March 25 1901 was a Monday – a strange day for a motor race, to modern eyes. But in spite of inclement weather in the South of France, the second day of the 1901 Nice Speed Weeks saw the race for “speed cars” held over a route from Nice to Salon, and back; a total of 392.5 km on open roads. This was the first major outing of the year for the new Daimler competition vehicles, newly christened ‘Mercedes’ after one of the daughters of importer Emil Jellinek.
The new cars had attempted to race in Pau the previous month, but had failed shortly after the start. However, the Nice-Salon-Nice race proved more successful: driver Wilhelm Werner (mechanic to the Baron Henri de Rothschild) led by 12 minutes at the halfway point, and eventually won – after a bruising 6 hours, 45 minutes and 48 seconds of racing – by the healthy margin of 26 minutes and 10 seconds (by way of comparison, this would represent a lead of nearly 6 minutes in a 1.5 hour modern Grand Prix!), at an average of 58.1 kph.
Sunday marks the 111th anniversary of the first competition success for a Mercedes vehicle; in the intervening years, Mercedes – which became Mercedes-Benz in 1926 – has set new benchmarks in every series in which it has raced. Last Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix marked the 89th Formula One victory for Mercedes-Benz power, and the 36th win for the current generation of V8 engine, continuing a heritage that is longer than any other in the sport.