It was Ross Brawn himself who made the connection, when we were talking on Saturday morning about the last team to win on its F1 debut; Wolf in 1977.
“Yeah, I was working for them then,” he grinned.
Ross started out at Williams, but when Sir Frank got involved with Walter Wolf, Ross was seconded to go and work on the black and gold cars. What an amazing symmetry that 32 years later Ross should repeat the feat with cars bearing his own name.
Brawn was the story in Melbourne this weekend, from every angle; the staggering pace of the car, the front row qualifying performance and 1-2 in the race and of course the appearance of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin in F1 after decades of thinking about it.
Branson was giggling like a schoolgirl after the race, admitting he was ‘hooked’ on F1 and revealing that Bernie Ecclestone had rung him after the race to say that he would be meeting him off the plane and taking him directly to a casino, where Bernie would gladly place a million pounds on any number Branson suggested at the roulette table!
When asked if he would be a silent partner in the team, the business world’s leading self-publicist said, “I don’t really do silent.”
He’s delirious, but he also knows that the price tag just went up. If he is going to pump some proper money into the team, it’s going to be decided over the next few weeks. He won’t be in Malaysia (who would, if they had an option?), but is likely to make an appearance in Shanghai. His money will have a decisive influence on the way this championship unfolds. The team has a decent budget for the season, but extra money will mean extra development and that will be necessary if the team are to keep McLaren and Ferrari behind them.
The Brawn team members meanwhile, acquitted themselves well for an outfit that is not used to dominating. There was a palpable sense of nerves on the grid, but the experienced hands, like sporting director Ron Meadows, kept things in order. The mechanics bustled around the two plain white cars, sitting on the front row of the grid, pointing down towards the first corner.
It was my first time on the grid since the US Grand Prix of 2001, my last race as a pit reporter before taking over from Murray in the commentary box. I’d forgotten how much energy there is down there.
Alonso was very impressive, fired up and instructing his engineers on how he saw the race unfolding and what options to think about on strategy. He leads, without a doubt.
Every car, particularly the quick ones, has a member of another team hanging around it, looking at details in the design. The grid is the only time that the cars are fair game to be examined like that.
Behind the scenes this weekend was a sense that F1 has renewed itself, that the credit crunch might have actually saved F1 from itself, by forcing everyone to address spending, by creating the circumstances for the Brawn team to exist and to write a thrilling new chapter in the story. Most sponsors and teams have made cutbacks, some have already made redundancies, but in austerity comes a spirit of togetherness and that is very much the tone at the moment.
There were politics between teams over the protests and the appeal and so on. But there was almost a conviviality about it. After Williams withdrew it’s protest against Ferrari last night, this morning Stefano Domenicali went down to the Williams area for a friendly chat with CEO Adam Parr. The atmosphere between the teams is the most cordial I’ve seen it in F1. One McLaren figure even told me today that he was a bit worried because he actually felt sorry for Ferrari for their poor showing! That is what you call rapprochement.
The teams are not at each other’s throats as much as you might imagine. Sure there are some people who are annoyed by the diffuser trick that Brawn, Williams and Toyota have played, but they also know that they are in a much bigger game with Bernie and Max and that sticking together is the important thing.