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Exclusive Q&A with Mercedes' Ross Brawn 22 Aug 2013

Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd11, Belgian Grand Prix, Preparations, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, Thursday, 22 August 2013 Race winner Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal celebrates on the podium with the Constructors trophy.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race Day, Hungaroring, Hungary. Sunday, 28 July 2013 Pole sitter Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates with team mate Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, 11 May 2013 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 10 May 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 10 May 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Canadian Grand Prix, Practice, Montreal, Canada, Friday, 7 June 2013 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Qualifying, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 6 July 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd5, Spanish Grand Prix, Practice, Barcelona, Spain, Friday, 10 May 2013 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W04.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 19 April 2013 Ross Brawn (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, German Grand Prix, Practice, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 5 July 2013

It may only be half done, but the 2013 season has already been among the most eventful of Ross Brawn’s long and successful Formula One career. Earlier in the year, news of Paddy Lowe’s imminent arrival prompted predictions that the Mercedes team principal was about to be shown the door. Then there was that controversial tyre test - and the young driver test ban that followed. But Brawn and Mercedes have come through it all together. More importantly they are winning races - and such is the upward trend in their performance that coming into the Spa weekend, many are now tipping them as the most serious threat to Red Bull’s title aspirations…

Q: Ross, Formula One racing is not only a fast sport, it’s also fast in writing off or hyping individuals. Earlier this year the media had you pegged as a man on the way out - now you are portrayed as more of a saviour. How is your grey matter coping with oscillating between these two extremes?
Ross Brawn:
To be honest I don’t pay too much attention. I’ve been in the sport for a very long time and have seen this phenomenon many times before. What really counts is performance on the track. That’s what you have to achieve. Performance is king. That’s what I focus on. The other stuff is impossible to control. You have to be open to criticism - and must not get carried away by compliments. You have to strike a normal balance…

Q: …but compliments are nicer…
RB:
…of course. (laughs) We are all only humans. But in a job like this you have to learn to live with both sides. The ‘hero to zero’ and vice versa is classic in our business.

Q: When looking back at your long career, when has that ‘hero to zero’ thing really touched you?
RB:
In the early days - before I established my career I was more sensitive to these issues. But the most important thing always was that it didn’t affect my family. And over the years my family also has learned to cope with these things - both ways. Shall I tell you a secret? When my family criticizes me, that’s what upsets me most.

Q: Probably because there is the most truth in it?
RB:
Yes, that’s probably true.

Q: Mercedes have had their fair share of upheaval lately - some would say as a result of having too many leaders. If it’s survival of the fittest, which of the leaders will still be here in 2014?
RB:
Ha, I probably think that we all will. Everybody is making their contribution. I’ve got to have the space that I need to operate in the way that I feel I have to operate. As long as I have that space I am happy - and carry on. We are all good at some things and less so at others - and by combining that we will be a stronger team.

Q: The summer break is a good time for reflection, especially when things are going in the right direction - which they obviously are at Mercedes…
RB:
…yes, they are. It is going in the right direction. You do make micro adjustments. Paddy (Lowe) is new to the team and is already making good contributions, so it was important to find a way to implement his talents. That has been a focus for the last couple of months, but otherwise there is nothing really changed. I was able to get away for a couple of weeks. The first week I was fishing and didn’t think about Formula One at all; the second week was a quiet week, so your mind starts to wander back to Formula One. You are not allowed to work, but you also cannot erase it from your mind completely…

Q: What tasks have already shifted to Paddy? He is working under you - that much seems clear…
RB:
Yes, Paddy works under me, but Paddy has also been helping with specific projects - specific areas. Some of the longer-term areas we were not covering as well as we could have done. Even with the number of people we have there is still limitation, but if you have somebody of Paddy’s calibre joining the team, it’s a great asset to have. I cannot go into details but Paddy has been working on a number of useful things that will help the team in the future.

Q: Mercedes is your third manufacturer team after Ferrari and Honda. How much constraint does that mean?
RB:
Being a manufacturer, we need to have all the strengths that being a manufacturer gives us - without any of the constraints that some of the manufacturers have demonstrated in the past. Our board is very good in saying that the racing side of Mercedes must be pretty autonomous - reasonably separate and flexible. It needs o be reactive, needs to have its own management team, needs to be reactive on a minute by minute basis - and our board is very good in recognizing that that’s necessary. Our board is obviously involved in every strategic decision, but our board is very good in recognizing that the people employed by the Formula One team are the specialists, so they should deal with the day-to-day matters. If we want to employ a new driver - as was the case with Lewis (Hamilton) - that’s very much a board decision, so we sit down, take our time and make the right decision. But on a day-to-day basis the management of the racing team runs the racing team. That’s the key thing. When I say ‘using the strength that we have as a manufacturer’, then I mean that we make the engine, we make the chassis, and make these two stronger again in the future. Looking at where the technology that we have within the Mercedes Group can be of help to the Formula One team is another very important area.

Q: You have said that stability is a major factor in future success - but stability depends much on the chemistry between people. Will the current wave of success be the bond that turns chemistry into stability?
RB:
Well, It enables certain things to progress. No doubt when a team is struggling it can get a bit fractious; it can get a bit difficult. And when we are having good results, we have enjoyed it and everybody felt a bit more comfortable. So yes, that’s a fact - having better results this year certainly has been oil in the wheels, oil on the gears. (laughs)

Q: What does your current success mean for this year - and for the 2014 development? Could it be also a curse, in that now you will hold your focus longer - with more resources - on the 2013 season?
RB:
That is a judgment that everybody has to make for himself. I would always rather be in the position we are now - having good results - than having to abandon a season due to poor results. Of course, then it would be an easy decision - but it is not a decision we would want to have. We certainly do not want to be in a position to make that sort of decision. We want to make a pro-active decision in the next few weeks - in the next few races, the next few months - as to how we are dividing our resources. I am very happy how the 2014 car is progressing - it’s progressing well.

Q: At what stage is it?
RB:
Where I want it to be. (laughs)

Q: Where is that?
RB:
I think the rules require that it has four wheels. Let’ put it this way: I am pleased about the progress of the 2014 car - and I am pleased with how the 2013 car is developing - and we will be pro-active in our decisions in the next couple of weeks and races how we divide our resources. Frankly, the majority of our people are working on next year, but there are also people working on this year.

Q: What has to happen in the next couple of weeks for you decide to focus longer on the 2013 car?
RB:
Well, winning races is always a good reason. But it is always the price that you pay: it is never a black or white decision. I don’t think it will be a switch-on or -off decision - it will be by degree. We want to keep on working on the 2013 car in order to have a conclusion for next year. I don’t stand in front of the team and say, ‘Guys, stop working on the 2013 car.’ It’s almost a day-by-day decision. You’re having meetings, you’re looking at what’s going on, you realize that some things you are doing might not have as much relevance to the current car as you might have thought, so you stop it. So there are a lot of micro decisions being made. My guess is that the next few races will be interesting and we will literally look at the situation at a race-by-race basis.

Q: Could you imagine one of your drivers walking away with the title this year? And Mercedes with the constructors’?
RB:
Let me say this: we are here to win races. Our ambition is to win races - and that’s our sole focus. What evolves from that, who knows? We are a way off and have to focus on getting the best results that we can.

Q: Of the remaining races, where can you score the big points needed to have a realistic title chance? Your win in Hungary was rather unexpected as neither the track nor the conditions were ones that would normally have played to your advantage. Is there no more ‘normal’? RB: Well, it is quite difficult to predict where everybody is at the moment. We have a new tyre - certainly that was our first experience with it - and it was for us part of the learning process. The next couple of races will show if Budapest established a trend. We went to Hungary and qualified on pole position, but we have done that before this year. We could see signs that we were in better shape with the tyres, but the race day was very hot and we didn’t know what was going to happen so it was nice to see the car hold up as it did. But if you had asked me before if I could imagine a win, I honestly couldn’t have said that. We did things that improved the car. Will it help here in Spa? We’ve got to find out. I am not certain yet.

Q: Smaller teams argue that some of the big boys want to win at any cost and are thus driving the sport into the ground. Can you allay their fears? Is there an ideal F1 world where big fish and small fry can coexist in harmony?
RB:
We have always been supporters of a constraint on resources - either financial or physical resources. We have always tried to encourage that, but it has not come to pass. Be that a budget cap on the whole set of activities or be it a constraint on specific areas, it seems we have never managed to find a solution. I think through technical or sporting regulations you never manage to limit it - I have never seen it succeed in the 30-odd years I have been in racing. You change something from a regulatory point of view, you save some money, and the money you save goes into something else. I do believe that budget caps or resource restrictions - those types of initiatives - could have an effect and we need to try to pursue it.

Q: So if the route is pretty clear, why hasn’t it happened?
RB:
It is not in the nature of the people involved. We are very competitive and nobody wants to lose a competitive advantage - so in that respect we are possibly the worst people to try and implement new systems. We need strong initiatives from the governing body and the commercial rights holder to push these things, because we as teams are not great in finding solutions between ourselves.

Q: Coming to your two drivers, would you have you guessed that Nico Rosberg could match Lewis?
RB:
Nobody knew where we were when Lewis joined the team. We had reference before and I have always been very impressed with Nico. He is fast, intelligent and applies himself very well, but he was being judged in a sort of vacuum almost, with Michael (Schumacher) who had been away for three years and nobody knew where he would pick up again. So with Lewis joining we had a fresh reference - and now everybody sat up and took notice of Nico’s performance. But for me it was never a surprise.

Q: Could you imagine growing your roses again in Maranello?
RB:
Ha, I never grew roses in Maranello - and I certainly will never try it again.

Q: Will Mercedes be your last stop in F1 racing?
RB:
Never say never! When I left Ferrari I was not sure what I would do. When I joined Honda I assumed that the path was clear, but it wasn’t - it changed after one year. But this is a great team and it is going in a great direction: good components and part of a company that has great heritage. So I have no plans to do anything else. But who know what the future holds? We have a lot to achieve here before anything else is on my horizon.

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