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Archive for the ‘BrawnGP’ Category

This morning in Monaco there was plenty of activity around the ongoing discussions about the 2010 F1 rules and plenty of chat about what was going to happen next.

It seems to be becoming widely believed that Toyota will use this situation to make its exit from Formula 1. They were thinking about it towards the end of 2008, but there seems to be general belief among the other teams that they will go at the end of this year. BMW, which is having its worst season by far in F1, is also said to be reviewing it’s participation.

FIA president Max Mosley was making himself very available to the media and his message was that Ferrari will be staying in F1 “100% sure.” But the sport needs to fill the empty grid slots and that is the area a lot of work is going into.

It was being said that the teams and the FIA had kissed and made up and that it was all going to be sorted out by the May 29th deadline for entries, but team bosses I spoke to on the grid in Monaco sounded a not of caution. “Are you all loved up again?” I asked one, and he replied, “No, but we’re falling in love again.”

The teams say that they would like to start from the point of maintaining the 2009 regulations and go from there in terms of finding a communal way of regulating the costs down to a level around the £40 million Max Mosley wants the budget cap set at, perhaps by 2011. But by then the world will be out of recession, in all probability, and new opportunities will be out there to generate income for the teams.

Mosley, who is still determined to maintain the idea of a budget cap, said, “I can imagine we can take it through one year if possible [with the] higher figure and then go to the full cap in 2011, but that’s something under discussion. This is a possibility.”

“Ultimately, it’s going to have to be that sort of region,” he said. “Just imagine in today’s world, you go out to get sponsorship and you are just an ordinary team, so to raise 45 million Euros is a massive undertaking.

“Everybody can talk figures, well it ought to be this figure or that figure, but if a team cannot raise the money, then there is nothing they can do.”

Money is hard enough to find for the existing teams, look at the amount of sponsorship on the Brawn and they have won five races!!

It seems very hard to imagine new teams being able to raise the kind of money necessary to get into F1. But Mosley insists on new teams coming in, so discussions are centring around ways of helping new teams, with cheap engine and gearbox deals and a possible chassis lease package to allow them to run competitively at low cost to start with. It seems that the existing teams are saying that they would require the new teams to run rookie drivers on that basis.

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Vijay Mallya is bobbing in the harbour on his motor yacht, Flavio Briatore will have zoomed off in his private jet, like most of the drivers but the winner of today’s Grand Prix, was on the Easyjet flight to Luton with his team, Red Bull, Force India, me and a load of sunburned, happy fans.
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Most of them couldn’t believe their eyes that Ross was on the same flight and he had to pose for photos with many of them. His only token bit of elitism – he paid €12 for Speedy Boarding!

Ross has always been a team player when it comes to travel. A number of times in the past when my family has been on holiday in Italy in summer I’ve cadged a lift on the Ferrari charter and Ross and Jean Todt always used to travel with the engineers and mechanics on the same plane. It’s part of the team building ethic, which also includes sending different members of the team up onto the podium, to allow them to feel that buzz and to motivate them to work hard to achieve it again.

Anyway, on the way out on Thursday morning the Easyjet plane was half full of hungover Barcelona fans on their way home after beating Chelsea in the Champions league. Ross got sat next to a guy who must have been 20 stone and who had clearly been in a bar all night.

Tonight he was on good form, relieved to have won another race and to have negotiated through all the potential little problems, surprised that Red Bull hadn’t done more with pit strategy to try to get Vettel away from Massa.

On the plane the atmosphere was good. The captain in his welcome speech congratulated the team for its success and wished them many more. Red Bull guys rolled their eyes..

Brawn has now won 11 trophies in the five races so far and Jenson Button has dropped only four points from a possible 45.

They are making it look Easy.

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There seems to be a division of opinion about what is going on between Brawn GP and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

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There are stories that a deal has been done for this year and next, while there are strong suggestions coming out of the team that other parties are interested and Branson should pony up some more serious money if he wishes to go forward.

