Back in April, when Brawn were striding to victory wherever they showed up, I had a conversation with one of Mercedes’ product managers. Why, I asked, weren’t Mercedes rushing to get their logos on the BGP001s, as it looked like they were going to romp to the championship?
He explained that because Brawn only had a customer deal with Mercedes, the engine manufacturer didn’t get to put its name on the car. Mercedes’ exclusive deal with McLaren meant that only the silver cars bore the three-pointed star.
I later wrote a piece titled ‘Mercedes should put a sticker on this car‘ above a picture of a Brawn. And now that looks likely to happen as a report in the German press today claims Mercedes will take a 75% stake in Brawn by 2011. What does this mean for Brawn – and McLaren?
A boost for Brawn
The story in Auto Motor und Sport claims that because of Mercedes’ deal with McLaren its investment in Brawn will be held by Abu Dhabi state-linked company Aabar in the meantime.
Aabar bought a 9.1% stake in Mercedes owner Daimler in March, injecting €1.95bn into the company. Aabar has previously invested $380m in Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company run by Brawn’s sponsor, but that is probably not related to the deal as Virgin is transferring its sponsorship to the new Manor Motorsport F1 team in 2010.
The development will be welcome news for Brawn, which has needed to secure long-term funding since becoming an independent outfit following Honda’s departure from F1. It gives the team security, allowing it to plan for the long-term and boost its attractiveness to potential sponsors.
Mercedes has not previously insisted on having a German driver at McLaren. But was this out of a lack of desire, or simply because they did not have a majority stake to demand it? If so, we could see one of Brawn’s drivers replaced with one of F1′s many German drivers next year.
What about McLaren?
Mercedes’ stake in Brawn does not automatically mean it will have to surrender its 40% stake in McLaren – after all, Red Bull own two Formula 1 teams. However there has been a discernible loosening of the ties between Mercedes and McLaren in recent years.
Earlier today the new McLaren MP4-12C sports car was revealed and tomorrow Mercedes will publish official details of its rival sports car, the SLS – having taken care not to coincide its announcement with McLaren’s.
The two companies previously collaborated on the Mercedes SLR McLaren, the last examples of which were recently completed at the McLaren Technology Centre. McLaren has built its own V8 engine for the MP4-12C – does it plan to produce its own F1 engines in the future too?
Another change coming McLaren’s way in the near future is the widely-expected loss of major sponsor Santander. Ferrari is expected to announce a deal with the Spanish bank tomorrow, which may include confirmation that Fernando Alonso, who joined McLaren with Santander in 2007, will be a Ferrari driver in 2010. It remains to be seen who McLaren will replace them with.
Regardless, McLaren is forging ahead with its road car development programme which anticipates 1,000 sales by 2011 and the development of future models. In July Woking Borough Council approved its request to extend its production facilities.
Perhaps this is not just a case of Mercedes seeking an alternative to McLaren, but also McLaren forging an independent path for the future?