So you have arguably the strongest driver line-up on the Formula One grid; one of which you’ve practically bet the farm on. You also have the quickest car over one lap – and whilst temperamental when stretched – there are definite signs of improvement. You can also look forward to some tasty regulation changes just around the corner which should suit your engine department to a tea.
What a perfect time to get out of the sport right?
Okay, you’ve got a little tribunal hearing to deal with, which (still) on the rebound from the hefty bill left over from 2007’s McLaren Spygate affair could run a little salt into the wounds, but it hardly warrants the cry from Michael Muders (Mercedes Union Investment Manager) that “Mercedes must get out of F1”. Muders assertion that “the company spends hundreds of millions here and doesn’t bring anyone anything” might be true, but it isn’t the first time the marque spent hundreds of millions on a project (rotary engine anyone?) only to undermine the adventure with internal politicking. At least the Formula One enterprise is starting to bear tangible fruit.
The lessons for Mercedes are clear to see. BMW broke partnership with Williams to form their own team with Sauber (much like Mercedes did in leaving McLaren to join Brackley), but instead on capitalizing on a strong 2008 car, the Munich mount thought best to stick to the “script” and win the 2009 championship with a pig-dog of a car.
Inversely, Honda decided to up-stumps in a desperate bid to save face on the back of a dismal 2008 season; despite assurances from Ross Brawn that their 2009 design would be a winner. In Brawn’s hands it was and now the Japanese giant is slipping back in the side door with McLaren to start the dance all over again.
So what is the unspoken but often ignored rule here? Don’t panic. Even if Mercedes are found to be guilty of illegal testing it’s hardly going to damage the brand – just like my mate never cringes whilst topping up his Honda Jazz just because BAR Honda ran a second fuel-tank in 2005. Mercedes might have a get-out clause in their Formula One contract – at least according to the company’s head of legal affairs, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt – but I’ve never seen fine print work that effectively in a gun-fight.
What would be more embarrassing is for Mercedes to pull out when they’re potentially on the cusp of dominating the sport over the next few years. And at a time when German competitors Volkswagen are flexing their muscles in the WRC, Porsche will undoubtedly again do what they do best at Le Mans and Audi laying the foundations for a ‘Word Series by Renault’-type hegemony in Asia. There are even rumors of a former motorsport chassis giant aligning to a healthy Chinese Motorsport company in the near future. Yes motorsport is still a global industry and if you stop moving it’s difficult to regain ground.
You could argue that Niki Lauda’s (Mercedes’ AMG’s non-executive chairman) last leadership exercise at Jaguar was a more troubled affair, but in 2003 the team began to iron things out – despite Neil Ressler’s (Ford’s then chief technical officer) insistence to do it “Ford’s way or else”. The R4 Jaguar was a stark improvement on the R3 with a stiffer chassis aligned with a new driver and management restructure. Sound familiar? Mark Webber recently even compared the F1W04 to the R4 in respect to its brilliant one-lap performance and propensity for subsequent drop off. Well a Jag never won in Monaco, but considering the embers of Jaguar breathed life into Red Bull should also be an appeal for the three-pointed star to keep a firm hand on the tiller whist negotiating relatively choppy waters.
Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s tribunal hearing, Mercedes should already have decided to keep their heads down and their bums up if they don’t want to run the risk of becoming another F1 also ran – a far more damaging moniker than being labeled a rule bender.
Images courtesty of Octane Photographic