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Why Mercedes is moving towards Brawn, away from McLaren
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Why Mercedes is moving towards Brawn, away from McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Sep 2009   |  8:21 am GMT  |  82 comments

Amid all the furore over the Renault race fixing scandal, this week has seen another important development in shaping the next generation of F1.

I posted last week on the news that Mercedes was set to take a controlling interest in the Brawn team. It appears that the deal has been worked with the backing of the Abu Dhabi investment vehicle Aabar, which bought 9.1% of Mercedes’ parent company Daimler earlier this year. It is the company’s largest shareholder.

Aabar is an interesting company with a wide range of investments in many different sectors. They bought a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s space project recently.

According to Auto Motor und Sport’s Michael Schmidt, who is usually pretty good on these matters, the Mercedes shareholding in the Brawn team will be held by Aabar until the end of 2011, at which point clauses in Mercedes’ contract with McLaren lapse and allow them to take equity in another team.

The suggestion is, however, that from next year onwards the Brawn car will carry more significant Mercedes branding, the three pointed star on the engine cover and so on. There is also a strong suggestion that Nico Rosberg will drive there. One would expect Jenson Button to partner him, but the championship leader is being squeezed in negotiations over a new deal at the moment. With a much bigger picture in play now at Brawn, he may opt to stay with what is clearly a team of the future and settle for what’s on the table.

Brawn is known to have signed a title sponsor and two secondary sponsors for next season. There are others negotiating the remaining positions on the car and Mercedes’ involvement will attract others.

The team are keeping the details close to their chests, but I have heard a suggestion that one of the secondary sponsors may be Orange, the mobile phone giant. It seems that another of the sponsors may be a Germany company and another from the Far East. It is known that LG is interested in sponsoring a team next season, in addition to its extensive spend with Bernie Ecclestone and FOM thus far, but I have not heard any direct connection with Brawn yet.

Meanwhile Mercedes continue to own a 40% stake in McLaren. A further 30% is owned by the Bahraini investment fund. It seems that Mercedes want to own a controlling stake in a team and have decided to go with Brawn. It is well known that Mercedes have at various times wanted to own a controlling interest in McLaren but have not been able to.

It is not clear what Mercedes would do with its 40% stake, once it take up its Brawn position, but there is no doubt that their involvement and financial contribution are amongst the most valuable assets of the McLaren team, which on the other side has a huge staff and a very expensive factory to run. So where does this leave McLaren and what has motivated Mercedes to move?

Well part of it is obviously the desire to have more control over a team. Also the recent scandals over stolen Ferrari data and Liegate have taken their toll on the relationship. In neither episode were Mercedes directly involved, but suffered by association.

McLaren MP4 12 C

McLaren MP4 12 C


But one of the real keys to this move lies in the supercar market. McLaren this week unveiled its MP4 12C road car, a Gullwing door sports car, which is aimed squarely at Ferrari’s market – the £120,000- £170,000 market.

Before the credit crunch Ferrari was selling around 6,000 cars a year and all the forecasts are that this sector of the market will be buoyant again soon, making a great opportunity. McLaren’s Ron Dennis, in exile from F1, is throwing all his effort into the development of his car which will, significantly, be powered by a McLaren engine, not a Mercedes.

And here is the crunch, Mercedes is also targetting that sector, with its Gullwing SLS AMG, which was launched this week at Frankfurt Motor Show. McLaren is building a car which is in direct competition with Mercedes in a lucrative sector.

The Mercedes SLS Gullwing

The Mercedes SLS Gullwing

McLaren and Mercedes worked together on the SLR, but Dennis has always had ambitions to be the British Ferrari. He feels that as he’s beaten them on the track he can beat them in showroom sales too. It’s a strategy which seems to have put the company on a collision course with Mercedes.

Speaking at the Frankfurt motorshow this week, where the SLS was launched, Daimler boss Dr Zetsche said,
“For a long period we had a lack of alignment on road cars (with McLaren) but we have now found a clear solution and we won’t participate,”

As for where things go with McLaren from here in terms of F1 he added,
“Ending the relationship is not an option but we may have a different relationship”.

What makes this story so poignant is that the Brawn team wouldn’t have existed without McLaren’s support at the start of the 2009 season. Mercedes were very keen to provide a lifeline to Brawn, and a very powerful and reliable engine which has been one of the cornerstones of their success, particularly in competition with Red Bull, whose Renault has lacked the power and proved a little unreliable, especially for Sebastian Vettel.

But McLaren’s CEO Martin Whitmarsh, full of the early spirit of brotherhood of FOTA, facilitated the Mercedes deal and helped the Brawn team. It all happened in the weeks leading up to that notorious FOTA press conference in Geneva.

He clearly didn’t see this coming.

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82 Comments
  1. Lewis Jones says:

    Morning James, very interesting article.

    How likely do you think it is that Jenson will stay with Brawn? Do you know if there are any other teams on the grid offering him better short-term money that might turn his head away from this clear longer-term potential?

    And what if we end up with Rubens as WC at the end of the season, surely Brawn would want the Number 1 on their car for next season? And would that mean Jenson ‘sacrificed’ for Rosberg?

    Thanks as ever for the insights into the ‘behind the headlines’ world of F1.

    1. Meeklo says:

      I think RossBrawn will become the FrankWilliams type in the belief that the engineering of the car is more important than who drives it.

      And on the BrawnGP note, any word on the percentage of ownership Mercedes is looking to take? 40%, 60%, 100%?

