Brawn GP's Formula 1 future is poised for a major boost, with Mercedes-Benz close to a deal to take equity in the team.
With the World Championship leaders already having secured sponsorship funding for the next few years, the team's outlook now looks even better following discussions with the German car manufacturer. Reports first emerged about the plans this morning in Britain's The Daily Telegraph newspaper,and sources have confirmed to AUTOSPORT that talks are at an advanced stage for the car company to take a shareholding in the team. The news follows Mercedes-Benz's increased profile as a customer engine supplier over the past season - with the team set to provide power-units to McLaren, Force India, Brawn and, perhaps, Red Bull Racing in 2010.
The move is not, however, an attempt by Mercedes-Benz to move away from its long-standing commitment to partner McLaren - and it is instead believed to be part of the car manufacturer's attempt to increase its presence in F1.
A McLaren spokesman said that the team had no qualms about Mercedes-Benz's plans for expanding its involvement with its rivals in the sport.
"Mercedes-Benz's engine supply contract with McLaren is a very long-standing one - it's in its 15th consecutive year, in fact - and it will continue to run for many years to come," said the spokesman. "However, we're supportive of our partner's plans regarding engine supply of other teams in Formula 1, and we were delighted earlier this year that a Mercedes-Benz engine supply deal was able to be done with Brawn, thereby saving that team from likely extinction.
"Force India, too, has blossomed as a result of its engine supply/engineering consultancy collaboration with Mercedes-Benz and McLaren - as Giancarlo Fisichella's impressive second place in the recent Belgian Grand Prix showed all too clearly.
"Both McLaren and Mercedes-Benz remain extremely satisfied with our Formula 1 collaboration, which has netted two drivers' World Championships and one constructors' world championship as well as dozens of grand prix victories. As ever, we'll be aiming to add to that win tally together at this weekend's Italian Grand Prix - although we never under-estimate our opposition and the competition will undoubtedly be tough."
Mercedes-Benz itself denied that the plan was for a full-blown buyout of Brawn, but did not rule out an equity-type deal.
"It's our policy not to comment on rumors, and we want to point out that we have longstanding contracts with McLaren," a spokesperson for the company told The Daily Telegraph.
Mercedes-Benz is poised to confirm its engine plans for 2010 at the Italian Grand Prix, although there is fresh uncertainty now surrounding whether or not Red Bull Racing will make the switch from Renault to Mercedes-Benz.
Although the deal had appeared to be all but done in recent weeks, sources suggest that the contract has not yet been signed - and it is not impossible that the team could actually stick with its current partner for another year.
Williams is looking at changing its engine supply deal for next year, having asked Toyota to be released from its contract, and had been expected to switch to Renault. However, there remains a chance the Grove-based outfit could be in the running for a Mercedes-Benz deal if Red Bull Racing opts not to take it.