Manufacturer involvement in Formula One is an elusive thing. While Ferrari have been a mainstay in the sport for decades, many car makers have come and gone. The most recent exodus was the loss of BMW, Honda and Toyota during the financial collapse of 2008-9. Up until that precipice moment, then FIA president Max Mosley was somewhat indifferent to the big manufacturers. He saw the coming financial storm and was well on his way to berating the big money teams in favor of creating a new, slimmer F1 series by luring new privateer teams into the sport. Caterham F1, Marussia and HRT were all born from this desire for low-cost F1 and as a replacement for the big car makers.
Since then, the small teams have not proven to be title-winning potentials and current FIA president Jean Todt is keen to lure the big manufacturers back to the sport. One of his ideas was to bait the hook with a change in regulations regarding the engines. A new V6 turbo will now be the shove behind the sport in 2014 and it was hoped that the new engine format would lure big marques back to the sport with an engine that is road car relevant.
Many have rightfully argued that big manufacturer teams are good for Formula 1 but they can be fickle and leave on a moments notice due to a board-level decision. They lack the passion for long-term racing, such as Ferrari possess, and their lack of long-term dedication makes the sport difficult to manage with commercial contracts and anchor teams to set examples for the rest who would join. A lack of engine manufacturers occurs with so few marques on board.
When Mercedes decided to purchase Brawn GP, formerly Honda’a F1 program, many were excited to see the German manufacturer back. There were also whispered concerns that the board could be very fickle and that it’s presence could most likely be temporary but according to motor sport boss Toto Wolff, that isn’t the case:
“If we are perceived as a front-running team – among the top three, four teams – we will be given time,” Wolff told BBC Sport.
“We need to be successful but Mercedes understand you cannot build a winning team in a short time frame.”
Right now, Mercedes qualifies for continued investment. They are in the top four teams in performance and it seems, according to Wolff, that the money will continue to flow. I don’t doubt it will with the expansive management and driver moves the team has made this year.
Mercedes have been quietly assembling a team of super talented people such as Bob Bell, Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis, Ross Brawn, Niki Lauda, Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe, Lewis Hamilton and more. That’s serious firepower for a team to throw at one project. If Mercedes can stay in the top four, then the money will continue to come from the board but what if they remain somewhere in the top four but aren’t battling for the championship outright?
Honda, BMW and Toyota were teams that grew tired of funding competitive programs that weren’t title contenders. Mired in the top 5 with occasional trips to the podium wasn’t enough. What if the team do win the title? Would Mercedes be content in remaining in F1 having won the title like McLaren, Williams and Ferrari have? Would they leave the sport after achieving the main goal of a title?
Car manufacturers are very important to Formula One but finding a way to keep them is a greased pig. Formula 1 has resigned itself to take the big teams when they can get them and always keep an eye out for the next car maker that could be interested. The potential good news regarding Mercedes and its desire to remain in F1 is that it has a pedigree in the sport. A history of competing at this level and it will be keen to replicate and honor that tradition. That, according to Wolff, start with the people:
“If you look at what has worked in the past, even Benetton (in 1994-5), the glory days of Ferrari, the glory days of McLaren, you can see there was a group of people which could almost interact non-verbally with each other.
“They fitted them together, the engine was good, the driver was good, the chassis was solid.
“The management worked with each other, a good group of mechanics, a good group of engineers, good technical director, a creative mind in the design office and aero department and a good businessman and politician safeguarding all these guys from the nasty bits.
“And in order to put that together you need time.”
Time is the enemy in Formula One. It has always been that way. Time taken on track can leave you off the podium on Sunday and time taken in the garage can find you out of a job as the team leaves for greener pastures in a land known as Le Mans or DTM. Let’s hope Wolff is right and that we are in for many years of Mercedes involvement in F1.