Brawn, Fry and Haug on Mercedes bright future 26 Jan 2010
Although their 2010 car is still to make its debut, Mercedes launch event in Stuttgart on Monday was memorable. While the teams new drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher stole the show, it was the quiet confidence of Mercedes new management line-up that really shone through. Here team principal Ross Brawn, CEO Nick Fry and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice president Norbert Haug reveal their hopes for the season ahead
Q: Ross, can you say something about the challenges of designing this years car. There havent been so many regulation changes except for the refuelling ban?
Ross Brawn: Its true, the changes between 2008 and 2009 were much bigger than we've had this season from 2009 to 2010. The two major differences are the tyre sizes - the fronts are smaller and the rear construction has changed - and of course there is no refuelling. I think all the cars will be longer this year to accommodate the extra fuel. The aerodynamic regulations have largely stayed the same, so there are no major changes on the aero side - and it means the work we did during 2009 can carry through to 2010. But the major challenge was accommodating the fuel. The cars will have upwards of 165-175 kilos on board this year, so that was the main challenge to come to terms with.
Q: When did you start designing the new car?
RB: In the spring of 2009. Obviously we knew what the regulations were so we started to lay out the concept of the 2010 car. We had a group that was growing during the year, and we had the nice challenge of balancing a championship effort in 2009 against a new car. In fact, we made a tiny change in the programme of the 2010 car. We took one week out of the wind-tunnel programme of the 2010 car and gave it to the 2009 car to keep the challenge going for the championship. That was the only slight compromise we made. But as I said, the aero regulations carried over from 2009 to 2010, so unlike the beginning of last year where it was a really dramatic change, I was less concerned about that. We've been working on the car for nine months now. That should be good enough.
Q: What was the reason for not launching the new car in Stuttgart and waiting instead for Valencia?
RB: It's not ready! It's simply not ready. It is a very tight programme for everybody with the new car. We've only got four tests and we need to make the maximum amount of time prior to the first test. The performance of the car is the most important thing for all of us. So we have launched the team here, and you've seen the new colour scheme. And we will have the new car in Valencia in a week's time. But it is giving total priority to the performance of the car, and we wanted to give the team the maximum time to get the car ready for the first test. The car we have at the first test won't be the final definition of the car. We will have a major upgrade before Bahrain. That is something that perhaps will be common, but what we launch in Valencia will be the chassis and fundamentals for 2010, but with a new aerodynamic package in time for Bahrain.
Q: Who will have the honour of doing the roll-out?
RB: Nico will start with the car. What we want to try and do is give both drivers a drive on the first day. The first day is about checking the car, inspecting all the pieces, and there will be several strip downs of critical parts. So during that period we will swap drivers and we want both drivers to get a run in the car on the first day to give us their impressions. Nico will probably do the second day and Michael the third day. But it will be split on the first day.
Q: So far there has been mention of your third driver yet, despite rumours that Nick Heidfeld will get the job. Can you confirm that?
RB: We are working on that. Its not finalised yet. So it would be premature to say where we are. It has not been the greatest priority for us, to be honest, but we are working on it and there should be some news in the next week or so.
Q: Traditionally - maybe not last year- but usually you have had a number one driver. How will you deal with that this season given that your star driver is the man who for years has been your outright number one?
RB: I would dispute this title of the number one driver. The number one driver is the fastest one. Whoever is the fastest driver and winning the most races, you can argue is the number one driver. We will give maximum support to both drivers. Of course if a championship starts to develop, where one driver has a greater chance of winning the championship, or it becomes numerically possible only for that driver to win the championship, then there may be different priorities. It will be absolutely evenly split and I think we demonstrated this past season that we gave both Jenson (Button) and Rubens (Barrichello) absolutely equal support. That will be the case this year and it is there for both drivers to establish their positions, beat each other, compete with each other but do it in the correct fashion and in a constructive way. That will be the strength of the team to achieve that. We don't have a number one driver and we don't intend to have a number one driver.
Q: Did you explain to both your drivers how fair you are going to be?
RB: Yes. It is something that you always reinforce with the drivers. Of course I have a long-standing relationship with Michael, and I've spent some time with Nico and we cannot ignore that. Beyond that, there will be complete parity for the drivers in terms of equipment and support. Both drivers have had discussions about who will be the most suitable engineers, which worked out very nicely. Nico will have Jock Clear and Michael will have Andrew Shovlin. And both are very happy with that, as it suits their stages of their career and suits what they need to achieve. We've discussed it and been completely open
Q: Nick, you guys signed Nico Rosberg quite some time ago. What were the qualities that made you want to sign him?
