Nico Rosberg’s maiden Formula One win in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix was a uniquely personally victory for Norbert Haug, head of Mercedez-Benz motorsport programmes. Although the team will rightly bask in the glory of a famous victory, Haug represents the only volume car manufacturer to own a Formula One team, and under his guidance the Stuttgart-based manufacturer has remained committed to the sport at a time when many others headed for the exit door.
Haug became responsible for Mercedes-Benz motorsport just over 20 years ago, supporting DTM and Sauber’s endurance sports car racing programme, but he soon brought the 3-pointed star into Formula One and CART, where its engine powered Al Unser Jr’s Penske to victory the 1994 Indy 500. He took Mercedes into partnership with McLaren in 1995, scoring their first win with David Coulthard at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, but perhaps Haug’s greatest achievement has been in the creation of the Mercedes Benz GP team.
The last 15 years have witnessed a dramatic time in the commercial fortunes of Formula One as large volume car manufacturers came and went; only Mercedes-Benz remains. Peugeot quit in 1997, Ford supported Stewart Grand Prix, created Jaguar Racing and finally sold out to Red Bull in 2004. Honda, Toyota and BMW joined the ranks, spending billions of dollars but never truly understanding what is required to become a winning team, and they disappeared again in 2008-09. Renault won, became the victim of scandals and sold its team to Genii Capital. It remains a supplier of engines alone.
While the management of other car manufacturers were unable to develop a competitive team and found it easier to quit, Mercedes Benz remained committed. Ironically Honda’s failure was to pave the way for Mercedes Benz’s success. After the Japanese manufacturer left F1 in December 2008 Honda was rebranded Brawn GP, winning the 2009 World Championships. Haug was able to buy the team and it’s superb facilities in Brackley, UK, for a fraction of what it cost Honda to develop.
In 2010 and 2011 it has remained McLaren’s role to produce the race wins for Mercedes Benz engines, and their continued success has often resulted in debate over whether the Mercedes Benz GP team is worth the effort. Sunday’s result will end that discussion because both Rosberg and Michael Schumacher look set to be fully competitive this season.
McLaren’s deal with Mercedes Benz High Performance Engines ends in 2015, and with McLaren now an automotive rival to the German company, Haug’s strategy of developing a team for Mercedes Benz seems set to flourish for years to come. It has been widely reported that Sunday’s victory in China was Mercedes Benz first team win in Formula One since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix; it has been a long wait, but one man managed to keep Mercedes Benz fully committed to F1 in order to achieve it. Well done Norbert.