Jochen Mass, Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, World Sports Car Championship, 1990

Michael Schumacher: the Mercedes years 1990-1991

F1 history

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Michael Schumacher could be about to make a dream return to F1 with Mercedes’ new team in 2010. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s driven for the three-pointed star: they gave him his big break in the World Sportscar Championship 20 years ago.

In 1989 Mercedes drivers Jean-Louis Schlesser, Jochen Mass, Mauro Baldi and Kenny Acheson filled the top four places in the sportscar drivers’ championship. But the company was considering a foray into Formula 1 – and seeking the next generation of German racing drivers.

It seized upon a trio of promising young drivers who had filled the top three in that year’s German Formula Three championship. They were champion Karl Wendlinger and runners-up Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Michael Schumacher.

Mercedes’ patronage gave the three drivers the chance to gain huge testing experience in very powerful cars – boasting around 900bhp. The three were rotated between the Sauber-run Mercedes cars in 1990 entering selected races. After Frentzen went a separate way for 1991 Wendlinger and Schumacher campaigned a car together for the full season, including the Le Mans 24 Hours.

In 1990 Schumacher was paired with Jochen Mass, the German veteran of 104 Grands Prix who scored his single win in the shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix. Schumacher said his time at Mercedes taught him how to look after his tyres and think strategically about his fuel load during a race. That would prove invaluable later in his F1 career when refuelling stops were introduced, allowing him to put what he’d learned to use.

Beaten by Brawn

Mercedes won the sports car championship again in 1990 with more than twice as many points as closest rival Jaguar. But the British team hit back in 1991 with the XJR14 designed by an important figure from Schumacher’s future: Ross Brawn. In a scenario not unlike this year’s F1 championship, Brawn exploited a radical change in the rules to produce a championship-winning car.

Meanwhile Mercedes struggled with the transition from a 5-litre turbo V8 to a 3.5-litre V12. Five of Schumacher’s eight starts ended due to mechanical failure.

Schumacher’s sports car rivals got a preview of the uncompromising tactics he employed on the race track – not least Jaguar’s Derek Warwick, who flew into a rage after being hit by Schumacher during qualifying at the Nurburgring.

Warwick won the race but that evening Schumacher received a phone call from Eddie Jordan, whose F1 team was short a driver. We all know how this part of the story ends…

Despite making his F1 debut at Belgium on August 25th, Schumacher finished his season with Mercedes with races in Magny-Cours (France), Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (Mexico) and Autopolis (Japan). Schumacher won his final sportscar race in Japan, so that by the end of 1991 Mass and Schlesser out-scored Schumacher and Wendlinger by just two points.

Frentzen, meanwhile, had embarked on a doomed Formula 3000 campaign which set his career back. To cap it all his girlfriend Corinna Betsch left him at the end of 1991. She paired up with one of his former team mates, eventually becoming Corinna Schumacher…

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Mercedes’ F1 plans

Schumacher had expected to make his F1 debut with a Mercedes Formula 1 team, but their decision not to create such a team in 1991 led him to change his plans. Nonetheless, for the first few years of his F1 career he still had a clause in his contract where Mercedes could take him back if they entered F1 with their own team.

When Peter Sauber entered F1 with Mercedes-engined cars in 1993 he tried to use the clause to prise Schumacher out of Benetton – and failed. Wendlinger began the year with Sauber and Frentzen later joined them. Schumacher never started a Grand Prix with a Mercedes engine, and spent much of his F1 career trying to beat Mercedes-powered cars.

It’s not hard to see why so many people think it would be perfect for Schumacher to make a final return to F1 with a company that did much for his fledgling racing career.

Michael Schumacher WSC race results

YearRaceCircuitCarTeam matePosNotes
19903SilverstoneMercedes C11Jochen MassDQ
19905DijonMercedes C11Jochen Mass2Less than 4s behind winner
19906NurburgringMercedes C11Jochen Mass2Accident in practice
19909Hermanos RodriguezMercedes C11Jochen Mass1Schumacher set fastest lap
19911SuzukaMercedes C291Karl WendlingerDNFFire
19912MonzaMercedes C291Karl WendlingerDNFEngine
19913SilverstoneMercedes C291Karl Wendlinger2
19914Le MansMercedes C11Karl Wendlinger, Fritz Kreutzpointner5Schumacher set fastest lap
19915NurburgringMercedes C291Karl WendlingerDNFEngine
19916Magny-CoursMercedes C291Karl WendlingerDNFWater leak
19917Hermanos RodriguezMercedes C291Karl WendlingerDNFOil pump; Schumacher set fastest lap
19918AutopolisMercedes C291Karl Wendlinger1

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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23 comments on “Michael Schumacher: the Mercedes years 1990-1991”

  1. One of the most beautiful racing cars ever!
    And it looks modern and fast even for today’s standards – 20 years later.

  2. Agree with Damon.
    Has Mercedes communicated anything official regarding drivers? I really am wondering who will drive the car that I suppose will be the most competitive next year.

