Mercedes was one of the top names of motor racing in the early pioneering days of the sport, but that all changed in 1955 when a devastating accident during the Le Mans 24 Hours race saw Pierre Levegh's car thrown into the main spectator area, killing the driver and 83 fans in what remains the worst accident in motor sport history. As a result of these horrific events, Mercedes withdrew from competition for decades.
It did eventually make a cautious return to F1 as an engine supplier to Swiss team Sauber in 1994 in association with Ilmor, before quickly moving on to a successful collaboration with McLaren. While the company was still wary about making a full return to the sport with a works team, all that changed in 2009 when they spied a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the Brawn GP team.
F1's biggest fairytale - and a unique opportunity
Ross Brawn had led a management buyout of the former Honda Racing F1 Team when the Japanese manufacturer made its shock decision to cut ties with F1 and leave with immediate effect at the end of 2008. The deal Brawn negotiated enabled him to keep the team running short-term with the help of engines now supplied by Mercedes, but the future still looked bleak for the orphaned outfit. Short of a miracle, it seemed the shutters would soon come down for good.
If this were a fairytale then Brawn GP would have outright won the 2009 world championship against all odds with driver Jenson Button clinching the driver's crown. Oh, wait: that's exactly what did happen. Already part of the winning effort, Mercedes went into high gear and bought the entire operation lock, stock and two smoking exhausts, retaining Brawn as principal and subsequently adding hands-on support from the likes of Niki Lauda, Paddy Lowe and Toto Wolff. A patriotically all-German driver line-up of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg was installed, and the rest is history.
But what if it hadn't gone that way? What would recent F1 history look like then?