March 18, 2010 / 3:49 PM / in 9 years

Motor racing-McLaren buy back bulk of Mercedes shares

WOKING, England, March 18 (Reuters) - McLaren have bought back most of the 40 percent stake in the company previously held by Mercedes, Formula One team boss Martin Whitmarsh told Reuters on Thursday.

“I think it is about 11 percent that is still owned by Mercedes, but it’s not an important or significant number,” he said in an interview in his office after the launch of McLaren’s new MP4-12C supercar.

Whitmarsh said the shares had been taken up by the McLaren Group rather than any of the existing shareholders.

McLaren said in November that they had agreed a phased buyback of the shares by 2011 after the two decided to become competitors.

Mercedes have taken over championship-winning Brawn GP, turning it into their first full works team since 1955, while McLaren’s new road car is pitched at a market segment that the German carmaker and Ferrari are also targeting.

Former team boss Ron Dennis, now chairman of McLaren Automotive, and Saudi business partner Mansour Ojjeh each own 15 percent of the business. A further 30 percent is owned by Bahrain’s state holding company Mumtalakat.

Mercedes will continue to supply the Formula One team with engines until at least 2015.

Whitmarsh said McLaren had learned a lot from building the SLR sportscar for Mercedes and were now ready to grow a sustained brand with a range of products that would make money. The new car will go on sale next year.

“At some point, some of that money will come back into Formula One,” he said of the road car project.

“The structure of our group is that they are stand-alone businesses so McLaren Automotive has to pay licence to use its brand.

“In the longer term future we will hopefully have a successful, mature, developed automotive company with a range of products and we may then choose to invest back in racing,” he added.

Whitmarsh said McLaren were looking already at taking the new car into GT racing where it would compete directly against Ferrari’s road cars, as they did with their limited edition F1 supercar in the 1990s.

He revealed that McLaren bosses had visited Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters last week and talked to the Italian company’s president Luca di Montezemolo about future cooperation as much as competition.

“Our message there was ‘We want to race with you. Where are you going to go? why don’t we go together?’”

Editing by Alison Wildey. To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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