Q & A with Ross Brawn
Ross Brawn is a fortunate man. During his Formula One career he has already won everything there ever is to win, but it doesn’t look like he’s reached the end of the road just yet. And after sensationally clinching both world championships last season, Brawn's hoping to do the same again with the newly-formed Mercedes GP team. With Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and the might of Mercedes-Benz on his side, you wouldn’t bet against him….
Q: Ross, with Mercedes buying Brawn you’ve landed the ultimate coup. Can you briefly go through what led to the November announcement?
Ross Brawn: Well, of course we started a partnership with Mercedes in December last year when they agreed to provide their engine to the team. They were very supportive during that difficult time, which lasted several months, when we didn’t know what the future of the team would be. I have a longstanding relation with Norbert (Haug). I’ve known him for many years. We have always fought strong battles but have been good friends afterwards. So as the team developed during the year we informed Mercedes that we were looking for greater stability and some investment in the team to ensure its security. We really informed them as a courtesy and not as a move to go beyond the relationship that we had. But Mercedes came back saying that they at least would like to discuss what our objectives were and what our ambitions for the team were. By then it was already midseason and we started to discuss things from there.
Q: Was it always your intention to look for a partner rather than just sponsors?
RB: Yes. In 2009 things moved very quickly for us from being a manufacturer team in November 2008 to being out of work in December and January, and then to having a new team in February and March. So there have been a lot of things developing. Once the idea started to mature of a Mercedes team then it became more and more attractive because Mercedes clearly gave the right scope and opportunity with their engine facility. I could see there that they understood what was needed in Formula One, so becoming part of the Mercedes works team became very attractive, as it gave us security and a future. But also they gave us the possibility of running the team in the best way to try to win world championships. I knew that we were joining a partner who had a great understanding of what was needed to be successful in Formula One.
Q: In your opinion would a partnership be in place if the team had not been so successful last year?
RB: Who knows. Faith is a strange thing, isn’t it? I would not know whether it would have happened or not. Obviously the team winning races and being successful helped the whole thing move along, helped the deal with Mercedes, helped the deal with Michael (Schumacher) and helped the deal with Petronas. Petronas came on board as partners because the whole package was coming together.
Q: How did you persuade Michael?
RB: I saw last year that Michael was very enthusiastic about the possibility of driving a Ferrari when Felipe (Massa) was injured. I saw the excitement and the passion he had to do that. It became clear he still had a wish. We tried hard with Jenson (Button) to find a solution, but when it became clear that we were not able to find one, I started discussions with Michael and after a few days he at least agreed to take the discussion forward to see if we could find a solution. The first thing of course was from Michael to decide if he would want to drive again. He took a few days for that, which was absolutely correct, and he came back saying that he would like to drive again and that we should see if we can find solutions to all the aspects of this possibility. So we worked on that for three or four weeks and found a solution. At that time - at the end of November - I was on my holidays doing most of the negotiations on the phone. Then we made the announcement shortly before Christmas.
Q: You have tipped Schumacher to win this year’s championship and Schumacher is positive that he can deliver, but Mercedes’ Norbert Haug seems a bit reluctant to make a prediction. What do you and Michael know that Norbert doesn’t?
RB: Well, I think you can never guarantee any championship - there are too many strong teams and drivers. I think Michael has the experience to win a championship and has the talent and ability to win a championship. He’s done it before and knows what it takes. Nico (Rosberg) has the speed and the talent, but has not won a race yet so he needs to cross that hurdle first. But there is no reason why Nico should not compete as well. I think the question I was asked was which of the existing world champions would I back to win the world championship and naturally it’s Michael. In a broader context we have two great drivers and our objective is to be competitive. All you can do every year is try to be competitive. When you are competitive you start to win races, and from winning races, you might win the championship. And that’s all you can set out to do. So I am not making a prediction we are going to win the world championship, but if I had to back one of the four world champions, I would feel happy to back Michael.
Q: Last year you said that you knew that you had a very good car and the only issue was getting the car to the grid. This season all those dramas are long past. The car will be on the grid, but is it a good one?
RB: The car is a good step from the car we have now. It is a reasonable progression from what we had at the last race in Abu Dhabi. It’s probably quite a bit quicker. We have two stages with the car. The one you will see in Valencia and a different car that you will see in Bahrain. So we believe we have made good progress, but clearly everybody is working in a vacuum at this time of year, not knowing what your competitors are doing. We have had no feedback from other people. If someone has made more progress then we have to work double shifts. I think that all the new cars will be going through this two-stage development. They, or at least all the most serious teams, will arrive with their new cars to the tests and then they will bring a major update to Bahrain. We have one month to six weeks between the launches and the first race.
