After 30 years in the DTM Series, Mercedes are to depart from the championship at the end of 2018.
The Stuttgart based outfit joined the series in 1988, entering Formula One for the first time as well.
Jürgen Hubbert was a board member at Daimler AG at the time and played a role in launching Mercedes‘ motorsport legacy.
As with many manufacturers taking the plunge into the racing aspect of automobiles, it was largely for the purpose of brand image but that latterly became less important. Furthermore, motorsport allows for the testing of certain developments under extreme conditions which can be transferred over into the road series production.
“At first it was mainly about giving the brand – and especially the 190 model – a more positive and sporty image,” said Hubbert. “With the 190, we were entering a new market segment in 1982. Long before I joined the board, we were racing with the 190. For example, with Senna at the Nürburgring, just to show that the cars were suited for that purpose as well. Then there were the world record attempts at Nardo. But the biggest push came with our entry in the DTM, and that brought our first successes on the track. Parallel with that, interest grew in performance-enhanced vehicles sporting the Mercedes AMG badge.”
Mercedes went on to enjoy a lot of success between 1990 and 1996 (the DTM was not held 1997-99), winning the championship twice with Klaus Ludwig and twice with Bernd Schneider.
This success, more than certainly boosted the brand’s image in the 90s.
“If you’re the sort of person with a feel for fast cars, where else can you get to see them close up? In the DTM, the fans stand next to the racing cars. We have consistently made a point of facilitating that. Norbert Haug was always a marketing man who wanted to involve customers. From very early on, we had lavish hospitality suites where customers were welcome to come. And Norbert made sure that the drivers put in an appearance as well.
“The public came within touching distance not only of the cars but also of the drivers. Then we had the idea of the ‘race taxi’. These are all things that had the desired effect. For example, I went to Hockenheim with my whole team, and all of my departmental and divisional heads got a ride in a racing car. Every one of them came back with a twinkle in their eye. That motivated people inside and outside the company. We achieved the impact that we had set out to achieve.”
Mercedes, has always been a strong force in the DTM and with the drivers that they have had on their books it is no surprise really.
“At the very beginning, it was Roland Asch. He was so down to earth, of course, and he talked the local Swabian dialect, which went down very well around here. And he was also very fast. We had a few whose name you heard once, maybe twice, and after that nothing much again. There are some names that even I can’t remember. Among the names that were influential you would certainly include Jörg van Ommen and Kurt Thiim. And then along came Klaus Ludwig. He came to us from Ford and was the big star until Bernd Schneider arrived [Schneider is known as Mr DTM]. But Ellen Lohr was also a star, because she was the first woman to win a race. The ex-Formula 1 racing drivers Mika Häkkinen, Jean Alesi, David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher were also important to us and to the DTM, of course.”
With the amount of time that Mercedes has spent in the DTM it is no wonder they have accumulated many race victories, but Hubbert’s personal favourite came on enemy territory.
“The sensation generated by Ellen Lohr’s victory was obviously extraordinary. She was the first woman to win a DTM race. And then there were our years of dominance at the Norisring – in ‘enemy country’, so to speak [The Norisring is in Bavaria where both Audi and BMW are based].”
Of course, with all that goes well it also means that moments of controversy are abound.
“The most amazing moment was when we heard over the Audi radio: “Push him out of the way!” You could never imagine that a sporting director would say something like that to his driver, and that the driver would then go and do it.”
This is of course in reference to the shocking moment at the Red Bull Ring back in 2015 when Wolfgang Ullrich told Timo Scheider to take both Robert Wickens and Pascal Wehrlein out of the race.
Despite all this, Mercedes’ time in the DTM must come to a close as they focus on new ventures elsewhere but they owe a lot to the series which boosted the attractiveness of the Mercedes brand far more than they could have ever envisaged.