He was once described by former Vice President of Mercedes-Benz motorsport Norbert Haug as a driver operating at a level ‘not yet discovered’.

Bernd Schneider is a special driver and individual who can rightly slot himself amidst an exclusive group of drivers genuinely unfortunate to not have had the opportunity to fulfil his evidently phenomenal talents in a Formula One car. Few out there would be able to make that claim and be taken seriously, but then few have the skills of the German.

Rather than discussing his numerous achievements at the very top level of motorsport, many people are reminded of the former Bayer Leverkusen footballer when they hear his name. And that’s sad.

Schneider was aptly named after the legendary Auto Union driver Bernd Rosemeyer; one of very few men who were able to control the mid-engine Silver Arrows and be successful with them. He possessed tremendous skill.

Schneider’s parents knew exactly what they were doing.

The F1 Phase

It’s nigh on impossible to argue that Michael Schumacher didn’t deserve his stint in F1. Look at what he managed to achieve. To many, he is the greatest of all time and even a statement as bold as that is hard to argue against. However, many fans of the sport will be aware that he inadvertently snatched his Formula One seat away from Schneider in 1991.

Schneider has previously had a drive in F1 but only during a 2 year stint with Zakspeed in the late 80’s – a team who would never realistically compete and allow the German driver to show what he could do. He also made a one-off appearance with Arrows – for whom he had been providing test drives – in 1990, replacing the injured Alex Caffi prior to his extremely brief flirtation with the sport the following year.

With Bertrand Gachot serving time for spraying a taxi driver with CS gas following a traffic altercation, Eddie Jordan was a driver short for the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. Whilst campaigns were held in favour of the release of the promising Luxembourg-born racer, Schneider received the initial call from the team’s head honcho. At the age of 28, this really was his final opportunity to make a name for himself in Formula One.

It wasn’t to be.

As has become the case all too regularly in F1 history, money was the deciding factor and Michael Schumacher took Gachot’s place. Gachot would remain in F1 following his release, but Schneider was left to give up on his F1 dream and look elsewhere.

There was a time when Schneider was considered one of the finest up-and-coming drivers in his nation, alongside Schumacher. He would now have to return to IMSA and low-key Interserie racing. But not for long…

The DTM Years

In 1992, Schneider was let loose on the DTM. Norbert Haug took a chance and recruited him to his Mercedes-AMG team alongside Klaus Ludwig, Ellen Lohr and Keke Rosberg. He took 4 race wins on his way to a 3rd place finish in his first season, as he came behind eventual winner Ludwig and Kurt Thiim (both fathers to current GT drivers Luca Ludwig and Nicki Thiim).

He would finish 3rd again in 1993 as Alfa Romeo driver Nicola Larini broke the record for number of wins during a DTM season with 11 out of 20, before taking a backwards step in 1994, finishing 10th. 7 retirements didn’t help his cause as he failed to even get close to a top 10 finish in the opening 3 rounds at Zolder, Hockenheimring and the Nürburgring. However, his fortune was set to change as of 1995.

Schneider finished the season 25 points clear of fellow Mercedes driver Jörg van Ommen at the top of the standings and contributed to a Mercedes victory in the team standings too. He set his stall out early as he blitzed the opening round at Hockenheim, winning the two races over the weekend and setting the fastest lap in both. He would also go on to win the first race at Mugello from pole position whilst, again, setting the fastest lap. Of course back in those days, any race taking place outside of Germany did not affect the championship standings, but instead contributed to the International Touring Car Series, which intertwined with the DTM calendar.

A strong performance at the Norisring and an utter domination of Donington Park in the ITCS followed before a disappointing weekend at Diepholz resulted in a 7th place finish in race 1 and 6th in race 2. A wonderful recovery drive from P6 resulted in a victory in race 1 at Estoril though. A double-victory at the Nürburgring proved to be his final wins of the DTM season, with two rounds remaining, but he did also seal victories at Circuit de Nevers in the French round of the ITCS.