Branson was in the Bahrain paddock at the weekend, holding a press conference to announce that Rubens Barrichello and Niki Lauda had both paid €200,000 to fly into space on the Virgin Galactic spaceship. Lauda, who is on crutches after a hip replacement, is due to take a turn at flying the craft.

The Real Honda website, which has close links with the Brackley team, is reporting that a deal is done for Virgin to sponsor the car for the season at less than £1 million.

However in the Times today, Brawn CEO Nick Fry gives a very interesting quote,

“Richard has made an offer. The issue for us is whether or not it is the best offer we can get.”

Fry goes on to say that,
“We’ve got between 20 and 25 companies talking to us either about sponsorship or some wanting to buy into the team. Ross and I need to come to the correct decision, not the quick decision.”

Branson has a track record of getting the maximum exposure for the minimum spend. Already the media value to his brand of the exposure from the first four races plus his appearances in Australia and Bahrain is estimated at £10 million. That proves to him on the one hand that F1 and Brawn in particular, is a great way to get exposure, but it also shows him that he can do it very cheaply.

But this is not going down very well with the powers that be in F1 and Brawn is now coming to the point where they are asking him to invest serious money for the long term.

They have a ‘budget to impress’ in Ross Brawn’s words, from Honda to get them through the 2009 season, but they need more money to develop the car to stay ahead of the rest and win the world title and they also need money to get started on next year’s car.

The word I heard in Bahrain is that Brawn are looking for a three year commitment from any prospective partner. The discussions with Virgin have revolved around the rest of this year and a commitment to fund the development of the 2010 car.

Discussions will of course have been hanging in recent weeks, waiting for the FIA to set the level of the budget cap. Many teams are nervous about sponsors’ reactions if the budget is set at £30 -50 million, as they fear the sponsors will be asking for the price to come down proportionately.

However the price they pay is not related to the team’s needs, it is related to the media value of the exposure they get, based on camera time, press cuttings and so on, something Branson and his team will be all to aware of given their success in that area in the last month.

The budget cap will redefine the business model of F1 and if the price is low enough it may make it attractive for Virgin to consider more than a sponsorship, but to buy an equity stake in the team. F1 teams are set to become profitable under a budget cap, so as an owner/partner you still get your exposure and you make money too. Time will tell.

As Honda the team was very close to a deal with Emirates airlines, a deal which was linked to the Earthdreams concept. But it never happened. The team has not been the market leader in attracting sponsors at any time in its history. As BAR they didn’t really need sponsors as the whole thing was bankrolled by a tobacco company. When it became Honda and BAT pulled out, the same attitude continued.

Fry and his new commercial team are under pressure to deliver a full roster of sponsors to take the Brawn team forward and make sure that this year’s championship leading performance is not a flash in the pan.

An announcement about Virgin’s ongoing involvement is expected at the Spanish Grand Prix in a few weeks time.

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How Brawn has changed Button

Jenson Button took his third win of the season on Sunday in fine style. This was a victory which demanded a great deal of care, because he didn’t have the fastest car out there on the day, not even on the qualifying day, even though the Brawn had appeared to have the legs of the others in Friday practice.
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He also had to be aggressive on the opening lap, to regain the place lost to Lewis Hamilton at the start. F1 fans around the world are now debating whether Button can capitalise on the superb start he has made to the first part of the season and win the world title. He will face a growing challenge from teams like McLaren, Renault and Ferrari, while Toyota and Red Bull are already on his pace.

But I sense a real difference about Jenson this year. I think that Ross Brawn has given him a greater sense of disclipline, not just in his driving, but in his life as a whole. And in that pass on Hamilton, he showed the importance of giving nothing away, something which characterised Michael Schumacher’s driving and Ross Brawn’s whole approach to racing.

Button has always had a great talent and a uniquely smooth style. And when he started, he learned the F1 ropes pretty quickly, let’s not forget that this is the man, who at the age of 20, on his first visit to Spa, pointed out to the FIA’s Charlie Whiting that the 100 metre braking board was in the wrong place on the approach to La Source hairpin. They measured it and found he was correct.

