Exclusive interview - Hondas Ross Brawn 18 Jul 2008
When Ross Brawn joined Honda as their new team principal for 2008, he was widely hailed as the man who could put the Japanese squad back on the road to victory. Nine races into the season and, Rubens Barrichellos Silverstone podium aside, things have not changed dramatically on the outside. Brawn, however, remains unflustered, insisting the team are improving significantly from within, with a clear focus on 2009 when the major rule changes could well play into their hands
Q: Ross, it is mid season and you have nine races under your belt as team principal of Honda. How would you sum things up so far?
Ross Brawn: I see a lot of progress in the team. There is no huge progress with the car and we were very fortunate to get the third place in Silverstone. The car is not as competitive as we obviously want, but I see a lot of reasons to be optimistic with the team. I have seen the team move forward a long way.
Q: What would you say are the biggest changes that you have implemented since joining Honda?
RB: What I think I have tried to bring to the team is some references for them so they have a person who can make a decision, a person who they can come to, to ask for direction to help to reinforce some systems in the team which have probably gone a little soft or have not been implemented as strongly as they should. I think also some belief in themselves. The team had a very difficult period, but now they have the feeling that if they do things correctly they can succeed. What I think I also helped the team to understand is that there is no such thing as a magic solution to winning in Formula One. Its just a massive effort in every area of the teams performance - the car performance, the engine, the chassis, the transmission, the suspension - everything has to be at top level. The fact that I could come along and explain that Ferrari was not doing one thing exceptionally well - it was doing everything exceptionally well - that makes the difference. Some people think that there is a magic bullet to winning in Formula One - it does not exist! It is just a very high level of effort and a hell of a quality in every area.
Q: Rubens Silverstone podium was a huge morale boost for the team, but there can be no doubt that the teams performance level still leaves a lot room for improvement. Why is development so slow?
RB: It is just a balance of our resource really. If we hadnt had the new regulations next year and we would have continued with the car of this sort then, of course, I would have put all our efforts into this year, but it is just a balance of the resource looking at the longer term. So we are putting a very strong effort into next year, but also putting effort into certain things for helping to build organization and structure within the team. So there may be occasions when there could be some resource put into improving this car, when it means that we are making the company work more effectively for the future. It is both: physically the car for next year, and making sure that we have a strong organization for next year.
Q: You announced very early in the season that you will concentrate on the development of the 2009 car rather than putting too many resources into the RA108. What plans do you have to help you close the gap to the frontrunners this season?
RB: Well, not a lot to be honest. We have a new rear suspension for Budapest which I am very optimistic about, along with some aerodynamic changes, but thats more or less it for the rest of the season. We have a low-downforce package for Monza due to the nature of the circuit, but after Budapest for the base car thats it.
Q: Can you say in percentage terms how much resource you are already putting into the development of the 2009 car?
RB: From the design office it is getting towards one hundred percent, because we have already done this package that we plan for Budapest. We are going to finish that Monza package, but really, apart from that, it is one hundred percent.
Q: One of the teams obvious weaknesses has been qualifying performance. How are you planning to overcome that?
RB: Thats a good question. We seem to be a little bit more competitive in the race configuration than we are in qualifying configuration. Its been very obvious in the last two races, Magny-Cours and Silverstone, which have been two very bad races from a qualifying point of view. I have to be frank: we dont fully understand it. We are still working on the usage of the tyres, areas that are related to the tyres, to see that we can get more out of the tyres for qualifying. Possibly as a team we need to focus a bit more on qualifying in testing, and other areas, because I have come from a team where qualifying was important, but it was never the vital thing, as the vital thing was always to be good in the race. But probably for improving our position on the grid we have to work a bit more on qualifying. So we may see in the next tests that we put a bit more effort into improving the car for qualifying.
Q: Both of your drivers are proven race winners. How do you see your responsibility towards then in terms of giving them the machinery to match their potential?
RB: True, that is our responsibility. They can both win and they have both demonstrated it. What is lacking at the moment is a suitable car, so we are really focused on producing the car for them.
Q: Mid season usually kicks-off driver market talk. Have you put any thoughts in that?
RB: Yes, we have. But clearly our priority is to sort the car out, because we believe with the drivers we have, if we produce a good car then they can produce from their side. So we are not looking at anything major on the driver side. Our main priority is the car.
Q: So we will see the same two drivers in the car next season?
Q: Does it make a difference that Honda is no longer involved with Super Aguri? Will the funds that went to Super Aguri now go to the Honda team?
RB: No, there is no relationship in that respect. I think that the money that Honda spent on Super Aguri was never intended to be spent. The reason Super Aguri is not racing any more is because they failed to find the commercial support they needed. Honda had funded them for a long time and without that massive support Super Aguri would have disappeared a long time ago. It was never in the plan for Honda to have two teams in F1. Obviously it has reduced the bill for Honda, but it does not make any difference to our operations.