The Ross Brawn saga - is the best yet to come? 18 Mar 2009
The FIA finally made it official on Tuesday. A team bearing the name of Ross Brawn will contest the world championship in 2009. It marks the start of another intriguing chapter in what has been an extraordinary Formula One career - a career which, based on his teams performance to date, may not have yet reached its peak.
Although its the kind of praise usually reserved for drivers, it would be difficult to imagine Formula One racing without Ross Brawn. From Williams to Arrows, Benetton, Ferrari and Honda, and from aerodynamicist to technical director and team principal, Brawn has been an (almost) constant fixture in the paddock since the late seventies.
Brawns career began with a lengthy apprenticeship at the British Atomic Energy Research Establishment, after which he gave in to the racing bug and moved to March Engineering in 1976. Employed as a machinist, he was promptly promoted to a mechanic role for the March Formula Three team, before he moved to the newly-formed Williams team in 1978.
Quickly working his way up through the ranks, Brawn gleaned invaluable experience as both a technician and aerodynamicist and ended up as the teams head of research and development. He quit in 1984 for a brief spell with Carl Haas's FORCE/Beatrice squad before becoming Arrows technical director late in 1986.
The team went on to finish fifth in the 1988 world championship, before Brawn broadened his experience with a highly-successful stint in Jaguars sports car division. The lure of Formula One racing, however, lingered and Brawn returned to the paddock late in 1991 as Benettons technical director, a post he would keep for the next six years.
The move to Benetton would also mark the starting point for one of the most successful partnerships in F1 history, as he joined forces with Michael Schumacher (then just starting out on his Formula One career) and Benettons chief designer Rory Byrne. Together, the trio won back-to-back drivers championships in 1994 and 1995, and the all-important constructors title in 1995.
A year later Schumacher headed to pastures new at Ferrari, and Brawn and Byrne soon followed. It was a brave move for all three - the team hadnt won a drivers championship since 1979 and had finished the 95 season third, 64 points adrift of Benetton. This did little to dent the three mens belief that they could breathe new life into the Italian sleeping giant and return it to its winning ways.
Their confidence was swiftly justified. The number of Ferrari victories steadily increased in 97 and 98 and in both seasons the team finished second in the standings. The rest is history. Ferrari dominated Formula One racing for the next six years. They took successive constructors titles from 1999 to 2004, with Schumacher commencing a run of five consecutive drivers crowns in 2000.
But at the end of the 2006 season Schumacher decided to hang up his F1 overalls for good. And soon after, Brawn announced that he too was to exit the sport to spend more time with his family. However after a year of relaxation (and fishing), he was ready for a new challenge and signed up for his first team principal role, with Honda, for the 2008 season.
Honda had endured a troubled 07 season, beset by aerodynamic and reliability problems, finishing the year with just six points. Faced with such a challenge, Brawn, who said the decision to join the Japanese team had been an easy one, was in his element. Nobody doubted than if any man could resurrect Honda it was Brawn, though it was already too late for his technical expertise to have much influence on the squads 2008 car. Performance did improve marginally - 14 points rather than six - but they still slipped to ninth in the standings.
Early on in 2008, however, Brawn had already set his sights on 2009 and a car - the teams first designed completely on the Englishmans watch - able to capitalise on the forthcoming radical regulation changes. But by then the economic climate was deteriorating, and in November came a bitter blow for the Brackley factory - Honda announced they were to withdraw from Formula One racing with immediate effect.
A winter of rumour and speculation followed concerning the teams future. That speculation finally ended with confirmation earlier this month of a Brawn-led management buy-out. And with a new Mercedes engine agreement in place the BGP 001 hit the track soon after, with drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello setting some stunning times in the new teams first two test sessions.
Those times were quick enough for rivals to predict that Brawn GP will be serious contenders in 2009, at least in the opening races. It seems Ross Brawn could yet do for Honda what he previously did for Ferrari, only this time with his own name on the cars. It would be fitting testimony to a man who has dedicated so much of his life to the sport and who has already played an instrumental role in some of its defining moments.