So, behind this rather laid-back facade, a sympathy for precision and discipline has always been there, but many years in bad cars had rather blunted the edge. Also the same lack of discipline and leadership in the technical department at Honda, which caused them to misfire, has been transformed under Brawn’s leadership.

I’ll give you a small example, every time Button enters the pits during practice he drives into his pit box, with the mechanics in the positions they would be in for a pit stop. He comes in and stops in position. But that is not where it ends, there is a brief pause on the radio and then Andrew Shovlin, Button’s race engineer will say, “Ten centimetres out.”

There is no further comment, no response from Jenson.

Sometimes he comes in and you will hear Brawn himself say, “Perfect position Jenson.”

It matters because it means that when he stops for real in the race, the refuellers will be able to do their job more easily and the stop will be faster. This is what you call taking care of the details and it is the hallmark of Ross Brawn, honed over many years together with Michael Schumacher at Ferrari. The ethos at Ferrari was that everyone had to give 100% all the time and if they each counted on each other to do that, they would be successful. It has undoubtedly sharpened up Button’s racecraft. He seems very on top of every aspect of the game at the moment.

“I’ve got no doubts about Jenson’s ability to win, ” Ross said on Saturday. “The way he is driving, that part is taken care of.

“It’s up to us to produce the performance in the car, do the pit stops, the strategies, and make sure the car is reliable.”

His personal life has been rather chaotic for much of his F1 career, you recall the dithering over moves back to Williams and the odd situation where he had to buy himself out of his contract. Now after a few years under Richard Goddard’s management that side of his life seems to have settled down and become more under control. There is a unity of purpose about every aspect of his life. I’ve seen it before in racing drivers, when they get into a position to win races and championships, they get into the ‘zone’.

Button is in the zone now.

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3 minutes with… Ross Brawn

Ross Brawn’s team has been in the eye of the storm lately, what with the protests over the double diffuser and the criticisms of people like Flavio Briatore. Brawn is a thick skinned individual, but he will have felt the personal attacks of Ferrari’s lawyer in the appeal court hearing last week.

Of course he’s been around long enough to know that you take the heat when you are the team to beat, he’s been in that situation at Benetton and Ferrari and controversy has been in the air in those times too. He’s a big man, he can take the heat.

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In Shanghai, the Brawns did not go all that well in the low fuel 2nd part of qualifying and then did not take the front row of the grid, mainly because they chose to run more fuel than their opposition.

The two Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso’s Renault opted to run a lighter fuel load and got in front of the Brawns as a result. In the race, however, the Brawn is still going to be the fastest car and should be able to hit the front by staying out 6 laps longer than Vettel and Webber at the end of the first stint. That is when we will see the mega lap times as we did from Button in Sepang. Either of the two Brawn cars could win this race as Barrichello has more than matched his team mate this weekend so far.

But Ross has to make sure his cars don’t lose track position at the start and that they are within a few seconds of Vettel when he pits around lap 12 or 13. If Webber holds them up that strategy could be tested.

What happened to your pace in the second part of qualifying?
“We had a bit of a problem with some settings on the car, it’s not quite right in some parts of the track. We have a problem with the suspension topping out and as the grip has improved it’s been getting worse because we haven’t got enough rear suspension travel. It’s a legacy of fitting the Mercedes Benz engine because we had to lift the gearbox up to fit the engine and it’s causing a few problems.

“So when we went out on low fuel with new tyres in the middle part of qualifying, we didn’t get the temperature in the tyres. It wasn’t particularly critical but I think we got a bit confused in where we really were because Red Bull were really quick and we weren’t.”

Did you underestimate the likely speed of the Red Bulls in Q3?
“No our view is that we can run a good race on a two stop strategy, a three stop has higher risks, there was no point in doing a three stop strategy in our position. The problem will come as we get caught up at the start, there’s no doubt some risks. Three stops is a little quicker than two, but you need a clean race, no safety cars at the wrong time. That’s why we were a little more conservative.”

So how do you feel your tactics will work out in the race?
“If you take fuel into consideration we still look the quickest, but the difficulty will be getting in the right place at the right time. I imagine that the light fuelled teams will start on the option [soft tyre] and the last 6 or 7 laps of that will be interesting to see what happens.

