x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mercedes move shakes up F1 market

Race seats for 2010 yet to be decided as Button is linked with a move to McLaren while the rebranded team eye Rosberg and Heidfeld.

Button in the Brawn GP car during the qualifying session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Button in the Brawn GP car during the qualifying session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The news yesterday that Mercedes have taken a controlling 75.1 per cent share in the Brawn GP team has thrown the drivers' market up in the air with a number of racers, including the world champion Jenson Button, uncertain which team they will be with in 2010. The German car manufacturer, using funding from Abu Dhabi investors Aabar and Daimler, have rebranded the current Formula One constructors' champions as Mercedes Grand Prix, though Ross Brawn will remain as the team principal having guided the F1 operation to both world titles this year.

Brawn, who has previously won titles with Benetton and Ferrari before triumphing with his own team, said: "We are honoured to be representing such a prestigious brand as Mercedes-Benz in Formula One next year and will be working together to do our best to reward their faith in our team." But the biggest question to come out of yesterday was who is going to be driving for Mercedes and for McLaren when the new season starts in Bahrain on March 14.

There has been much speculation about the future of Button since he sealed the drivers' crown with fifth place in Brazil last month. BrawnGP had been struggling to match Button's wage demands for 2010, after the Englishman had taken a pay cut this year to help the team survive after Brawn GP was formed when Honda pulled out of F1 last December. But while Mercedes certainly have the budget to keep Button now, it is a case of whether the Briton stays with the team or joins McLaren-Mercedes, who have shown an interest in signing him to partner the 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Last week Button and his advisers visited McLaren's headquarters and met with the team boss Martin Whitmarsh. McLaren would undoubtedly have the strongest driver line-up on the grid if they had the world champion and his predecessor. Nico Rosberg is widely expected to fill one of the Mercedes seats, the German having done an impressive job in his four years at Williams. No announcement has yet been made on his future, although he is a free agent after Williams confirmed earlier this month that Rubens Barrichello and Niko Hulkenberg would race for them next year.

Speculation yesterday linked a second German, Nick Heidfeld, with the other race seat if Button does not remain with the team, which would create an all-German pairing. Heidfeld, who raced for BMW Sauber in 2009, is highly regarded as a consistent performer, but like Rosberg has yet to win a race and that does raise the question of whether Mercedes would be happy to start their new venture without a proven winner.

The odd man out is Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 champion, who is leaving Ferrari, had been banking on going to McLaren. But with the British team now interested in Button, he faces either going elsewhere, taking a sabbatical year, or looking to take up rallying after his impressive cameo at the Rally Finland in August. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae