Ross Brawn Q&A: Mercedes have learnt from Melbourne errors 22 Mar 2012
Mercedes looked strong in Melbourne qualifying - one of their best Saturday showings in fact. But thanks to issues they had not seen coming from their practice data, Sundays raced proved a point-less anti-climax for Ross Brawns team. Of course, since forewarned is forearmed, Brawn is confident they wont make the same mistakes at Sepang this weekend and firmly believes they can be a top-three team by the time the paddock arrives in Europe, as he explained exclusively to Formula1.com
Q: Ross, Melbourne last year was a hard landing. How much softer was it last weekend?
Ross Brawn: It was a little bit softer - thats a good description - but not soft enough! We have a lot to think about after the Melbourne race, but we were encouraged by a number of things with the car and we now have to start to use it and make sure they work properly.
Q: At the start you were in a pretty good position. A little under two hours later everything had gone up in smoke. Can you tell us what happened to both your drivers?
RB: Well, we had a gearbox problem with Michael (Schumacher), which was a bit unusual. Our reliability record - touchwood - is pretty good so this was a bit unusual. And Nico (Rosberg) found it very difficult to maintain the pace on the tyres, the rear tyres in particular, and I think we may have not optimized the set-up of the car well enough to get the best of the tyres. So, as I just said, weve learned quite a lot from that weekend.
Q: Tyres seem to be an issue for you. What must be changed to avoid that high level of degradation?
RB: Actually there are many things that you can do. This starts with the way you set up the car. You can look at the way the tyres are working, and all those things that we know about, but I think where we got caught out is that during the Friday and Saturday running we didnt see any signs of the issue. It really appeared in such a variety in the race on Sunday. That is mainly what we have to learn because the approach that we took on Friday and Saturday didnt reveal the issue strongly enough. In fairness, we didnt do a great job over the weekend and other teams did a better job, so I dont think there is anything wrong with the tyres because racing is a lot of how you use the tyres and find a way of using them more effectively.
Q: Is a Mercedes V8 the must-have engine this season? Cars powered by Mercedes engines were in front in all three practice sessions, in qualifying and in the race. Is this something that could give you a bit of a break?
RB: I hope so! (laughs) A racing car is a combination of many things and the engine is a really important factor in this game. We have a strong engine, we have an efficient engine and from the overall performance of our car the engine is not a concern. The engine package is very strong and I am very happy with it.
Q: From what you have seen in Melbourne, what conclusions do you bring to Malaysia about the pecking order on the grid?
RB: That it is all a lot closer. Look at the qualifying in Melbourne: the top ten were all within one second, whereas the gap last year was two seconds. The order has closed up a lot, which means that teams get it absolutely right on the day which could result in a spread of teams that could do particularly well over a weekend. So I dont think that there is a strong pecking order established yet. Teams like McLaren or Red Bull are strong and they do a good job, so they are always going to be there, but I think there are lots of opportunities for the rest of us to start to make an impression. (laughs)
Q: When you say it is so close, it must therefore be harder to find that one little thing that makes a difference
RB: Yes, it can be. The slope has become flatter. But I am still optimistic.
Q: What was the bigger surprise for you: that you are so competitive, or the fact that Red Bull are actually beatable?
RB: Well, no team is invincible forever - as I found in my own experience. So you always have to believe that whoever is winning can be beaten - and you can try to be the team to beat them. So it wasnt a total surprise. But dont get me wrong: I dont think that Red Bull is finished. They are still a strong team and Im sure they will win races this year. But my guess is that we will see a much more entertaining championship - and that should please all our fans.
Q: The never-ending exhaust story is also here to stay this season. What is your point of view?
RB: Well, inevitably after all that fuss we had last season weve tried to arrive at a set of regulations to neutralize as far as we could the effect of the exhaust. The argument last year was that the engine was used as a moveable aerodynamic devise because the exhaust gas was being used in a certain way to enhance the aerodynamics. That caused all the fuss around Silverstone time and we agreed then to find a way of neutralizing that effect and we found a fair way. I think the exhaust systems that are out there at the moment are not so significant by any means as last year, but they are still there. Those of us without these exhaust systems will be looking closely at these concepts within the next month or two - and the teams will all work collectively towards a better set of regulations for next year to eliminate them.
Q: Do you see any disadvantage for you with the situation as it is now?
RB: Not a huge one. True, little things can mean a lot in Formula One, but the amount of effort that would go into such an exhaust system we could better use somewhere else. That was not the issue we had in Melbourne, for sure. We could have had a much better result with a different optimization of the car. These first four flyaway races, we basically have the car we have now. There is a test in Mugello coming up when we start in Europe and I think this will be the test where we are going to do anything - and we chose to do it then.
Q: How satisfying has it been to get reassurance of what youve always said - that if you can give Michael a competitive car he is right up there again, even if it didnt work out that well in Melbourne?
RB: Melbourne didnt give me anything specific because I always knew that we would be right there with a competitive car. I always believe that this will be the case, so he demonstrated what we all believed. And should Melbourne have been an eye-opener for many in the paddock? I hope so.
Q: Any bets on this Sunday?
RB: Rain could be a factor.
Q: Would that be to your advantage?
RB: Not necessarily. I mean obviously the issue of tyre degradation will be quite different if we have wet conditions, so that could be one factor. If I look back to Melbourne and the things we did in Melbourne, we understand what we did and we now understand why we didnt make the most of the car. So my expectations for Sunday are that we will make much better use of the car in the race.
Q: The next three races - Malaysia, China and Bahrain - are all on normal tracks. Does that mean that when we head to Europe after them we will know the true colours of every team?
RB: I think so, yes. But then Barcelona is usually the race where teams bring their first big upgrades, so that might then diffuse that picture a bit. But these next three races will definitely give us a strong impression of who will be hot and who not for the rest of the year.
Q: Where in the picture do you see Mercedes?
RB: I want to be in the top three. That is our ambition and that is where we have to move to from where we are now. That is our objective and that is our ambition. I think we have the pieces in place to do that, but we have to put them all together properly and make sure that we get the maximum in results. I am far more optimistic than I was 12 months ago.
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