How tough is it to manage the soft tyre here?
“There is an issue to get it up to temperature and get it working, but once you do the tyre is very stressed here, there are some corners here that give the tyre a really hard time, so it seems to be a compund which is hard to warm up and then is not durable. The other one takes a couple of laps to get warm then its fine, really durable.”

What have Honda said about your success this season?
“They have been very complementary. I have had some really nice letters from Fukui-san since the start of the season. They are frustrated they can’t be part of it.”

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Jenson Button was fastest today in Friday second practice, his time a good six tenths inside last year’s pole time. He finished second here in 2004 behind team mate Rubens Barrichello, who was in a Ferrari at the time. Both men love this track and are strong here so it should be the best battle between them to date.

He has been attacked this weekend by his former boss Flavio Briatore as a ‘kerbstone’ -an odd use of a word, but I think what Flavio meant is one of those big old heavy milestones or bollards at the side of the road. Either way it was meant to suggest that Button isn’t one of the greats in current F1 and that him winning everything damages the credibility of the sport. It was pretty insulting. Jenson had had a chance to weigh up Flavio’s words and this is his response. Note that he makes reference to Briatore having tried to hire him for this year, presumably in place of Piquet…
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WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF BRIATORE’S COMMENTS THAT HAVING A TEAM LIKE BRAWN AT THE FRONT OF F1 IS DAMAGING FOR THE SPORT’S CREDIBILITY?
“Unless he is at the front of F1, I am sure [he thinks] any team [being
there] hurts the credibility of F1. He also needs to remember that he
tried to employ me for this year, so…”

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IN RESPONSE?
“He is obviously a very angry man after the diffuser issues and he is
obviously very disappointed that they haven’t produced a car that is
as competitive as ours. We have produced a very competitive car
because of the workforce we have back at Brackely and you cannot take
it away from them – it is very unfair to say that. They have worked
very, very hard in very difficult circumstances and it is very, very
unfair for Flavio to comment as he has just because he is a little bit
bitter – he should also not forget he tried to employ me for this
season.”

WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE OF THE TEAM?
“Laughing, basically.”

HOW BIG A RELIEF FOR YOU WAS THE DIFFUSER DECISION?
“I don’t know if relief is the right word, but it is nice that is
behind us now and we can concentrate on the rest of the season. That
is the result that we expected. It is not our fault we have built a
good car, and when a regulation changes I think things change in F1.
We have seen changed. Some people might not be that happy about it,
but instead of getting angry and putting their views out there, they
need to concentrate on improving and catching us up.”

WHAT IS YOUR EXPECTATION FOR THIS WEEKEND’S RACE?
“I am looking forward to it. It is a circuit I’ve enjoyed in the past
and I’ve had some reasonably good results here in the past, even with
a difficult car. I am looking forward to it and it is quite a similar
circuit to Sepang, our tyre compounds are also reasonably difficult to
work with, the softer of the two is graining, so we are going to have
to work hard to stop that graining, and again the tyres are going to
be very important this weekend and getting them working in the correct
operating range.”

ARE YOU WORRIED THAT THE LEGALITY ISSUE WILL CLOUD THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
“No. We had legal issues last year and the year before we had legal
issues with other teams. It is not a problem because if parts on our
car were illegal it would be an issue, but they are not. They are
legal, it is just other teams have questioned the legality of our
parts and the court has said they are legal. Nothing matters except we
have got the performance and other people don’t seem to have it at the
moment.”

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The International Appeal Court has ruled that the diffusers used by Brawn, Toyota and Williams are legal. So now we have clarity and we move on, although there will be rumblings from the other teams, they can do nothing more and have to bring their own versions of the double decker to their cars as quickly as possible.

But bad feelings remain. The hearing yesterday certainly got nasty, it seems, as it dragged out into yesterday evening, Paris time.

It was a bruising encounter for the protagonists, with some real niggle between former colleagues and lawyers getting stuck in to others’ reputations. But some of the things said yesterday will surely come back to haunt those who said them.

