The departure of Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes-Benz motorsport, has left the door opened for Haug wannabes. But who are they and can they fill his shoes?
The two names that come up the most are Michael Schumacher and Niki Lauda, both FIA Formula One champions. But for all the series that the German brand contests, will either one fit in? It appears that their names are being bandied about as most are only viewing only the Formula One side of the Mercedes motorsports business.
While Haug’s main focus was on Formula 1, he kept abreast of all motorsports program for Mercedes-Benz including the German Touring Car Masters (DTM), a series where Mercedes has won 32 titles under his watch. The Mercedes, team under Ross Brawn, has yet to win a title but the engines in their partners’ cars have taken six championships over the years.
It was a shock to many worldwide when Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars and CEO of Daimler AG stated that Haug would leave his post at the end of this year. “Norbert Haug was the face of the Mercedes-Benz Motorsport programme for more than 20 years,” said Zetsche.
The Mercedes team wooed Lewis Hamilton over to the works team from McLaren, who is one of the partners of Mercedes-Benz. Weeks later, Lauda accepted a management position. His role was to be a “go-between” for the ongoing discussions between Mercedes and Bernie Ecclestone on the Concorde Agreement.
At the same time Brawn stated, "The potential is now there to match any other team on the grid, which is the minimum standard for a Mercedes-Benz works team. Our task is now to translate that potential into on-track performance for next season and beyond."
It therefore made sense that Haug’s departure might promote Lauda to his position to the point that immediate rumors started which accused Lauda of being involved in the reason Haug was leaving. That rumor was cleared up when Haug said, "I want to state strongly that this was a decision that the board and I reached by consensus. Niki had absolutely nothing to do with it.” Lauda said he also “was surprised at the news”.
The three-time Formula One champion did manage the Jaguar Formula One team for two years. He has also been an F1 Steward, a commentator, advisor for the Ferrari F1 team. He does have the experience and no doubt might indeed be the favorite candidate for the Mercedes-Benz motorsports program. Lauda does know DTM, and the other racing series that Mercedes does or will contest.
The other possible candidate is the seven times World Champion, Schumacher. He loves to race, and this weekend is challenging for the ROC Champion of Champions title. First, however, will be the Nations Cup contest with his Team Germany teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Schumacher has been an advisor for the Scuderia Ferrari team, and apparently has already been tagged as staying with Mercedes-Benz in the same role. The German has a keen sense of business, and is heavily involved in children charity organizations. However one needs to remember that he was replaced at the Mercedes works team by Ross Brawn in favor of Lewis Hamilton.
The parting was bitter at the time. In the season finale at Sao Paulo, Schumacher let it be known he was supporting Vettel, and proved that by moving aside in the Brazilian Grand Prix to let his fellow countryman pass him to gain a position.
What it strange is no one from the Mercedes-Benz AG company has been mentioned, and surely there are staff members who have waited in the wings for the opportunity to move up the ladder. Or perhaps one of the key members on the works team or one of the partner teams who step up to the position.
There is a lot of talent out there but in reality can anyone fill the shoes of Haug?