Sunday, July 7, 2013

Silver Arrows Striking Target: Is Mercedes AMG the New Top F1 Team?

Photo Credit: Mercedes AMG

Mercedes-Benz could be enjoying a moment of greatness in Formula 1 not experienced since grand prix greats like Juan Manuel Fangio and Sir Sterling Moss drove competition cars baring the three-pointed star.

Winner of two of the past three Formula 1 races, the PETRONAS sponsored Mercedes AMG team has presented a new challenge to the defending constructors' champion Red Bull Racing. In addition, Mercedes AMG race cars driven by 2013 drivers Nico Rosberg and former Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton have collectively taken six of the last seven pole positions. Since the Australian Grand Prix, Mercedes AMG is one of four teams who have scored points in every 2013 Formula 1 event. Mercedes AMG is working on establishing the much-needed front-running consistency needed to be a lead Formula 1 organization. It has been a result of four seasons of mid-pack struggles that the current factory Mercedes team has hit a lasting stride.

Born from the spirit of Mercedes-Benz's grand prix team that first raced in the 1930s, the Silver Arrows' participation in motorsports has long been a source of pride for the German company. Tainted by the fact the Nazi German government has funded pre-war racing efforts, Mercedes-Benz would return to grand prix racing as a part of the infant Formula 1 championship in 1954. The creation of the Mercedes-Benz W196 was piloted by German drivers Hermann Lang and Hans Herrmann but was most noted for being wheeled by two other competitors. Five-time Formula 1 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio won two of his titles in seasons where he drove the W196 race car. Fangio won all but one of the Mercedes-Benz W196 wins during 1954 and 1955. Sterling Moss would have also found victory lane in the car at the 1955 British Grand Prix. The 1955 fatal disaster at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where 83 spectators died as a result of a collision involving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports car would cause the German company to reconsider their motorsport efforts. Leaving Formula 1 after the 1955 season, Mercedes-Benz would return in the 1990s as an engine supplier for Sauber and successfully McLaren.

In the conclusion of the 2009 season, Mercedes-Benz was one again willing to be a full-fledged team in Formula 1. When Daimler-Benz bought up controlling interest in the Brawn GP team from Ross Brawn (who stayed on as a Team Principal). after the 2009 Formula 1 season, many observers of the sport would have expected the returning Silver Arrows to be an instant season-long contender. Reasoning that the large auto company will invest heavily into the team, the signing of seven-time Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship Michael Schumacher was seen as a major ingredient to motorsport success. In addition to young, talented but winless German driver Nico Rosberg, Schumacher and the 2010 Mercedes GP team would find out they're starting off as a new team.

Possessing the remnants of what was the 2009 Constructor's Championship winning Brawn GP team, Mercedes GP would go without a victory for 2010 and 2011 Formula 1 seasons. Fighting against several long running teams such as Ferrari and McLaren as well as a matured Red Bull Racing team, the history of Formula 1 racing has taught that some teams can be hot one season but go completely dormant the next. In 1997, the Williams F1 team took team championship honours while fielding the year's Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve. The following season resulted in a winless, lackluster effort. In the case of Mercedes GP, 2010 was an awakening. 2011 was actually a worse season for Mercedes GP as the team scored fewer constructor points than the previous year.

In the 2010 and 2011 Formula 1 seasons, it was also becoming surreal to look at the driver performances. The grand prix legend Michael Schumacher was not the lead producer for Mercedes GP. Instead, it was Nico Rosberg who frequently outpaced and outscored Schumacher. Rosberg was the first Mercedes GP driver to step on the podium in 2010 while it took Schumacher the 2012 season's European Grand Prix in order to match that benchmark. By that time, Nico Rosberg headed the team the two most prized items for a mostly mid-marker Formula 1 effort. At the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, Rosberg clinched the team's first pole on route to the first Mercedes-Benz factory Formula 1 victory since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix won by Juan Manuel Fangio. “This is a truly special and historic day. I am so delighted for Nico, he has deserved to take his first victory several times, and has now done so by driving a perfectly judged race from pole position. I am excited to see how he develops now he has that win under his belt." commented Mercedes' Formula 1 team principal Ross Brawn who recognized it also as Rosberg's first grand prix victory. Having described the start of a his 2010 season as "...a child looking forward to Christmas.", Schumacher's three seasons ended in 2012 with retirement from Formula 1. "Even under these difficult conditions, my final Formula One race was tremendous fun, and I would once again like to thank the team and all my fans for their support over the past years. I’ve enjoyed the time we’ve spent together very much indeed.", said Schumacher on his round race with the team in Brazil.

The 2013 season was constructed as the next frontier for the Formula 1 now known as Mercedes AMG. With Michael Schumacher officially retiring from the sport following 2012, the team replaced the driver role by scooping up Lewis Hamilton as a teammate to Nico Rosberg. On the presentation of the new F1 W04 race car at Jerez, Hamilton commented, "It´s a very special day for me to officially present our Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrow to the world. There is no company with a longer history in Grand Prix racing than Mercedes-Benz and it is an honour for me to tread in the footsteps of legends like Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss and Michael Schumacher." Hiring the former McLaren driver, it was intended that Hamilton would be the important balance of youth and championship-capable experience needed to be a serious contender.

After eight races, the duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has given the Mercedes AMG team a higher amount of constructor points in 2013 than in the whole 2012 season. Two wins by Nico Rosberg including last week's British Grand Prix at Silverstone is helping to fortify the driver and team as a meaningful force in Formula 1. With three poles and a trio of podium finishes, Hamilton's presence in the team has been a positive one. It not for a tire problem in the British Grand Prix, the second Mercedes AMG victory of the 2013 season may have been his.

As the Silver Arrows are flying with race winning precision, the Mercedes AMG organization is not spending too much time basking in their success. Second in the 2013 Constructors' Championship, they are closely followed by the Scuderia Ferrari team. Going race-to-race, the entire team is focused on the German Grand Prix hoping to put together an effort granting Mercedes-Benz factory team their first such victory since 1954. 

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