Archive for the ‘BrawnGP’ Category

I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw this Brawn car for the first time on the Monday morning in Barcelona on the 9th of March. It looked different, the detail on the car was so refined, and it went like stink.

Here was the most dominant F1 car we’ve seen since the Ferrari of 2004 and it was born out of the wreckage of the Honda team. Today they got a one-two finish in the first Grand Prix, making monkeys of the opposition as they went. How must Honda be feeling now? They pulled out of F1 just before Christmas, despite the assurances of Ross Brawn that the car would be a potential championship winner.

The executive who took that decision is like the man from Decca Records who turned down the Beatles. He would say it had to be done because car sales were plummeting, but the other manufacturers have stayed in and they didn’t have a car like this one.

It’s very likely that they will dominate again in Malaysia, although the heat there will test the reliability of this car, which has still not done a huge mileage in testing. They have a good 8/10ths advantage over the Ferrari and more than a second over the McLaren. Both teams are frantically working on bringing new parts to the car at the next few races, hurling money at the problem, making a bit of a mockery of the concept of cost saving. For Ferrari to do the diffuser properly it requires a new gearbox casing, so it’s a very big job. McLaren have an astonishing manufacturing capability and they will need it because they are coming from a long way back.

As for Jenson Button, he was enjoying himself this weekend, always looked relaxed and happy, not feeling pressure, revelling in the second chance that fate has given him. But behind the scenes he was very intense all weekend, apparently. He knows that this is his opportunity to do all the things he thought he was going to do in his career, before it went down the wrong path with Williams, then BAR and Honda.

I expect to see a more intense Button now, more single-minded, more ruthless even. He can take no prisoners from here, he has to translate this car advantage into results every time, keep Rubens behind him and nothing can stand in his way. If he can get far enough ahead in the points before the big teams wake up, he can win the world title. If they had stuck with the ‘winner takes all model’ of deciding a championship, he’d have had an even better chance.

This Brawn car has been very carefully prepared and has come out of the oven perfectly cooked, whereas, in comparison the grandee teams have whipped something up in the microwave. They now have to work hard to refine. It’s unlikely that the FIA appeal court will help them by upholding their appeal against the Brawn diffuser, they are going to have to do it the hard way, in the wind-tunnel.

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A dozen or so of the British media’s finest representatives sat down with Sir Richard Branson this afternoon to get some more detail.

He’s a very tall man, slightly stooped, very pale looking. We sat in the Brawn hospitality area and, having looked in vain through all his pockets for his ‘cheat sheet’ notes Branson decided to just go for it and think on his feet.

As always with journalists there was a faint whiff of scepticism about this sponsorship deal with Brawn, the suggestion being that money has yet to change hands. This feeling was reinforced when Nick Fry was brought in by Branson to help him out on how much detail he should give and Nick said as an aside that he was still waiting for a cheque.

Branson said, “Until they get the cheque they don’t want me to go too far.”

The deal is a toe in the water job to start, thrown together at short notice with and it depends on how the discussions go in the next few weeks as to whether the relationship goes deeper. I asked him if he planned to buy an equity stake and get a seat on the board and he said that he needed to keep something to say to us in a few weeks time.

Here’s the rest of the conversation.


How long have you seriously looked at F1?

“I’ve enjoyed it for years and in past got tempted but it’s been such an expensive sport. But the recession has been bringing the cost of entry down to a more reasonable level and the new rules that are coming out to encourage new teams to come in for more sensible amounts of money will make it a more exciting sport. When the Honda team got into trouble and it looked like a possibility of it disappearing altogether we spoke with Honda. I think we’ve ended up with the best of all worlds with a fantastic engineer and a great brand like Virgin. It’s something which could develop into something exciting in the years to come.”

“I’ve been fortunate I’ve done ballooning and boating and it hasn’t cost any money, I’ve always got someone else to sponsor them. I like to make everything pay its way. The idea of writing a cheque for tens of millions is something we haven’t done in the past. But at the right value it makes sense. We’ve come in with an underdog team that needed financial help at a time that they have an engineer with a fantastic track record and a shot at doing well.”

