Mercedes takeover gives Brawn more muscle

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Mercedes takeover gives Brawn more muscle

Mensaje  max_pole el Mar Nov 17, 2009 11:50 am

The tectonic plates of Formula One shifted dramatically yesterday, with confirmation by Mercedes-Benz that it is selling its shareholding in McLaren and has bought a controlling interest in Brawn GP.
The move secures Brawn’s long-term future and guarantees that the team born less than 12 months ago in a hastily arranged management buyout from Honda will be a big player in Formula One for years to come.
It is also a resounding vote of confidence in Ross Brawn, without whose presence as team principal the deal would not have gone through.
The takeover, which creates in effect a Mercedes-Benz “works team” called Mercedes Grand Prix, makes Brawn, the majority shareholder in his eponymous company, a lot richer, to the tune of an estimated £35 million. It will have come as a welcome payday for the smaller shareholders in the outfit, too, among them the chief executive, Nick Fry, who hired Brawn at the end of 2007 in a bid to transform Honda’s fortunes.
The switch comes as Jenson Button’s future at Brawn remains unresolved and amid signs that senior managers at the team are tiring of what they view as inaccurate and misleading briefings about the level of salary that Button has been offered to stay with a team with whom he captured this year’s World Championship.
Button is reported to have demanded £8 million for 2010; The Times understands he has been offered exactly that.
The announcement by Mercedes-Benz, in a series of briefings from Stuttgart by Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, brings to an end months of paddock speculation that the proud German carmaker had made up its mind to drop McLaren and to invest in the team based in Brackley, Northamptonshire.
Dr Zetsche made it clear that Ross Brawn, who masterminded seven drivers’ titles for Michael Schumacher as technical director at Benetton and Ferrari and this year carried off the constructors’ and drivers’ championships, was the key prize.
“It will be a true Mercedes-Benz factory team,” Zetsche said. “As important as that, of course, is that Ross Brawn will continue to be the team principal and thereby we are maintaining his strength.”
Zetsche was careful to avoid questions about McLaren’s recent history, which has been coloured by cheating and spying scandals.
He said the move was driven by McLaren’s decision to increase its road-car production — the company will launch a new supercar next year — which was incompatible with Mercedes’ own objectives as a carmaker. Mercedes will thus sell its 40 per cent stake in McLaren to the other McLaren shareholders over the next two years. It has taken a 75.1 per cent stake in Brawn, which is thought to be worth about £75 million, far less than the original investment in McLaren.
While Mercedes will no longer be a partner in McLaren, it will continue to supply the Woking-based team, led by Lewis Hamilton on the track, with engines until at least 2015.
According to a determinedly upbeat assessment by Ron Dennis, the former McLaren Mercedes team principal and now executive chairman of McLaren Automotive, this is a “win-win” situation for his company.
But that is not the way the deal was being seen elsewhere in the sport, with predictions from paddock insiders that the new Mercedes team will become a big rival for McLaren and will want the very best drivers on the grid.
Some analysts were already predicting that Sebastian Vettel, the German Red Bull driver, will be a target for 2012 and that Hamilton could find himself in a “Silver Arrow” before long.
Zetsche was reluctant to be drawn on the driver line-up for next year, which he said was something to be decided by Brawn himself. He said there was no set desire to have two German drivers in the team.
“We would like the best drivers in the two seats. We certainly would not be opposed if one of them would be German, but that is not a pre-requisite which would be given to the team,” Zetsche said.
The team are widely thought to have hired Nico Rosberg, the 24-year-old German, and remain in negotiations with Button’s advisers. They are thought to have conducted outline discussions with Nick Heidfeld, the German former BMW Sauber driver.
Button’s camp has claimed that he has been offered a salary of £4 million for 2010, a rise of gonly £1 million from his remuneration this year, when he took a voluntary £5 million pay cut to help the team after the buyout.
However, it was suggested yesterday by authoritative sources that Button has been offered the full £8 million and is trying to get more. Brawn managers are irritated that the new world champion seems to believe the advent of Mercedes means money is no object.
In fact, one of the attractions of Brawn to the German company is the conservative way in which the team are run, something highlighted by Zetsche, who said he wants to cut Mercedes’ expenditure in Formula One by three quarters in the next three years.
It was being pointed out that Button should not assume that the team will revert to Honda-style levels of expenditure under Mercedes and that they will not get involved in a bidding war with McLaren for his services.
This follows reports that Button has recently visited the McLaren headquarters amid suggestions that the Woking-based team are planning an all-English driver line-up of Hamilton and Button.
The view at Brackley is that Button is still the right man for the job. But the bank is not going to be broken for the new world champion.
From Fangio to Hamilton
• Mercedes raced a car in the first automobile race from Paris to Rouen in 1894.
• In the 1930s Daimler-Benz dominated Grand Prix racing in Europe with their Silver Arrows.
• In the modern era, Mercedes made their Formula One debut in 1954 and last raced as a full works team when Juan Manuel Fangio won the drivers’ title in 1955.
• They returned to Formula One as an engine supplier to Sauber in 1993. In 1995 the company moved to McLaren. Mika Häkkinen won the Drivers’ Championship with a Mercedes-powered McLaren in 1998 and 1999.
• In 2008 Lewis Hamilton became the youngest Formula One champion, at 23, when he clinched the title in a McLaren Mercedes.

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