Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said new spending rules have put one of its three Formula One customers at risk of being culled, because the German manufacturer is no longer earning “substantial amounts” from producing engines for its rivals
“Unfortunately, the business of leasing engines is not compelling and interesting because the [governing body] FIA has put in a certain limit that you can charge to your customers, in order to protect the smaller teams,” Wolff said, adding that the Mercedes team itself accounted for the bulk of its profits, which amounted to just under £14mn last year.
Mercedes supplies rivals McLaren, Aston Martin and Williams with engines designed by its high-performance unit in Brixworth, UK. All teams have been subject to increasingly restrictive cost caps over the past two seasons, as F1 owner Liberty Media seeks to narrow the financial gap between the most and least successful outfits.
After winning eight constructor’s championships in a row, Mercedes has struggled with its car this season, losing pace to frontrunners Red Bull and Ferrari. Its clients also faced difficulties in getting ahead of their closest rivals in the middle of the pack during some early races.
Wolff said the production of two engines apiece for three other teams was a burden for Mercedes, whose engineers have been preoccupied with developing upgrades to the cars for its drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
“I’d rather have six [client cars], push the development further down the line and then make two engines less, because you need to produce two less plus two spares for every team,” he said.
“In an ideal world, I would maybe see us plus two [customers], so actually downsize a bit,” he added, but did not elaborate on which client Mercedes was likely to drop. The relationship between Mercedes and McLaren is the oldest of the three, dating back decades, albeit with a six-year gap.
Wolff’s comments come as Mercedes’ German rivals Porsche and Audi — both VW subsidiaries — are poised to enter F1, in time for rule changes in 2026 that would increase the amount of electric power generation in cars.
One of the VW-owned brands could team up with McLaren, depriving Mercedes of a leasing customer, according to people familiar with the plans.
Speaking before Mercedes’ better showing on the track in Barcelona last week, Wolff also played down Mercedes’ ability to compete for another constructor’s championship this year. “We just need to come back and consolidate third place and then just slowly crawl back,” he said.
While Mercedes has had to contend with a “bouncing” problem on its cars, rivals Red Bull and Ferrari “have continued to develop their car without any of this effect”, Wolff said, and would likely remain further ahead.