Nick Fry: The story with Nico in fact probably goes back two years. We have had a lot of discussions about the possibility of him joining our team in its previous guises. This year was the first real opportunity. I think he has got great raw talent, but he is also a very intelligent guy to work with. He works very well with the engineers, and with the level of the experience he has had over the last three or four years in F1, makes him a prime asset now. He has that experience and I think he will work extremely well with Michael and use that as an aid to his own learning. Driving alongside a seven-time champion is not only a challenge, but also a huge opportunity for him to learn for the future. I think because he is a very young, smart guy, he will take that opportunity in both hands and use it to improve his own skills for the future. For us, having an older driver with the huge experience that Michael has got and a guy who is much younger, who has got a lot of his career ahead of him, is the ideal position to be in.
Q: Ross, on Fleet Street we might call this an English/German war between Lewis Hamilton and Jenson versus Michael and Nico. How does it feel to be an Englishman in the midst of that, especially as you are on the German side?
RB: I haven't genuinely considered that aspect. Having worked for an Italian team for 10 years, I tend to look beyond those things. It is a British-based team. There will be very close co-operation with the engine group, which is also British based. And also a lot of co-operation with Mercedes R&D to see how we can benefit from the partnerships with technology that is contained within Mercedes-Benz. I am sure there will be elements of the press who will like to accentuate that element, but as a team we don't think about that.
NF: It is worth emphasising, this is by dint of circumstance, not by design. We have been talking to Nico for a substantial period of time. And although the things came together very well as a happy coincidence, it was in fact a coincidence. Nico was signed before the arrangement with Mercedes-Benz. They were not connected with each other. If we had stayed as Brawn, Nico would have joined Brawn - and that was pre-agreed. Obviously the opportunity that came along with Michael was a huge one, which we grasped when the opportunity was right. And if we were to end up with another German driver it will be because he is the best available in that position, so it is not something that any of us went out to achieve, but we have ended up with what will be a very strong line-up.
Q: Ross, you said in a previous interview that you believed Michael Schumacher could be champion this year. What makes you think that he can be the same man that he was during his heydays with Ferrari?
RB: Well, thank you for reminding me of my earlier comments, but they came in the context of someone asking me to compare the four competing world champions and which one had the best chance. Among the competing world champions, I am naturally going to support Michael. But talking about Michael, I believe that raw talent doesn't disappear. What normally happens with drivers is they lose the physical ability to compete. F1 is a very physical sport, so they lose the physical capacity and they lose the determination that you need to compete at every race, every minute of the day, and every lap of the circuit. What I saw with Michael was that he had been refreshed by his break - and I've had that experience myself of having a sabbatical. I know that reminds you of the good things, the things you miss and he is refreshed from his break. And I think you have seen today he is looking incredibly quick and he is looking far younger than his 41 years. So I don't think the physical side is a problem. He has shown amazing determination and commitment already. He has been to the factory on many days, working with the engineers, and I don't think the talent disappears. If the talent eases off a little bit, you have the huge experience that he has to compensate. So I think put all those elements together. He has a tremendous work ethic, and he would not do this unless he was convinced that he can do the job. I am convinced he can do the job. And, I've seen already an amazing commitment and it reminded me of the old Michael Schumacher.
Q: In 1998 in Hungary you were able to call on Michael to produce 19 consecutive qualifying laps to achieve what he wanted to achieve. He was in his 20s then, now he's in his 40s. Do you seriously think you could expect the same kind of thing from him in similar circumstances?
RB: I think so, yes. I think there's lots of analysis that show the peak of your physical condition is in your 30s. It depends on the sport and Michael is achieving the parameters he was achieving when he was younger, in terms of his training, endurance, stamina and strength. He's already reaching the parameters he was achieving many years ago, so I don't see any problem at all. He's an exceptional athlete! You must remember that. And because of the attributes you need to race a car, it's not like he's a runner or any other type of sportsman. There's nothing in a car that wears out parts of your body. It's just down to your stamina and strength, so I fully expect Michael to be able to cope with any demands I make of him.
Q: Norbert, when did Michael say to you that he would race?
Norbert Haug: He said it to Ross. It is very important in a team that we split what we are doing, so in that case Ross was responsible for contacting Michael. The idea was quite an old one, I have to admit. We always have had it in our mind, but to get it done was a different story. Ross was in contact with Michael and I think it was after the end of the season when a basic yes was there.
Q: Ross, is there a fear that maybe Michael would say that he is as good as he ever was, driven by the urge to race again, without knowing if he is really as good as he was?