    1. I’ve read an interview with Norbert Haug on a Polish website just two days ago, where he said this:

      F1: Mercedes’ new drivers dou should be a ‘surprise’
      The President in charge of all Mercedes-Benz motorsport activity, Norbert Haug, has revealed that their new drivers line-up for the next season might be a pleasant surprise.
      – It will certainly surprise people. I am convinced that everybody will understard and be satisfied with our choice. – Said Haug, who didn’t exclude the possibility of running two German drivers, being Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil. At the same time, Haug dismissed the media rumour of Michael Schumacher making his comeback with the team.
      – There’s always a lot of speculation in the sport, especially as long as there are vacant driver seats and teams are looking for new drivers. There are also dreams that people would like to see fulfilled. But the dreams and reality are two different stories. – Stated Haug.

      He might be sandbagging, but I suspect he just doesn’t want people to be disappointed with Schumacher not making a come back with them.

  3. No wonder Corrina left Frentzen. Who could fail to be dazzled by Schumi in his speedos:

    Like many people, I was not a Schumacher fan while he was in F1 and yet I’d love to see him make a comeback. Former master returning to the manufacturer that plucked him from obscurity and the team boss who masterminded his success for one last championship… it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

    1. Oh… I thought Corrina was Coulthard’s ex? Maybe I’m getting that confused with somoene else?

  4. I had read a bit about Frentzen-Schumacher rivalry somewhere. It seemed intriguing.

    The two had quite a duel on race tracks as well as in their personal lives. Would love to have a blow-by-blow account of that story. Keith, do write this one :-)

    1. Yes…I’d like to hear more on this as well.

  5. ok, it’s not the right place but i’m trying to contact the site to buy an ad space for the site…please contact me

  6. Those Group C cars looked fabulous, didn’t they? Sad that M.R. Mosley and B.C. Ecclestone effectively killed off the series.

  7. Those were such great years ! Michael also drove for Mercedes in DTM, without success.

  8. The 3.5 shift in Group C was classic FIA fail. Preventing teams from using (loosely) production-based blocks in favor of clean sheet high-revving V-10s and V-12s somehow didn’t work out to save any money. The cars were unreliable and too expensive to support. That ruined what was then the best racing series on the planet. Those 89-91 designs are still some of the fastest (and most gorgeous) race cars ever to turn a wheel.

    Recalling the Warwick incident is useful reminder than Schumacher was always a jerk on the track. If/when he comes back next year it will be interesting to see how he handles a generation who came up in the new era of chopping and blocking established by the master.

    1. which is the bigger of these failures?

      1. FIA killing series by ineptitude in the early 90’s

      2. ACO/FIA and their “homologated” prototypes of the late 90’s

    2. Totally agree. I lusted after a Jaguar XJR14 as a kid…but had to settle for the Matchbox version!

  9. Its interesting to see that Mercedes have been thinking about F1 for a long time, though I suppose historically GP racing is as much in their blood as at Ferrari.
    If Old Schuey does return with them, I don’t expect he will do any more than he has done at Ferrari in recent years, and sit on the Pit Wall all weekend…… :-)

  10. Bring back group C! God I loved these cars. The races was fast, good, and the cars varied greatly from common sense simple speed, to complex designs never seen before.

  11. Funny how the C11 designer says that the 100ltr fuel tank in the C11 is safer to have than the 200ltr tank in an F1 car. (1st vid around 1’20)

    Now we go back to large tanks again in F1 as refuelling was too costly. Let’s hope this “safety” issue is no longer an issue.

    1. There has been a fair bit of development of the fuel tanks over the last 19 years mate.

      “F1 cars use deformable fuel tanks made from puncture-proof Kevlar. This dramatically reduces the risk of any fire during an accident. The tank reshapes itself in the area where any pressure is being put. All the fuel lines are auto cut-off lines. This is incase there is any breakage. There is also a extinguisher placed in the sensitive zone of the car which will automatically turn on in the case of a crash.”


      And the rules are pretty good too:

      I really can’t see the increased capacity causing any problems in the safety department.

  12. If he does return then he will again needs to fight his fitness,wont be a bad idea,but I hope he returns for more than 1 season.

  13. Great re-visit of Schumi history Keith. Super job mate…as usual. Keep up the terrific work.

  14. Hmm going to throw a longshot into the mix and suggest the possibility of Mika Hakkinen considering his close ties to the team, and he is of the same age as schummie.

    Yes you will probably shoot me down but worth a punt.

    1. At this point Doug, I think your concept is as viable as any other. :)

  15. I still have the video that I took in the pits during practice for the 1991 WSC race at Silverstone. Michael was trying too hard to catch the Jaguar’s, spun and then behaved very badly by carving up Derek Warwick and hid in his caravan when Derek went to talk about it. Never was a nicer guy than Derek too.
    At lunch time the two young German drivers were to be found in the bookshop. Martin Brundle spent the day proving how very fast he was in A WSC car, the star of the show.

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