Mercedes Grand Prix

Yet more big changes among the F1 teams for 2010! Not only do we get get a raft of new teams, the departure of BMW (who may yet come back in a new form) and Toyota, now we also have Mercedes completely restructuring their involvement after a long unbroken run with McLaren.

McLaren
Mercedes presently own 40% of the McLaren F1 team (not the group as a whole though). The problem Mercedes faced is that while they are the largest single shareholder, the others hold an agreement by which they vote as a single block, thus having the power to veto Mercedes. There is also the new supercar which is the first McLaren-built road car in years not to feature a Mercedes engine.

Plan: The 40% shareholding will be reduced gradually over the next 18 months or so and for the 2010 season (and beyond??) the team will still be called Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. The engine supply agreement remains and, for now, so does the colour scheme.

BrawnGP
After Honda departed F1 the team has had to cut back somewhat in personnel, and it still seemed to suffer the same problem as it always had under every incarnation, that of not being able to attract long-term sponsors. With benefactors like BAT and Honda it was never necessary only desired, indeed Honda effectively bankrolled the 2009 season. It was anyone’s guess what would happen in 2010 and beyond. Yet amazingly the came from nowhere to dominate the first half of the season, and while it went south after that they managed to battle on to secure both championships.

Plan: Mercedes have bought 75.1% of the team in an agreement with a Middle Eastern investment company. The team will henceforth be known as Mercedes GP and the cars branded as ‘Silver Arrows’, harking back to the famous cars of the 1930s and 1950s. Ross Brawn remains in charge but will liaise with Norbert Haug.

Drivers:
Rubens Barrichello left Brawn last month and had already signed for Williams to replace Nico Rosberg, who was looking to leave that team. Nico had therefore been linked with the vacant Brawn seat in a straight swap and now Mercedes have a greater involvement the deal appears as good as done.

The big question is over the future of Jenson Button. There are strong reports placing him at McLaren with a pay rise, doing nothing to quell his reputation as a money-chaser. At least this time he’s earned it. I am not sure what placing himself in what is Lewis Hamilton’s personal team is going to acheive for Button other than damaging his career, he must be confident in his ablility to beat him. It will be interesting to see him try!
At this stage it could still be an elaborate bluff and Kimi Raikkonen could still get that seat, though you have to say that possibility is shrinking daily. In fact just this evening Kimi’s manager has stated any chance with McLaren has now disappeared.

That leaves a space at MercGP. Will Kimi end up there? Are the Heidfeld rumours a ploy by the Kimi or Jenson to get more money (either take us for mega $$ or end up with Nick), and is that how he gets himself hired? What is the fate of Heikki Kovalainen?

Lots of questions still need answering. One thing’s for sure, this is a much bigger deal for the ex-Brawn team than the Virgin deal suggested a while back and perhaps that’s why Virgin are now hooking up with Manor.

One final point I saw mentioned:
Among entrants this makes BrawnGP the most successful team in history, in terms of strike rate.
Years entered: 1
Drivers titles: 1
Constructors titles: 1
Maximum score.

Thursday Thoughts: F1 Team Principal 2009

Who do I think deserves the theoretical title of F1 Team Principal of the Year 2009?

There are some strong candidates, particularly the men running the teams battling for the championship – after all most of expected it to be a fight between the ‘usual suspects’ of McLaren and Ferrari so the emergence of Brawn and Red Bull came as a pleasant surprise. That’s not to take away from McLaren in particular who improved their car enormously.

When this question was first asked of me I only had one response. Ross Brawn. It had to be, didn’t it? Brawn and his lieutenants not only developed a fantastic car pre-season but also found time to save the team from extinction. They’d built up such an advantage that the wave carried them through some pretty lean times in mid-season when the car just wouldn’t work with the tyres, and yet despite those characteristics they still salvaged points from crap qualifying positions.

This is actually a close run thing. Christian Horner has arguably run the more sporting campaign with what would probably have been the fastest car on the grid if double-diffusers had been outlawed (their DD wasn’t added until later) while allowing the drivers to race each other until surprisingly late into the season, which is how I prefer it to be. Webber was deployed in a ‘support’ role only when it became essential to do so. Now this may be an unfair comparison because Barrichello was still in the title running until Interlagos, yet it wasn’t as clear cut at Brawn.. it almost seemed as if Rubens was being shuffled out of the way at times.

Still, the way RBR racked up points in the latter portion of the season shows they did a fantastic job and Horner has clearly turned the outfit into a Championship operation just as his fans from the Arden F3000 days, and I count myself as one of them, always hoped and suspected he eventually would – even if we didn’t expect it this season! Still, RBR were a midfield team and Honda had fallen from even that position.

So, on balance, I give this award to Ross Brawn for his achievements in turning the team from back-of-the-grid no-hopers in 2008 to title winners in 2009. Frankly that’s a hell of an accomplishment even without rescuing the team from extinction in the middle of it!

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Blog Note

This is the first in what will hopefully be a weekly series as part of Sidepodcast’s Thursday Thoughts initiative, in which a collection of F1 bloggers write about a chosen theme and post their entry at roughly the same time, currently slated to be 9pm GMT (a little late this week, it being the first week). Check out the idea here and if you have a blog feel free to join in!

Regular readers may remember I participated in a similar scheme during last off-season which was slanted around IndyCar. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with it as I was studying heavily at the time, and it seems the concept has since been dropped entirely. I used my posts in that series to take a different angle to my colleagues, trying to relate the IRL questions to other championships as part of this blog’s remit to cover a variety of racing. I plan to do the same with Thursday Thoughts wherever the questions allow it.

Congratulations to Button and Brawn!

Congrulations to Jenson Button and the BrawnGP team for winning the F1 Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships today!

5th position with Barrichello delayed by a puncture and Vettel not making enough progress through the field was enough to secure both titles. Rubens was running 3rd at the time which wasn’t enough for him to keep the fight open until the finale, so while cruel to be denied in this way it was immaterial in the end.

Well done too to Mark Webber for his second win of the year.

Full race notes will be written and posted later in the week, I am in the middle of moving so it’ll have to wait a few days!