      I had been hoping that Ross would catch the FrankWilliams bug and remain in F1 as a privateer. I know he admitted at the beginning of the year that they wanted to sell the team, and that taking personal control was one of the last resorts, but was hoping the experience thus far might have changed his opinion. James has he kept his detachment? Will we see the BrawnGP name disappear, even after the huge fan base that’s developed? It would be great to read an end of year interview on his thoughts of his first year of BrawnGP and his outlook for the future.

    2. Amritraj says:

      Hello,

      The situation, as you suggest, is not comparable to the one at Red Bull. Toro Rosso get most of their budgetery and all their Technology support from Red Bull.

      Brawn is not dependant on McLaren for anything. Brawn is a customer for Mercedes engines, and at the beginning of the season, it would have not been possible to supply engines to Brawn and save the team if McLaren had not agreed to the proposal (there are some contractual obligations between Merc and McLaren).

      Force India and McLaren collaboration is one where a team is very heavily dependant for technological and organisational support on the other. McLaren have deputed personnel, in addition to technological support, to help Force India become a competitive F1 team (all this after having commercial understanding and agreement between the 2 teams). Still it cannot be categorised under the same relationship that Red Bull and Toro Rosso have.

  2. johnsmith says:

    IIRC, a year ago, everybody was saying that McLaren wanted a B-Team, just like Red Bull had Toro Rosso.

    Now, it seems that everybody forgot this scenario.

    Isn’t it possible that this is the case here?

  3. Sir Blam says:

    40% stake in Maclaren has got to worth a few pennies. Maclaren to be powered by a Maclaren engine perhaps?

  4. Andy Davies says:

    I think Martin isn’t as naive as you paint him.

    If McLaren’s desire to create a sports car manufacturer were as advanced as they were then I suspect McLaren knew that it would place a strain on their relationship with Mercedes.

  5. monktonnik says:

    I remember reading about the apparent inability of Mclaren and Mercedes to work on a supercar together a couple of years ago when the concept of the Gullwing was first mooted. At the time (and now) it seems like complete madness for them to divide their efforts and go into competition with each other, particularly if that means weakening their very strong F1 partnership.

    I know that Mclaren has had immense success building cars with BMW engines, but do they have the facilities to build their own, and here is the key, make them as good as Ferrari’s? The Mclaren Mercedes SLR was a triumph for both companies, and I can’t see why they aren’t keeping this in sight. If this is a move made by Ron Dennis out of some sort of proprietorial sense of pride, then I think it it is a mistake, unless he is trying to generate/save jobs at Mclaren in the light of the huge cost reductions that are going to be happening in F1 over the next couple of years.

    I suspect that the move towards BrawnGP is also motivated by an understanding that in the new era of reduced costs RB and his team are probably going to be a more attractive prospect, particularly with a world championship or two under their belts.

    As far as Button’s predicament, it would be a cruel irony if the deal that secures BrawnGP’s future as a front running outfit also destabilises his position. Don’t forget that for all his shennanigans with contracts some years ago, he has still been incredibly loyal to Honda/BAR even with 2 seasons at the back of the grid and imminent foreclosure on the cards. I believe he could have moved to another team, but I feel he showed solidarity with the Honda employees and probably went some way to ensuring the jobs of those who now remain. It has obviously worked out for him, but at the time I think he did it because it was the right thing to do. The fact that he also took a pay cut to help the team through it’s initial turmoil suggests to me that RB and Nick Fry really ought to repay that loyalty with a decent contract as things now appear to be turning out for the good, particulalry as most of their success has come from JB’s side of the garage. I know that they paddock has a short memory, but to choose Barrichello over Button on the basis of a couple of wins and a reduced pay packet when he spent the first half of the season under achieving and blaming it on the team and some sort of conspiracy would be a cynical move in the extreme.

    I hope for Button’s sake that there is still at least one honourable team in F1.

    1. Harry says:

      Mercedes SLR… the difference between “triumph” and “huge disappointment” are very fine lines in the super car world, and I would say that the SLR falls a little closer to the later. In the States it has a perception as a poseurs’ car. The front-mid layout and over proportioned hood didn’t catch the fancy of the customers that wanted a follow on the the F1. Many over here felt that the SLR was a McLaren in name only, despite the joint venture. I can see why Mr. Dennis wanted to go in a different direction with the next car to wear the McLaren badge. This way McLaren made the car they thought represented their brand, and Mercedes made the car they thing represents their brand best. I think it will work out well enough for both.

      1. monktonnik says:

        I don’t think it was ever supposed to be a baby F1 or even a racer, more a hyper GT car.

        After doing some research on the new Mclaren car I can see where they are going, and Ron Dennis is probably a genius.

        Harry, I agree, it looks good for both.

  6. martin_tf says:

    Perhaps Mercedes were so keen to offer that lifeline to Brawn because they were looking for an opportunity to divest their interests from McLaren.

    I think that you are right about the road cars. Whats happening in the road car market is influencing their F1 cooperation more than the scandals that happened within F1.

  7. jose says:

    it is the result of mclaren doing things the wrong way. They lost alonso, santander, 100 million dollars,and some of their prestige with the australian scandal.Because of it all, it is understandable mercedes was not happy.
    They have hamilton, and a strong team of people, but i think they didn’t capitalize on their potential the way they should, and they are paying the price. In 2007 the sky was the limit, but they didn’t make the right choices.

    1. adam forrester says:

      Santander have announced a renewal of their Mclaren sponsorship.
      Looking at the technical specs of the new Mac roadcar it seems better than any other at the same price point.

