Exclusive Q&A - Ross Brawn on Hamilton, Schumacher & Lauda 26 Oct 2012
It was a huge sensation when Michael Schumacher announced he was coming out of retirement to join the newly-formed Mercedes team. It was far less of a surprise when he confirmed that he will walk away from Formula One racing at the end of 2012 - unfortunately without the success he and team principal Ross Brawn had anticipated. But Brawn is sure that Schumachers contribution to the team will pay off in the end and that the driving force of the seven-time champion will one day be seen as a key factor in Mercedes success - with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the benefactors
Q: Ross, Michael out, Lewis in - what will that mean?
Ross Brawn: It will mean two great drivers in the team. We will have the continuity of having great drivers in the team. Sure, there will be differences in their approach - and we will learn how different. It will be a new driver who we will be working with, but I am also excited that Lewis is replacing Michael, as I cannot imagine anybody better for a replacement.
Q: Michael was the senior driver in the team - in both age and experience - but now you will have two drivers of similar age who were arch rivals long before they even reached the Formula One grid. What impact will that long-term rivalry have on team harmony?
RB: Look, Nico and Michael got along very well in the last three years and yes, now we will have two drivers of the same age group
Q: with same ambitions to win titles
RB: Ha, there is never a shortage of ambition in Michael. Never underestimate Michaels ambitions. There was never a shortage of that, but yes, there will be a different chemistry inevitably. But we need to maintain the good working relationship that Nico and Michael have enjoyed and make sure that it continues with Lewis. And I am sure it will as Lewis has demonstrated that he can work with other team members, so we are looking forward to that.
Q: Whose choice was Lewis?
RB: Well, we knew that Michaels contract was coming up for disunion at the end of this year - and knowing that you start to look around at what the situation is. Lewiss contract was coming up as well at the end of the year, so we had some interest from Lewiss management last Christmas and it really went from there. Everybody who was involved was able to contribute to convincing Lewis that Mercedes is the team to join - and we all worked on it. A driver as professional as Lewis looks at all the aspects: what the engineering team is like, what the budget is like, what potential there is for the future, as 2014 will be a massive change - and we believe that we are very well placed for 2014. I have spent time with Lewis, Bob Bell from our engine group spent time with Lewis - so we all spent time with him to convince him to make the right move. Nick Fry had quite an involvement with Lewiss management to help find a solution there - so it was pretty much a team effort. I dont want to say that I had the idea because it evolved - and I am delighted with the result.
Q: There was the impression that had Michael committed earlier, Mercedes would have kept him. Is that so?
RB: I think there were periods when Lewis was
Q: out of the picture?
RB: I wouldnt say out of the picture, but these things go up and down. Michael was always very open, very straightforward. He wasnt sure what he wanted to do and I kept always him fully informed of what was happening - and eventually the whole matter got Michaels blessing. (laughs)
Q: So it wasnt a case of time overtaking Michael - that he still wanted to keep it open, but the team had to make a decision before Lewis signed again with McLaren
RB: Let me say this: Michael is a driver who gets very deeply involved with a team. He is not the kind of driver who just turns up on a race weekend, drives the car and goes away again. He was aware of what was happening and as I just said, the Lewis matter evolved. There was not one day where we said this is what we are going to do. Such a decision - like all big decisions - develops.
Q: What would you say was so tempting for Lewis? Money was supposedly not an issue...
RB: I hope he can see the potential of the team - he can see what we are trying to build here. If you look at Lewiss case at McLaren, he was going through an experience where they built him - where they contributed towards building an excellent racing driver. And now - probably turning that around - Lewis wants to contribute to creating a very strong Formula One team. If you look at the track record of McLaren it is difficult to contribute an awful lot to such an organization, as it is almost as good as it wants to be. So I think that factor was attractive to Lewis. And he has only driven for one team in Formula One - there is a huge attraction to try another team, to see how you get on, how you develop your relationships, how you develop your experiences. He knows things only done in one way and I recall when I went from Benetton to Ferrari I actually felt that wed been very good - even though the team hadnt been so successful at that stage. I found things that were very good - and I also found things that I could actually influence and make better. I think that is what Lewis will find when he joins. I hope that he finds many things that are very good - and identify the areas where we are not strong enough and improve them.
