Mercedes F1 for sale rumors may be a bargaining chip ahead of 2021 agreement

Team principal Toto Wolff is being careful about how he talks about Mercedes’ Formula 1 commitment beyond 2020.

A number of stories in recent days have suggested that Mercedes will sell its Formula 1 team and leave the championship.  

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff fed into this rumor, warning that it is “not a given” that the firm will remain in the sport. However, when Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Kallenius told industry analysts that the company needs to make cuts of $1.5 billion by the end of 2022, he also made the point that the Formula 1 program is not likely to be affected.

“We have won the World Championship six times in a row,” he said. “That is unique and has more than paid off in terms of marketing. So it has to be seen as a very worthwhile investment.”

So why was Wolff saying what he said?

With the regulations for 2021 now formalized, the attention in Formula 1 circles has now turned to the negotiations for a new commercial deal that will last from 2021 to 2030 on “substantially the same terms” as the current bilateral agreements, which are based on the original Concorde Agreement.

It is already clear that Ferrari has a deal it is satisfied with, so it’s currently not saying anything. Mercedes, Renault and Red Bull want to get better deals, so it’s no great surprise all three of them are now expressing some doubt about the future in the sport.

This appears to be an attempt to create some space to negotiate as Liberty Media attempts to get everyone to sign a new deal. Having said that, there are some stories circulating that suggest Wolff could be in the running for a top Formula 1 job with Liberty Media, although this has been opposed by Ferrari, which is pushing for a clause in the contract to block former team principals from joining Liberty. This has been nicknamed “the Toto Wolff Clause” by those involved in the negotiations.

There is no doubt that Liberty Media is beginning to consider the question of who would be best-suited to replace Carey when he decides to retire, which will likely be once the new commercial deal is done. It is a job that requires a number of different abilities, such as being able to work with a company that is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, which must abide by the rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The candidate must be able to deal with top industry executives and governments. The candidate does not necessarily need to be passionate about the sport but must understand the media industry. The people who are probably best-suited to this position would be former automobile industry executives.

Should Mercedes F1 be for sale, the rumor out of Europe is that Roger Penske, who recently purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions would be a possible suitor.

While Penske has not issued any public statements on any Mercedes F1 deal, he told Racer that his interest in purchasing Mercedes’ F1 operation is, “absolutely not true, and my plate is full.”

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