Mercedes-Benz is understood to be in discussions regarding the prospect of buying a share of current Formula 1 World Championship leaders Brawn GP - in a deal that could scupper Red Bull Racing's hopes of securing the Stuttgart manufacturer as an engine-supplier next year.

Whilst a growing number of car makers involved in F1 have either left (Honda), are leaving (BMW) or are believed to be seriously re-evaluating their long-term commitment to the top flight (Renault and Toyota), Mercedes' ongoing support is a shot in the arm for a sport that is continuing to reel from the global economic downturn.

The three-pointed star already owns 40 per cent of principal partner McLaren - with whom it has been involved since 1995 - but should it acquire a share of Brawn too, the Woking-based outfit is adamant that it would not be in any way to the detriment of its existing partnership.

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"Mercedes-Benz's engine supply contract with McLaren is a very long-standing one," a McLaren spokesman told the BBC. "It's in its 15th consecutive year, in fact - and it will continue to run for many years to come. However, we're supportive of our partner's plans re: engine supply of other teams in Formula 1, and we were delighted earlier this year that a Mercedes-Benz engine supply deal was able to be done with Brawn, thereby saving that team from likely extinction.

"Force India, too, has blossomed as a result of its engine supply/engineering consultancy collaboration with Mercedes-Benz and McLaren - as Giancarlo Fisichella's impressive second place in the recent Belgian Grand Prix showed all-too clearly. Both McLaren and Mercedes-Benz remain extremely satisfied with our F1 collaboration, which has netted three drivers' world championships and one constructors' world championship as well as dozens of grand prix victories. As ever, we'll be aiming to add to that win tally together at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix - although we never underestimate our opposition, and the competition will undoubtedly be tough."

Indeed, had Mercedes not stepped in to provide Brawn GP with powerplants back at the start of the year, the former Honda outfit would likely have disappeared altogether. As it was, the Brackley-based concern and its lead driver Jenson Button went on to stun the F1 fraternity with six triumphs from the opening seven grands prix of the campaign, fairly obliterating the opposition and embarrassing multiple world champions McLaren, whose own long-term relationship with Mercedes began to come under the microscope.

Allied to the highly damaging Melbourne 'lies' scandal, it was rumoured at the time that the German marque was seriously considering terminating its collaboration with McLaren in favour of a full-scale Brawn buy-out. It is only in the last few races that the Silver Arrows have belatedly managed to get back on terms and on occasion regain the upper hand.

Though the FIA has now legalised the provision of customer engines to as many as three teams per manufacturer from next season onwards, there is uncertainty as to how an increased involvement with Brawn would affect Mercedes' agreement with Force India, whilst the move could put an end to the possibility of the car maker similarly supplying Brawn's chief title rivals this year, Red Bull. Should a deal be struck with the energy drinks-backed squad, however, the Daily Telegraph reports that in lieu of the traditional EUR5 million customer engine fee, Mercedes-Benz logos could be sported on the front of the cars of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

"It's our policy not to comment on rumours," a Mercedes spokesman told the British newspaper, whilst refusing to deny that a greater association with Brawn could be on the cards, "and we want to point out that we have long-standing contracts with McLaren."

Brawn GP similarly declined to respond to the rumours, but last month CEO Nick Fry did hint at some exciting announcements in the pipeline including new three-year deals, confessing: "We have not heard anything about Mercedes being unhappy where they are, and we very much hope that they stay involved [with McLaren]. We've signed some nice contracts, and those will come out into the open when we launch the car next year."

Like its rivals, Mercedes has similarly been hit hard by the international recession, with parent organisation Daimler revealing net losses of $1.51 billion during the second quarter of 2009, prompting board member Helmut Lense to call upon the company to withdraw from F1 - something that, on current evidence and in spite of the end of its road car collaboration with McLaren, it seems far from willing to do.

Mercedes is also extremely keen to tempt current Williams star Nico Rosberg to either McLaren or Brawn next year.