By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE England (Reuters) - German fashion brand Hugo Boss is set to end its association with the McLaren Formula One team, one of the longest running partnerships in sport, to link up with championship-leading rivals Mercedes next year.
The McLaren-Hugo Boss partnership dates back to 1981, with Mercedes becoming engine providers to the British-based team in 1995, a deal that is also due to expire at the end of the season.
While not a title sponsor or major source of funding, Boss has been a big part of McLaren's identity through fashion shoots and as a provider of team apparel.
"Hugo Boss has recently decided to co-operate with Mercedes-Benz on a number of international marketing projects unrelated to F1," a McLaren team spokesman said.
"That being the case, it would be inappropriate for Hugo Boss to continue in partnership with an F1 competitor to Mercedes-Benz, however successful that partnership has been in the past and remains now."
Mercedes-Benz announced in April that they would work more closely with Hugo Boss, focusing on "joint international activities in marketing and communication."
Mercedes already has a long-standing involvement in the world of couture, sponsoring fashion weeks in New York and Berlin and shows elsewhere.
German Nico Rosberg and Britain's Lewis Hamilton, formerly at McLaren, drive for Mercedes and are currently leading the world championship.
McLaren are switching to Honda engines from Mercedes next season, with the Japanese company expected to provide a substantial financial commitment.
The team currently lack a title sponsor, having initially planned to announce one before the season started in March. They remain, however, one of the wealthiest teams in the paddock with a successful sportscar operation and applied technology business.
Racing director Eric Boullier said a title sponsorship had yet to be finalised but the team was well funded.
"We are not in a position where we are struggling to get money, we are perfectly fine," the Frenchman told reporters. "Obviously with Honda coming on board even more so."
Boullier said the team's poor performance on track had not helped but McLaren still had 32 partners and sponsors.
"We have actually the biggest budget we have ever had and it is going to increase next year. So this is not a worry," he added.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Keith Weir)