The new Mercedes GP car rendered – Click above to view in high-resolution

With two manufacturers leaving the series, four new teams joining the grid and a giant game of musical chairs amongst the drivers ensuing, the off-season between the 2009 and 2010 Formula One World Championships is packing in as much action as the racing itself. But few developments have garnered as much attention as the coup orchestrated by Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, withdrawing from McLaren after fifteen years as its active partner in favor of a more conventional engine supplier role, while buying over 75% of the Brawn GP outfit to enter the sport as a full manufacturer team under the Mercedes Grand Prix banner.

The acquisition has drawn public criticism from Erich Klemm, employee representative on the Daimler board and chairman of its Corporate Works Council, who decried the move as an unnecessary cost when money is tight and other automakers are withdrawing from the series. Chairman Dieter Zetsche responded that the acquisition of the Brawn team will give the company more exposure for less cash: The deal reportedly cost the German automaker some $336 million, but its operating costs are expected to drop to about $74 million annually by 2011, analyzed as far less than what Mercedes was contributing annually to the McLaren budget.

Zetsche might have more trouble, however, explaining to the board how their star driver slipped through their fingers and defected to the team they just ditched. McLaren just announced the recruitment of Jenson Button to team up with Lewis Hamilton for a twin-champ "super team," and Rubens Barrichello is off to Williams next season, leaving the new Mercedes GP team looking for new drivers. Considering they're the reigning champions suddenly flush with cash, they shouldn't have much trouble, though.

Zetsche and Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug are reportedly keen to capitalize with an all-German line-up, fueling speculation that Michael Schumacher could rejoin Mercedes (whose junior driving program gave him his start) and Brawn (who orchestrated all seven of his world championships). Nico Rosberg is thought to already have signed on to switch places with Barrichello, while Nick Heidfeld has been linked with a switch from the departing BMW to its arch-rival Mercedes. Toyota's Timo Glock was also reportedly in the running, but the young German driver signed with newcomer Manor GP instead. Haug has indicated an announcement will come within the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

[Source: F1 Live]