McLaren buy back Merc shares…what’s next?

If memory serves correctly, McLaren and Mercedes parted ways from their traditional relationship at the end of 2009. I can also recall Mercedes GP buying a team (Brawn GP) and renaming it Mercedes GP Petronas. If I think hard enough, I believe there was talk of a road car called an MP 12 something or other that made Merc a little unhappy and something about McLaren buying Mercedes out of their 40% ownership position of the English company headed by Ron Dennis.

According to Reuters, my memory has not failed me as Mercedes is said to have purchased back all but 11% of their stake in McLaren. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh told Reuters:

“I think it is about 11 percent that is still owned by Mercedes, but it’s not an important or significant number,” he said.

I am amused by the dismissive tone in his comment because it’s all relative. An 11% ownership position in a company such as McLaren is significant by anyone’s measure but perhaps the bigger the investor, the less significant it becomes.

The comments and quotes coming out of the Mercedes and McLaren camps since the announced separation have been sparse. When one can find a quote, it is usually dismissive, such as this one, and relatively low key. Almost as if the ordeal is as pedestrian as could possibly find. Nothing to see here folks….move along.

The ownership structure at McLaren is unique in that the dynamic duo of Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh are only 30% owner (15% respectively) while the middle east owns all the rest:

Former team boss Ron Dennis, now chairman of McLaren Automotive, and Saudi business partner Mansour Ojjeh each own 15 percent of the business. A further 30 percent is owned by Bahrain’s state holding company Mumtalakat.

This ownership structure is not new or shocking to anyone who follows F1 but one wonders if the company is acquiring or purchasing its own stock (40%) or if the Middle East is investing more. More shares for oil money?

The bigger question, for me at least, is what impact will Mercedes’s reduced role in McLaren have on the operation. I had read that the German car maker was investing approximately $250m in the team each year but that is pure conjecture as I have not seen their Balance Sheet and probably never will.

The departure of Mercedes presents McLaren with a challenge should they not desire to use the German engine next year and I suppose it may be time for Dennis to actually build his own lump if he wants to further his dream of being the British Ferrari.

For me? I think it would be terrific to see McLaren as a full supplier of engines and cars. I love the idea of the British Ferrari and look forward to seeing what Dennis and company can develop. I’d feel even better about it if there were more British investment in the company so the Union Jack wouldn’t feel odd when affixed to the side of the car.

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