      1. James Allen says:

        It’s quite a small deal, mainly based on doing ads with Lewis Hamilton in the UK

      2. jose says:

        Adam, i think james replay is pretty clear. Very small deal, based on lewis not mclaren. And the deal santander -ferrari is much more money than it was at mclaren.
        Hamilton is one of the biggest assets mclaren has, and santander can see it.
        Do not get me wrong, i grew up with mclaren, lauda, prost, senna. I love the team. But this does not stop me seeing the reality. They did not capitalize on the potential. About the road car, i do not have any doubt it is a ferrari beater.

  8. Very interesting and well written.

    I wonder if Mclaren would buy back the Mercedes 40% shareholding using money generated from road car sales?

    This would mean they would be emulating Ferrari to an even greater degree.

    And from there, surely it would be a logical step for them to build their own F1 motors…..

  9. katmen says:

    hmm interesting, thanks for sharing

    james and what do you think about rumors kimi to mclaren in 2010?

  10. melonfarmer says:

    Orange would be an interesting deal for Brawn. They have just agreed to merge with T-mobile in the UK so have nearly 40% market share. Brawn are doing a good job of digging up sponsors who baled out of F1 years ago (e.g. Canon). Were Orange satisfied with their Arrows deal in 2000-2002? The Benetton scandals of 1994 resulted in Tom Walkinshaw leaving (as per Flavio now) which in directly lead to Arrows being run into the ground…

  11. Manos says:

    I do really hope that McLaren and Mercedes remain together in F1. The BrawnGP team is doing well this year, but it’s too early to tell if they will continue to do so.

    It would be foolish for Mercedes to drop McLaren – obviously they won’t – as McLaren Racing is the second more successful team in the modern F1 history.

    The key to the issues regarding McLaren and Mercedes was the supercars market and in particular the SLR; it failed because it had more Mercedes than McLaren in it.

    Although Mercedes is a fine company, it lacks experience in building great supercars – we will judge the SLS after some time – and I can understand Ron Dennis ambitions in beating Ferrari (which somehow monopolized that market).

    Time will tell but I can clearly tell that for me the MP4-12C really rocks :)

  12. Alexx says:

    Hi James,

    Ron’s actions are counter productive towards the McLaren racing team, he might have to make a decision in the future to “step-down” again for the benifit of the race team.

    On a side note, i wonder if Ross Brawn would want to have his own roadcar brand with Mercedes, and go up against Ferrari.

  13. Ian Curtis says:

    Great info James!
    It’s amazing what’s going on behind the scenes..
    Wow.. looks like some big changes coming fo rnext year with new sponsers etc.
    Any clue as to title sponsor for Brawn GP?

    Regards.

  14. Penfold says:

    I think it would be a great shame if they ditched Mclaren given the history of the team. I guess it’s clear that Mercedes are now very much intent on having their own team. James do you think Hamilton will be aware of this? and do you think he might go to Brawn too?

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s a long game and he’s in the right place for the next two seasons

      1. John says:

        I smell a double-cross of McLaren by Mercedes.

        I think Mercedes has been a sleeping giant in Formula 1 in terms of corporate ambition in their relationship with VMM. I fully understand that other F1 manufactures have sold engines to other teams, and I think of those engines as “B” engines. No other team has won a GP race with a Ferrari engine, and if any other team has, no more than one race with a Renault or a Toyota engine (I don’t want to check it out).

        Mercedes however,ripped the heart out of the MP4-24 as soon as Lewis won the WDC. Mercedes begins to prostitue and sell the team’s championship engine to other teams. These teams are now seriously competing with McLaren and even beating them as well as leading the championship. Meanwhile, Lewis with a bad and flawed car, was incapable of a proper defense of his WDC.

        Now that the team has rebuilt the car, he and Hekki have a fighting chance to compete. That is one reason why Lewis crashed after setting the fastest first sector time on the pinultimate lap. He was trying to take points off Button to benefit his own champuionship defense until it was mathmatically impossible for him to win it.

        While he may have received some criticism, a gamble at the WDC over a few yet “valuable” points was well worth the risk.

        I suppose now that Brawn is leading 1 and 2 in the championship with their Mercedes engine, it’s safe to say Mercedes sold them the best engine and now VMM is paying the price.

        I am pleased to hear the Mclaren is building an engine for their own brand. Now it won’t be long before they build an F1 engine and bring it online, hopefully in 2011.

      2. Kevin Crowley says:

        “No other team has won a GP race with a Ferrari engine, and if any other team has, no more than one race with a Renault or a Toyota engine (I don’t want to check it out).”

        Toro Rosso won the Italian GP last year with a Ferarri engine, and Red Bull have won 3 races this year with a Renault engine. Although not even Toyota themselves have won a race with their engine…

      3. Giuseppe F1 says:

        Yes they have – Toro Rosso won a race with a customer Ferrari engine in 2008……and at Monza no less!

  15. Pay The Piper says:

    The British Ferrari is the key phrase here, and Ferrari build their own engines.

    We rarely get to know the full story, but I am not overly inlined to agree that a potential parting of the ways is an unexpected or completely unintended outcome.

    Ron could have bolted any old Merc lump inside the MP4-12C … but decided to build his own from scratch. In partnership with the ex-Cosworth guys now at Mahle, from the specs we have seen, they have apparently come up with a right little peach.

    McLaren dipping their toe in the engine building game. That’s new.

