x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mercedes F1 vision of Norbert Haug gets an early reward

Success in China has rewarded the belief in the revival of the German marque by the 59 year old.

Mercedes celebrate their victory in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Mercedes celebrate their victory in the Chinese Grand Prix.

Smiling with parental pride, Norbert Haug watched agitatedly as his three year old, still often referred to as his "baby", showed remarkable maturity to steal the spotlight at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Haug, the thickset 59 year old in charge of motorsport operations at Mercedes-Benz, was the driving force behind the German car manufacturers' 2009 purchase of the championship-winning team Brawn-GP. While not the mastermind - that title remains reserved for Ross Brawn, the team principal - Haug is seen as the founding father of the modern day carnation of the Silver Arrows.

It has certainly been with a father's affection he has nurtured the embryonic marque and its two German drivers, Michael Schumacherand Nico Rosberg.

This weekend, under a dull grey firmament, it was he who unwillingly reaped much of the deflected praise as Mercedes-GP first locked out the front row in qualifying and then won their first race in front of an uncharacteristically crammed Shanghai International Circuit.

"Norbert has been suffering with us for the last two and a half years," Schumacher said on Saturday as he and Rosberg secured second and first place on the grid.

"Obviously, it's his little baby and to get the Mercedes car up front and to achieve this, with all the effort that Mercedes and the team has put in, is just great."

Brawn, as team manager, would traditionally have joined Rosberg on the podium after the 26 year old claimed his first career win, but such is Haug's familial relationship with Mercedes it was he instead who got the honour.

"A nice gesture," was how he described it.

When Haug first joined the German manufacturers in the early 1990s, he quickly set about re-establishing the company's standing in the sport.

Mercedes, racing under the name Daimler Benz AG, had won two world championships in the 1950s with Juan Manual Fangio behind the wheel, but when Haug negotiated a deal to provide engineering assistance to Peter Sauber's eponymous team, it was the first time the German company's name had appeared in F1 for 40 years. "Concept by Mercedes-Benz" read the sticker on the car.

Within a year, Mercedes-Benz had developed into official engine suppliers to Sauber and by 1995 Haug had negotiated a similar deal with McLaren, where he remained "completely involved" until the creation of Mercedes-GP at the start of 2010.

Since then he has been playing down team expectations and insisting the longer-term plan is what must be focused on.

He said at the season's start that the marque would not be challenging for championships until 2014 and Haug's granite mask complemented by a poor start - a solitary 10th place finish is all they had to show from the races in Australia and Malaysia - ensured yesterday's win came as a widespread surprise, even despite his two drivers' starting positions.

"I don't make announcements; I am realistic," Haug said between drags of a cigarillo outside the Mercedes-GP motorhome yesterday.

"We have come out of nowhere. Before the race, not a lot of people would have [thought us able] to win here after the first two races, so that makes it even better.

"It is important you create your own pressure - and realistic pressure. We have our own expectations and I think the team can handle that. They have won before [with Brawn-GP] and I am sure they can do it again."

As he answered media questions, he took a telephone call from Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler AG, and posed for photographs with Rosberg.

Brawn remained in the shadows, while Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, walked past and called over his congratulations. Haug beamed as he took another drag on the cigarillo.

"Nico was composed and very disciplined," he said, after Rosberg had been dragged away to other commitments.

"Now he has one win in the pocket I'm sure he'll want more. Self-belief is something we all need - you have to believe in yourself and your direction.

"If you don't, you can't push people. This is a major ingredient in all our team members and they deserve it much more than I do."

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Haug called the race one of the best ever and said the result ranks well against some of the German car manufacturer's other memorable wins, including the inaugural motorsports success at the 1994 Indianopolis 500 and a Mercedes-Benz-powered car's first triumph in F1, which came at the hands of David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes in 1997 at the Australian Grand Prix.

The latest step could be the most monumental yet though and everybody knows it.

Brawn said it was "too early" to talk about fighting for the championship, while Rosberg laughed off the suggestion this could be "his year".

Haug, as ever, wore a poker face, but it slipped slightly as he spoke of the success.

"Winning in the third year is not something that lots of teams are achieving," he said. "I wouldn't have had something against wins in the first year that's for sure, but whatever we have now I'm happy with."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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