1934, this formula spelled the birth of the legend of the Silver Arrow – the winner without paint. The race organisers’ purpose in devising the new racing formula was to reduce the vehicles’ power and with it their racing speed. But they got exactly the opposite result. In the W 25, the Mercedes-Benz engineers, making the most they could of the regulations, developed a car that attained maximum speeds despite minimum weight – ending up by removing the previously customary white paint. The first in-line eight-cylinder engine in the W 25 delivered 354 hp (260 kW); in 1936, a further improved version with a displacement of 4740 cubic centimetres (289 cubic inches) even developed 494 hp (363 kW).
The idea of taking optimum advantage of the formula was also the principle followed by the design of the W 125. This car was flexibly built, capable of being configured to adapt perfectly to the course in question. The transmission, tank, fuel mixture, carburettor, supercharger, wheel sizes, tyre treads and even the exterior dimensions could be changed. The variability of the tank, for example, always permitted carrying the exactly needed quantity of fuel – considering that fuel consumption was about one litre per kilometre in those days, that could decide a race.
The W 196 R of 1954, a technical marvel, was also adapted to the rules of the newly created Formula One. The guarantees of success were the light and sturdy tubular space frame, the suspension with torsion bars, the new single-joint swing axle at the rear as well as the giant, turbo-cooled drum brakes. The power plant, an in-line eight-cylinder engine developing 256 hp (188 kW) and in 1955, 290 hp (213 kW) was installed into the frame slanted to the right to lower the centre of gravity and reduce the frontal area and so increase the chances of victory.
The Silver Arrows of the modern era of Formula One are powered by V8 engines with a displacement of 2.4 litres. The cars can accelerate from 0 to 160 km/h in 3.6 seconds. In fast bends, centrifugal forces of up to 5 g can be experienced. New transmission technologies ensure that no loss of traction is suffered during changes of gear. And it is not only gear changes that are controlled via the steering wheel: a multitude of buttons allow the driver to make adjustments to all the relevant systems – from engine output to the sensitivity of the accelerator – without taking their hands off the wheel. The result of the races is often also dependent on the choice of tyres.
Mika Häkkinen was one of the most talented and determined drivers. Even the severe injuries sustained in a training accident in 1995 in Adelaide, Australia, could not keep him from competing in further races. On the contrary, the McLaren-Mercedes driver won his first Formula One race in the finale of the 1997 season at the Jerez circuit in Spain and became world champion in the two following years, 1998 and 1999.
The engineers and technicians of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One team are driven by the same passion: they optimise individual components until they attain the goal they’ve set themselves. With the result that today’s Formula One cars are safer and more controllable and steer with greater precision than ever before.
Motor racing is one of the most challenging sports. The drivers go to the limit to come out on top in the end. In the race, man and machine form an inseparable team. Many drivers of the Silver Arrows were regarded as heroes because, even under the severest conditions, they pursued and finally achieved a single aim: victory. Just how crucial to success the stamina of a driver and the reliability of the car can be is demonstrated by the 1955 Grand Prix of Argentina. History records it as a hot-weather race: the thermometer showed over 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 °F) in the shade and over 50 degrees (122 °F) on asphalt. Many of the teams substituted drivers, some of the cars being driven by three or more drivers taking turns. Juan Manuel Fangio in his W 196 R Silver Arrow was practically the only one able to withstand the strain by himself up to the end of the race thanks to resolute pre-race training. He won the race by a tremendous margin to defend his World Champion’s title that season. Again and again, the drivers and vehicle designers of the McLaren-Mercedes team push man and machine almost to the breaking point.
Cheering crowds, spectacular overtaking manoeuvres and brilliant winners: every Grand Prix is exciting in its own way. And some races are the stuff of legends.
Outstanding engineering, shrewd tactics and daring drivers – motor racing is nothing for people with bad nerves. Especially because each race takes a different course, and the unexpected always can happen. The eighth Grand Prix of Monaco was one of those racing days. Monday, 13 April 1936: it is pouring in Monte Carlo. Oil leaks at the start. The first accident already occurs after the first lap, at the harbour. But from the start, there is one driver who is simply unstoppable: Rudolf Caracciola manoeuvres his Silver Arrow with just the right touch through the bends of the legendary urban circuit – and crosses the finish line as winner. Once again, he lives up to his reputation as “rain champion”.
Another thriller was the Grand Prix of Japan in Suzuka on 31 October 1999. The situation was touch-and-go. Eddie Irvine had 70 points, Mika Häkkinen, 66. So Michael Schumacher was supposed to aim for victory and secure third place for Irvine. But things turned out differently: though Schumacher started from the pole position, Häkkinen took the lead, won the race and became Formula One World Champion for the second time after 1998.
Lewis Hamilton winning the Drivers’ World Championship title in Sao Paulo in 2008 was another unforgettable occasion. This was the last race of the season and to become World Champion, Hamilton had to finish at least fifth. In the final phase of the race, rain set in with Hamilton running in sixth place. But while his rival, at the finish, was already celebrating taking the title, Hamilton managed to overtake Timo Glock in the final bend of the final lap to become World Champion. Even three-time Formula One World Champion Niki Lauda had to admit: “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
From the very beginning, the secret of the Silver Arrows has been the Mercedes-Benz team’s passion for its work. Racing manager, drivers and mechanics do everything in their power to make their team the winning team at the end of the day. And so again and again, they try new tacks and invent methods and technologies that contribute their share to success. The legendary racing manager Alfred Neubauer, for example, was the first to communicate with his drivers by means of an innovative system of flags and signs, feeding them tactical instructions to keep the competition at bay. Neubauer is also the man who perfected the timing of the pit stop, synchronising every motion of the crew in dynamic training in the pursuit of fractions of a second that would give his drivers an edge.