    Ride out the current FIA freeze, with the last few years as a customer team. Post-homologation that isn’t actually that bad, ask Brawn or Force India. A few years to kick around some F1 prototypes in the Technology Centre basement.

    Yet another arm of the labyrinthine McLaren group, McLaren High Performance Engines, how does that sound?

    1. Shdadoz says:

      Sounds about right to me. If they are to compete with Ferrari they need to built their own engine. Although, the 12C engine is based on MB with different head but it is bagged as McLaren.

      I don’t understand all these negative comments from the British folks. I am not British but I am proud of what McLaren is trying to achieve. I hope and pray that they are successful.

      I read a post here stating “Dennis will have to step down from his role as McLaren Automotive”; I will promise you he will be successful as he has been always a few step a head of others. Just compare his success against Williams. At least he did not have to sale-out to Max.

      1. DAN says:

        Yes indeed Ron has been successful… at poaching the best folks from the Williams team on a regular basis to weaken his main British rival and strengthen his own team.
        Many great F1 engineers were first trained or discovered by Williams and later poached by Ron. The Williams team prides itself for being an engineering school for young promising engineers. McLaren never ever did that but just opened its chequebook to succeed, generally at Williams expense.

        I could never figure out why Frank and Patrick let that happen at the first place and so many times as well but alas it happened on a regular basis. They also poached the Honda engine from under Williams nose and many of Williams sponsors too (ie:TAG).

        The success of McLaren over the years was due to money more than to in house talents.

        Have you ever seen Williams poaching anybody or anything from the McLaren team (engine, engineer, sponsor) ? Never ever as far as I can remember excepting Ayrton of course and that was his choice to approach them.

      2. DAN says:

        Williams built its success often from scratch and always from within,
        McLaren bought most of its success by taking the shot cut of trowing money at people from outside.
        Big difference in philosophy. I know which one I prefer.

      3. Shdadoz says:

        I do agree with most of your comments Dan and I am aware of your points. I was never said that Ron was a saint. He would not survive in F1 if he was. All I was saying that he has a good understanding of future. He does plan farther ahead than others and I used Frank as an example. You are correct that Williams (or I should say Patrick) does have a better eye for good engineers (however, Ron was not an engineer) and these are all impressive achievements that makes Williams such a great organization. However, this is not a point here. We are talking about ability to run and make a new car company to take on Ferrari and other supercar manufacturers. This is a different matter. All I was saying is that Ron is a great businessman and you helped me prove my point. Although, he started a few years after Frank in F1 but he enable McLaren to employee engineers from Williams and others.
        You mentioned “I could never figure out why Frank and Patrick let that happen at the first place” because they could not afford that. Williams has never had such sponsor roster such as West or Vodafone and Shareholders like Bahrainis, Mercedes and TAG (yes, I know TAG was sponsor of Williams but not shareholder). When Ron and Mansur sold 30% to Bahrainis it was not for the 60 million or whatever they got paid then, it was to bankroll McLaren Automotive something Mercedes would not do.
        On a personal note, I was first a Williams fan until Williams turned its back on FOTA for personal gain. They made a deal with the devil (disguised as Max). I think they protected themselves so they would not end up like Ron and Flavio under the sword of Max man. Whatever happened in Singapore it was not worst then what Michael did to Damon Hill in 94. I can also say, in my personal opinion Renault 2007 spaygate was on different to McLaren spaygate with the difference that at the time Flavio was under Bernie’s protection. I know James said that they got off because the trough themselves at the mercy of FIA and they got the same punishment that McLaren got at the first hearing. However, I think James failed to remember that at the first hearing there was no conclusive evidence against McLaren but there was evidence against Renault. If Max had the emails provided by Alonso at the first hearing there would not have been a second hearing.
        I hope that I have not offended anyone but Max

    2. Jonathan Chan says:

      Agree completely. Sounds great doesn’t it I can’t see Mclaren making a bad motor.

  16. Chris says:

    It does seem a little reckless on Mercedes’ part to back a year-old team, seemingly in preference to Mclaren who are one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport (despite recent controversies) and who have proved on quite a few occasions, especially recently, that they can overcome political rows and poor on-track performance.

    They look a better competitive bet for the next few seasons than Brawn do, given the relative changes in performance since the start of the season. I reckon Mclaren will have the last laugh.

    1. Jonathan Chan says:

      Chris, I’am a Mclaren fan so my views on this situation are somewhat biased. But I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head there, I believe Mercedes maywell have shot themselves in the foot. Brawns stunning form during the opening part of the season was as a result of 18 months extensive Research and development. Honda effectively wrote off their 2007-2008 season in the hope they would make a championship winning car in 2009. But let us ask ourselves what have Honda actually achieved in comparison to Mclaren in the last 5 years. The answer is nothing, Mclaren have been competitive and have rode out bad patches and have shown tremendous resilience in turning a below-par car to a race winner. I would love to see Honda replicate that success in 2007-2008 that would earn my respect.

      But the situation is what it is, Mercedes maywell follow the path of BMW and realize that it is far better to be associated with success than it is to emulate it.

  17. Roberto says:

    He clearly didn’t see this coming…

    Ouch!

  18. bonnie b says:

    Like I said before McLaren will build their
    own F1 engines, You can hate Max Mosley all
    you want but he was right the car manufactors
    must go, all they do is come in and when things
    go bad they run away, I hope Martin will take
    Ron Dennis lead and become the British Ferrari
    Think about this since 1966 when Mclaren became
    a team 78 F1 teams have come and gone but the
    Ferrari brand is still there Ron Dennis is a
    smart man the time is now for Mclaren to build
    their own F1 engines-Vodafone Mclaren in 2010

    1. teamworkf1 says:

      Exactly!!

