MONTREAL - The sense of relief on Norbert Haug’s face spoke volumes about how happy his racing team is to be back in Montreal.
And as a gift, the president of all that Mercedes Benz racing encompasses, including the Formula One squad currently sitting in fourth place in the constructor’s championship, hinted that he may have a Montrealer in one of the Mercedes MGP W01s come next summer.
No, his name won’t be Jacques Villeneuve.
It would be Bruno Spengler, who currently leads the European DTM sports car series driving a Mercedes C-Class.
The 26-year-old Spengler, nicknamed “The Secret Canadian”, would like nothing more than to become as well known in his home country as he is on the tracks around Europe.
“(North America) is a very important market for us,” Haug said Friday over coffee at the team’s paddock enclosure at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. “We need to make Formula One racing as popular here as it is in the rest of the world.”
That’s where a driver like Spengler comes in.
Haug is convinced that NASCAR’s strangle-hold on young talented drivers wanting to move up the racing ladder can be broken if a Spengler, or an American like Marco Andretti, were to become successful in F-1.
“You look at Germany,” he said. “Before Michael (Schumacher) there were not many German drivers in F-1. Now you look and you see six in F-1 this season.”
He said that a similar pattern would follow a North American champion.
Haug noted that when Gilles Villeneuve (Jacques father) was winning the hearts of F-1 fans in the 1970s, he spawned a whole generation of top Canadian open-wheel drivers like Jacques Villeneuve, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani.
As for Spengler, he would be more than happy to be the next great Canadian racer, but first he must win big in Europe.
“I think if I win the DTM championship this year, I will get a chance to move to F-1,” he said.
While Haug was not about to announce such a plan on Friday, he certainly would not deny it was something that could happen.