The impression the protesters are keen to give is that they are unanimous in their feeling that the three diffuser teams have not only been crafty, but have violated the spirit of sporting competition.

Certainly I’m told that all the teams are backing the protest, with the exception of Toro Rosso (no point in paying twice if Red Bull have already paid) and Force India, for political reasons.

One argument, advanced by Adrian Newey and Flavio Briatore, is that the diffusers should be banned on safety grounds, the Brawn car in particular, because they make the cars too fast.

Although three teams are in the dock, only one team owner seems to be getting the flak and that is Ross Brawn. He had to sit there, while Nigel Tozzi, Ferrari’s lawyer and a man who was on the same side as Brawn until two years ago, described him as a ‘person of supreme arrogance,’ because he sees things one way when everyone else sees things a different way, “Only a person of supreme arrogance would think he is right when so many of his esteemed colleagues would disagree.”

Instead, Brawn is now looking like a person of supreme intelligence.

Tozzi then went on to say something which a lawyer representing an F1 team in an FIA hearing really should have thought twice before saying, because the words will surely be used against him one day,

“Anyone with a command of English will tell you it is a hole, so do not let someone attempting to be clever with words defeat the express purpose of the rules,”

Being clever with words to defeat the purpose of the rules in F1 is what getting an edge in F1 is all about. It happens every time someone comes up with something the others haven’t got and every time there is a protest and an appeal into some genius device, or loophole.

I remember in 1999 sitting in a steaming hot Ferrari office in Sepang after the race as Ross Brawn showed us with a ruler why the barge-boards had been ruled illegal by the stewards. And yet a few days later, through using words at a hearing in Paris, Ferrari’s lawyer managed to get the judges to agree that by viewing the car from a certain angle and by applying tolerances mentioned elsewhere in the rules, the barge-boards were legal after all.

Brawn may forgive and forget, maybe not. But I was very surprised to hear Tozzi having a go at the FIA for inconsistency. The FIA denies that other teams had applied to use a similar diffuser design and were knocked back. In any case I was surprised to see Tozzi using the terms he used,

“The position of the FIA is totally baffling. We urge you to save the FIA from itself,” he is alleged to have said, according to Press Association.

That is strong stuff. Whatever you may think of the historical relationship between Ferrari and the FIA, this line shows you that as of right now, they are at loggerheads and that there is a huge amount of frustration on Ferrari’s side.

Ferrari are frustrated by the FIA’s position on this issue, by the way they have allowed this uncertainty and dispute to develop. The FIA say that their position is clear and as always been consistent; the diffusers are legal.

But also bear in mind that Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo heads the team’s association, FOTA and is more than a little frustrated by the way the FIA World Council ignored all of FOTA’s hard work and suggestions and instead voted in a £30 million budget cap for 2010.

These things work themselves through in the end and Ferrari and FIA will be friends again at some point in the future. But right now they are the focal point for the needle, which is central to this issue over the diffusers.

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It’s been a fairly quiet Easter as far as happenings in F1 are concerned. I guess Malaysia was such a momentous weekend, with the McLaren/stewards affair and the crazy race, it’s hardly surprising that the sport needed to take a breather.

But tomorrow (Tuesday 14th) things will get intense again as the international appeal court makes its decision regarding the legality of the diffusers of Brawn, Williams and Toyota.

This decision could well decide the outcome of the world championship, certainly that is the view of former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, who are on the wrong side of the debate. Ferrari, McLaren, Renault and Red Bull know that the first four races -a quarter of the season – will have been lost if the decision goes against them.

If the decision goes with the protesters, we will have to unpick the results of the first two Grands Prix, which will be very messy. We’ve already had a high profile reversal before the season started on the points system. To tell the world also that the first two races are meaningless would make neutrals wonder what the heck is going on in F1.

However that’s a risk we have to take because the important thing here is that we get the right decision, so everyone can move forward. The top teams all have their own versions of the ‘double decker’ diffuser in the wind tunnel at the moment and will be ready to run them either in Bahrain or Barcelona, depending on their manufacturing capability. This should give them a vault in performance.

