sport

Wolff interest in Middle East ties

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has revealed the team are eager to break into Formula One's burgeoning Middle-Eastern market.

Over the years the sport has forged strong links with the region, and notably has two races on the calendar in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Wolff is all too aware of the benefits the area can provide to a team, given his previous association with Williams.

The Grove-based marque's first sponsors were from the Middle East, and they also have a technology centre based in Qatar's Science & Technology Park.

Although Mercedes currently have a strong sponsorship base, Wolff is looking to forge new partnerships in an area where they are lacking.

"The Middle East is a very important region for us," said Wolff, speaking to Press Association Sport.

"Why? Because of the heritage side of things. Sponsors in the Middle East understand Formula One.

"It is a region that is also very important because we race there twice - Bahrain, and for this year, the final race in Abu Dhabi.

"And looking at the environment, who is to say we will not have a race in Dubai or Qatar one day.

"We believe there could be an increased footprint in the Middle East with another race.

"And then it is a region that is developing very strongly. Abu Dhabi has huge possibilities and resources, equally Dubai and Qatar.

"Dubai is holding the 2020 World Expo; Qatar is holding the World Cup in 2022, so that is why it is so interesting for us to go that way.

"But it's not only about finding a sponsor, it's about developing our brand and the team within the Middle East."

Mercedes are certainly a strong commercial proposition for any sponsor at present given their dominant start to the season, including Lewis Hamilton's win in Bahrain on Sunday.

However, Wolff insists any future partnership is not about "sticking a logo on the car" and banking whatever cheque might come their way.

"It's important we have the right partner and we don't want to dilute by having too many," added Wolff.

"We want to concentrate on those brands which fit with Mercedes, which is a difficult task in itself because Mercedes has a clear mission, clear values and a clear vision, so finding the right partner is not so easy.

"Then we'd like to establish a sustainable, long-term relationship, and this is where it starts to get complicated.

"We want to identify somebody who has the same long-term view of developing the brands together, and one that fits with Mercedes."

However, Wolff has ruled out the new partner taking a stake in the team, as is currently the case at McLaren, who are 50 per cent owned by Bahrain-based sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat Holding Company.

Up until a few years ago, the Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Investment Company held a five per cent stake in Ferrari before selling it back to Fiat.

At Mercedes at present, parent company Daimler has a 60 per cent stake, with Wolff a 30 per cent shareholder, with the remaining 10 per cent owned by non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.

"We are not considering giving up any percentages because the shareholding as it is now is a perfect balance," said Wolff.

"Daimler is the majority shareholder and we don't want to change that, and Niki and I feel comfortable with our current shareholding."