Lauda central to Mercedes shake-up
The poaching of Lewis Hamilton by Mercedes was a huge coup for Ross Brawn and his men, and it ensures that the team will be under intense media scrutiny in 2013 and beyond.
The team also faces huge pressure to perform from the Daimler AG board after the three unproductive years of the Michael Schumacher comeback era. And the man who will be reporting back to Stuttgart is none other than Niki Lauda. A few months ago the company’s very future in the sport was under threat after it was excluded from the favourable commercial terms that prompted Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren
to commit to the new Concorde Agreement. The company’s relationship with Bernie Ecclestone and Fl majority shareholders CVC had unravelled. At the behest of Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche Lauda was asked to use his relationship with Ecclestone to broker a deal. At the same time Mercedes was keen to have the best driver pairing in place; and since
Schumacher’s contract was coming to an end, and the multiple World Champion was holding back from committing himself to a new one, Lauda began casting around for an alternative. Hamilton was on his radar as long ago as the Canadian GP in June, and discussions really became
serious in Spa (with Ecclestone in the loop) just before a mischievous Eddie Jordan broke the story in the run-up to the Italian GP. Meanwhile Ross Brawn had to present the board with a plan that promised to turn things around, and Hamilton was part of that. In the end it all fell into place. Hamilton confirmed that he was coming just after Singapore, Mercedes agreed a more favourable Concorde deal than the one originally on offer, and — possibly wrongfooted by the speed of developments — Schumacher announced his retirement,
claiming that he was no longer motivated.
Having completed his initial tasks, Lauda has now been given the job of chairman of the board of the Fl team. Mercedes is already somewhat top-heavy, and certainly his arrival appears to have weakened the position of motor sport director Norbert Haug. It will be intriguing to see how the Austrian, a loose cannon who always says what he thinks, gels with Brawn. Some observers see him as a spy in the camp, the board’s direct line to what’s going on at Brackley and at the circuits.
Meanwhile the technical `superteam’ that Brawn has created over the last couple of years, including Bob Bell, Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa, has to get results in 2013. They came together too late to have a real impact on this season, so the focus has been very much on next season and the turbo era that begins the year after that.
In 2008, when running under the auspices of Honda, the team stopped work on its then-current car and poured huge resources into its 2009 contender. That car then provided Jenson Button with the platform that he needed to seize the drivers’ title. Mercedes is not involved in the 2012 championship fight, so theoretically it is able to focus on next year to a greater degree than its main rivals can currently afford to do.
“It’s a balanced approach,” Brawn insisted at the Korean GP. “Our chassis team are designing next year’s car. We don’t want to sacrifice the remainder of this year working for next year, but it’s a pretty strong aspect.” Whether the philosophy pays off as spectacularly as it did in 2009 remains to be seen. Adam Cooper