The Brawn team hopes to keep its nose ahead and has some updates of its own to roll out in Spain, because the team has the luxury of being one step ahead of the rest. But it will be interesting to see whether these updates give anything like the returns that the diffusers will give to the rest. Meanwhile Toyota and Williams have benefitted from the diffusers and, for as long as it lasts, they are taking points off the top teams.

McLaren and Ferrari look out of sorts at the moment, McLaren because of a slow car and the strife they have brought on themselves. Internally there is some real soul searching going on and a threat that they may lose their lead driver over the damage done to his reputation. That is very destabilising.

Ferrari are on the ropes because they have made mistakes and had reliability issues. They need to get onto the right path as a team and I’ve no doubt that they will. This is not like turning an oil tanker around, an F1 team with a winning culture can adapt and change direction very quickly.

BMW should benefit greatly from the updated package they will bring out in Spain. They have combined the need to build a car with a trick diffuser with the need to make a lighter chassis for Robert Kubica, so he can use the KERS system and he will be driving essentially a B spec car in Spain. I expect him to start to feature in a big way after that. He’s been one of the few top team drivers to have given the diffuser cars a run for their money in the opening races.

Renault are coming from a bit further back, while Red Bull have a different concept to the rest and have been quick in the opening races. If forced to adapt to the trick diffusers, it will be interesting to see whether they gain or lose relative to the opposition.

If the appeal court decision goes Brawn’s way it will certainly give Jenson Button a fighting chance of winning the title, as he will have had four ‘open goals’ at the first four races, a head start that it will take the big teams a lot of the season to catch up.

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Interested to see that Ross Brawn has started responding to the criticism levelled at him by Flavio Briatore that he has misused his position as chair of the technical working group by not declaring his hand on the diffuser issue whenthe rules for 2009 were being discussed. Brawn raised the subject early last year, he says and proposed that the rules be tightened up.

“In March 2008 that was offered. If I’m frank I didn’t say ‘look we are going to do this diffuser if you don’t accept this rule’ because I’m not going to tell people what we’re doing, but I explained that I felt that we should have a different set of rules to simplify what needs to be done,” he said.

“I offered them and they were rejected, so my conscience is very clear. And those rules that I put on the table would have stopped a lot of things. It would have stopped the diffuser, it would have stopped all those bargeboards around the front, and it would have cleaned the cars up.”

I’ve been told by a senior engineer from a non-trick diffuser team that Brawn came to one meeting and said, albeit not in so many words, “Look we need to change the rules here because we are going to be miles ahead next year.”

The others chuckled politely given how far back Honda were at the time. They are not chuckling now.

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A Brawn insider spills the beans

Very interesting piece on the Guardian site today, quoting a Brawn team ‘insider’ talking about how much faster the car is capable of going than we saw on Sunday.

It’s interesting because Ross will not like this very much at all. He didn’t get where he is today by giving anything away and this gives a bit too much away.

That said, it does deflect attention away from the diffuser, suggesting, as they used to do in Brawn’s Ferrari days, that the thing everyone thinks is the key to speed, isn’t and that the key lies elsewhere.

“I think, basically, that if someone is two-tenths off us they can feasibly win the race but, if we’re half a second in front, which is probably where we are at the moment, although we don’t necessarily look like that, it is just foolish to just annihilate people all the time.”

I posted on this before the race and it makes sense, you never rub people’s noses in it in F1, that kind of behaviour will always come back to bite you.

“I think we have a little bit in the bag. We’ve got good stuff coming and I think we have reason to be confident.”

“The visual bits are not really the performance drivers, it’s all the surfaces you can’t see that give you the real performance.

“One of the good things about the Brawn car is that competitors will look at all of it and say, ‘That’s the bit that’s making it fast.’ But it is not necessarily one thing; they could be focusing on something that is not really a big performance driver.”

“We were looking at everybody else’s times asking why were they all so slow. Our research was telling us we would be the quickest car.”

And so it has proved.

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