Exclusive interview - Brawn GPs Ross Brawn 21 May 2009
Winning four out of five races and leading the championship by 29.5 points is bound to bring with it a certain lightness of being. It would definitely appear to be the case with Ross Brawn, team principal of Brawn GP. Their success has prompted envy and even hostility from some of his peers, but this is of little concern to Brawn, who learnt to live with such things long ago. His focus is on winning the next race - and on his (and other) teams Formula One future
Q: Ross, you must feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, as Formula One racing at the moment is a world full of paradoxes: some of the least successful teams of last year lead the championship this season. How is life in that fairytale world?
Ross Brawn: Yes, it is a little bit surreal on one hand, but on the other hand it was all part of a plan that we had. Well, not necessarily a plan to be exactly where we are, but a plan to improve the team enormously. And that plan was to sacrifice 2008 and focus totally on 2009, because the new regulations gave an enormous opportunity. These new regulations gave an opportunity to teams which perhaps were behind with the old regulations. Our idea was: lets forget about the outdated regulations and lets get on with the new ones and concentrate on the car for 2009. The established teams didnt have that luxury - they had to try to win the championship. And you can see that it hurt them at the beginning of the year. They are starting to come back now, but it was somewhat of a difficult compromise for them: do they sacrifice the 2008 championship for a strong 2009 or vice versa? I think it is one of those situations that arise every five to ten years when the regulations change. Any work that they did in 2008 was not usable in 2009 - it was wasted. We had a plan to make that step change that we needed to go forward and make the team more competitive, and in combination with one or two teams having problems we find ourselves where we are. And we are very delighted.
Q: What is the prevailing feeling: surprise, satisfaction or thankfulness?
RB: All of those! Obviously some surprise of the position of some of our competitors. I dont want to say that in an arrogant way, but it is no surprise how our car is performing, because it is performing where we had expected it to be. But it has galvanized the team enormously in what also was a very difficult period for the team - and the two have gone hand in hand. What I am really, really happy about is that although we had that very difficult time the team is united in a way that perhaps it wasnt before. The difficult circumstances had bonded everything together. I am delighted, of course, with how things are going. Now we try to keep it going as long as we can.
Q: Had you ever guessed in your wildest dreams that a Formula One team would one day bear your name?
RB: No, that was never my ambition, quite frankly, and it really came about as a necessity because weve tried to come up with different names for the team but none of them made much sense. And it was Caroline, our legal secretary, who said why dont we take your name? You are established. It will have a certain standing in Formula One - and we didnt have a better idea! Thats how we arrived!
Q: If Jenson goes on winning with Rubens in tow both championship titles could be decided by the time of the summer break. Is that your aim?
RB: It would be fantastic, but I dont think that will happen. Formula One is very competitive and very tough - and we are not thinking about the championships. We are attacking every single race as it comes - and in attacking every race if we do well the championships will start to evolve. But you cant set out your plan to win the championship by a certain date. Whether it happens or not fate takes a bit of a hand. But sure there is no reason why we shouldnt be competitive for the rest of the year. And we dont talk about it - it means bad luck.
Q: For the first time in his career Jenson can consistently show his true colours. Have you always known that potential was under the surface?
RB: I always rated Jenson as an excellent driver, as a top class driver, but I have never worked with him and last year we did not have the equipment, so I still wasnt really able to judge that final strength that a very successful racing driver has. The people in the team told me that he had it. People in the team said you havent seen Jenson at his best - because the equipment we had in 2008 was not very good - so be patient. And if you remember we agreed to keep Jenson in the summer of 2008 and a lot of that was based on the expectations that he would do well with the right equipment. And hes doing a fantastic job! I couldnt ask for anything more in terms of his performance and the guys who said be patient, wait and see, were absolutely right because what he is doing is exceptional.
Q: You were criticized for keeping Rubens and not signing Bruno Senna, but the results prove you right
RB: Bruno was a very exciting prospect and I like him a lot. He has a good attitude and approach. The difficulty was that the team couldnt take any risks, unfortunately. We have a very low budget for this year, we cant afford to have too many parts damaged and we have no testing due to the regulations. Bruno unfortunately was a too high risk for the team in that situation. And I know Rubens very well. He is a great driver but he is very good for the team as well. Hes a very important part of the team. So regrettably for Bruno we made the decision to stay with Rubens and I am a hundred percent sure that was the right decision. But I think that Bruno has something to offer to teams in the future. I dont know if here or at another team, but I do see him in Formula One.
Q: The success of Brawn GP has caused its fair share of controversies. In fact at times there has been quite some hostility towards the team. How did you live through that?
RB: Ive been in Formula One for a very long time. The approach I like to take is that what happens out on the race track and what happens in competition is different to what should happen between team owners and team principals. Some of my colleagues dont seem to be able to make that separation because for me we should go out on the race track and we should try and beat each other with every bit of strength that we can - but when that is finished we should sit down and have a beer together and laugh about what happened. But you need to separate those things. You fight on the track but then you sit down and try to improve Formula One, to improve the show, to improve so many things. I find it very frustrating that some teams find that a difficult concept. They love you on the track when youre not competition, but as soon as you become competition they dont love you anymore, but that affects your relationship - and it shouldnt do. But I gave up worrying about it - I gave it up many years ago.
Q: Will Brawn GP submit their entry for 2010 within the period stipulated by the FIA?
RB: There are a lot of discussions going on at the moment. We want to find the best solution. I dont want to comment on that particular point yet, because of the discussions going on. My dream - as we talked about dreams - is that we find a solution so that all the teams in Formula One can go forward - with some new teams joining - and we control the costs of Formula One and make a team like Brawn GP viable in the long run. We have to get costs down as low as possible to make that viable, and we have to find solutions so that it is still attractive for the big teams.
Q: What is your stance on the FIA budget cap proposal? Brawn GP is already a team in the process of slimming down
RB: We as a team always supported the idea of the budget cap, but what we dont want is a budget cap that forces other teams to leave Formula One. Is there another solution to the budget cap that can achieve the same objectives and be acceptable to teams like Ferrari, Toyota and so on? If we can find such a solution then we get the best of both, so we are not fixed on the budget cap being the only solution. We proposed a budget cap already last year but having a budget cap that forces other teams to rethink their commitment to Formula One would be a great shame. I hope we can avoid that.