F1 » Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team


Team History

The return of the factory Mercedes team to F1 came after a sole season of competition for Brawn GP – which born out of the demise of the Honda team and secured championship honours in its only season of competition.

Initially known as British American Racing, the team was formed from the ashes of the much-loved Tyrrell team at the end of the 1998 season, endured a tumultuous period as a team in its own right, before being acquired by engine supplier Honda at the end of 2005. The Japanese marque thus joined the ranks of manufacturer entrants in the top flight, ready to take the fight to road car rivals such as Renault, Ferrari and BMW, before ultimately becoming F1’s biggest victim in the economic downturn of 2008-09.

The fact that a new team appeared with quite the funding of BAT left many F1 insiders and fans waiting with bated breath to see if the team could pull off a shock in its first season, while the fact that Tyrrell - a significant slice of F1 history along with Brabham and Lotus - was lost angered many purists.

The team was cited for cherry-picking the best available talent from along the pit-lane - and not just in terms of drivers - to form its personnel for 1999, while also caused a stir at the FIA over its controversial attempt to run different liveries on its cars - in contravention of new regulations.

This second issue saw the team unveil cars in the colours of tobacco brands 555 and Lucky Strike in a much publicised launch at its state of the art factory in Brackley, before going on to parade the cars publicly at the Autosport International exhibition in Birmingham. The FIA subsequently won an arbitration hearing over the matter and BAR ran similar colour schemes from its first race in Australia.

The driver line-up for the team's initial season also caused a stir, with 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve joining former manager Craig Pollock for what was a risky campaign. The Canadian was partnered by rookie Brazilian Ricardo Zonta, in Reynard chassis powered by the ageing Supertec (nee Mecachrome/Playlife) engines, and his worst nightmares came close to fruition as the much-hyped project failed to finish races let alone score points.

Although he considered jumping ship, Villeneuve stayed put, and continued alongside Zonta for a second season. The 002 chassis was powered by Honda instead of Supertec, with BAR having pulled off a major coup in attracting the Japanese giant back to F1. Despite being off the ultimate pace in testing, the new car showed commendable reliability, and boded well for a more successful 2000.

In many ways, Villeneuve was the star of 2000, regularly challenging for the podium and elevating the team to joint fourth in the constructors standings. The Canadian scored four fourth positions but a podium finish eluded both he and Zonta, who was lucky to survive a monsterous testing crash at Silverstone in which his car somersaulted over the barriers at the end of the Hanger straight.

For 2001, Zonta moved on to test drive for Jordan and Olivier Panis returned to the fold, seemingly revitalised after a year testing for McLaren.

The 003 looked impressive in testing, with Panis regularly matching the pace of Villeneuve, who was then critical of the car's straight-line speed, but again failed to deliver in races.

Admittedly, Villeneuve did notch up the team's first podium finishes - in Spain and Germany - but the car was too often too slow to mix it with the 'big boys', leaving the team out of the points unless the frontrunners retired. Villeneuve generally had the upper hand, although Panis managed to outqualify him five times, and scored twelve of the team's sixth-place, 17-point haul. The total was disappointing, however, given the top four overall placing achieved the year before.

For 2002, the driving team remained intact, but only just, following the departure of founder, CEO and team principal Craig Pollock.

Villeneuve did not hear of his mentor's decision to 'quit' until the night before the team's launch, and only hastily arranged talks with replacement David Richards - of Prodrive fame - persuaded him to stay on board.

The 004 though was far from a great car and new technical director, Geoff Willis described many aspects of it as "frankly awful". The 2002 campaign was thus a difficult year, and it was no surprise that in March, engineering director Malcolm Oastler and chief designer, Andy Green were both axed.

It took the team until the British Grand Prix - over halfway into the season - to score points, then Villeneuve came home fourth and Panis fifth. BAR would net only two more points finishes following the belated result at Silverstone - two sixth places, one coming at the Italian GP and the other at Indianapolis.

BAR thus ended the year only eighth in the constructors with a total of seven points. New team boss, David Richards also tried to off load JV, however when nothing came of it, Panis jumped ship to Toyota, as Richards was keen to sign Jenson Button, a deal that was announced in July.

For 2003 BAR enjoyed sole Honda backing, the Japanese manufacturer having severed their links with Jordan, despite the fact the Silverstone based team scored more points during the 2002 campaign.