1996/1997 – The Death Of The DTM & Failure Of The ITC

In 1996, the DTM was consumed by the ITCS, which further abbreviated itself to become the ITC. Opel, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo continued as the three brands that would compete and Schneider came 2nd to Manuel Reuter as Opel sealed the double by winning both the drivers and manufacturers championship by slim margins.

It wasn’t until the 6th round at Diepholz that Schneider claimed a race win, and he did so in style; converting pole position into wins in races 1 and 2 that weekend. Race 2 at Mugello and Suzuka were the only other victories that would come his way that season.

A wonderful lineup of drivers couldn’t help the ITC take off and due to poor attendances and TV coverage, the series ceased to exist following its first season on its own. Alfa and Opel abandoned their commitment to the series, leaving Mercedes alone in the dark for 1997. Subsequently, the competition was cancelled and Schneider wouldn’t compete in touring cars again until the DTM’s welcome return in 2000.

1997 – The Death Of The ITC/Birth Of The FIA GT Championship

With no touring car drive, Schneider stood by Mercedes and took part in the FIA GT Championship’s inaugural season. He would drive a CLK GTR in the GT1 class throughout the eleven rounds that were made up of 4 hour endurance races.

After a somewhat sluggish start, he took victory in 6 races on his way to winning the title in 1997, 13 points ahead of the Brit Steve Soper. Typically, he took victory at the Nürburgring, before success at the A1-Ring, Suzuka, Donington Park, Sebring and Laguna Seca.

The following season, he took victories alongside Mark Webber at Silverstone, the Hockenheimring, the Hungaroring, Suzuka and Donington but it wasn’t quite enough to seal back-to-back championship wins as they finished 8 points behind the winners Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta.

Schneider would also compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for AMG-Mercedes in the late 90’s, but to no avail. The CLK-LM (1998) and the CLR (1999) both failed to finish their respective races.

2000 – The Return Of The DTM

Following Mercedes’ failures at Le Mans, they returned to the reinvigorated DTM along with Opel and thanks to the subsequent demise of the STW, the semi-independent Abt Sportsline team – run by Audi – also took part. Schneider lined up alongside Thomas Jäger at the ‘HWA 1’ team and immediately laid siege on the championship.

Throwing down the gauntlet early, Schneider emerged victorious at both 40-minute races at the Hockenheimring, before taking wins at the second race at the Norisring, picking up another double-victory at the Nürburgring and claiming his final win of the season at Oschersleben. He would finish outside the podium positions just 4 times all season in a rampant and mightily impressive campaign. Manuel Reuter was his closest challenger, still a hefty 59 points behind.

It was a particularly poor season for Abt Sportsline, as the Audi-branded team failed to win a single race.

In 2001, Schneider emerged victorious once again. Starting the season how he finished the last, he sealed victory in both races at the Hockenheimring. He would pick up 14 podium finishes, of which 6 were race wins, over the length of the season as he finished 60 points clear of HWA teammate Uwe Alzen.

The rules were changed for 2002, with the two 40-minute races being ditched in favour of a 35km qualifying race and a 100km main race at each of the 10 events. As such, there was a change in the scoring system too, with 3 points being awarded to the winner of the qualifying race, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd. For the main race, points were awarded as follows:

1st: 10

2nd: 6

3rd: 4

4th: 3

5th: 2

6th: 1

Schneider finished 2nd in the drivers championship behind Laurent Aiello in the Audi TT-R. The 4 rings had stepped up their game in the DTM for this season and had made a determined effort in the championship by going full-steam ahead with a 5 driver entry. In 2001, they had introduced a Team Abt Sportsline Junior entry consisting of Martin Tomczyk and Mattias Ekström, but it was essentially a farm team. 2002 saw everybody under the same Abt Sportsline bracket and it paid dividends for them.

Schneider won only two races all season (Lausitzring and Hockenheimring) and finished 6 points adrift of the winning Audi driver.

Schneider claimed his fourth DTM title in 2003, eking past Christijan Albers in the championship stands by 4 points.