      McLaren / Ron Dennis are not stupid and they well know what is coming way ahead when we find out!

      Ron is following the steps of Bruce and he will be successful!!

      Mercedes was/is a great companion, but it’s time to keep walking apart!!

      We just have to wait and see.
      Nobody pushed Ron to leave, he had it all planned out. No surprises.

      James didn’t finish his report ;-)

      thank you! :)

  19. Moohcowh says:

    You’ve got to feel sorrier for Mercedes in this relationship, as much as they struggled a few years ago with reliability they’ve well and truly nailed it in the end only to be stripped of any constructors chance two years ago and a weak 2nd driver last year.

    Mercedes can benefit hugely from the other manufacturers belt tightening here, they’re definitely looking at this sport with the long-term in mind and with budget caps there’s an opportunity for a lot of money to be made.

    Would it be that difficult for McLaren to start making their own F1 engines? Especially if the smaller units with turbos are phased in.

  20. Dale says:

    James – nobody seems to be pointing out one more aspect, and that is since Ron Dennis has always stated that he would like McLaren to become the “British Ferrari” or a brand that can fully compete with Ferrari, it would only make sense that you become a “full constructor” like Ferrari and manufacture your own engines as well. I think we have seen the first part of that with McLaren’s MP4-12C road car. With McLaren demonstrating their technical capability to do a proper road car engine isn’t it a bit clear at this point that they can and wish to manufacture their own F1 engine at some point to solidify the McLaren brand as a worthy competitor to Ferrari in all aspects? If they want to be “that brand” they can’t be with Mercedes forever. (This could be the heart of the reasoning for Mercedes to be looking elsewhere on the grid, roadcar yes is a problem, lack of ultimate control of getting a German driver in the seat due to a 40% holding, but them knowing McLaren want their own engine at some point they would have no choice but to start to look elsewhere)

    1. Rudy Pyatt says:

      I was just saying… I think you’ve got it spot on. McLaren as BRM.

    2. Shdadoz says:

      Way to go Dale. Right on the money

  21. Rudy Pyatt says:

    Whitmarsh has been left holding the bag.

    I don’t think it’s all about SpyLie, obvious as they are. McLaren’s (for which read “Ron Dennis”) driver choices since the end of the Haikennen/Coulthard pairing have been at least questionable, if not eccentric. You get a guy (Montoya) who’s a proven race winner in every discipline by swooping in when he’s ticked off at Williams. You pair him with a fast youngster (Kimi) of whom great things are expected. Both show well, but both leave, alienated — One out of the sport completely while making plain his distaste for the F1 (for which read “McLaren”?) culture; and the other moving to McLaren’s ARCH RIVAL. I doubt that return on investment went down well with the Daimler board.

    Likely, the board was also both surprised and annoyed when McLaren also used a big chunk of their bankroll to get a two-time defending World Champion, only to have the team, via Ron Dennis, appear at best indifferent to his status within the team. Surely some members of the board asked, “why are we spending this money without making him the clear number one?” That McLaren refused to do so while AT LEAST giving the appearance of favoring Ron’s protegee must have given some of the board heartburn. That this played out such that their ex-driver won the title at his first attempt with their principal rivals will have produced ulcers throughout the boardroom. That Lewis won last year (NOT McLaren-Mercedes, and, therefore, Daimler, Ferrari winning the Constructor’s title) by luck as much as judgment in the final race will have done little to ease the discomfort. Add in RD’s stated, now demonstrated, efforts to produce a supercar from wheels to engine with no Mercedes (and thus no Mercedes marketing benefit, all glory going to McLaren) in it, and the Board must have asked,

    “Why are we still involved with McLaren? What are we getting from this?” To which others have clearly answered, “not enough. Time to hedge our bets. We need a bigger stake if we’re going to stay in the game.’ Enter Brawn.

    Having alienated the Daimler board, McLaren may be out of the picture even as a customer team by 2012 — coincident with the end of the current Concorde Agreement. Just as they wandered the wilderness after being “McLaren-Honda” through “McLaren-Peugot” and “McLaren-Ford” before coming in from the cold as “McLaren-Mercedes,” they’ll survive. But not by becoming “McLaren-Toyota” or some such.

    Having shown that they can do so on the road car side, they may yet be “The English Ferrari,” in the sense of designing and building their whole F1 car, engine included, with no need to worry about all that goes with major manufacturer tie-ups. McLaren has the resources to be truly an independent, constructor team RIGHT NOW. No other UK team can say that. They should embrace that challenge and jump in now, rather than be pushed off the plank in a couple of years.

    McLaren as BRM, with Ron Dennis in the role of Sir Alfred Owen…

  22. graham says:

    Does MB think that Brawn could be as valuable of a brand association as McLaren? There are image benefits of associating with such a legendary name as McLaren. BrawnGP doesn’t and won’t have the same amount of marketing cache as McLaren even in a dozen years. Are you hinting that MB is willing to “go it alone” in F1 with one “factory” team (albeit with customer teams as well) by subsuming Brawn name in quick order which would require an almost total ownership interest? Hasn’t McLaren proved their engineering prowess by turning this year’s car around so dramatically?

