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Exclusive Ross Brawn Q&A: Don’t rule Mercedes out yet 27 May 2010

Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes GP Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, 6 May 2010 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Race, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Sunday, 16 May 2010 (L to R): Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes GP Team Principal with Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Valencia, Spain, Wednesday 3 February 2010. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Chinese Grand Prix, Race, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 18 April 2010 Mercedes GP MGP W01 of Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 4, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 17 April 2010

Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn is the master of understatement. Always well tempered and never overexcited, he describes situations in a manner-of-fact fashion - and the return of Michael Schumacher is quite a situation: for the team, the team principal and the team mate. So are things quite as harmonious as they seem? We talked to Brawn about Schumacher, the absence of race wins, and the prospects for 2010 and beyond...

Q: Ross, the saying goes that if you get a car right after a change in regulations you will be at the top until the next change. With the Brawn car you were the best interpreter of the new rules last year, but this season it seems a bit difficult to get into gear. Why?
Ross Brawn:
This year is more of an evolution, true. When you look at our performance at the end of last season, we were competitive, but not necessarily the strongest team. The restructuring of the team, the events of the past six months, they brought a lot of stability - and that is coming through now. Maybe with the team that we had fighting for the championship last year, all the considerations that we had took the edge slightly off of what we need to do this year. We are determined firstly to make sure that we get this car back up to the right performance, and that we have a much stronger effort for next season.

Q: Lotus have already shifted focus to next season’s car, a policy that worked out well for you when Honda abandoned their 2008 machine early. Is that your train of thought now?
RB:
Well, the work has already started on next year’s car. It’s obviously balancing your resources on this year’s car against your resources on next year’s car - and there is a balance at the moment. But of course the balance changes depending on your circumstances. We are still putting maximum effort into this year’s programme as we want to win races and we want to see where this brings us.

Q: Is there a point where you will decide to abandon this car and concentrate fully on next year’s machine? How far off could that point be?
RB:
I am following the 2011 car programme now - and for sure will sure reach a point where there are decisions to be made on which side we focus on. Then we will make that decision based on where we are. I think by midseason you have to recognize if this is a championship year or whether you should focus on the next car, but that is a few races away yet.

Q: This weekend will see you introduce your full ‘F-duct’ - not a simple mechanical system as used by some other teams, but a luxurious ‘automatic’…
RB:
Well, this is a development for us and we following our own path on that technology. We had an elaboration in Shanghai, we had a further elaboration in Barcelona and we have (another) one here. It is just an ongoing process for us that just stopped in Monaco because it wasn’t of any benefit on that circuit. My guess is that what we will run here will not give us a huge leap forward - it’s just the accumulation of changes that need to be made. There are only a few things in Formula One that really allow you to make a massive step forward. What we will run here will help, but no doubt we have to keep working hard on lots of other things as well.

Q: The media would have us believe that the Mercedes GP car will more and more be built around Michael Schumacher’s requirements. Is that so?
RB:
No. I wish I knew what these requirements are! It is pure perception that the car is build around Michael. If you ask me I would not know what sort of car that would be. A car that responds properly, a car that has a good level of downforce, a car that has power will benefit both our drivers. There is no conscious development to create a car that suits Michael Schumacher, because I don’t know what that is. It’s hard to do something if you have no idea what it is.

Q: You are racing with two German drivers, a seven-time world champion and a young ace. Your competitors, McLaren, are racing with two British world champions. National media in both countries is eager to see a war between their two drivers. How difficult is it to keep the discipline between the drivers?
RB:
I have not noticed any difficulties beyond the norm. When you have two very competitive and quick drivers as we do - and McLaren have - it’s more about balancing the situation with the drivers. But the fact is that I am more conscious about that we haven’t won any races yet - conscious that we keep the right spirit in the team. Yes, after Monaco there were suggestions that there was some friction between Michael and Nico (Rosberg), but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are working well together and we do it in the right spirit. Sure, some media are dreaming of big headlines with frictions between Michael and Nico, but that would be dreaming up something.

Q: Six races down and still no one is quite sure whether Michael really can get back to his old self. You know better than anybody what he’s still capable of. There’s that old sports saying, ‘they never come back’. Does that apply to Michael?
RB:
I think the important thing is that, apart from Shanghai, Michael has improved at every race. It is very hard to judge were somebody is going to step back into something - especially Formula One because there is nothing as competitive as Formula One. This sport has the world’s best drivers by a large margin. You have seen drivers from other disciplines coming into F1 who have never been able to compete at all. So it is a massive challenge and Michael is enjoying it a great deal. I am really happy with Michael’s progress and his rate of progress is natural. He is fitting very well with the team and he is fitting very well with Nico. I think he’s got himself a really tough team mate. It would be easy for Michael to shine within the team with someone not nearly as quick as Nico - but Nico is very quick and consistent, so Michael has a tough reference point within the team. I think we are not exactly where we wanted to be and there are still things to come in the future - and if we get a better car both our drivers can win races.

Q: Michael popped out of retirement like a jack in the box. How satisfied is he with the season so far?
RB:
Neither of the drivers is satisfied with the results because we are not winning races. I think he is fine with the progress that he’s making because he knew that it would be a massive challenge. He’s enjoying it, he is enjoying the motivation that racing is giving him - and for sure the team is enjoying working with him.

Q: Nico on the other hand is developing amazingly well. While his gap to the leading Red Bull duo is 22 points, Michael is 56 points short. What do you make of that fact and will it have any consequences?
RB:
Not massive consequences. Nico has been strong from race one and it has taken Michael a few races to get back into Formula One. That helped Nico, and the loss of points in Monaco didn’t help Michael, so I don’t think that there is a massive significance in it. I think the last couple of races we probably haven’t achieved as good results as we should have with Nico, as he should be much closer to the lead of the championship. But with the number of points that you can score these days it is not such a big gap and I think if we get the car right both drivers could be a consideration for the world championship this year.

Q: Do you think you can ‘get it right’ for this weekend?
RB:
The tyres will be the major factor here. And there is one very difficult 180-degree corner - turn eight - that puts a lot of stress on the front tyres particularly. Last year in qualifying we didn’t look so strong, but our car came together very well and used the tyres very well (in the race) and we were extremely competitive. On Sunday it’s going to be a race of tyres, but I think it might be a track which could suit our car - but we need to see what the others have done in the last ten days. For sure, I would not bet on anything - I’m not a betting person!