Going into the final race of the season, Schneider led Mercedes teammate Albers by just one point and his sole aim was to finish ahead of him at the Hockenheimring. Albers qualified in 9th, 4 places behind for the final race of the season. Both drivers lost places but Schneider crossed the finish line in 6th, with Albers 12th to claim the title. He took just two victories from the ten race weekends but claimed 7 podiums in total. It was consistency that sealed the deal, as he finished narrowly ahead of Albers who managed 4 victories.

A final position of 6th in 2004 was compounded by a solitary race win and an Audi victory in the drivers championship as Mattias Ekström took the crown. And 2005 did little to raise spirits either as Schneider finished 4th. Again, he took a solitary win at the final race of the season (as he did the year before) but this time, it was a Mercedes driver who took the championship. Following on from Ekström’s win last season, it was another first-time winner in the shape of Gary Paffett.

Schneider claimed his fifth and final DTM title in 2006, winning from Bruno Spengler and Audi legend Tom Kristensen. Still, it wasn’t without its frustrations. It was now the norm for drivers to win just two races all season and it had become a test of consistency that would win them the title. Schneider passed that test with flying colours on his way to his win.

Having won the opening two races at the Hockenheimring and the Lausitzring, he backed it up with five podiums in a row at Brands Hatch, the Norisring, the Nürburgring, Zandvoort and Circuit de Catalunya on his way to racking up 71 points.

That was his final impact though, as he rounded off his DTM career with successive 6th place finishes in 2007 and 2008.

Retirement

Schneider retired from racing in 2008 with five DTM titles including an astonishing record 43 wins, 25 pole positions and setting 59 fastest laps in the process. It won’t surprise you to hear that he is the most successful DTM driver in history. He is also the only driver to have competed in both the old and the ‘new’ DTM series and the only driver to have successfully defended his title crown back-to-back.

He also won the 1995 ITC title and the 1997 FIA GT Championship.

Following his retirement, he officially set the ultimate benchmark and set standards beyond what many people thought was possible. Will there ever be a better racer in the DTM? It’s unlikely that anyone will make a dent in those records, except perhaps Mattias Ekström when it comes to poles. The Swede is just 5 behind at present.

The Comeback

Articles will tell you that Schneider stayed away from racing until 2012, but this isn’t strictly true.

Throughout his career, Bernd has continued karting and took part in the 2010 24 Hours of Köln, where he finished 2nd. He also took part in the 2011 24 Hours of Dubai (7th), 24 Hours of Nürburgring (6th in class), Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (3rd) and 24 Hours of Köln (1st) before returning to GT racing in the Blancpain Endurance series in 2012. He also returned to the VLN and made appearances in the Australian GT Championship and took part in a couple of Baku City Challenge races.

2012 was an overall success as he came 2nd in the 24 Hours of Dubai and at a lower level, continued his karting success with another victory in the 24 Hours of Köln

Schneider then went on to win the Bathurst and Gulf 12 hours, the Nürburgring 24 Hours and came 2nd in the Blancpain Endurance Series Pro Cup in 2013, taking 2 wins and setting a fastest lap.

2014 saw him finish 2nd in the Gulf 12 hours, but generally any real success evaded him until 2016 when he won the 24 Hours of Nürburgring with Maro Engel, Manuel Metzger and Adam Christodoulou.

The car Schneider shared with Maro Engel, Manuel Metzger and Adam Christodoulou to clinch victory at the 2016 24 Hours of Nürburgring (photo credit: http://www.nuerburgring.de)

His next big race is set to be the 24 Hours of Spa, where he is set to drive the #00 Black Falcon Mercedes alongside Maro Engel and Yelmer Buurman.

There seems to be no real hint of a second retirement as yet, so when will he leave racing for good? Who knows. But one thing’s for sure, racing is better off for his presence.

That he never achieved a truly competitive F1 drive is a crime. Especially considering some of the absolutely dreadful drivers that have ‘graced’ the sport over the years. Formula One’s loss was, and still is, touring cars’ and GT racing’s gain.

Advertisements