22 February 2019

A boy on a bicycle. Fascinating F1 Facts: 85

Passion for the sport drives many of the people who are in Formula 1 and it is the passion that leads them to make what appear to be irrational decisions in real life and take risks to break into the business. If you don't try, you are never going to make it. If you try and it doesn't work out, at least you tried. But if you try and it works then you can live your passion…

When Germany's Wolfgang Schattling was 10 his family moved from Karlsruhe in the Rhineland to a small village in the Eifel mountains called Wimbach. This picturesque spot is in a valley and if you walk up Schulestrasse, which winds its way uphill through the woods, you arrive at a place called Aremberg, a fast right-handed corner on the Nürburgring, between Schwedenkreuz and the Fuchsröhre. If you live in Wimbach, you can hear the cars racing on the Ring.

For small boys the lure of howling engines used to be irresistible and Schattling used to cycle up the hill to watch the action, his first motor race being the 1961 German Grand Prix Ferrari driver Wolfgang Von Trips became his hero, but Britischer Stirling Moss won the race in a Lotus. A few weeks later Von Trips was killed at Monza, but Schattling's passion was undimmed and throughout his teenage years he spent most of his free time, watching races and meeting racing drivers.

He was good at English and decided to study to become a secondary school teacher and once qualified settled into his role. Occasionally he would write something for a young driver, just to help out. Along the way he discovered that there was an English magazine called Autosport which helped his English and his knowledge of the sport.

One day in the mid-1980s, when Wolfgang was in his early thirties, he decided that he would write to Autosport and offer his services as the German correspondent, because the job was obviously not being done very well. The letter arrived on the desk of Autosport's international editor who had been hoping to find someone better in Germany and Schattling was astonished when a letter came back offering him the role he wanted.

Representing Autosport at German events opened all kinds of doors for him and he began writing for other magazines around the world and then began to be offered work in Germany as well. He even began to do freelance work for Mercedes-Benz. In 1990 a vacancy arose in the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport department and the boss Norbert Haug, a former journalist himself, asked Schattling if he would like to join the team. It was a big decision. German civil servants rarely leave their jobs which have an extraordinary degree of security, a generous pension and plenty of holiday.

But the lure of racing remained and the job offered the opportunity for Schattling to make his hobby into his profession. He resigned from his teaching job, much to the astonishment of his colleagues, and began working with Haug, promoting Mercedes's activities in sports car racing, which had begun a few years earlier with the Stuttgart car manufacturer quietly supporting a Swiss team owner called Peter Sauber.

This was a great success with Mercedes gradually taking over the project and becoming a factory team, winning World Championships and the Le Mans 24 Hours. They then began planning to enter F1 together and Mercedes funded the construction of a state-of-the-art F1 factory, but then decided not to go ahead and left Sauber to go it alone, although it continued to help out quietly. Sauber used Ilmor V10 engines in its first season in F1 in 1993 and mnade a big impression with fifth place on its debut in South Africa. It was promising enough that in 1994 the team became known as Sauber Mercedes, with official backing from and the Ilmor engines rebadged the Mercedes V10s, but the results that year were not very good and so Mercedes made the tough decision to join forces with McLaren, leaving Sauber to pick up the factory Ford deal, which Benetton had dropped in favour of the more competitive Renault.

And thus the boy with the bicycle from Wimbach became the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Head of Communications a job he would hold until 2013, when he was put in charge of running the Mercedes DTM operations until he retired… 

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