The last few days have seen a lot of confused reports about changes amongst the top engineering staff in Formula 1 – and it seems that no-one is quite sure what is happening.
From the outside this must seem rather odd, but the reality is that in the internet age things move so quickly that often the news in F1 has not fully happened before it is announced! Contracts may have been agreed, but they may not have been signed.
The leaks to the media are very often designed to torpedo what is happening, or simply to stir up trouble and destabilise the organisations involved, so one can read these as being part of the vicious F1 'Piranha Club' game.
For the media it is always hard to know the whys as well as the whats, and so the news comes out and everyone is left in a state of confusion.
The latest batch of confusing tales began when Toto Wolff, a Williams F1 shareholder, was appointed as the new head of Mercedes Motorsport. Wolff has long links with Mercedes and is deputy-chairman of HWA AG, which acts as a full service provider to Mercedes in the DTM and produces and services Mercedes Formula 3 racing engines.
This was followed almost immediately by reports that Wolff’s arrival would mean the departure of Mercedes F1 team boss Ross Brawn, and that McLaren’s technical director, Paddy Lowe, would be Brawn’s replacement.
It then emerged that the ambitious Wolff had previously done a deal to take Lowe to Williams, before he landed the Mercedes job, but then convinced Paddy to go with him to Mercedes. This was swiftly followed by stories that McLaren would be taking Lotus F1’s technical director, James Allison, to replace Lowe.
With Wolff living up to his name as a hungry and rather cunning operator, Lowe is keeping a profile that lives up to his name, while Brawn’s response has been rather feisty. He was, he said, planning to be head of the team for a long time to come, although he added that he wanted to “see how things go” before he committed himself to the team for the long-term. Perhaps he would have lived up to his name better if he had been born in a family called Contradictory.
What does it all mean? There is no question that Wolff wants to have his own F1 team. He tried to get control of Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2007 when it looked as though Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz might sell the Italian operation. The plan was for a Mercedes 'B' team. Wolff then bought into Williams in the autumn of 2009, but it quickly became clear to him that there was no way he would be able to gain control of the British team while Frank Williams was still alive.
So he jumped at the chance of the Mercedes deal.
A relative newcomer to Formula 1, Wolff is there because Dieter Zetsche, the boss of Mercedes-Benz, seems to be hedging his bets. By putting the F1 programme in the hands of Wolff and agreeing terms to hand over some shares, it means that Mercedes can jump either way, depending on how things go in the future.
If the team is not a great success it can be quietly handed over to HWA and Mercedes can go back to being an engine suppler, which it did very well. If the team comes good then Mercedes can bang the drum about “the Silver Arrows” and get the publicity from the success.
Zetsche has thus created two options, which means that he has a solid defence if anyone challenges him about the company’s F1 programme. This is important because on 6 February the supervisory board of Mercedes’s parent Daimler AG will decide whether to renew his contract as the boss of the company until the end of 2018.