The McLaren name could disappear from Formula One if rumours in Germany regarding Mercedes' DTM partner prove to be close to the mark.

According to the country's Focus magazine, race specialist HWA - the motorsport arm of Mercedes' tuning specialist AMG - has expressed an interest in graduating to Formula One, but not necessarily as a new team. Instead, the speculation is that the company will try to use its relationship with Mercedes to take over the running of the German giant's F1 interests, in place of McLaren.

AMG/HWA has built and run Mercedes' leading DTM cars since the turn of the century and is known to be collaborating on the Three Pointed Star's next road-going supercar, again replacing McLaren, which helped design and build the current $600,000 SLR. Because of this, and the fact that HWA is headed by former Mercedes CEO Jurgen Hubbert, the rumour mill is suggesting that Mercedes could also be poised to buy out the remaining shares in the McLaren operation to form a full 'works' operation from 2009.

Team boss Ron Dennis has made no secret of the fact that he will not go on running the team indefinitely, but hinted in the wake of September's second espionage hearing that plans were already in place for right-hand man Martin Whitmarsh to step up as his successor.

Mercedes first took a stake in the team when it bought 40 per cent of McLaren in a multi-million pound deal in 1999, but any plans to completely take the team over would be complicated by the sale of another tranche of the Woking operation earlier this year, when a members of the Bahraini royal family - under the Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company banner - confirmed that it had entered into an agreement to acquire a 30 per cent stake in McLaren Group Limited.

The agreement followed a period of negotiation with Dennis and representatives of both Mercedes parent company DaimlerChrysler AG and long-term McLaren partner, the TAG Group. The shareholding structure now sees DaimlerChrysler holding the biggest stake, albeit still at its original 40 per cent, with Mumtalakat Holding Company taking 30 per cent and Dennis and TAG holding 15 per cent each.

Of course, should there be resistance to HWA's plans - and there may well be if Dennis wants to hang on to his position until at least the time that Lewis Hamilton wins his first world title - openings are appearing for a possible independent operation, especially following recent news that Prodrive is to postpone its entry to the top flight until the customer car wrangle is sorted and with Renault facing potentially heavy sanction from the World Motor Sport Council after admitting to having possessed data removed, ironically, from McLaren's Woking headquarters by a departing employee.

In reality, neither is a solid option for HWA, which would likely have to rely on customer cars of its own to get started - posing the same problems as being faced by Prodrive, which awaits the outcome of a protest headed by Williams amongst others. Renault, meanwhile, announced that it had renewed its engine supply contract with Mecachrome for a further three years, suggesting that it would be no going anywhere, despite the likelihood of stiff financial punishment from the WMSC.

Should the be hit with a ban instead, however, grandprix.com points out that it 'could, in theory, be sold to a third party and continue to compete under a new identity', much as it did when taking a sabbatical in the mid-late 1990s and handing the reins to Mecachrome.

Whether Renault would be happy selling out to a Mercedes partner remains to be seen, however.

 

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