The PUMA Perspective: Mercedes GP Petronas

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Mercedes-Benz and motorsport are synonymous: the German marque’s founders invented the automobile, and obviously this global spectacle could not exist without the motor industry.

Since its formation Mercedes has competed in motor racing, with its pre-war racecars known as ‘Silver Arrows’ on account of running with bare aluminium bodywork to save on the weight of paint. Such ingenuity wins races, and the silver cars bearing the legendary three-pointed star certainly dominated 1930s grand prix racing.

After the hostilities ended Mercedes again entered the sport, again dominating the category renamed ‘Formula 1’. In fact, so successful were its cars that after just two years - during which the ‘Silver Arrows’ won everything in sight - Mercedes executives ordered a withdrawal on the basis that domination was unhealthy for both the sport and brand.

Mercedes could not, though, stay away for long, and in the late eighties took the sports car racing world (and Le Mans) by storm with a driver line-up starring a rather young Michael Schumacher. In the early nineties the decision was taken to enter F1 as engine supplier, and, in partnership with McLaren, Mercedes won the 1998/9 and 2008 world championships.

The team to beat had been a Ferrari structured around Michael and technically directed by Ross Brawn – who worked with the German driver at Benetton, winning the 1994/5 world championships. Ferrari domination followed, with Michael taking the title for five straight years, and the Italian team doing likewise in the constructors’ category.

When Michael retired at end-2006 Ross took a year’s sabbatical to recharge his batteries after no less than 20 years on the pressure-packed grand prix trail. Honda approached him to turn around its team’s ailing fortunes, and no sooner had Ross commenced the task than the company withdrew from F1 in the wake of the global crisis.

Ross took the brave decision to take over the team rather than see its loyal staff on the street, and, on a comparatively miniscule budget after downscaling the operation, led his eponymous Brawn team to the 2009 world championship with Jenson Button - in a car powered by Mercedes after Ross had hurriedly struck a deal with the car company.

It was the start of a beautiful relationship, with Mercedes at the end of that year purchasing the team, renaming it Mercedes Grand Prix and persuading Michael to return to the sport he loved as team-mate to Nico Rosberg, the furiously fast but young son of 1982 world champion Keke. The combination superbly blends experience with raw enthusiasm, with both drivers now being regular points’ scorers.

However, such is the pace in Formula 1 that the former Honda/Brawn facility soon needed a full overhaul, while manning levels were well down after the enforced restructure. Ross and his team have spent the past 18 months upgrading the operation in Brackley (near Silverstone) and appointing personnel, with the latest recruits being Aldo Costa and Geoff Willis as directors of engineering and technology respectively. Both have championship-winning pedigrees.

After just two years Mercedes Grand Prix has established itself firmly in the top four, with the latest Silver Arrows regularly mixing it with the Red Bulls, McLaren and Ferraris. Michael has recaptured his former speed – as evidenced by his race in Japan, where he led at the mid-point – while Nico was arguably the man of the race after posting the highest number of overtakes.

With a new technical structure in place, an upgraded facility, two committed drivers plus the proven management skills of Ross Brawn, the future for Mercedes Grand Prix is bright – bright silver, in fact.