RETURN OF THE SILVER ARROWS
Sauber had a new Group C design on the
stocks even as it was dominating the 1989
World Sports-Prototype Championship with
the C9. The C11, its first car built around a
carbon-monocoque chassis, was meant to
be ready that season, but in fact wouldn’t
race until the second round of the ’ 90 WSPC.
The car, known simply as a Mercedes,
did more than dominate when it belatedly
arrived – it pummeled the opposition from
the get-go. No one really got a look-in
from the moment the C11 finally made its
race debut at Monza in late April 1990.
Pole winner Mauro Baldi, now sharing
with Jean-Louis Schlesser, was almost two
seconds up on the best of the rest in
qualifying. The duo won as they pleased,
while Jochen Mass and Karl Wendlinger –
one of three Mercedes Juniors the veteran
Mass would mentor that year – fought back
from a spin and a slow stop to steal second
from Jaguar a few corners from home.
Only once would the C11 be beaten in
1990, when Baldi’s engine broke at
Silverstone and the second car, with
Michael Schumacher in for Wendlinger,
was disqualified during practice.
Factory rivals Jaguar, Nissan and Toyota
slipped even further behind Mercedes after
it opted to miss Le Mans – a political stand
after the race was missed off the WSPC
schedule for a second consecutive season.
Team Sauber Mercedes might have
switched to Goodyear tires for 1990, but
a development program embarked upon
with Michelin in ’ 89 paid dividends.
“Michelin put telemetry on the car, which
meant we were probably the only team
able to measure suspension loads and tire
temperatures and pressures,” recalls
designer Leo Ress. “We learned a lot about
how downforce changes and how to put it
on the road. The center of pressure didn’t
shift in braking or acceleration, and that
made the C11 very easy to drive.”
Baldi considers C11 his all-time favorite
racecar: “It had a lot of torque, power and
downforce, plus good braking,” he says. “It
responded to every change. It was easy to
find the limit and it was such an honest car.”
So good was it that Baldi took Eau Rouge
flat on the way to pole at Spa in early
June. Not bad for a 900kg (1,985lb) car
with perhaps 1,000hp in qualifying trim.
With Jochen Mass as
his teammate and
Schumacher drove the
C11 to victory in the
1990 WSPC’s Mexico
City finale (MAIN).
A year later, he was
F1’s hottest property.
The 1990-’ 91 Mercedes Juniors roster
included Michael Schumacher (ABOVE).
1-2 at half distance, Mercedes’ ’ 91 Le Mans
return ended with a best of fifth (ABOVE).
WINNING AS IT PLEASED
The Mercedes C11 was late to the party but, a Le Mans no-show aside, dominated once it arrived.