Will Mercedes take over McLaren?
It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but bet that Mercedes-Benz is going to take over the McLaren Formula One team, either before the season starts next year or – if the sanctions imposed on McLaren make next year not worth the effort – before the 2009 season.
According to reports in the British press, McLaren has decided against appealing the World Motorsports Council’s decision to strip the team of its 2007 Constructor’s points and fine the team $100 million for using information stolen from Ferrari in the preparation of McLaren’s race cars. Reports also have Mercedes-Benz is swearing fealty to McLaren, saying that they believe the team was treated unfairly by the FIA.
Behind the scenes, look for the hand of Mercedes. Publicly, they are supportive of McLaren. They have even gone so far as to say that, in essence, bad publicity is good, so long as your name is spelled correctly. “I don’t see any sign of the image problems some say we are supposed to have. On the contrary, we get a lot of support and encouragement from outside," according to Mercedes’ director of competition, Norbert Haug.
But Ron Dennis is already six feet toward the end of the plank.
It is obvious that McLaren decided against appealing to avoid having the FIA strip them of driver’s points. Over the weekend, FIA president Max Moseley told the press that McLaren’s driver’s Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, would have received sanctions, were it not for Mosley’s decision to grant them immunity to secure their testimony against the team. Alonso, in particular, is at risk: he actively and knowing participated in the use of stolen information to benefit McLaren’s performance in Formula One. Had McLaren appealed, that immunity grant would have been inapplicable and Alonso could have been expelled from Formula One competition for life.
Mercedes can say what it wants to say, but it has no benefit from having Alonso and Hamilton kicked out of the Championship competition. Mosley made it crystally clear what would be the result of an appeal. Mercedes has no reason to run that risk. After all, it can blame what happened on Ron Dennis.
But, that leaves Mercedes with something of a problem. It owns 40% of McLaren. That’s too much of a stake to be simply written off. Moreover, McLaren’s name is linked with that of Mercedes-Benz, not just in the Formula One arena, but also through their joint production of the current Mercedes-McLaren SLR supercar.
Mercedes, however, has a history of racing dating to the 1920’s. The only real caveat they’ve ever had in international racing is that they insist on winning. Their partnership with McLaren was something of a compromise for the company, which normally is either entirely in or out.
At this juncture, Mercedes-Benz has an opportunity and it is unlikely to pass on it. They already own 40% of McLaren and control the engine end. They can simply absorb the rest of the company, no doubt at a bargain price, and then become Mercedes-Benz racing in Formula One. There seems little doubt that the powers that control Formula One, whether Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone, would consider the full-scale commitment of Mercedes-Benz to Formula One the realization of a fantasy to wonderful to even consider a dream.
Think of it: another generation of Silver Arrows, painted silver with the Mercedes insignia the only symbol interrupting the car’s lines.
The timing is perfect and the price is likely to be right.
Expect Mercedes-Benz to be in Formula One as a constructor within two years.