Not least of all, it is the passion for motor racing and the aspiration to be among the best that brought the Silver Arrows success again beginning in 1954. Neubauer worked with utmost precision on strategies to secure triumph for the innovative racing car. One of them remains current through today: the best car should be driven by the best driver – the reason why the seasoned driver Juan Manuel Fangio was taken on. The technologies of the car also obeyed strategic demands: the W 196 R was flexibly adjustable. Whether it competed with streamlined body or as monoposto, what wheelbase was chosen or what braking system – all was decided by the peculiarities of the course and the drivers’ individual preferences.
In the world of Formula One today, the principle of passion is as powerful as ever. The pit crew at MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS practise countless pit stops ahead of every race weekend. And practice does make perfect: the team can change all four wheels of the Silver Arrow in less than three seconds.
Despite the variety of options: for the Silver Arrows, the Nürburgring is the course on which their legend was born. The originally 28 km (17.4 miles) Eifel circuit was inaugurated in 1927. Rudolf Caracciola once described the course as “tremendously difficult”. On the new 5.1 km (3.2 miles) Ring, the Mercedes Arena was officially opened in 2002.
No other course stands for ambitious racing as much as the streets of Monaco. Narrow, steep and twisting, they present an incomparable course that challenges drivers every time anew. So far, Mercedes-Benz has posted nine victories in Monaco – an outstanding achievement since the extreme course permits an average speed of barely 150 km/h (93 mph). For drivers, race organisers and crew, however, what is so fascinating about every race is the goal itself: to rise up to a new challenge and leave the course as winner.
Today as in the past, Grand Prix races excite hundreds of thousands of spectators along the course. But nowadays, motor racing offers more variety than ever to drivers and fans. The circuits in Monza, Monaco or Silverstone are classics, but have long since ceased to be the only important venues for the Formula One, which meanwhile is represented on virtually all continents. There is now a course in Melbourne, Australia, as there is in Shanghai, China, and in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Night races, for example, have been added, imposing entirely new demands on the drivers.
The Silver Arrows have been taking on the competition with great success for many years. A new chapter in the long success story of the Silver Arrows now begins, with the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team.
Precisely 111 years after the first victory by a Mercedes during the “Nice Race Week” in 1901 and 20,671 days after the last win by a Silver Arrows works car at Monza in 1955, MEeS AMG PETRONAS driver Nico Rosberg, in Shanghai, joined that elite group of racing drivers to have won a Grand Prix in a Silver Arrow.
Rosberg’s 2012 win in China provides proof that passion, even in the face of the toughest competition, can lead to victory. Passion has long been at the core of Mercedes-Benz’s motorsport commitment. Indeed, the annual report of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft for 1907/1908 states: “We consider the additional expenditure on motor racing absolutely vital in order to defend the position due to our marque against international competition.”
The history of the silver Grand Prix racing cars from Mercedes-Benz stretches back to June 1934, when the Mercedes-Benz W 25 made its debut in the Eifelrennen at the Nurburgring. The winner back then: Manfred von Brauchitsch.
The goal of being the best in the race has not changed for Mercedes-Benz over the years. The Silver Arrows are now more than ever synonymous with a passion to compete. Whether drivers, design engineers or technicians, everyone involved is prepared to take up the challenge and to adapt time and time again to cope with new regulations, new courses and new rivals. History shows: when victory is at stake, you can always count on the Silver Arrows. This is what has made them true legends on wheels.
The W 25 with supercharged engine was built for the 750-kg formula racing class. During the time it was used, from 1934 to 1936, the car was repeatedly modified and equipped with increasingly more powerful engines. Mercedes-Benz managed eleven Grand Prix victories with the W 25. Rudolf Caracciola was European champion in 1935.
The Mercedes-Benz W 125 was developed after a less successful 1936 season. In 12 Grand Prix races in 1937, it chalked up six first-place, nine second-place and six third-place finishes. Down to the beginning of the 1980s, it had the reputation for being the most powerful car to ever start in a Grand Prix race. Caracciola won his second European championship.
For the 1938 season, the weight of the racing cars was no longer limited, but the displacement was: to a maximum three litres with and 4.5 litres without supercharger. Mercedes-Benz had the right answer in the W 154, the make’s first twelve-cylinder car. It won six of the nine most important races in 1938 and helped Caracciola gain his third European champion’s title; in 1939, the W 154 won five out of seven races – the most successful driver was Hermann Lang.
To exclude the successful Mercedes-Benz cars as competitors, the Italian organisers of the popular race in Tripoli announced that the 1939 race would be for 1.5-litre racing cars. In only eight months, Mercedes-Benz then developed an entirely new car that started in this one race only – and did so with success: on 7 May 1939, the W 165 posted a double victory against a superior force of 28 other racing cars.
Return of the Silver Arrows to the Formula One: the first race in which the W 196 R competed, the French Grand Prix, ended in a double victory. “On that day we really only saw the competitors at the start and when we lapped them,” winner Juan Manuel Fangio is quoted. The W 196 R scored three more victories in 1954, and Fangio became world champion.
The W 196 R dominated the race tracks again in 1955. In the seven races of the season, it chalked up five victories, including four 1-2 finishes, and Juan Manuel Fangio repeated his win of the Formula One World Championship. The 300 SLR captured the sports car world championship and the 300 SL the European Touring Car Championship. At season’s end, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from motorsport to use the now free capacity for passenger car development.