RB: Well, yes, it's true that none of us will know until he starts competing again at what level he will be. But if you look at it the other way around, why shouldn't he be at the level he was at? In the latter part of 2006 he had some of his strongest races, so there's no reason not to believe. Every driver, when they finish a season and they go into the next season, they start again with the belief that they are going to perform, and we have absolute belief that Michael is going to perform. I don't know if it will take a race or two to get to the level he will want to achieve. I personally don't think so. I think Michael will perform at a very high level straight away. There is no reason not to believe.
Q: Norbert, can you explain how Mercedes Benzs contribution will change the team now that you own the team instead of being a partner?
NH: First of all I have to stress we've had a lot of discussion about that. As a team we have worked very well together for 15 years and with McLaren we have been quite successful. And maybe let me take this opportunity to say thank you to them. Not a lot of the way we are co-operating will change. We are responsible for the engine, and I think we have a great team, a great partner. Of course, together with Aabar, we have the majority but as you can see, the management remains in place. Of course we will do some developments that are typical for marketing and media issues.
Our plan in the middle term is to melt the two companies close together, the High Performance Engines and the Mercedes GP team in Brackley. They are just 40 miles apart from each other. This is the same area, and I'm sure we can create efficiencies. Our target is to save even more money in the future, and some functions of both companies will be brought together to avoid redundancies. So there will be an efficiency programme. We have a very good base...and the cooperation will be a very good one. I think we've had very intensive months behind us. Since November I think we accelerated in a very good way and in a very good direction, but of course there's much more to come. You can see the commitment from our house. You can see that the street cars are very much focused on Formula Green and we want to promote these products via motorsport - especially in the emerging markets who are passionate about F1. And so we think it's a great tool. We will save a lot of money compared to what we have had five years ago, so all is going in the right direction, unless we should not be competitive. Then it's a different story. We want to compete for very good results on a regular basis. But this will be a tough championship, probably tougher than even before, but our set-up should be light and I'm quite positive about the future.
Q: Mercedes has been hugely successful in Formula One racing through the decades. To come back with your own team now - especially in the current climate - is there pressure to be successful immediately?
NH: I have to stress that in the last 12 years we have been, as a partner in Formula One and a 40 percent shareholder of McLaren, successful. The Ferrari guys have been more successful, but no one else has more victories, 60 victories in 223 races. It shows you are among the best ones. There was some dominance in the 1930s and the 1950s, but that's probably no longer (possible) to achieve. If you have a season like last year it's difficult to imagine that you are dominant over the course of a whole season. This is not a gamble. It's sheer work, at the end of the day. You just need to do a better job than the opposition, and it's a tough and stiff opposition, but this is our aim. We want to promote our products and if you get a segment of an S-class this car just has to be the best one in the field. We are achieving that, and we try in F1, which is probably an even bigger task. All in all, I think we have been among the most successful ones and we most definitely want to continue in that direction. If that does not happen from the outset we will achieve it sooner or later - because we are going to go flat out. We will do whatever it takes and work harder.
Q: Ross, before deciding to move elsewhere, Jenson said he was looking forward to the season and that he was involved in the development of your new car. Does he take with him any key ideas? Is that a concern to you?
RB: No. I think where a driver can help you is in helping identify the weaknesses of the car you have, and where you need to focus your attention. So Jenson was able to contribute in the objectives for the new car, but not in the solutions that we have to achieve those objectives. So there's no concern.
Q: Who do you think will be your main competitors this year and have you had a chance to learn about their state of development?
RB: I think historically the teams with the strongest performance, Ferrari, McLaren, and now Red Bull has joined that group. There's all sort of reasons for that, the quality of the people they have, the resources they have, so these will be the obvious candidates, and there's always a possibility that there will be a resurgence from teams such as Renault or Williams because they are good teams. But we have no idea where our competitors are. We will have a little insight at the beginning of the testing, but we will have a major update before Bahrain, and I'm sure all the teams will, because it's five weeks before the first race. That's a long enough period to revise the cars. That will be the first snapshot of where our competitors are. This period between the end of the season and the start of testing is always done in a bit of a vacuum. You develop your own car, you progress the project you are working on, but you have little idea how much progress the opposition are making. We are pleased with where we are with the car and particularly pleased with where we will be in Bahrain. Whether it's enough, we don't know. If it's not enough, we'll work doubly hard to get back to where we want to be.
Q: Is there any issue about Michael taking away the number three from Nicos car?
RB: No. It was a non-issue. Despite being a seven-time world champion Michael has a slight superstition about odd numbers, although I'm sure he won't be worried about that if number eight comes along. It was just a simple request and there was no reason to not give him what he wanted, because it made no difference to Nico. I think for both drivers the important number is number one, that's what they both want.