Takuma Sato also returned, as test and reserve driver alongside Anthony Davidson and the team launched a 'new identity', the name having been simplified from British American Racing to B.A.R.

The 005 performed reasonably well during the season, the team eventually finishing on a high at the Japanese GP by finishing fourth and sixth, and as such securing fifth place in the constructors' championship.

The year though wasn't all 'easy sailing', with the early season 'war of words' between Villeneuve and Button not particularly helpful, JV also left the team prior to the Japanese GP, after it was announced they would not be requiring his services in 2004. As such, his replacement, Sato, stood in, grabbing three points at his home race. All in all, the team would notch up 26 points - the others courtesy mainly of Button [17], while JV managed only 6.

The following year [2004] marked the first without Villeneuve. Button took over as team leader partnered by third driver, Sato, who had been promoted to race driver, while Davidson, was the third/reserve driver, running during the Friday practice sessions.

In winter testing, the 006 showed well, setting fast lap time and lap records.

This proved no flash in the pan, and BAR had a storming year, scoring points in all but one of the 18 races, and eventually finishing best of the rest in the constructors' championship with 119 points, second only to Ferrari. Podiums also became the norm, with the team coming home second or third on eleven occasions - ten thanks to Button, with the only thing eluding them a first race win.

With Button proving a valuable asset, however, team boss David Richards was made to fight to keep him for 2005, after Jenson signed a deal with Williams. The Contract Recognition Board [CRB] eventually decided in BAR's favour and, although this matter was something the team could have done without, the fact that it didn't really affect their performance was impressive to say the least. Button, too, showed previously hidden depths by no sulking his way through the following season, and giving his all for the BAR cause.

In November 2004, engine partner Honda acquired a 45 per cent stake in the team from BAT and, as a consequence, Richards found himself ousted in much the same way as Pollock had two years earlier.

Richards' right-hand man Nick Fry was left to take over as team boss, but found that he faced a much tougher task than many envisaged, as the new 007 proved to be less competitive than expected.

Aero problems were at the root of the car's malaise and, despite having Michelin tyres, the team was unable to take the fight to Renault and McLaren. Indeed, having been disqualified from a double points finish - and a Button podium - for weight irregularities at Imola - and handed a subsequent two-race ban - it wasn't until the French Grand Prix in July that the team finally opened its account.

From there, Button mounted an almost single-handed push up the points table - team-mate Sato not scoring more than a single point in the Hungarian GP - to put BAR sixth in the constructors' championship and himself ninth in the drivers' chart.

Again, the end of season period was marred by a tug-of-love over the Briton between BAR and Williams, although this time Button wanted to remain at Brackley. He eventually bought himself out of his Williams contract, and landed Rubens Barrichello as his new team-mate for 2006.

In the same period, Honda completed its takeover of the team, rebranding it as Honda Racing F1 and ending the BAR era for good after 117 races that had yielded just two pole positions and 227 points – but no win. The manufacturer age in F1 was now in full swing, and the Japanese giant was hoping to make the most of its top-notch line-up to open an account that remained winless.

Testing pace again flattered to deceive, however, and early season showings did not bode well for the Brackley concern, despite Button claiming fourth and third at the opening rounds, and pole in Australia. Barrichello struggled to get to grips with his new mount, and Honda looked set for another season of watching others take the spoils as the RA106's aerodynamics continued to be a weak link.

The departure of technical director Geoff Willis did not help matters - as was the case with aero ace Willem Toet's pre-season exit for BMW - and Button's form veered wildly, the Briton taking points at Imola and Barcelona, but failing to make it through the opening section of qualifying elsewhere, including on home soil at Silverstone.

However, by the start of the second half of the year, things began to look up, and both Button and Barrichello became more of a factor. From Germany onwards, no-one out-scored the Briton, who went on to break both his and the team's victory duck with a sublime drive in the rain in Hungary. A podium finish at the final round confirmed Button in sixth spot overall, with 56 points, while Barrichello raised his game to take seventh, albeit 26 points adrift of his team-mate.

The same combination remained in place for 2007 but, elsewhere, there were changes and the team sported a dramatic new look following the departure of BAT. The earth-liveried RA107 may have been a novel idea, but the car itself was nothing short of a disaster.

After Honda ended 2006 so well, expectation was high for 07, but the team failed and failed miserably. In the end the outfit scored only 6 points and finished ahead of only Super Aguri and Spyker in the constructors' championship.