    Let’s say that Ferrari have about 80% of the supercar market and Porsche, Bugatti, Audi, Lamborghini, Mazerati etc. pick up the remaining 20%. Assuming that MB’s best entry into the supercar market could sell 2000 of the 6000/yr. cars Ferrari sells, and assuming that the average ticket price is 200,000 euros at an obscene 50% profit… 100,000 euros/car times 2000 cars is 200M euros/yr. Hardly worth what the investment in a dedicated F1 team could benefit them over their present involvement. Remember MB is already getting a healthy bang for their F1 buck through McLaren. Moreover, I think a true supercar almost has to have either a mid or a rear engine design. Until MB offers that their endeavors in the supercar market will suffer.

    1. James Allen says:

      I wonder if it would continue to be called Brawn? I’m not sure they have plans to develop that name as a brand so it makes sense to rebrand the team and cars.

  23. Antoine says:

    James, does Mercedes also have access to McLaren other F1 technologies or they only deal with the engines?
    When 2 companies join forces usually one if not both become greedy with time as they grow more as competitors then partners, this reminds me a bit of the Google vs Apple divorce…

  24. Howard Hughes says:

    We’ve already had the ‘British Ferrari’ – it was Lotus. The parallels were enormous…

    I’d see McLaren more like, at least in terms of road cars, moving from being a British Pagani to a British Lamborghini – even more special than Ferraris… Think about it – a guy at a dinner party says he drives a Ferrari, you’re like ‘fair enough…’ But for all you know it could be an 8 grand Mondial or an Enzo. But someone says they have a McLaren, and you think… ‘wow’. It’s instantly special.

    P.s pedantic I know, but the McLaren isn’t a Gullwing. Gullwing doors are specifically the type on the lower Mercedes pic – ie hinged from the centre of the roof, opening exclusively straight out at the sides and up. All other variants of trick doors are variously called ‘scissor doors, ‘Lambo doors’, ‘butterfly doors’ etc, but never should be labelled Gullwings…

    End of lesson.

  25. Kedar says:

    Hi James,
    On the driver side of things. I know Ross Brawn was keen on having Fernando on board for this season. Given the plethora of drivers Ferrari have for next season and the fact that Renault may no longer be in F1 do you think Fernando may go race with Brawn next seasonn(I remember you writing about how Mercedes wanted FA because of the Spanish market)

    1. James Allen says:

      You are right, but Fernando, if he isn’t starting at Ferrari next year would only be available for one year. That might work if there was another driver they are targetting for long term who wasn’t available until 2011, but I can’t think of one off hand. There are quite a few good drivers available now for 2010, like Kubica, Rosberg..

      1. graham says:

        How do you think Ferrari will get out of Kimi’s contract? They can’t pay $40M to dispatch him and no matter what Fernando isn’t worth that much more even if he was guaranteed to win the WDC. I think Massa will be healed, hungry and healthy in 2010, Kimi is still a good driver and certainly good enough not to spent $40M to ditch him for ANYBODY on the grid. I know the Fernando/Ferrari rumors are incessant and strong but I just can’t see how Kimi could be sidelined. Ferrari isn’t going to pay him off just so he can go to Brawn, Mac, or Renault cheaply. If Brawn had a 2010 budget of $200M of which $100M went for development (after driver’s salaries, travel, PR, materials, engineering staff etc.) and Ferrari paid Kimi $25-30M to leave and Kimi went to Brawn because of them having a winning car. He could drive for free, pocket the Ferrari money and Brawn would have an extra $15-20M to slot directly into development. And one can only imagine that there are some compromises on this year’s car as the MB it was originally designed for a Honda engine. It will not be that hard to see Brawn remaining at the top of the grid next year especially since all this will motivate MB not to supply Red Bull with their superior engine. Brawn will also be flush with WCC cash for winning that title. But why would Brawn ditch Button? It is also possible that Rubens could sneak into the WDC title and ditching a sitting champ, especially considering the bond Rubens and Ross have isn’t too likely to happen. And oddly I see Rubens having as much longevity remaining in his career as does Kimi. So Kimi to Mac? I can’t see that either. They want and will get Nico. A German who is a PR dream, a past GP2 champ wise with race craft and fast with pace who is motivated and loyal. Plus Nico has many more years left in him than Kimi. Kimi to Renault? Can’t see that either as the prospects of Renault returning to the sharp end of the grid are slim. Red Bull is full. Toyota’s car isn’t fast enough, forget the new teams, Williams will go after Nick and their car isn’t fast enough for Kimi. So whither goest the Kimster? I still see him in Red. Could the Ferrari engine deal Sauber is working on provide them a place to “park” Fernando for a year? Could they push Kimi there on the cheap? Kimi would want to enforce his contract so it would still cost Ferrari a bundle. Plus the last few races have shown Ferrari how fast a motivated Kimi can still drive.

        (I can’t foresee the FIA allowing some engine adjustment because Red Bull won a few races in such dominant form with the Renault. They may allow 2 more engines per season though because of the experience of Red Bull and BMW this year. Especially if Red Bull and BMW sharply curtail their running time during the remaining practice sessions. It could affect attendance as some fans might stay home knowing that their favorite driver will get a grid penalty or only run a dozen laps in practice.)

  26. Thomas says:

    I was perplexed about why Mercedes would pull away from a 15-year successful partnership, so thank you James.

    Clearly this is driven by McLaren’s desire to build its own engines; both for its road car projects and for F1. Strategically, this makes huge sense for McLaren. It introduces another revenue stream for the Group, whilst allowing it to completely be master of its own destiny. Maybe we will see McLaren customer cars a few years down the road.