“We’ve throw something together in quite a quick period of time and all of us would like to see it develop into a more complete relationship, maybe over the next three or four years.”

Could you have the naming rights for the team?
“It’s a possibility, we’ll see what happens over the next three or four weeks. The team don’t want to waste the name of the team on something that is not promoting anything. Everyone knows that it has a great engineer, the team doesn’t need to be named after an engineer and that may well change. If it happened we’d be committed for a long time.”

What do you need to make that commitment.?
“We all need more time. We are a Virgin bride and someone else may come in and offer something even better before this bride marries them. But I’m sure we will get something together.

‘We announced that we would put all the profits from our dirty businesses into developing a clean fuel. We have that fuel now and one great way of proving to the world that there is a clean fuel that works and which can be used in ordinary cars and aeroplanes is for it to be used in F1. I’ve just met the head of Mercedes to start the talks about seeing if it can be tested in F1 cars and used as soon as possible.


“Every industry has to move towards clean fuels. F1 has to be the leader in clean fuels, F1 have said they are committed to it. I know that the people at the top of F1 are very keen to move towards a sport that they can be proud of and one of those aspects is running on clean fuels as long as it doesn’t detract from the excitement of the sport. We believe our fuel will be even faster than the current fuels.

“This is the first stage of a deal which is meant to be two stages and we will see what happens over the next few weeks.”

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The appeal lodged by some of the leading F1 teams against Brawn, Williams and Toyota, will be heard in Paris on 14th April, which is the Tuesday before the Chinese Grand Prix. This means that the results of the first two Grands Prix of the season are subject to the appeal.

The stewards here in Melbourne threw out the protests of Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault on Thursday into the ‘double decker’ diffusers, which give significantly more downforce than the others are getting.

Flavio Briatore is incandescent about this, frustrated as he is by his team’s performance and by the process which has seen these three teams build these diffusers. He says that it’s a safety issue as the cars are going far faster than they were supposed to with the new rules intended to take 50% of the downforce away.

Actually it is true that the cars, now equipped with slick tyres, and with a lot of that downforce clawed back, are going very quickly, faster than last year. By the end of the season with plenty of development on the cars, the cornering speeds will be getting very high and they might have to do something to slow the cars down again.

Flav is especially not happy about Ross Brawn chairing FOTA’s technical working group, representing the teams collective interests and then, as he sees it, gong behind their backs and building this device.

I’ve not spoken to Ross on this last point yet, should have a chance this evening, but I imagine he sees it a bit like in the Ferrari days when Michael Schumacher used to sit on the board of the Grand Prix Drivers Association arguing for safety in F1 and then would go out and push the limits of what was acceptable on the track.

Ross saw no contradiction there. For him, Schumacher was establishing the boundaries and then pushing them to the limit.

For all Flavio’s lobbying, the appeal is likely to fail and the rest of the teams will be forced to copy.

What does that involve? Well most of the teams who don’t have trick diffusers have been testing their own copies in the wind-tunnel for three weeks already. It’s a tricky part, you can’t just bolt it on. It has to work with the other parts of the car, so getting it all lined up will mean that the other teams will not have theirs before the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The cost? To do it properly, with new floor, gearbox modifications and so on is probably around £5 million. That’s about 7% of the budget of a midfield team.

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Behind the Virgin deal

I followed curiously as Sir Richard Branson, accompanied by two dolly birds in Virgin T shirts made their way from the swipe gates to the Brawn GP garage to announce the sponsorship deal.

Branson knows a thing or two about getting publicity and this was an old-fashioned attention grab, which worked a treat. He was answering questions from Sky TV Italy, flashbulbs popping all around him. At one point he turned to one of the girls and said, “I think we’re doing rather well, don’t you?”

The Brawn mechanics were still putting the stickers on the back-board for the press conference when the principals came out. It was all rather last minute and very rock and roll.