All six points came from Button, thanks two eighth places and a fifth, while Rubens had his worst season ever - the first time in his Formula 1 career he has not scored.

Both Button and Barrichello remained on board for 2008 but, if they imagined better things could only come after hitting rock bottom, they were to be sadly disappointed.

The much-heralded arrival of former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn as team principal - part of Honda's plan to make progress – came too late to play a part in the design of the RA108 and only limited modifications could be made to a car that proved recalcitrant from the start. Although both Button and Barrichello made it through to the final phase of qualifying when the cards fell their way, they managed just 14 points between them – with six coming in one lump as Rubens took advantage of a daring tyre call to claim third at a wet Silverstone – and the team slumped to ninth in the constructors’ championship, no doubt pleased that Super Aguri was no longer around to embarrass it any further.

Worse was to come, however, as Honda announced its immediate withdrawal from F1 in the run-up to Christmas, leaving the future of the team, its drivers, and the Brackley workforce in the balance. Various suitors, including Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson were linked to rescue bids, before a Brawn-led consortium finally pulled the phoenix from the flames with just over a month to go to the 2009 season-opener in Melbourne.

When the Mercedes-powered BGP001 hit the track for the first time in testing, it was clear that the hard work that had been going on behind the scenes during 2008 hadn’t been in vain – with the car immediately on the pace.

Suggestions that that pace wasn’t representative as the team searched for sponsors were blown out of the water in Melbourne, as Button and Barrichello locked out the front row of the grid and then secured a 1-2 finish.

Although other teams complained about the double diffuser in place on the car in both Australia and Malaysia, the device was declared legal by the FIA and the others were left to play catch-up – although by the time they did, the damage was already done.

Button won six of the first seven races and would fail to score only once all season as he stormed to the drivers’ title, while Barrichello won twice himself in Valencia and at Monza. Although the Brazilian missed out on second place in the standings to Sebastian Vettel, he would play a key role in Brawn ending the campaign with both championship crowns to its name.

With the season at a successful end, the announcement was made that Mercedes was to purchase the team and rebrand it as Mercedes GP for 2010. While Brawn remained as team boss, both Button and Barrichello moved on to McLaren and Williams respectively, with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher coming onboard – the latter having been persuaded to come out of retirement for a shock comeback.

Hopes were high that the W01 would be a championship contender but there was to be no repeat of the success enjoyed by Brawn the previous season. While Rosberg secured three podium finishes, Schumacher’s return wasn’t as successful as either party had hoped for as he failed to make it onto the podium, with the seven time champion struggling to get to grips with the Pirelli tyres. Schumacher also courted controversy in Hungary, where an aggressive defensive move forced his former team-mate Barrichello towards the pitwall in the closing stages.

Having only finished fourth in the standings, Mercedes aimed to challenge instead in 2011 with an unchanged line-up, despite some suggestions that Schumacher would elect to retire for the second time.

Ultimately though, the W02 was again not a contender at the head of the pack and Schumacher would end the season once again having failed to break onto the podium - with a best finish of fourth in Canada.

Rosberg also failed to finish on the podium with a best finish of fifth in both China and Turkey as Mercedes once again had to settle for best of the rest behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.

Ahead of 2012, Mercedes worked hard to strengthen its technical team and with Schumacher and Rosberg returning for a third season together, the Brackley-based team was eager to finally realise its potential.

The innovative W03, which featured a radical rear-wing design, grabbed many of the early headlines when the class of 2012 hit the track but just one point was scored in the opening two races of the season in Australia and Malaysia. In China however, Rosberg stormed to pole and then secured his maiden victory on race day – suggesting good times lay ahead.

It would however prove to be a false dawn as Mercedes dropped off the pace in dramatic fashion – eventually ending the season one place lower than in 2011 and having scored fewer points.

Rosberg managed to take a podium finish in Monaco having started on the front row while Schumacher was on the podium in Valencia but 2012 turned into a year to forget for the Brackley-based squad – with just six points scored in the final six races of the year.

By that point, focus had already turned to 2013 with the team using the final races of the year to look at various options for the new season, where Mercedes has no option but to improve.

Rosberg continues for a fourth season but has a new partner after Mercedes put together a deal that was good enough to persuade Lewis Hamilton to end his long relationship with McLaren in order to take up a fresh challenge.

There is little doubt that Mercedes has the technical team and the driver line-up to match the best, and will aim to learn the lessons of 2012 to bounce back to form in the new season.

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