    Could be huge for McLaren, so long as they procude a good engine. It will induce unease for Hamilton, so it could be interesting to see what happens when his contract is up.

    1. Thomas says:

      I’ve been looking at Mclaren’s web site (www.mclarencars.com) and it includes the following peach about its engine:

      “….The MP4-12C’s class-leading combination of pure performance and efficiency could only be achieved by designing our own M838T engine from scratch. Not constrained by having to use another manufacturer’s parts, we applied McLaren’s design methodologies to create an engine that defies sports car conventions….”

      No wonder Mercedes want out of McLaren!!!

  27. Mike from Medellin, Colombia says:

    Let’s hope that Ron doesn’t end up like Frank Williams and Patrick Head whose stubbornness has made them into also rans.

    You can;t rely on stability from manufacturers, but they give you a huge advantage. If someone else has one, you have to have one.

  28. Jonathan Chan says:

    James if Mercedes secures shares in Brawn for 2011 and thus takes the famous silver colour scheme away from Mclaren, will Mclaren revert back to the traditional Orange paint job?

      1. Pay The Piper says:

        Bruce McLaren papaya and Vodafone rocket-red.

        On the same car. That’s quite the jihad for the eyes. It would at least make the poor old Renault look understated.

        Somethings probably gotta give on that one. (now Orange Telecom on the other hand … )

      2. kristian says:

        This is (I believe) the 2006 McLaren in testing with an orange livery. Mmm… tasty.

        http://pic.phyrefile.com/2007/11/07/18622pix1hires.jpg

      3. Thomas says:

        Orange (telco) would be all over that wouldn’t they!

        Such a cool color

      4. bonnie b says:

        James think about this since Vodafone is the
        title sponsor ,The color orange will not go
        well with the color orange.But check this out
        paint the car Mclaren black with rocket red
        metallic flakes in the paint scheme when
        light hits it it shows rocket red but the car
        stays black. Pimp my ride!

      5. Jonathan Chan says:

        I don’t think Mclaren will be fazed, their colour schemes have alternated every other year, from the traditional West Livery, to the Chrome-Johnnie Walker, straight to the Silver-Rocket Red. Truth be told colour schemes are heavily dependant on sponsorship. I personally would like to see Red and Black the same colours as the logo, I think that would be quite fitting.

        Either way, the boys at Woking will not paint it bright pink in collaboration with Sheilas Wheels, that I assure you ;)

  29. Silverstoned says:

    James, our Gran says Mercedes shouldn’t rush to sign anything. She reckons the biggest F1 scandal is yet to break upon us. It will involve the entire Brawn team who will be disqualified from this year’s champs.
    As Raikkonen will overtake Vettel and Webber in the next 3 races he will be crowned WDC 2009.

    That’s our Gran for you.

    1. James Allen says:

      Wow, what a theory. Would cap off a truly unbelievable year if it happened. Good old Gran

    2. Howard Hughes says:

      I reckon ‘silverstoned’ refers to your gran.

    3. monktonnik says:

      Where does she get her info?

  30. Cabby says:

    It would help Mercedes enormously in their home market and make the spending on F1 easier to justify if they had a German winning the Championship in a Mercedes car. I think this is why they are interested to supply Red Bull, ther interest in Brawn and a driver like Nico Rosberg.

    There are quite a few good (enough)German drivers around at the moment, but none of them will be able to take on Hamilton at McLaren as a teammate, because he is such a good driver and because he is so strongly linked to the team. Even Alonso could not do it, this tells you quite a lot.

  31. Meeklo says:

    “As for where things go with McLaren from here in terms of F1 he added,
    “Ending the relationship is not an option but we may have a different relationship”.”

    Rumor has it, MclarenHonda… Some nice irony in that eh?

    1. Martin Collyer says:

      Nice idea, Meeklo. What is the source of the rumour?

  32. Hugo says:

    Great article James.
    Does Mclaren have the tools right now to build their own engine for road or F1 cars?

    1. Shdadoz says:

      I don’t think so but I would think they will in three years time. There are many companies that would love to build it for them and let then call it McLaren.

      1. Thomas says:

        McLaren have built there own engine for the MP4 12C. It is probably this that has ticked off Mercedes more than anything else.

        I have been to the McLaren Technology Centre and from what I have seen they are more than capable of building their own engine.

  33. Alex Yarnell says:

    Do you think that McLaren is suffering the loss of strong leadership in the form of Ron Dennis and has this added to Mercedes nervousness in additon to the factors you’ve discussed?

    Also if Mercedes were to leave is McLaren one of the very few teams that have the ability to weather the loss – or is that to under-estimate Mercedes Benz’s contribution?

  34. cliff says:

    Wow…coming events always cast their shadows.I definitely think there’s more to come but I can imagine Mclaren must have contemplated this scenario in some shape or form.Thanks for the pearler from the grapevine James..

  35. Bilal Tabassum says:

    Hi James. Great insight, thank you. Remember 93 when the all black Saubers just carried the logo ‘concept  by mercedes Benz’?! In a way this is Mercedes’ chance to complete that original mission of being a GP team in their own right. It’s completely fair in my view, this is sport not romance, good luck to them. I just hope they keep Rubens next year, what a joy to watch!

  36. Darren says:

    who cares, Lotus are back. Any updates for us james,

    P.S I owe you an apology , always slated you for your commentary but would have you back in as heart beat.

