Norbert Haug is leaving Mercedes-Benz after heading its motorsports activities for 22 years. The terms under which he’s departing aren’t necessarily those that were presented by the manufacturer in its announcement, which stated Haug will step down at the close of the calendar year. The surprise statement on Thursday, December 13 said Haug’s “contract will come to an end by mutual agreement.”
He was a larger-than-life presence in the CART paddock and was omnipresent during those years as M-B raised the bar in CART for competition and corporate spending. Mercedes-Benz’ program took a while to come on-stream but when it did, Haug’s excitement in the success emanated with his big smiles on so many victory podiums.
Haug played a major role in spearheading Mercedes-Benz’ return to Formula One during the same time frame, initially as an engine supplier to Sauber and later with McLaren-Mercedes. He helped the company become a constructor as it took over the championship Brawn team. Unfortunately, that constructor’s championship eluded M-B and Haug, although they did win their first Grand Prix since the 1950s this past season when Nico Rosberg earned victory in China.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Norbert for all the help and support he’s offered McLaren over many years," commented Martin Whitmarsh. "The period since McLaren and Mercedes-Benz first teamed up in Formula 1 in the mid-’90s has been a successful and enjoyable one, and Norbert’s influence and guidance have been crucial contributors to that enjoyment and success."
Haug was his customary ebullient self on the podium as Rosberg earned his first F1 victory and the Mercedes team took its initial modern F1 win. Unfortunately, the team slipped in the intervening races and fended off former client Sauber for fifth in the 2012 Constructors’ race.
Still, the 60-year-old gave praise to the team in a statement announcing his departure. Even as he expressed regret that the team “couldn’t fulfill our own expectations” during these past three years, “I particularly wish to thank the Board for the trust and freedom they have always given me with all my activities. Since 1991, we had tremendous achievements and wins, for which I want to thank all of my colleagues,” Haug said.
“Unfortunately, with one victory in 2012 since founding our own Formula 1 works team in 2010, we couldn’t fulfill our own expectations. However, we have taken the right steps to be successful in the future. Our team and our drivers will do everything to achieve these goals.”
Dieter Zetsche, currently CEO of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, paid tribute to Norbert Haug’s successes and to his commitment to the M-B motorsports community over the past 22 years: “Norbert Haug was the face of the Mercedes-Benz program for more than 20 years and for me, he put his stamp on a whole era. As a highlight, he was responsible for these successful comeback of the Silver Arrows to Formula 1,” Zetsche said. “In the name of the board of management and the whole motorsports family I would like to thank Norbert for his extraordinary commitment to the three-pointed star.”
Whitmarsh captured Haug by saying "His love of motorsport is genuine and profound, as is his natural racer’s competitiveness. On behalf of everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, I wish him well for the future.”
While it’s highly likely that Haug will commence a non-compete “gardening leave” at the close of the calendar year, he might be willing to again work on this side of the world once available for hire again. Haug has not – as of this moment – made clear his future plans; here’s hoping he has a grand holiday season and a clear vision of where to place his indelible stamp in the future.