Are Mercedes the New York Yankees of F1?

Mercedes has been busy over the past few months. Since parting company with 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher and director of motor sports boss Norbert Haug, the German team have signed British world champion Lewis Hamilton, former driver Niki Lauda (in a non-executive board role) as well as Toto Wolff as an investing executive to replace Haug. The team have stacked the deck as much as possible ahead of the 2013 season.

This week we learned that McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe will be joining Mercedes in 2014 and has been placed on “gardening leave” by McLaren until he leaves for the German marque. Lowe joins Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis, Ross Brawn, Nick Fry, Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and Bob Bell—basically enough brainpower and pedigree to conquer Mars on a late Sunday afternoon and make it back home in time for nightcap of single malt.

Rumors fly like dust particles in bright sunshine about the future of Ross Brawn at Mercedes with many suggesting his days are numbered. Nikki Lauda played down those rumors by suggesting that Brawn wasn’t going anywhere and all the while Lewis Hamilton has been playing down the performance of the 2013 chassis at the first two test of the season suggesting no one will be challenging for wins this season. It’s an odd concoction of ego, money, roles and responsibilities that could take an abacus and stiff drink to figure out.

Now McLaren Managing Director Jonathan Neale says that Lowe’s departure was basically down to money:

“In the market place at the moment, if you’ve a team and you want to go out and buy some short-term know-how then you can pay telephone number salaries, if that’s what your business model is,” Neale said.

“From time to time we have all done it. It’s not unique to any one particular team.

“But we will certainly miss Paddy, he has been with us a long period of time. He’s been here 19 years, and I’ve personally worked with him for 12.

“He is a great guy and on a personal level I’m sorry to see him go and do something else.”

No surprise there as Mercedes seems to be rather blatant in walking the paddock with $100 bills falling out of their pockets. I recall a certain Dany Bahar doing something similar a year ago.

This has been tried before and it has succeeded but it also has failed. I recall the 2011 New York Yankees with their $200 million salary.

Alex Rodriguez, at $27 million, Mark Teixeira with a $180 million/8-year contract, Derek Jeter at about $17 million per season and C.C. Sabathia at about $23 million a season—they lost in the playoffs to the Detroit Tigers.

I can’t help but wonder how Mercedes missed the mark with Schumacher, Brawn, Willis, Costa and Bell at the helm last year but it seemed to be the year they really shot wide of the target. Those are the same folks in charge of the 2013 chassis that Lewis Hamilton is dressing down.

Can Mercedes buy the championship? If so, isn’t there a Resource Restriction Agreement that the teams have between them to limit the overall cost of participating in Formula One with headcount restrictions etc? Perhaps it is a simple headcount restriction but not salary cap and so if you are going to have fewer people on the payroll, why not get the best you can find. They’ve done that as all of the aforementioned men have held the role of technical director at one point or another.

Time will tell if Mercedes will succeed but there is little question that McLaren’s losing Paddy Lowe will hurt. Several months ago when Hamilton announced his departure from the team, his teammate Jenson Button said he wasn’t bothered by it…not like he would be if Lowe left. Well now that’s happened and Button is singing a new tune:

“It’s been good fun working with him over the past three years, not just in a working relationship but also as a friend because he is a good guy, a fun character.

“But things change, he wants to try something new, a new challenge, which is fair play to him. He has to think about number one, so good luck to him.

“For us, will it make a massive difference? For me, having Tim in the position he is now in – fantastic. He was exceptional in his previous role and I think he will be in this role.

“He is the guy who designed the 2012 car that won seven races last year, so he knows exactly what he is doing.”

Button says McLaren is more than one person—he’s right, it’s a Borg Collective with a unified mind. One just hopes CEO Ron Dennis doesn’t conjure up the idea of assimilation.

“It’s not about one individual, it’s about the full team, and Paddy leaving is part of the sport, people move around and go to different places.

“But this team will succeed with or without Paddy in the future.”

As for Mercedes? Perhaps a little McLaren Collective would do them some good. Toyota came to F1 and threw hay bale sized wads of cash at the sport and never accomplished what they wanted. Can Mercedes, like the Yankees or the Red Wings, buy the world championship? Before we get too harsh on Merc’s plan, is Red Bull or Ferrari much different?

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