  37. John says:

    I think another good driver is just what Hamilton needs. someone to push him to do even better; besides, iron sharpens iron… It would be very good for the team to have more than one person earning good points.

  38. Harveyeight says:

    The one Mclaren weakness, leaving even their pitstops and manual gearboxes well behind, which has been constant since MP4 days has been tactics. If Ron Dennis told you to turn right you’d check your satnav first. It is not something which is lacking in the Brawn team.

    I’ve been a fan of McLaren since the last days of the BT54 – what a shame the BT55 couldn’t cut it – so regard Ron Dennis with some degree of awe. Together with Frank Williams/Patrick Head, he is F1 to me. Or rather was.

    A friend of mine worked for Courtaulds and was part of the negotiating team when they sponsored McLaren and Tyrell in the late 80s/early 90s ‘the business of winning’ era. He said that RD was a one-off and the sort of bloke who inspired trust from the start. Once an agreement was reached and the metaphorical handshake had taken place, he believed that it was set in stone and the lawyers’ bits of paper were an inconsequence.

    Is there any connection between RD’s move away from the pitwall and Merc’s move away from McLaren?

    I like Whitmarsh. He is great on TV, seems to be willing to help out us fans with insight – not to mention YouTube videos – and has some respect for the English language. I’d really like to see him as successful as Ron has been.

    Yet I find myself cooling towards McLaren. It has changed. Ron’s seat is a big one to fill.

    Was Merc’s relationship more with RD than the team?

    This season will be remarkable as after 30 years domination by the big four, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Benetton/Renault, there will be a new name on the WCC cup. It was Andretti, one of my top five, who put the Lotus name there in 1978. At the moment Brawn is, I would suggest, something of a bargain. For all the hype, is Mercedes just keeping its options open?

    Mind you, if I were Merc, I’d be a wee bit nervous of McLaren’s launch into sportscars. Not much, given the figures likely to be built. But gull wings? Retro might be great for the new Mini and Fiat 500 pastiche, but on a brandleading sportscar? I’m not so sure their tactics are any better than Ron’s were in F1.

  39. Mehtab says:

    James,

    Considering the fact that McLaren are looking to develop their enginesin-house, how would it pan out with the current regulations pertaining to the engine freeze?

    Would they be allowed to develop an engine and race it right out of the box even though they had extra developmental time (and a fresh approach to maximize output at lower revs) with it?

    1. James Allen says:

      Building a series engine for a road car and building an F1 engine are two very different things. I’m not aware that the end result of this strategy is for them to build F1 engines, but I’ll find out. Clearly they wanted the ability to build their own road car, engine and all and there will be other models, no doubt soon.

    2. Paige Michael-Shetley says:

      I’ve got to think this is what McLaren is looking to do, especially since they’re stepping up as a sports car manufacturer with the aim of being the British Ferrari.

      The engine freeze will probably be scrapped soon.

  40. Antonis says:

    James,

    do you think that Mercedes were completely satisfied with their cooperation and results with McLaren?

    You mention the tension coming from scandals. But a moment’s reflection reveals that for such a high profile collaboration, the results were rather poor…

    3 drivers championships, and 2 constructors??

    1. James Allen says:

      I think it has not been as successful as it could and should have been. Mercedes made mistakes, they had some difficult years in the mid 2000s with the engines, failures etc, but I think both sides would say that they didn’t do as much as they ought to have done

  41. Nicollers says:

    So if McLaren are unable to make use of BMW, Renault and Mercedes engines, that leaves one engine provider no one has dared mention….

    Could it happen?

  42. Tim says:

    James , i think there is a lot more to this than just rumour.

    The driver market is irrelevant in the ambitions of Mercedes Benz and McLaren. Both have longer term growth strategies at a corporate level that need to be exercised.

    Mercedes always wanted to have a Silver Arrows in F1, bu that project was shelved in 1993 as too risky. Mercedes then entered F1 as Sauber Mercedes, with the original Silver Arrow painted black.

    Ron Dennis has never wanted to sell McLaren MP4 to anyone and the partnership with Mercedes was mutually beneficial at the time.

    Now the world has changed. McLaren is in a position to own and develop its own engine (buying one would clearly save cash) to bolster its road car brand. This creates share holder value and establishes McLaren as a sports car producer in its own right.

    Ross Brawn had never intended to keep Brawn GP anyways. He took the opportunity to raise the share price of ex BAR, ex Honda assets with a view to selling it too a manufacturer in future. This strategy would make sense if you now own the assets and liabilities. Buy it low, sell it high = Profit.
    Then engineer a role as team principal and draw a salary and share options to incentivise yourself. Bernie did, Richard Branson does it so why wouldn’t Ross Brawn?

    This is very exciting for F1 if it comes to fruition. Perhaps this move will temp VAG into F1 either under the VW or Audi (or perhaps Lambo or Bentley which would make sense in the market those brands compete).

    Manufacturers can be the death of F1 but if the environment (costs, rules, politics) is correct then manufacturers can be the life blood of F1.

    This move by McLaren and Mercedes is not about drivers, its about corporate strategy. F1 is a business and is used to create brand equity. There is no higher brand equity than a Mercedes Benz F1 race car painted Silver and called a Mercedes benz, not a McLaren Mercedes.
    Same holds true for McLaren. The customer of the MP4/12c will more easily identify with a Vodaphone McLaren than a Vodaphone Mc Merc.

    Bmw is a privately owned company, they would want to sell the engine programme as a going concern to get cash back in the bank for R$D.

    There is a lot of sense to all of these moves.

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