John Button, Jenson’s Dad was loving it all. He pointed to the Virgin logo on the wall, “Haven’t seen one of those for ages,” he quipped.


Branson said that he is investing heavily in ‘clean’ fuels, which do not emit carbons. He says he has a fuel ready for F1 and is going to try to persuade the car companies and F1 in general to use it. Shell, Mobil and Total, who invest heavily in Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will be interested to hear that.

The stickers on the car are quite small, indicating that this is a toe in the water job Branson said however that it is potentially a two stage deal’. He’s talking to us later in more detail and we’ll find out if that means that he plans to take a shareholding in the team.

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There’s a strong story doing the rounds here in Melbourne that Richard Branson’ s Virgin group is going to announce a sponsorship deal with Brawn GP tomorrow (Friday). Branson himself is believed to be on his way out here to make the announcement.

It is well known that Virgin looked seriously at buying the team from Honda over the winter, but pulled out because, among other reasons, it felt the sport’s environmental credentials were not as strong as they need them to be.

I imagine also that they were put off by the uncertainty about the performance of the car and the cost control rules for this year and beyond. The picture has become a good deal clearer now and in some ways you could say that they probably realise that they might have missed a trick. The car is the fastest in the field and the era of the budget cap will soon be upon us. Brawn GP is a fantastic asset. As a business model it is starting to make a lot of sense for a company like Virgin, which would get a massive return on investment.

Ross Brawn is sitting on an asset which will be worth tens, possibly hundreds of millions of pounds in a few years time. The move to a budget cap and the stunning performance of the Brawn car are two reasons for Virgin to reconsider involvement in Brawn. Ross needs strong partners for the future, to consolidate the team and then take it forward as an established top team. Virgin may in time become more than a sponsor. It makes little sense in branding terms for the cars to be called Brawns. They are not using F1 to try to build a brand, like Mercedes or Renault or Red Bull. They might as well work with a partner with a strong brand.

And now clear, for the moment, of the regulatory hurdle of the diffuser row, the way is clear for a very opportunistic piece of sponsorship business.

The Brawn cars will totally dominate this weekend and the next few as well, until the others can catch up. Brawn has some development parts in the pipeline, which could keep their noses in front for the first half of the season, For a sponsor it is a golden opportunity, of the kind which does not come along too often. And Branson is nothing if not an opportunist.

Brawn will be the story here, looking at grabbing the front row and sealing a one-two finish in the race, provided they are reliable. And that means the chance for Virgin to get saturation coverage.

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As predicted here the protests against the diffusers of the Brawn, Williams and Toyota cars have been thrown out by the Melbourne stewards. But this does not mean that the matter is closed. The plaintiff teams have appealed and that means that the three teams whose diffusers were questioned will race under appeal on Sunday.

As it’s unlikely that an appeal can be heard before the Malaysian GP next Sunday, I imagine that the story will roll on there as well so the results of the first two races will be subject to appeal.

It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s something the sport has to go through as there is no mechanism for getting a definitive answer on something like this until the cars get to a race weekend and stewards can judge.

The perception given to the outside world watching, coming after last week’s u turn over the winner takes all points systems, is that the things are a bit all over the place in F1 at the moment and the teams are at each other’s throats. I think the teams would like the matter cleared up as quickly as possible so they can all get on with racing each other knowing what the rules are.

There’s a great book for parents of young boys, called “Raising Boys’ by a Steve Biddulph. As a parent of two boys I have read it closely.

One of the key premises in the book is that boys, unlike girls, are quite straight forward. They will behave themselves and fall into line as long as three key elements are clear to them

1. Who’s in charge?
2. What are the rules?
3. Will those rules be fairly applied?

I actually think that things don’t change much when boys become men and a lot of what happens in the world’s trouble spots reflects the fact that something has broken down in this schematic, usually when boys/men perceive that there is some kind of vacuum or uncertainty.

Undoubtedly it is true in F1.

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Just landed in Melbourne and I see that Red Bull has confirmed that it will protest the diffuser on the Brawn car, which it believes is worth half a second per lap.

