The World Champion’s number one plate could once again appear on a Silver Arrow next season.
Reports in Germany suggest that a deal is being discussed whereby the Brawn GP name could disappear after just one all conquering season in Formula 1 and the champions would be rebranded as Mercedes from next season onwards.
Mercedes still has a contract with McLaren until the end of 2011 and McLaren-Mercedes sponsors, like Vodafone and Johnnie Walker are contracted forwards several years. So it is a question of what those deals are predicated upon, in terms of the look and feel of the cars, the branding and naming rights as to whether Mercedes can run its cars as Silver Arrows or whether this would be a conflict. There will be a deal to be struck as there will over the valuation of Mercedes 40% shareholding in the team.
It is ironic that this has largely come about because McLaren approved the last minute engine supply deal for Brawn as part of the FOTA spirit of brotherhood at the start of the year.
For Mercedes Brawn this represents a chance to start more or less afresh, cutting loose from the “scandals” of the last three years and conflicting road car projects. They want a controlling interest in a winning team and would never have got that from McLaren. This opportunity comes at a time when costs have been greatly reduced in F1.
It also offers the company its first opportunity to work with Ross Brawn, having raced against him in sportscars (when Ross was at Jaguar) and F1 (when Ross was with Benetton and Ferrari). As well as retaining a shareholding he is likely to be the subject of a “key man” clause in the sale contract which will tie him to staying on at the helm for a period of time – perhaps three or five years.
I rang Mercedes today but a spokesman was only able to say what the company has been saying for some time, which is, “We have a long term commitment with McLaren and we don’t comment on rumours.”
They will supply engines to McLaren for two more seasons, but my understanding is that McLaren is trying to extend that until the end of 2012. There has been talk of McLaren making its own engine. The new McLaren road car has a McLaren badged engine which is being built for them by German engine specialist, Mahle.
Mercedes was given the all clear to supply a fourth F1 team, which it would like to be Red Bull, but they need McLaren approval to do so. That has not been forthcoming so far and it seems more likely that Red Bull will stay with Renault.
Brawn’s Nick Fry says that the team has a title sponsor and secondary sponsors in place for next year. I have heard the name Orange associated with the team, but there are also suggestions in the Auto Motor und Sport article that the team had lined up an alcohol and a gambling company, which was a potential problem with Aabar’s Arab owners.
Ross Brawn meanwhile has said that he expects the car to be competitive next season. He told me in Abu Dhabi that he thinks the team will “not disgrace itself” next season and that “success makes us more determined not to slip back”.
Speaking earlier this week at a homecoming parade in the team’s base at Brackley he said that the team had just about got away with doing the minimum on this year’s car while throwing resources at next year’s car and he feels that the team will be competitive,
“The main thing for us is that it’s the second year of working with Mercedes,” he said. “It should be a much better installation because we’ve had an opportunity to begin early and have the sort of exhaust system that we need, design the gearbox properly for the engine, design the chassis properly for the engine, put the right coolers on… all of those things.”
Brawn also said that he was” 99% certain” that world champion Jenson Button would stay with the team.