It seems that the signing of record-breaking multiple world champion Michael Schumacher by Mercedes Grand Prix for F1 2010 has not gone down quite as well in some quarters as in others, despite the general euphoria that the sport is to welcome back its most successful and crowned driver of all time.
The Daimler Works Council has already been critical of Mercedes' F1 decisions in the past, publicly questioning the Stuttgart manufacturer's increased involvement in the top flight at a time when employees are being laid off on the automotive side and cost-cutting is in full force in response to the ongoing global credit crunch.
When Mercedes purchased a majority stake in double 2009 world champions Brawn GP last month, council member Erich Klemm opined that 'in these economically difficult times, the company should invest in better marketing of its real cars' – and it would appear that the recruitment of Schumacher has elicited a similarly unimpressed reaction.
“For many colleagues, it is unimaginable,” works council leader Uwe Werner told the Frankfurter Rundschau
newspaper, adding that the seven-time F1 World Champion's reputed £7 million annual salary is 'hard to justify to our people' when some of Mercedes' manufacturing plants and therefore jobs are being transferred overseas, prompting protests in Germany. “The staff would have understood better if Mercedes had withdrawn from the expensive F1 business altogether.”
Indeed, the board's contention is that Mercedes should have followed the example of fellow car makers Honda, BMW and Toyota in departing the fray to focus on more environmentally-friendly and road car-relevant initiatives rather than continuing to throw millions at F1.
“Mercedes in particular is a company for which sportiness is not a selling-point but rather security and quality,” automobile industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer of the University of Duisburg-Essen in western Germany told the Bayerische Rundfunk
radio station. “Why should a driver decide to buy a Mercedes because of Formula 1? Every car will have to be sold for €200 to €300 more for Mercedes to finance Formula 1.”
However, Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche insists that 'it would be a missed opportunity' not to take advantage of the increased global possibilities in F1 now that there are only three manufacturers left – Mercedes, Ferrari and to a lesser degree Renault – with Asian and Middle Eastern markets in particular ripe to be tapped into. Moreover, Mercedes Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug is convinced the partnership with Schumacher will be an investment for the future, and will do wonders for the company's worldwide image and consequently sales.
“The whole engagement will sell a lot of cars and make a lot of people aware of the quality of the [three-pointed] star,” the 57-year-old told ZDF
public television. “We believe we know how to invest our money.”
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Schumacher has been forced to write an open letter of explanation to the millions of tifosi
who are angry at his departure from Ferrari after 14 years together, with some going so far as to brand the 41-year-old a 'traitor'.
“I say [about Schumacher] the same as president [Luca di] Montezemolo – all the best,” the Scuderia's
spokesman Luca Colajanni told news agency ANSA
. “From now on he is an opponent, and we try to beat our opponents.”