Back in the 1990s, long hair, leather jackets and moody stares meant only one thing: the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team. And in some of the best motorsport news of 2012, the concept that launched the careers of men like Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Karl Wendlinger, and a chap called Michael Schumacher, is back!
So who are the next stars of the future who will make up the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Junior Team? Christian Vietoris, Roberto Merhi and Robert Wickens: remember those names. All three will be competing this year in the world’s most popular (and fastest) touring car series, the DTM, at the wheel of the brand new Mercedes AMG C- Coupé.
And the drivers will have the most potent role model of all – seven-time world champion, and 91-time grand prix winner, Michael Schumacher. Michael himself benefited from the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team in 1990 and 1991, driving for Sauber Mercedes in the World Sportscar Championship alongside fellow juniors Frentzen and Wendlinger.
What’s more, the memory of the Junior Team remains strong with Michael: “I remember clearly the early stages of my career, and what I gained from my time in the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team - both on and off the track. It taught me the best way of working with the engineers and helped me build a professional relationship to the media.
“I'm excited to see how Christian, Roberto and Robert develop - they're certainly going to have a great time - and I enjoyed meeting them in Barcelona to offer a few tips from my own experience. Being selected as a member of the Mercedes-Benz Junior Team is really something to be proud of. I will be following the performances of the DTM juniors closely and wish them lots of success.“
Indeed, developing young talent has a real tradition at Mercedes-Benz – from young drivers and mechanics in the 1930s, through engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut who was given technical responsibility for the entire racing department at the tender age of 30, to men like Hans Herrmann and Stirling Moss in the 1950s. The Junior Team was the first modern incarnation of the concept, and the young chargers of 2012 have brought the concept alive for a new generation.
“Here at Mercedes-Benz, we have a tradition of nurturing promising young drivers and talent-spotting the stars of tomorrow that goes back almost as far as the earliest Mercedes racing cars” says Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.
“In 2012, we are sending three highly gifted twenty-somethings into the fray as our DTM Junior Team: Roberto Merhi, the reigning Formula 3 Euro Series champion; Christian Vietoris, a GP2 winner who already has experience of DTM; and Robert Wickens who won the Renault World Series. All three of them are keen to make the most of their opportunity.
“The 2012 DTM season sees the introduction of a new generation of coupé; this is also the year in which we present our young, dynamic A-Class, right on the pulse of a new generation – just like our DTM juniors are, too.
“Roberto, Christian and Robert have a lot to learn, but that will not be a problem, as they are all three avid learners. The youth factor is a perfect fit with the DTM, even more so now that the series has expanded to include the three most successful premium brands in the world.”
Developing young motorsport talent is a tradition at Mercedes-Benz. Since the inaugural Formula 3 Euro Series in 2003, 13 drivers have made the breakthrough to Formula One after learning their trade with a Mercedes-Benz Formula 3 engine.
33 percent of the 2012 Formula One grid started out in Formula 3 with a Mercedes-Benz engine – reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton, 2010 DTM Champion Paul Di Resta, Kamui Kobayashi, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hülkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Bruno Senna.