APRIL 13, 1998
McLaren and Mercedes re-sign until 2002
MCLAREN and Mercedes have taken advantage of their current success to agree to an extension of their original five year partnership, which was due to run out at the end of 1999. The deal has now been officialized until the end of the 2002 Formula 1 season. It is expected that the team's major sponsor West, which began a three-year deal in 1997, will also extend its involvement until the end of 2002.
According to Mercedes F1 boss Norbert Haug, the deal was signed on an exclusive basis to ensure that Mercedes would hold on to McLaren which had received approaches from other manufacturers, although Haug later intimated that there might be a possibility of a second team using the Mercedes engines at some point in the future.
The major aim for the team now appears to be to sign up Michael Schumacher to ensure the best possible package in the future. Ferrari is trying to get Schumacher to agree to extend his contract beyond the end of 1999 but at the moment there is no deal with the German. Michael, not surprisingly, is playing the two parties off against one another and there was a very obvious chat between Schumacher, Norbert Haug and McLaren's Ron Dennis is the Buenos Aires paddock on Saturday night.
If McLaren continues to show such good form Michael may decide to change teams but if the Ferrari comeback gives him a chance to win with the Italian team he is likely to stay. If Schumacher does go to McLaren we would expect Ferrari to make a bid for Villeneuve while Williams is likely to grab David Coulthard if he is the McLaren driver kicked out to make way forÊMichael.
McLaren's revival will continue in July when work begins on a new landmark factory which is currently being designed by top architect Sir Norman Foster. The team is also busy planning for a new production sportscar which will be powered by a Mercedes-Benz engine. This is expected to be rather less expensive than the original McLaren F1 road car and will be in competition with Ferrari in the luxury sportscar market.
The team's new factory will not be finished until the year 2000 at the earliest and it is expected that in order to keep up with the pace of aerodynamic development, McLaren will soon start to use the British Aerospace windtunnel at Filton in Bristol. Until recently this facility was being used by Ferrari but McLaren's partnership deal with BAe meant that the Ferrari deal had to be terminated. The rolling road system which had been fitted into the Filton tunnel has now been removed and so McLaren must design and build a new one if it wants to use the Filton tunnel.
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