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Haug opens up

NEWS STORY
21/07/2012

Mat Coch writes:

Mercedes, like Sauber, is in no rush to confirm its driver line up for 2013. Speaking on a range of topics in Hockenheim, Norbert Haug moved to end speculation surrounding Michael Schumacher's future with the team.

Out of contract at the end of the season Schumacher's Mercedes seat has become one of the most coveted in Formula One, with drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Paul Di Resta being named as possible replacements. However, Haug refuted the suggestions, stating that discussions between Schumacher and the team would take place before discussions with anyone else. "We speak to Michael first," he says, "then there is no room for speculation."

While the line of drivers waiting patiently for Schumacher to retire grows, Haug sees no reason to rush a decision. "We still have time," he continues. "We have had nine races so far, so the tenth is coming, and I think both Michael and us will know more after twelve or thirteen or whatever races.

"We will have that discussion like Ross indicated and it will be a discussion between Michael and the team and then we will take out discussion together accordingly."

Mercedes has enjoyed a more competitive season in 2012, highlighted by Nico Rosberg winning in China, though reliability problems have hampered his progress since. The team lies fifth in the Constructors' Championship, nearly forty points clear of Sauber in sixth but similarly adrift of McLaren in fourth.

It belies the pace the Mercedes has had, having started the season a firm favourite in Australia. While not being an especially difficult car to set up the W03 has proved to have a narrow operating window. When the drivers find the right set-up the car has been fast, but thus far they've been unable to consistently find that spot.

"We are always working on widening the band in where the car goes, so it's probably a small window right now but it's supposed to get bigger and bigger," Haug explains.

Part of the trouble is simply that 2012 is so competitive. "Michael was less than 0.25 down to quickest and was starting 12th in Valencia," he says.
"We have had quite good performance in quick corners, I would not say that generally we have strengths like braking, turning in, direction, tighter corners and so on, which is what you could see in Monaco."

The upturn in Mercedes fortunes in 2012 looks to have helped encourage the Germany company to stay on in Formula One. Negotiations surrounding a new Concorde Agreement had aggravated the company which threatened to leave the sport. Thankfully however this seems to have been consigned to history, with Haug suggesting that - while it hasn't already - at some point Mercedes will sign up to the new Concorde Agreement. "We are in discussions and we have constructive discussions," he says. "I would say we're in a good way."

Whether that ultimately includes a coveted spot on Formula One's board as has been offered to Ferrari and Red Bull remains to be seen, though it is a positive sign for the sport given the German marque also supplies customer engines to both McLaren and Force India.

Elsewhere Haug is keeping an eye on developments at the Nurburgring, venue of the German Grand Prix every other year. The company behind the circuit, Nurburgring GmbH, is set to file for insolvency over a 235m debt, a move which could put the venue, and therefore the German Grand Prix's future, at risk.

"It's a shame what is happening because the whole region there is really dependant on motor sport," Haug explains. The German Grand Prix is one of the 'classical' events, and to potentially lose it because of the Nurburgring's extra curricula activities is a blow to the heart of Haug.

"There is huge tradition of course and we are very interested that this tradition remains," he says. "If you remember Grand Prix racing, before Formula One exists since 1950 there was Grand Prix racing in place, the Silver Arrow was born at the Nordschleife.

"Germany is still very, very interested in motor sports in general and Formula One," he continues, "and still the biggest viewership worldwide to my knowledge in accumulated figures, in television figures. Formula One is huge; we have like 37% market share on average in live TV."

For now the German Grand Prix is safe, Haug believing normal racing activities are ongoing at the Nurburgring while a solution is found. "The DTM will take place on the 18th of August, so this will certainly continue.

"The hiring of the track of the Nordschleife is quite booked out," he adds. "The whole region is really dependant on motor sport and I think that should continue and there will be solutions in place."

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