It was a move that was rumoured to go through for the 2011 season but the executives moved up their plans by a year. Mercedes Motorsports will buy a controlling interest in this year’s F1 World Constructors’ Champion, Brawn GP, and rename the team Mercedes Grand Prix for the 2010 Formula One World Championship.
For several months, it has been rumoured that executives in Mercedes-Benz, not just those on the motorsports side of the equation, were not happy with seemingly endless scandals surrounding the McLaren team. The 2007 Spygate, the failed Fernando Alonso experiment, and the 2009 Liegate scandal were all blemishes on the reputation of McLaren and, by association, Mercedes-Benz.
Enter Brawn Grand Prix, the remnants of the former Honda F1 team. Everyone knows the story of the team. Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of the 2008 season and was purchased by team executives who ran it on a small budget for the 2009 season. Thanks to money that Honda had already invested in the 2009 challenger, Brawn was able to demolish the competition en route to both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ world titles. Brawn was able to secure a last minute engine contract with Mercedes and shoe-horned the engine in the back of the chassis because it was too late and too expensive to make major design changes to accommodate a different engine.
Since the summer, it had been rumoured that Mercedes was going to become a partner in Brawn GP. They had become the flagship team for Mercedes in the battle for the 2009 title and were rumoured to be short on funds to the point where they might not have been able to run in 2010. At first, it appeared that a Mercedes shareholder from Abu Dhabi would buy and fund the team. Yesterday’s announcement indicated that the majority of the shareholding that Mercedes purchased is financed by that Abu Dhabi group. Mercedes purchased 75.1% of shares in Brawn GP with 25.1% of the total shares being purchased directly by Mercedes.
It was already rumoured that Mercedes influence over the team was felt when establishing a driver lineup for 2010. Nico Rosberg was courted to Brawn using Mercedes money because the German engine manufacturer wanted has wanted a successful German driver piloting one of its cars for years but hasn’t gotten one a seat with McLaren. However, Mercedes’ money didn’t help the former Brawn GP with retaining its world champion driver.
Jenson Button has signed with McLaren to drive alongside Lewis Hamilton. The newly all-British team will have an all-British driver line-up starting in 2010. Button’s deal is said to be for 3 years at £6 per season. It will be the first time that a newly minted World Drivers’ Champion has switched teams since Damon Hill left Williams to drive for Arrows at the start of 1997. Button’s replacement at Mercedes GP is rumoured to be Nick Heidfeld.
As for McLaren, its partnership is believed to be halted immediately with this announcement. McLaren and Mercedes have been virtually synonymous since they formed their partnership in 1995. However, Mercedes has hinted that engine supply and “cooperation” will continue through 2015. I would assume this means that Mercedes will still be supplying McLaren with engines for free or with sponsorship money for the next six seasons. Mercedes will sell its 40% in McLaren back to the McLaren Group over the next three years.
While it’s sad to see another giant killing independent Formula One team swallowed up by a manufacturer, it does come with a bright side to it. While most manufacturers are running from the high costs of Formula One on the tail-end of the greatest economic recession in 80 years, Mercedes has stayed in and has now jumped right into the deep end with its own team.