Brawn GP lead Red Bull in race to sign Mercedes partnership

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The Independent Online

Brawn GP are close to finalising a deal under which Mercedes-Benz will take a financial shareholding in the team. The agreement would be bad news for Red Bull Racing, who may not now be able to switch to Mercedes engines next year, but not necessarily for McLaren, the German company's long-term partner.

Though there has not yet been confirmation from Mercedes, the Brawn deal is expected to be finalised soon, and will complete Brawn's financial package for the new season, which is also expected to include the Emirates airline as title sponsor.

While the news appears worrying for McLaren, the reality is that while other manufacturers are considering scaling back their involvement in the sport Mercedes are keen to expand theirs. They rescued Brawn with a customer engine supply deal at the beginning of the season, after Honda's withdrawal, and also supply Force India.

McLaren issued a statement yesterday, which said: "Mercedes-Benz's engine supply contract with McLaren is a very long-standing one – it's in its 15th consecutive year – and it will continue to run for many years to come."

Indeed, the McLaren team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, was instrumental in helping Brawn survive. "The day Honda announced their withdrawal from Formula One last December, Fota [the teams' association] held a meeting to discuss how to react," Whitmarsh said. "I offered to facilitate a possible engine supply from Mercedes-Benz, should it be required to prevent the team from closing. When that offer was gratefully accepted by Ross Brawn and Nick Fry, I flew to Stuttgart to secure the agreement of Dieter Zetsche [chairman, Daimler] and Norbert Haug [motor sport vice-president, Mercedes-Benz].

"So the decision to supply Brawn with engines was taken jointly by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz, and supported by Fota in the context of finding a solution that would ensure the survival of the team and thereby protect hundreds of jobs. As such, it was successful, a fine example of the positive effects of the teams banding together in a co-operative association whose remit and aims are to improve the sport in any way it can."

If the Brawn deal goes ahead, it may no longer be possible for Red Bull Racing to switch, as planned, from Renault to Mercedes power for 2010. In that case, Williams may become Mercedes' third customer team.

It was also announced yesterday that 28-year-old Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi will, as expected, replace the Ferrari-bound Giancarlo Fisichella at Force India for the rest of the season.