As was rumored and expected for months, Mercedes bought Brawn GP and dropped Mclaren from a quasi-works team to customer status. Mercedes is citing the "new economic climate" and "cost cutting" but like with Toyota, BMW dropping out, it's likely deeper than that.
Manufactures don't mind spending money but what they cannot justify is footing the bill without controlling, well... everything if they could. Bridgestone is leaving because the FIA put them in a situation where they have to produce "bad" tires artificially, what's their incentive for staying? It's not quite as bad for auto manufactures yet but you see where Ferrari was going with its "12 little indians" press release.
Mercedes "married" Mclaren when the Woking team was hot. They built a fantastic new house, they had great success but then things began to go sour. Shoplifting, SLR, economy, take your pick, Mercedes has found a new younger and less "complicated" mistress and I'm sure it's thinking that as long as it is paying the bills it might as well have her wear silver and call the shots, something they could not do with Ron Dennis.
It's not a cost cutting measure, I'm sure the pre-nupt with Mclaren was ferocious. Mercedes will sell back its 40% Mclaren stake in 2 years and had to commit to supply engines until 2015 and beyond (one might wonder how the 40% sell back and the engine supply are tied) yet from the wording of the Mclaren press release, Mclaren is not obliged to stay with Mercedes engines. Mercedes is also getting flack from its unions who are complaining that at a time when workers are getting their hours cut, management should have done a "Toyota" and use the excuse to drop out rather than go out and buy a whole new team. It's an expensive move for MB.
Engines is where it gets interesting. Ron Dennis wants to be Enzo Ferrari and had seen the writing on the wall long ago, at least as long ago as the plans to produce the MP4-12c road car with a Mclaren built engine started. Mclaren is banking on a future as a self contained manufacturer more or less like Ferrari or Porsche are/were. They already build standard ECU's for other teams and I'm sure the idea of becoming an engine supplier has crossed their minds, with teams likely to come and go in the next few years an alternative engine supply should be welcome once the FIA lifts its idiotic requirement that new teams buy powerplants only from Cosworth.
Brawn proved this year that a superior car will make up for lack of driver "star power". This is a line of thinking beloved by manufactures, BMW, Toyota and at times in the past, Ferrari have gone down that road, historically with resounding failures. Brawn's pulled it off this past season but they also had the double diffuser advantage in part to thank. It will be interesting to see where Mercedes is going with Button, Heidfeld and Raikkonen.