Seven teams believe that the interpretations of Williams, Toyota and Brawn are outside the rules. It’s one of those classic F1 moments you often get with a rule change, where someone spots a loophole, gets a performance advantage from it and the others cry foul. You can bet that if they had thought of it they would have gone for it, because that’s the nature of the beast.

Red Bull’s technical chief, Adrian Newey, used to be the king of the new rules loophole, I remember when they brought in high cockpit sides after Karl Wendlinger’s accident Newey had a brilliant solution to that on the Williams.

The quotes are quite strong on this from Flavio Briatore said
“It looks like there are two sets of regulations: the one that allows some teams to have the diffuser built in a certain way that is forbidden to others because it’s considered illegal,”

“It’s illegal,” agreed Red Bull’s Helmut Marko.. “We’ll make a protest [Thursday] if the component isn’t modified to conform to the regulations, because that diffuser guarantees a five-tenths [of a second] advantage per lap. Seven teams are certain it’s illegal.”

Ross Brawn is such a consummate organiser, I imagine he has a plan B in case the diffuser is thrown out. How much that might damage their lap times will be interesting. I reckon they had a good second over the midfield and maybe six or seven tenths over the Ferrari/BMW/Toyota battle.

FIA president Max Mosley gave an enigmatic response,
“It’s a very clever device and you can make a good case for saying it’s legal and a very good case for saying that it’s illegal,” he said.

It’s the steward’s call, here in Melbourne. As last year they are headed by the FIA’s Alan Donnelly.

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It’s official! The Brawn is the fastest car in the F1 field with two weeks to go before the start of the season! It is an extraordinary story.

The Barcelona test, which finished on Thursday, could well go down as one of the most remarkable events in recent F1 history, as a team which seemed dead in the water at Christmas, bounced back and not only set the fastest outright lap of the week, but showed that it is faster over the race distance than the Ferrari!

Amazingly for a brand new car, reliability was very good too. The car covered over 2,000 kilometres during the four days using the same Mercedes engine (!) and had very few technical issues.

It looks very much as though the battle for victory in Melbourne will be between Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, as long as the car lasts the distance. It has done two race distances in the last two days, so the omens are good. And the competition between the two Brawn drivers is fierce – yesterday Rubens was faster than Jenson was the day before over the long runs, but there was far less wind and the track was more rubbered in.

If you make a direct comparison between the race distance runs of Massa and Button on Wednesday and Barrichello on Thursday you see that Jenson does 19 laps below 1m 21, Barrichello does 14, while Massa manages just 2!

What is even more impressive is that on the 19th lap of his 20 lap first stint Rubens does a 1m 19.971 – startling proof that the Brawn looks after its tyres very well over a long run. The team really are in amazing shape! In contrast the Ferrari’s lap times tail off into the 1m 22s at the end of the 20 lap stints.

If I get some time I’ll work out exactly how far ahead of the Ferrari the Brawn would have been over a race distance.

In fact, so stunning was the Brawn’s pace in Barcelona, it has caused all the F1 teams to completely revise their targets for the season. As I write this, there are briefings going on in all the team’s factories as the full impact of the Barcelona data sinks in. Of course the teams will have big updates for Melbourne, which will make them faster, whereas the Brawn car is is Melbourne specification now, so the gap will close up.

Also Brawn flying is not the best advert for KERS, as the team is not using it and won’t be until later in the season.

Don’t forget, Barcelona is a great yardstick for the season as it rewards aerodynamic efficiency and good tyre management, so if your car goes well there it’s going to go well at most places.

One team engineer I spoke to remembers an meeting last season when the then Honda engineers said that they were going to be a long way ahead in 2009. Given where they were at the time, everyone laughed it off. They are not laughing now.

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This has been a great week for F1 with a real buzz starting to build around the start of the new season. As predicted it has also given us a much better idea of where the teams are relative to each other in performance, with a few surprises, like McLaren and Brawn.

