There is a story doing the rounds on the websites at the moment, based on an article in a German magazine called Focus, to the effect that Mercedes’ continued participation in F1 was the subject of a recent vote by the board of parent company Daimler and that the vote only just carried, by three votes to two.
Sounds dramatic, another warning sign to F1 from the crumbling empire of motor manufacturing.
Except that it isn’t true. I rang Mercedes to find out more about this and it turns out that the story is completely bogus. “There was no voting by the Daimler board of management concerning F1,” I was told. “However it is true that we are staying in F1.”
Mercedes’ involvement in F1 has to be judged a success, in terms of how much bang they have got for their buck. They’ve won a lot of races and been ‘players’, up at the sharp end of the competition more often than not. They could and probably should have won more world championships with McLaren, but have been thwarted by a mixture of bad luck, some bad judgement and some big set-backs s like the death of engine builder Paul Morgan and the banning of aluminium beryllium, a key material in the manufacture of their engine blocks.
Unlike the other manufacturers in the sport, however, Mercedes do not own the team and therefore do not have the scale of overheads of a Toyota or a Honda. At the outset they were an engine supplier to McLaren. They converted that into a minority shareholding and then into a larger shareholding, 40% of the team, but still they are not the name above the door.
Mercedes have spent a lot of money in F1, make no mistake, but it was always their deliberate policy to be a partner, rather than an owner, to keep the costs down. The engine freeze will have brought down their share of the costs significantly. They have an impressive operation at Brixworth, which used to be called Ilmor. They make a significant contribution to the team budget and paid, for example, the €70 million development cost of the KERS system. But given the economic picture at the moment, it looks like the team structure they have with McLaren and the Bahraini investment fund is the right one to weather the storm. And the partnership with McLaren extends beyond F1, with the SLR road car and a new, cheaper model due to launch in a few years time.
There is big pressure from the boards of all the manufacturers in F1 to cut costs, but some are more desperate than others.