Exclusive Ross Brawn Q&A - Mercedes still targeting P3 23 Jun 2011
You have to be a sly old fox not to panic. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is exactly that - quiet, calm and composed - but he is far from satisfied. His time with Benetton, Ferrari and Honda taught him that you have to sit out the storm - and its a lesson that is serving him well now. He has always found a way to end a run of bad luck in the past, each time emerging to shine even brighter than before. Surely its only a matter of time before it happens again...
Q: Ross, Monaco a disaster, then Montreal a glimmer of hope. Was that so?
Ross Brawn: Yes, this is a pretty fair summary. We had quite some optimism in Monaco and qualifying wasnt bad. We knew that we had some issues with the rear tyres and planned to improve that on Saturday morning when unfortunately Nico (Rosberg) had his accident and we lost what turned out to be a crucial bit of information. Sure that would go for everybody, but weve been in a somewhat delicate position - and we didnt get it right. We didnt get the set-up right and not the priorities in terms of what we needed from the car. We tipped over the edge with the rear tyres and they grained very badly - and that really destroyed our race, because that meant that we were in the back very early on due to our sequence with the pit stops. So indeed it was a very poor race for us. Wed been fairly optimistic, but it wasnt meant to be. In Montreal we paid more attention to this issue with the same tyres. We were conscious that we had to pay attention to the aspects of the problems we had in Monaco, and we indeed did a better job in Montreal. It is still not were we want to be but I think in Montreal we got the most out of the car - and we had some exciting times with Michael (Schumacher)! It was very nice to see that everybody enjoyed seeing Michael fighting at the front again. Of course thats and reminded everyone how much fun Formula One can be.
Q: You have been given plenty of advice lately to abandon the 2011 season. You dont appear to be a person to abandon anything, least of all a Formula One season, so what are you going to do with 2011?
RB: I really dont know where all this talk came from. Naturally we are working on next years car - but so is everybody. And in our case it is not one hundred percent next year and zero percent this year because the rules dont change that dramatically next year, so what you learn this year is also relevant for next year. We are in fact working very hard on this years car and over the next few races there will be some new things that we want to try that will be relevant for this year and next year. So no way have we stopped with this years car because if you are doing a new car it doesnt mean that it is a faster car. And when we do the new car we will introduce the improvements that we find now into next years car.
Q: The championship train has left, so what are you aiming at? What expectations have those in Stuttgart settled on?
RB: My commitment to Dr Zetsche and the board was that we will improve each year - and weve got to achieve that. We were fourth last year in the constructors championship so anything better than fourth is an improvement. Staying fourth would be a disappointment - and less than fourth very disappointing - so we intend not to let that happen. Ferrari is 50 points ahead, but there are still a lot of points in the season, so who knows? It is fair to say that Red Bull is looking very impressive this year and McLaren is doing very well, but then we are only seven races into the season and it is still a long way to go. We sure arent going to give up.
Q: When looking at you, Michael, Norbert (Haug) or Nick (Fry), none of you seems overly worried, but Nico occasionally does. Is this the wisdom of age that lets you stay so calm, the benefit of knowing that life is cyclical?
RB: That is indeed a good description. Formula One is cyclical and we have all been through those cycles many times. You have confidence in your team and the people around you to come out of this cycle. Nico hasnt gone through as many cycles as I have, that is for sure, as I have been in this position many times and the only way I know to get out of it is to work intelligently and work hard - then you do change the situation. If you give up you wont change it - and we wont give up. We are not relaxed, and if we look calm it is partly because we have plans, we have things we are doing. We are getting all the support that we need from the board in building this team. We have some important news that arrived, and so I am very optimistic for the future. My serenity is just my optimism for the future. But again, we are certainly not happy where we are today.
Q: What are you doing to calm Nico? He must have the impression that his career is not going in the right direction
RB: Well, I guess I am asking for his faith - and asking him what he sees. We try to keep him well informed of the conclusions of where we are and what we are doing to improve it. I am sure it is a frustration for him. He is a very good and fast driver. He has some hundred odd race starts without a win - and he is definitely a driver good enough to win races - so the situation must of course be very frustrating for him. So it is up to us to prove to him that we know what we are doing - and we are getting there. Nicos future is being discussed intensely at the moment, but if you move around you can jump into the wrong boat at the wrong time, and even past record doesnt demonstrate whats going to happen in the next few years. We have faith in him and I hope he has faith in us - thats the basis we have to work on. Before he came to us hed been with Williams and we are a step ahead of where he had been, or where he would have been, but for sure we are not where we all want to be. I hope he stays in our boat because our boat is getting there!
Q: You said recently that Michael is probably better than before his retirement. That casts a certain light on his competition back then - but also on the car he has now
RB: Yes, that is the case. I think Michael is doing a very good job - particularly in racing. He is really exciting in racing. Obviously at the moment his racing is taking place away from the front so it doesnt get noticed so much - and suddenly when he is fighting at the front he gets noticed. There have been a number of races where he had really good and strong racing. He is always very impressive in the first few laps. I think he has one of the best records of drivers who gained positions at the start of the race. We see that because we study it. So as the car gets better that kind of racing will move further and further up the grid - and I hope we will see the sharp end.
Q: If you could throw away the worst part of the 2011 car, what would that be?
RB: That is a big question! We get no testing so you have to learn from what youve done. There are probably some things that we did with the tyres and with the exhaust - that now have evolved - that were not optimized. The wheel base perhaps, the fuel weight, the fuel distribution - things like that, that if we were starting tomorrow we would do differently. They are not the whole picture of why we are not better off, but they are contributing. But these are naturally things that we will change for next year with the knowledge that we have. There is nothing dramatically wrong - it is a strong evolution that is needed and not a revolution.
Q: There will be a regulation change in the use of exhaust blown diffusers from Silverstone. How will that affect you?
RB: That whole matter still has to be revealed. We know what we are doing with the Mercedes engine, but we dont know what Renault or Ferrari is doing so it is impossible to judge how much these things will affect. It will change the mapping we have to use because we have been developing the engine mapping towards the diffuser - as everybody has. Whether it will affect us more or less with our engine or our floor design will become clear in the next few races. I dont think that it will be a big difference here (Valencia) - maybe a little bit because we cant use some of the qualifying modes - but the big difference will come at Silverstone. To be honest, weve new floors coming over the next few races which are focused on this technology and we have got to understand how much of it we still can now neutralize and how much we can still benefit from. Weve got to assess in the next few races what the best direction is, because the direction might change with the interpretation of the regulation. It is not a new regulation; its simply an interpretation of an existing regulation.
Q: The way you say it, its as though youd like to ask for at least one days testing
RB: Wed like to, but we cant - so we have to manage!
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