The key question is, who’s the pace setter? Well from what I’ve seen so far this week -and the picture has been clearing as the week’s gone on – there is nothing to choose between Ferrari and BMW, with Toyota and Brawn right there too. The one thing we have not seen is the outright pace of the Ferrari and BMW cars, ie low fuel flat out.

Of those teams only Brawn has more testing days, next week in Jerez. The others have finished.

When they do longer runs, the pace in similar. On Wednesday Felipe Massa did a 20 lap run with laps in the mid to low 1min 21s. His fastest time came on the fourth lap of a six lap run and he did a 1m20.168. Interestingly his two previous laps were 1min 20.4s.

Around the same time, Robert Kubica in the BMW was on a similar programme, setting a best time of 1min 20.217 on the third lap of a four lap run, so he was 0.05s slower than Massa, albeit his run was a couple of laps shorter. It shows that they are very close to each other on performance. There will be some places where the Ferrari has the edge and others where BMW has it. And we have yet to see which of the two is the better qualifying car, but it does seem as though the Ferrari still has the tendancy to have more difficulty getting heat into the tyres on cold days. We will see.

Meanwhile Toyota’s Timo Glock also set his time on the fourth lap of a five lap run on Wednesday and he was 0.25s slower than the Ferrari, so very close indeed, even allowing for the fact that they may have had slightly different fuel loads. As Jarno Trulli said on Monday night, Toyota is there or thereabouts.

Apparently technicians who have overlaid every lap by every car say that it puts Toyota and Brawn on Ferrari’s pace with BMW a shade behind. McLaren are some way behind.

Rubens Barrichello stunned everyone by dipping under 1 min 19secs today. Massa told reporters that his Ferrari would not have been able to do that lap time. The car is very sound aerodynamically and voices around the team are saying that the Mercedes engine is as much as 70bhp up on last year’s Honda.

It is shaping up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated starts to an F1 season in years.

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Everyone is buzzing with the performance of the new Brawn Mercedes car in Barcelona, particularly that lap Jenson did on Wednesday of 1m 19.127 to end the day fastest.

There is a lot of speculation within F1 circles and the wider public about how he did that time, whether it is genuine or whether they are running an underweight car to attract sponsors, as some teams have done in the past.


Even Fernando Alonso has paid tribute to the Brawn team today, saying that his Renault couldn’t do those lap times whatever configuration it was in!

Well I’ve taken a close look at the data I’ve gathered and there is no doubt that this car is performing remarkably. We will only know whether it has been running underweight when we get the first two races out of the way and we can see what the relative performance of the Brawn to the BMW and Ferrari is when they all have to be the minimum weight.

Jenson did the lap time on the third lap of a four lap run. What is interesting about it is that his first flying lap was a 1m 19.229, so already very quick on the first lap, then he goes faster again. It was a qualifying simulation, of course, but he found more from the tyres on the second flying lap.

Whichever way you shake it, this was a massively quick time and reminiscent of the pre-season tests in 2004 when he did similar things, everyone thought it was underweight showboating, but the team went on and finished second in the championship.

As for their long run pace, this too is equally impressive. Jenson did a 22 lap run with laps mostly in the 1m21s and high 1m 20s. On Wednesday in Barcelona not too many other cars were doing long runs at that speed. Massa’s Ferrari does a 20 lap run with laps in the low 1m21s.

So on the face of it, as Alonso says, the Brawn is as fast as the Ferrari, which is amazing if the car is running at its legal weight. Bear in mind that Ferrari is running KERS and Brawn is not, so there is a weight advantage to Brawn. And the Brawn is able to put its ballast where it wants it, to improve weight distribution. But on the other hand the Ferrari has the performance boost of the KERS button on the straights – Massa is 8km/h faster across the start line than Jenson.

Jenson does another long run, this time 21 laps, eight of which are in the 1m 20s, again super-competitive.

They’ve been working on their 2009 car for longer than any of their rivals, having effectively written off the 2008 season before it started! They’ve made the work count and you can see why the team were so frustrated that Honda panicked when it saw the November sales figures and pulled the plug on F1.

The team knew they had a really good car on their hands.

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