What if ... Mercedes had never bought Brawn GP in 2009?

Red Bull rises to the top

Chances are without Mercedes riding to the rescue as they did, the reigning world championship team would have suffered a precipitous decline from the top in 2010, whatever guise it had ended up taking. In our reality even Mercedes initially struggled to find their feet despite luring Schumacher back from retirement to spearhead the campaign. There's little doubt that our alt-decade would still have begin with four back-to-back world champions for Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel. But at the same time, other pieces were being moved around the board setting the tone for the second half of the decade.

In the history that we know, it was Lewis Hamilton's decision to leave McLaren and join Mercedes at the end of 2012 - quickly followed by Toto Wolff's decision to sell his stock at Williams and buy into Mercedes - that set the next phase rolling. But if Mercedes hadn't been around as a works team, where would these two men have ended up? Hamilton had long wanted to break away from McLaren and prove himself in a new setting, so it's unlikely he would have stayed at Woking any longer than necessary. But he has always maintained that his decision to move to Mercedes was motivated by the desire to work with Ross Brawn and Niki Lauda, non-executive chairman of the Mercedes F1 operation. Without them around to influence the decision, where might Hamilton have ended up?

Road ahead blocked for Hamilton and Wolff

Without McLaren and Mercedes in contention for his services, there were only two big teams realistically still in play for Hamilton: Red Bull and Ferrari. Vettel and Mark Webber had locked up the race seats at the former, and even when Webber retired at the end of 2013 it's unlikely that Vettel would have willingly signed off on having Hamilton as a team mate. There were big problems, too, at Ferrari where Fernando Alonso ruled the roost. Even if the powers that be at Maranello had been tempted to dump Felipe Massa, Hamilton and Alonso had fallen out spectacularly when they were team mates at McLaren in 2007. Hamilton would have had to stay at McLaren after all - for a year or two.

At the same time, what would Wolff have done? He'd been dabbling in F1 since 2009 and learned the basics as an investor and non-executive director at Williams, but by 2013 he clearly wanted a bigger role. That was unlikely to happen at Williams, which is still fundamentally a family firm run by Frank Williams and Patrick Head. Wolff would always be a hired hand without the freedom and authority to do things his own way. Without the opportunity presented by Silver Arrows, maybe that would have been the end of Wolff's F1 adventure altogether and he'd go off to be a success in other fields.