THE MOLE

Smellier than a year-old Camembert

"Ooh, smelly!" said Penelope (Roedean), looking up from her computer terminal.

The other girls looked around the office and sniffed but there seemed nothing out of place in The Motor Racing & Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service.

"What's smelly?" said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey).

"This story I've just read on the Internet," Penelope (Roedean) went on. "It's in German and it says that Mercedes-Benz may have decided to establish its own B team in Formula 1 in 2009. Now that the whole Prodrive idea has flopped."

Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) whistled slightly. It was smelly all right.

"Smellier than a year-old Camembert," she said.

At that moment The Mole emerged from his office to find out what was going on.

Penelope (Roedean) explained.

"And look," she added. "The stories suggest that this B team would be run by HWA, the company which runs the Mercedes-Benz DTM programme and supplies the company with its Formula 3 engines."

The Mole nodded.

"Well," he said. "HWA is looking to expand operations at the moment and only a few days ago it announced that it was selling 25% of the company to Nasser Bin Khaled Holding of Qatar."

The girls were impressed.

"NBK is the Mercedes-Benz distributor in the Gulf and, incidentally, one of the biggest business conglomerates in Qatar and deals in all kinds of stuff, ranging from cars to fashion, to real estate and even farming.

"HWA is still under the control of Hans Werner Aufrecht," The Mole went on. "He established AMG in 1967 and that so well that Mercedes-Benz started buying into the business from 1991 onwards and eventually bought him out completely and now uses the AMG brand to sell souped-up cars to the richer Germans. Aufrecht is clever, though, and managed to hold on to the Mercedes-Benz's racing programmes through a new company called HWA GmbH.

"Early this year Aufrecht sold 49% of the business to an Austrian investor called Toto Wolf, a sometime rally driver, and to a Vienna investment bank. Ten percent of the company was then floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange."

There was a pause as all the information began to sink in.

"Well they cannot run customer cars in 2009 unless the F1 stakeholders agree to allow that," said Penelope (Roedean).

"Yes, but that is what is going to happen," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey). "They can run customer cars in 2009 but have to build their own in 2010. So if HWA wants to get things up and running it would be best to start now because a modern F1 team takes a lot of putting together."

"And trucks full of money," added The Mole.

"So do you think this could be Mercedes-Benz moving towards doing its own thing?" asked Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).

The group paused to consider the question.

"Mercedes-Benz owns 40% of McLaren while Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding nows owns a 30% share," said The Mole. "That leaves Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh with 15% each. However I hear that there is a covenant that means that the Bahrainis vote with Dennis and Ojjeh so they remain in control of the company."

"Even before the problems in F1 this year there was talk of a Mercedes-Benz takeover of the team," said Penelope (Roedean), "and I heard that the deal with the Bahrainis came as something of a surprise to some of those in Stuttgart."

The Mole nodded.

"It is always possible that Mercedes-Benz might one day want to do its own thing in F1," he said. "BMW has done it. But if they go down that road Mercedes-Benz must accept that it will take at least five years before a new team is in a position to be successful in F1 - and even then winning may still not be easy. I mean look at the mess that Toyota has made of it."

The girls all nodded.

"These sort of rumours tend to swirl around from time to time in F1 circles and it is very hard to know whether there is any foundation to them," said The Mole. "They may simply be stories designed to be disruptive or they may be the figment of journalistic imaginations. Only time will tell."

And with that he turned on his heel and went back into his office.

"So now we know!" said Penelope (Roedean). "I still think it's really smelly."

November 27 2007

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