Q: Schumacher and Brawn reunited. Is this a return to the glory days or just a pipe dream with an immense marketing value?
RB: There is no marketing consideration at all for me. The opportunity was so tempting to partner with Michael again, and it was too good an opportunity to say no. I think Michael will bring a lot of things to the team, not just his performances but also in terms of motivation. At the factory there is a huge amount of excitement about the prospect of working with Michael. The engineers are very excited. So there are many elements that Michael brings. As I said, it was too good an opportunity for us to ignore.
Q: Schumacher and Brawn are a real partnership. How will Rosberg fit in?
RB: We signed Nico first and have tried to sign Nico for several years. We had strong discussions with him two years ago. We see Nico as a great talent, but it needs finishing and maturing. He has not won a race yet, although he came very close, and I think it is a wonderful partnership between him and Michael. They work well together and I see Michael helping Nico develop his career. Michael has come out of retirement but we have to accept that there will come a day when he has to stop forever and then we will have Nico. They must both try the hardest to beat each other but if it is done with the right spirit, with the right approach, then both will gain enormously. I view it as a very exciting partnership and I am glad Nico is part of it.
Q: When you last worked with Michael at Ferrari you were the technical director; now you are team principal. Michael has always dominated his team mates, which worked well with you as technical director. Does it also work for a team principal?
RB: First of all I never wanted Michael to dominate. Michael dominated because he was the best. There was never a structure that enabled him to dominate. He dominated because he was the fastest and most consistent driver. So we will have to see how the season develops. It is not good having one driver dominate a team because that means the other driver is not performing as he should. I don’t want Michael to dominate. I want them both to compete very strongly and both to win races. But at the end of the day we want to win the championship. Decisions may develop where one driver has to be given extra support for the championship but we won’t do that until the situation arises. Until then it is a completely open competition and I don’t want one driver to dominate the other.
Q: Brawn GP were the most successful short-lived team in the history of Formula One racing. Is it disappointing to see the name disappear?
RB: It’s a little disappointing. It was a wonderful, very exiting time but I think this opportunity, teaming up with Mercedes, is so big that I definitely can live with a little bit of disappointment. To be part of Mercedes-Benz, with Mercedes’ stability and security, the support that we will have technically from Mercedes-Benz means that I have little to regret about Brawn GP disappearing.
Q: In 2009 the double diffuser was the magical ingredient. What will make the difference this year?
RB: I think the main area which teams will have dealt with is fuel capacity. The cars have twice the fuel capacity than we had in previous years. I think how teams have managed to deal with the extra fuel capacity will be the technical challenge that we have for the 2010 season. But it is not as significant as the aerodynamic changes that we had from 2008 to 2009. I think people will have optimized their diffusers for 2010, and then, as the regulations have changed, we’ll go back to a conventional diffuser for 2011. I don’t see the radical solutions that we had in 2009 surfacing. And I hope we don’t have the disagreements that we had in 2009 because that was a bit unpleasant.
Q: The four leading teams have all signed exquisite line-ups, and now their cars have to prove they can keep up with their driver. Who do you think will challenge you the most?
RB: If you look back, the teams with the strongest performances have been Ferrari and McLaren. Now Red Bull has joined that group. There are many reasons for that, including the quality of the people and the resources that they have. So these teams will be the obvious candidates. But there is always a possibility that there will be a resurgence from teams such as Renault or Williams because they are good teams. But we have no idea where our competitors are. We will have some insight at the beginning of testing, but as I said before, we will have a major update before Bahrain and I'm sure most of the other teams will too. The first snapshot of our competitors we will get in Valencia and in Jerez. The bigger picture we will get in Bahrain.
Q: You said that 2009 was the most wonderful year of your Formula One career. Can 2009 be topped and, if so, how?
RB: Well, to achieve those results again. I have been very lucky in my career, because each time I thought that I had reached the pinnacle I have found something else to do. It would undoubtedly be a wonderful achievement to take Mercedes Benz back into the victory circle again and emulate the success they’ve had in their history. That would be wonderful. So I keep thinking that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career and it is downhill from now on, and yet these things keep coming back up. I consider myself very fortunate and I’m looking forward to this new challenge. F1