The best year of my career - Ross Brawn on 2009 09 Nov 2009
Ross Brawn has enjoyed a few classics seasons in his time. After winning six constructors' championships with Ferrari, he took a sabbatical before returning with Honda. But when the Japanese manufacturer decided to bid farewell to Formula One racing at the end of last year, Brawns dream of making it back to the top looked over.
Instead of wallowing, the Briton set about using his impressive talents to save the Brackley team. Hed already built a beauty of a car, and having stuck his own name on the two BGP001s, saw his team rise from the ashes to take two titles. Its the stuff of fairytales. Here he reviews his - and Brawn GPs - 2009 season
Q: Ross, so miracles do happen in Formula One racing. From a team that almost didnt exist a year ago to a double title winner
Ross Brawn: Well, miracle is not exactly a term at home in Formula One. Our success is a combination of many things. The new regulations had a major effect, and the fact that wed been working on that car for a long time had a major effect. But what I am probably most proud of is that the introduction of a new engine - the Mercedes engine - at such a late stage didnt destroy the programme. Ours, and the Mercedes engineers, should be very satisfied with what theyve achieved without compromising the car too much.
Q: How do you explain the teams sensational success? Was it down to giving KERS the cold shoulder and generally interpreting the rules more cleverly?
RB: I think that KERS was a major challenge to the teams at the beginning of the season. We saw the two major teams - Ferrari and McLaren - had that challenge and maybe it added to their difficulties at the beginning of the season. Now with the technology maturing its worth three or four-tenths of a second - and if KERS were to continue going into next season you would have to have it as an essential ingredient. I think for us we were able to carry over all the advantages we gained from starting the car very early and we didnt lose that (advantage) over the winter.
Q: Why the midseason lull?
RB: The winter did have an impact. The tremendous effort everybody made over the winter and, to be frank, because we had to resize the team in March all had impact. The team rebounded later in the year. I think we made improvements towards the end of the year. We won in Valencia and Monza and Rubens (Barrichello) was on pole in Brazil. My experience is that all teams see ups and downs over a season, but if you are not fighting for the championship they are not so visible. Weve managed to pull ourselves together again. But yes, there was a dip in form in the middle of the season.
Q: How helpful was it that you had experience of fighting for championships?
RB: It was helpful for me personally, and then it was helpful for the people around to see that there was no need for panic or taking radical actions, but that we should concentrate on working as we had done before. I have never been a believer in setting off fireworks. Sometimes it can work but more often it just creates a lot of confusion. We quietly got on with our plan to put ourselves back where we needed to be. Probably the fact that Ive been involved in championships which have had those midseason dips was very helpful.
Q: A lot was written about Jenson (Button) not being up to winning titles. Did you always believe that he would pull through?
RB: Yes. I was a little surprised at some of the difficulties that we had in qualifying - for some reason, qualifying didnt work as we had hoped - but his race performances were exceptional, so he fully deserves the championship and he will be a lot stronger because of this championship. His approach to qualifying and racing has already improved enormously. When youve been in Formula One for ten years and won one race and you suddenly find yourself in a completely new situation, thats not easy to deal with. He was not prepared and has not experienced it before. But you could say that the same goes for Sebastian (Vettel). He also had some odd races. But my guess is that you have to put it down to the fact that these guys had never fought for the championship before. It definitely has an effect.
Q: You and (Brawn GP CEO) Nick Fry gambled when you took over the team. Were there sleepless nights?
RB: I am very lucky that actually I rarely suffer from sleepless nights whilst worrying about work or racing. There were possibly a few times over the winter, but Im not a person who looks back. Once a decision has been made, lets get on with it. So once we made the decision to do this, then we were fully committed. The good thing was that we were never going to be in a worse position than we were with Honda closing the team. So whatever came after that, even if it was only an extension of peoples careers for another year, then nothing had been lost. We always made sure we were in a position to stop racing, if we had to, in no worse condition than we were when Honda stopped. Our staff was protected. They would have got all the redundancy that would have come if Honda had closed, so there was no losing situation because it couldnt get any worse than closing the team. We had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. And weve been very fortunate and gained a lot.
Q: Neither of you were entrepreneurs, but as well as running the team youve also had to run a business. What was the most difficult part?
RB: From the technical and racing side its obviously made no difference. I quite enjoy running a tight budget. That brings a lot of discipline, so thats not a bad thing. Its true we are running on a much tighter budget than in the last ten years or so. I think the commercial side is the one that we have to continue to strengthen because that side will be crucial to succeed in the future. Sometimes the commercial or business elements are less controllable than engineering problems. Engineering problems are relatively logical, some of the business activities arent. That is probably the area where we still have to learn. But we are putting in place all the things that we need for the future, and our success is quite a big help and catalyst to open doors to find commercial solutions. Luckily now, if we go to a partner or a potential partner as a Brawn GP that has won both championships, it helps enormously.
Q: What lessons can other teams learn from Brawn GP?
RB: I would not want to lecture on what people should learn from us. What Ive seen is that we can be more economic in our costs without affecting the end results. It would be fair to say that we are a bit of a hybrid at the moment because the investments were made by Honda last year against the expenditure that has been made by Brawn GP this year. But we were able to produce a car, we were able to produce a competitive car, and weve produced it at probably half the budget that we had last year. Its true, there have been certain things that we havent been able to do because we havent had the budget but those things are not dramatic, and it demonstrates that Formula One could run very effectively with teams spending a lot less than they do now. And I think that all the resource restrictions that the teams have agreed to, when those are in place, nobody looking in from the outside will see the difference. What will be seen from the inside is a healthier Formula One racing, because the costs will be reduced considerably. And probably we are out to demonstrate that.
Q: The FIA has a new President in Jean Todt. You know him very well from your days together at Ferrari, what are you expectations?
RB: Jean takes a very strong team approach to whatever he does and he is the glue that holds the whole thing together. He does recognize in other people their talent, and he uses that talent to achieve the best results. What we are going to see with Jean is that he will probably not be very high profile as a person, but will be the conductor of an orchestra that will contain many people, and help it to move forward. Formula One has been through a fractious period over the last year or two and there was reason for that. The Formula One community is now looking forward to some stability and a quieter time. I have a lot of respect for him. He will do a great job. Max Mosley did a very good job but became controversial over the last two years. Jean will do the job perhaps in a less controversial way.
Q: How will the Brawn GP team look next year? Will it be Brawn-Mercedes?
RB: I could not possibly comment on that.
Q: If you had to judge this year against all the others youve spent in the sport, where would you place 2009?
RB: I sometimes say to my wife that we should enjoy those periods because they could be the best of our lives. I said that back in 2000, 2001, 2004. I have had some wonderful periods and you genuinely think that is as good as it gets. When I stopped racing at Ferrari I thought that it had been the pinnacle of my racing career, that it cant get any better than that. Amazingly I have to say it has and that was something I never expected and something I didnt plan. It evolved. My Ferrari time is unforgettable and sensational, but what we have achieved this year even surpasses that. It is definitely the highest achievement of my career.