Q: Wasnt it also tempting for him to go with a global company to exploit that fact for his personal career?
RB: It is possible. But I very much got the impression that was a secondary thought or consideration. If we hadnt satisfied the first level of requirements, then we wouldnt have had any discussions about the second level. (laughs)
Q: What will new board member Niki Lauda add to the team? What is the reporting hierarchy and what shortcomings in the team prompted you to add him?
RB: The running of the team - and the responsibility - is mine. I think that remains clear. That is my responsibility. Niki has a lot of racing experience and so I think he can help keeping the board informed of how the program is going. We havent hit our targets and so of course there are questions asked as to why we are not hitting them. I try to keep the board informed, but I am not spending every day of my week doing so because I have to get on with making the team work. So Niki is going to help keeping the team informed and advised. Hes probably picking up all the issues like commercial rights negotiations and so on where he can play a role. And he is using his knowledge and experience to challenge some of the things I am doing, which is a valid function. It is very often helpful to have someone who is asking you to justify the reasons you are doing something - to make sure that youve thought through what you are doing. The existing board and Chairman have been very supportive of what we are doing, but with adding Nikis racing experience he can ask some different questions. Thats why he has joined.
Q: When was this decision made? Few in the paddock imagined that Niki would get so deeply involved in a team again after his Jaguar experiences
RB: You probably have to consider the depth of involvement. Niki is a non-executive director or chairman of the board and has certain responsibilities. But it is not a day-to-day job spending every day at the factory. Hes talking to me once or twice a week, coming to see us once after every race. I am sure that it occupies Nikis thoughts fulltime, but it is not a full-time job showing up at the office every day at 8:30 like I do. When did that all happen? He got involved during the year in our negotiations with the commercial rights holder. We all know that Bernie [Ecclestone] is a tough negotiator and Niki was able to help us. That is really where it started. Then Niki started to become more involved, as he knows some of the board members very well, and it evolved from there.
Q: Four races to go, so its almost time to reflect on 2012. Is that painful?
RB: The second half has been painful. The frustration was that we had a very promising first half - some very good results. We lacked a bit of reliability in the first half that cost us quite some points, but the performance in the second half has been disappointing. But the good news is that we understand some of the reasons for it. We have made some changes in the organization and if you take people out, those who step in need some time to settle in. That was the case with our aerodynamics group. True, weve gone a little bit flat in the second half of the season. This is a dangerous situation in a season that is so close - where sometimes one-tenth can make all the difference. We have to make sure that this is not happening again in 2013.
Q: Its also time to reflect on almost three years of Mercedes GP and the comeback kid Schumacher. What was the goal - and how much of that goal was achieved?
RB: Well, I hope that if we do achieve our ambitions, that people will reflect on the contributions that Michael has made to it. He has contributed an awful lot. Wherever we go from here Michael will always be a factor in what we have achieved. His work with the engineers and in the factory all helped to shape the team.
Q: 2013 is a transition year, but 2014 will see new opportunities with the major regulation changes meaning that everybody will start from scratch. Are you already working on the 2014 car?
RB: Yes, a little bit. But we still have some months to go on the 2013 car - that goes until February or March - and from that point on we are going to have two programs: the 2013 and the 2014 program.
Q: And pull something sensational out of the hat like in 2009?
RB: Who knows? (laughs) We have to get there first!
Q: And three reasons why it will be better in 2013 and beyond
RB: The technical structure will show its value. The team have had a taste of success at the beginning of this year and they want more of it. And, most important, the huge commitment of our company and the board.
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