Wonderful news from Germany this morning.
Robert Wickens, the only Canadian racing driver to hold a Superlicence that would allow him to race in Formula One, has been signed to drive for the new Mercedes-Benz Junior Team in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) in 2012.
And the team will be coached by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
Wickens has been a rising star in the world of motorsport from almost the moment he stepped into a racing go-kart. A move into single-seaters brought a Formula BMW-USA championship and sponsorship/guidance from Red Bull Racing.
He was Rookie of the Year in the old Champ Car Atlantic Series and then moved to Europe where he finished second in successive Formula 2 and GP3 championships before winning the World Series by Renault Formula 3/5 title in 2011.
Although his move to the DTM was an open secret, Wickens was unable to publicly confirm (or deny) it untiul the team made an announcement, which came today.
Wickens is one of three young drivers who will be given every opportunity to show their stuff with the carrot of an F1 ride at the end of the stick.
It’s interesting that Schumacher will coach the team as he might very well select the driver to succeed him at Mercedes F1 when he retires.
Following is the media release Mercedes-Benz sent out this morning:
Serving as role model and mentor to the Junior Team will be Michael Schumacher. The veteran Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 driver will bring all his experience to bear from seven world championship titles and 91 Grand Prix victories.
Schumacher himself also benefited from the Mercedes-Benz program in the years 1990 and 1991, when he lined up alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger with Sauber Mercedes in the Sports Prototype Championship.
Schumacher, Frentzen (156 Grand Prix starts, 3 wins, 1997 World Championship runner-up) and Wendlinger (41 Grand Prix starts) all succeeded in making the step up to Formula One.
Christian Vietoris enters his second DTM season in 2012. The 23-year-old finished his rookie season on four points, his best race result being fifth place in the race at Oschersleben.
Roberto Merhi and Robert Wickens are both about to make their DTM debut this season.
Merhi has been a member of the Mercedes-Benz young drivers program since 2008, winning the 2011 Formula 3 Euro Series title in a Dallara-Mercedes as well as the first-ever FIA Formula 3 International Trophy.
As a reward for this success, he was invited to test drive the new DTM Mercedes AMG C-Coupé at the end of the 2011 season.
Wickens won the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 World Series championship, posting five victories along the way. Later that same year, he gained his first experience of Formula One in a series of test drives for Marussia Virgin Racing and Lotus Renault GP.
Encouraging young talent in motorsport has a long 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.
One-third of the Formula One grid for the 2012 season started out in Formula 3 with a Mercedes-Benz engine — reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and former champion Lewis Hamilton, 2010 DTM Champion Paul Di Resta, Kamui Kobayashi, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hülkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Bruno Senna.
Said Wickens (in the release): “The DTM is a fantastic series. You're competing against top-notch drivers. I'm proud that Mercedes-Benz are giving me the chance to show what I am capable of in this environment in the Junior Team. My main aim will be to finish every race and to deliver decent performances.”
Said Schumacher: “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.”
Said Norbert Haug, Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: “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-built racing cars.
“In 2012, we are sending three highly gifted 20-somethings into the fray as our DTM Junior Team: Roberto Merhi, the reigning Formula 3 Euro Series champion; Christian Vietoris, a GP2 champion who already has experience of DTM racing; and Robert Wickens who won the Renault World Series. All three of them are keen to seize this wonderful opportunity.
“And they have excellent role models in Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger, the successful trio who made up the Mercedes Junior Team in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and who have still not finished making motor racing history.
“Roberto, Christian and Robert have a lot to learn, but that will not be a problem, as they are all three avid learners.”
The first race of the 11-race DTM season will take place at Hockenheim on April 29.