After Mercedes' super F1 season, Damien O'Carroll dons a diamond earring, tats, blonde 'do and channels his inner Lewis Hamilton
Last weekend saw the end of the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship, utterly dominated by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team.
Lewis Hamilton claimed his second consecutive drivers' title with three races to go, the team clinched its second title as a constructor and the factory supplied Force India, Lotus and Williams with easily the best engine in F1 today.
Before 1955 Mercedes-Benz had an even more illustrious motorsport history. The 1930s saw the "Silver Arrows" and its German arch-rival Auto Union dominate Grand Prix racing across Europe.
Following a WWII-shaped hole, Mercedes was just getting back into GP racing by then known as F1, and doing rather well with a fairly handy pair of drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio and a young bloke called Stirling Moss, when a horrific crash led the firm to pull out of motorsport. The 1955 Le Mans tragedy killed one driver, 83 spectators and injured a further 120. Switzerland banned motorsport (it still does) and Mercedes-Benz stayed out of racing for almost 20 years.
When it tentatively re-entered in the late 1960s, it used a little-known German tuning company started in 1967 by Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher: AMG.
AMG would build and run the spectacular Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 "Rote Sow" (Red Sow) at the Spa 24 Hours and the European Touring Car Championship. Although extremely fast, its prodigious appetite for fuel and tyres would keep it from much success.
The interior of the C 63 S Estate. Photo / Ted Baghurst
By the early 1970s AMG had started offering custom-built road cars based on Mercedes models, as well as unofficial performance upgrades and accessories for Mercedes-Benz cars. By 1990 Daimler-Benz was selling AMG cars and upgrades in its dealerships, then bought a controlling share in 1999. AMG became an official subsidiary of Daimler AG (as it is now known) in 2005.
During that time Mercedes was making its first steps back into Formula 1. Following a successful partnership with Sauber in sports car racing, it became the Swiss team's F1 engine supplier for 1994.
In 1995 the Mercedes-Benz-Illmor F1-V10 would power the McLaren team, kicking off a golden 19-year partnership until Mercedes-Benz bought the small Brawn F1 team to form its first factory entry into GP racing since 1955.
At the same time Mercedes and AMG were moving to dominate another part of F1 -- the safety and medical cars.
In 1996 the Mercedes-Benz C 36 AMG was both the safety and medical car, beginning a partnership that is still going strong.
The medical car has pretty much always been a C Class. The safety car has been a progression of Mercedes-Benz AMG models.
The safety car leads the pack during the formation lap and under extended yellow flag periods, while the medical car follows the pack during the first lap and responds to any incidents.
The AMG GT S leads the C 63 S. Photo / Ted Baghurst
So when Mercedes-Benz NZ invited me to Hampton Downs to gawk at the latest examples -- the Mercedes-AMG GT S and C 63 S Estate -- I thought about it for slightly less than it takes the GT to rocket to 100km/h. That's 3.8sec. The C 63 takes 4.1sec.
Both cars pack the same AMG-developed 4-litre twin turbo V8 that produces 375kW of power. Where the C 63 has a massive 700Nm of torque, the GT gets "just" 650Nm.
While both are ferociously fast, the GT is particularly savage, with an exhaust note that will rattle the neighbour's windows. Like the C 63, this can be turned down to more civilised levels, but it is almost certainly the best exhaust note at a modern F1 race, and that includes the racing cars.
The new engine is particularly impressive. Despite the move away from large-capacity, naturally aspirated V8s, the smaller turbocharged V8 has even more furious power and performance than the older 6.2-litre V8.
On the track, however, the two are as different as their engines are similar.
While people buy a station wagon largely for its extra practicality, nowhere is there a law that states this is all they can be -- and the C 63 S Estate is visceral, screaming proof. Angry, needlessly aggressive and yet startlingly easy to drive, the C63 is an utter delight on a fast, flowing track.
Its steering is sensitive and direct, though strangely lacking slightly in feel, and the beautifully set-up chassis does exactly what you want, when you want. Want precise turn-in and accurate tracking? Okay. Want bullish oversteer and wild drifts? That's fine too, sir.
While the C 63 S Estate does everything a fast road car is supposed to do -- go very quickly, handle beautifully, keep you safe and comfortable -- GT S does something entirely different.
Utterly ferocious in its performance and behaviour, the noticeably lighter and stiffer GT gives the impression it is a wild animal that you are barely in control of. This is, of course, not quite the case (much about it is dramatic window-dressing handled by very clever electronics), but it is still a car that will bite almost as hard as it will reward when on the limit.
The noise is fantastic when the GT is at maximum attack, and its tendency to shuffle around over less than perfect surfaces at speed serves to remind exactly how much of a proper sports car it is. Its oddly light steering bristles with feel and feedback, and is stunningly sharp and accurate.
Like the C 63, the GT can be as accurate or as playful as you want it to be, but rewards are biggest when straddling the fine line between the two. Head fast into a corner, heavy on the deeply impressive brakes, before coming off the pedal and turning the incredibly responsive nose into the corner; prodigious grip battles with equally prodigious power as you gently apply the throttle; the rear shuffles around as you power out. Hard on the throttle and bang up through the gears before doing it all over again at the next corner.
While the C 63 continues the AMG tradition of being based on an existing Mercedes-Benz model, the GT -- like the mighty SLS -- is solely an AMG model completely developed by the former tuner that is now a highly-integrated part of the Mercedes-Benz empire.
So much so that in 2012 the F1 team changed from "Mercedes GP" to "Mercedes AMG", before settling into thorough dominance at the pinnacle of motorsport.