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Norbert Haug steps down from Mercedes-Benz

December 13, 2012

Norbert Haug is leaving Mercedes-Benz after heading its motorsports activities for 22 years. The terms under which he’s departing aren’t necessarily those that were presented by the manufacturer in its announcement, which stated Haug will step down at the close of the calendar year. The surprise statement on Thursday, December 13 said Haug’s “contract will come to an end by mutual agreement.”

Those of us in the United States got to know Norbert Haug when he spearheaded the CART engine program for Mercedes-Benz in the series’ heyday during the middle 1990s. Haug came to head the M-B motorsports program in 1990 and within five years was competing in CART, at the time a major force in open wheel racing. Among the stellar drivers he brought to the forefront of the series were the late Greg Moore and Dario Franchitti, Mark Blundell, Mauricio Gugelmin, along with the entire Marlboro Team Penske squad that included Al Unser Jr, Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy, among others.

He was a larger-than-life presence in the CART paddock and was omnipresent during those years as M-B raised the bar in CART for competition and corporate spending. Mercedes-Benz’ program took a while to come on-stream but when it did, Haug’s excitement in the success emanated with his big smiles on so many victory podiums.

Haug played a major role in spearheading Mercedes-Benz’ return to Formula One during the same time frame, initially as an engine supplier to Sauber and later with McLaren-Mercedes. He helped the company become a constructor as it took over the championship Brawn team. Unfortunately, that constructor’s championship eluded M-B and Haug, although they did win their first Grand Prix since the 1950s this past season when Nico Rosberg earned victory in China.

Haug was his customary ebullient self on the podium as Rosberg earned his first F1 victory and the Mercedes team took its initial modern F1 win. Unfortunately, the team slipped in the intervening races and fended off former client Sauber for fifth in the 2012 Constructors’ race.

It was thought that Haug would be gone unless he brought 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton to the Mercedes squad, but when it was announced that former champion Niki Lauda had been appointed as the team’s non-executive chairman on their Formula One board, it was easy to see that Haug’s time was short with Mercedes-Benz.

Still, the 60-year-old gave praise to the team in a statement announcing his departure. Even as he expressed regret that the team “couldn’t fulfill our own expectations” during these past three years, “I particularly wish to thank the Board for the trust and freedom they have always given me with all my activities. Since 1991, we had tremendous achievements and wins, for which I want to thank all of my colleagues,” Haug said.

“Unfortunately, with one victory in 2012 since founding our own Formula 1 works team in 2010, we couldn’t fulfill our own expectations. However, we have taken the right steps to be successful in the future. Our team and our drivers will do everything to achieve these goals.”

Dieter Zetsche, currently CEO of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, paid tribute to Norbert Haug’s successes and to his commitment to the M-B motorsports community over the past 22 years: “Norbert Haug was the face of the Mercedes-Benz program for more than 20 years and for me, he put his stamp on a whole era. As a highlight, he was responsible for these successful comeback of the Silver Arrows to Formula 1,” Zetsche said. “In the name of the board of management and the whole motorsports family I would like to thank Norbert for his extraordinary commitment to the three-pointed star.”

While it’s highly likely that Haug will commence a non-compete “gardening leave” at the close of the calendar year, he might be willing to again work on this side of the world once available for hire again. Haug has not – as of this moment – made clear his future plans; here’s hoping he has a grand holiday season and a clear vision of where to place his indelible stamp in the future.

By Anne Proffit

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