It is reported by reliable sources in Germany and Switzerland that the Mercedes-Benz move on the Brawn GP team is part of a much bigger strategy which will see the team become a subsidiary of the German car manufacturer by 2012. In the interim, 75% of the Brawn shares will be acquired by Aabar Investments, a public joint stock company which is listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.
Founded in 2005 with a mandate to develop the country’s oil and gas businesses, Aabar came under the control of the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), an oil-driven investment fund owned by the Abu Dhabi government, in March. That happened the day after Aabar paid out $2.7bn for a 9.1% shareholding in Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The suggestion is that Aabar will hold the Brawn stake until it can be passed on to Mercedes-Benz in 2012 after the German car manufacturer’s exclusive deal with McLaren comes to an end.
Mercedes-Benz still owns a 40% share of McLaren, but this has proved to be not enough to control the business as there is a covenant between the other shareholders which means that Mercedes-Benz can be overruled. The suggestion is that Brawn will race next year in a silver livery, with Mercedes branding and a sponsorship deal from a German company. The latest rumours suggest that Mercedes-Benz wants to put Nico Rosberg into the team alongside Jenson Button to give German fans someone to get excited about.
Ironically, Aabar recently bought a 32% share in Virgin Galactic, one of Brawn’s sponsors this year. Virgin is not believed to be involved as it is expected to be named as a partner in Manor Grand Prix, which we expect to see renamed Virgin F1 in the months ahead.
The McLaren-Mercedes relationship has been very successful over the years. The original deal was done in the autumn of 1994 and the partnership was launched in 1995 with drivers Mika Hakkinen and Mark Blundell (Nigel Mansell having stood down because the chassis was too small for him). The partnership did not win a race until the start of 1997. The following year Mika Hakkinen won the World Championship and he followed up with a second title in 1999. The team would not win another title until Lewis Hamilton became World Champion in 2008. Despite this the partnership has resulted in 59 victories, 20 of them for Mika Hakkinen, 12 for David Coulthard, 10 for Lewis Hamilton and nine for Kimi Raikkonen. Others to have won in McLaren-Mercedes cars are Fernando Alonso (4), Juan-Pablo Montoya (3) and Heikki Kovalainen (1).
Mercedes bought into McLaren in 1999 when plans for the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR road car were announced. By 2005, however, Mercedes was clearly looking at a different strategy, acquiring AMG to become its in-house developer of high performance vehicles. McLaren pushed ahead with the development of its own MP4-12C, which was announced today. This is no obvious Mercedes-Benz involvement in that project.
There was talk in 2007 that Mercedes might be considering its own B Team in Formula 1 and HWA, the AMG offshoot that runs the Mercedes-Benz DTM programme and supplies the company with its Formula 3 engines, was mentioned as a possible partner.