Formula 1 Insight

Mercedes and Formula One

One of the things I love about F1 is the irreverent humor of the paddock and the fans. Apt nicknames like de Crasheris, John What's Wrong (Watson) and Alain Prost's early moniker of Tadpole (little Frog, see?) give a rare insight into the humanity of the teams, the workhorse mechanics who are faceless but also an essential part of a team's success or failure.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

Interestingly, all three of the examples that sprang to my mind emanate from the old McLaren team, Teddy Mayer's boys. Since Big Ron bought out the team in the early eighties, there has been less of that sort of humor in the sport and so it was a welcome relief to see Haug described as "chubby Norbert" by a commenter on Keith Collantine's blog, F1 Fanatic, this morning.

Which brings me to my point. Herr Haug is Mercedes' representative in the McLaren team, the other side of the coin from Ron Dennis, and so an important contributor to the ethos of the team. "Chubby" descibes him so neatly, not only physically but also in character, that I am forced to smile in recognition. Yet this is hardly the image that we expect Mercedes to project; of all German companies, Mercedes needs to be seen as powerful and efficient, the epitome of all that is German.

So I find it strange that the company has been so patient in its relationship with McLaren. For years they have been on the brink of winning a championship but somehow it eludes them at the last and it might have been expected that the company's need for success would have driven the board to take things into their own hands by now. Rumors of a Mercedes buy out of McLaren have abounded for some time but still Haug smiles his way through the questions, explaining just how happy they are with their results so far.

Is this really the same company that entered GP racing in the thirties and fifties to win everything in sight? Where is the juggernaut that used to raid the cupboard and escape with all the silverware?

The answer to this conundrum lies in the state of the sport in our modern age. No longer is it possible for a giant to enter the fray and crush all opposition with superior (and costly) technology - F1 truly is at the edge of technical development and, as Toyota are finding, it is a matter of new entrants catching up, rather than showing how it's done.

I give Mercedes full credit for their understanding and foresight in this; they studied the game before entering this time and swiftly came to the conclusion that they would not be able to dominate from the word go. And they have been clever in their approach, choosing a team with similar ideals to their own to be the bearer of their engine expertise. But the best part of the deal in their eyes is that they also have a scapegoat if domination does not follow (as it has not, to date); failure is a team matter and hardly their fault.

The rumors of a takeover continue to rumble in the background, even so. The Stepney/Coughlan scandal was so damaging to McLaren's image that one might have expected Mercedes to seize the moment and emerge as sole proprietor of the McLaren Empire. Yet still Chubby Norbert smiles his way through, the gentle giant that affirms the eternal harmony of the joint Anglo German effort.

No doubt there will come a time when the team becomes German-owned but it is not yet and may not be for a few years to come. Devilishly clever, these Germans.


we'll see if he's still smiling if/when bmw finishes the championship ahead of them.

wouldn't they make a great video game? chubby and super mario go to the races.
Date Added: 15/07/2008

Sounds like a winner to me, Vera! And you're right - Mercedes is not going to enjoy seeing BMW beat them to the championship, if they can manage it...
Date Added: 15/07/2008

Boy Beorge
All I have to say is Hamilton Is the man right now. People try and hate on him but the guy has driving skills. He has had an amazing year.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

Steven Roy
Over the period Mercedes have been involved they have had little or no option but stay with McLaren. No other team has so consistently challenged for the title so in reality Merc have the option of McLaren or a Merc team.

Their original plan was to enter as a Mercedes team but then they did the deal with Sauber who ironically sold to BMW. If they didn't want to take the risk of a solo effort at that time the odds are they will never do it unless they can buy McLaren. Now the risk and cost is greater and the chance of succeeding lower.

Of course the one major problem they cannot do anything about is Max.
Date Added: 16/07/2008

Agreed that Mercedes have little option but to stick with McLaren regardless of whether they own the team or not, Steven. I think they will buy it when Ron leaves but that's just a guess.

As for Max, well, he's everyone's problem, isn't he?
Date Added: 16/07/2008

I'm pretty sure I recall seeing Dr. Z up on the podium with McLaren a few times as well.
Date Added: 17/07/2008

I think that Mercedes are clearly in with McLaren for the long haul and as more than simply engine supplier - the stake that they hold in the organisation proves that. A lot of the work at McLaren in the last few years (most visible in the construction of the Technology Centre) has been all about preparing the team (and the company at large) for the future - in other words, beyond Ron (or anyone else for that matter). Last year and this, despite all the problems behind the scenes, I think that the performance has started to come back to the fore again.

And, lest we forget, Mercedes have already won world championships with McLaren in 1998 and 1999 (albeit not the Constructors).

I'm sure that Frank occasionally looks down the pitlane at both the white and blue and the silver and black garages and wishes that he had handled his relationship with BMW differently. And then he probably casts his eyes towards the white and red garage, and wonder if he can conjure something similar from Toyota...

Date Added: 17/07/2008

Actually, I think those two WDCs in 98 and 99 must only increase Mercedes' hunger for success, George. They want the constructor's championship since it reflects on the company (although I also think they're wrong - the WDC has a much higher profile amongst the public).

I have been saying for years that Toyota should buy into Williams and scrap their own team. It makes so much sense that it'll probably never happen!
Date Added: 17/07/2008

You could well be right about the 98/99 wins Clive. I also think that you are right about their perceptions of the CC versus the WDC. Frank Williams always said down the years that he was more interested in the Constructors' crown as well, interestingly.

We've agreed on the Williams/Toyota situation before on other posts, and unfortunately, like you, I don't think it's likely. But wouldn't it be fantastic?
Date Added: 17/07/2008

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