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Editorial Formula 1 24

Proof it can happen to anyone

How quickly things change. Four years ago, Ross Brawn was grappling with the task of saving his team and hundreds of jobs in the wake of Honda’s withdrawal from Formula 1. Thanks largely to the intervention of McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh, Mercedes stepped in with an engine deal that would lead Brawn’s team to the most unlikely World Championship we’d ever seen.

Three years ago, Brawn found himself in charge of a full-blown Silver Arrows factory team, Mercedes-Benz having bought into that world title success with bottomless enthusiasm. This time, Ross had all the resources he could possibly need. He was also significantly richer, too.

f1 from the editor  Proof it can happen to anyone

Today, the story has changed again. After all those years of success, first with Benetton, emphatically with Ferrari and then cunningly under his own name, Brawn has come up short. After three years, a solitary victory and a lone podium for returnee Michael Schumacher was a poor return. Like a Premiership manager grappling with a dire run of results at the bottom of the table, the team principal’s card is marked.

Let’s be clear. No announcement has yet been made about Ross Brawn’s future. But with the appointments of both Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, there’s a new broom sweeping through Stuttgart and Brackley – or should I swap cliché weapons for a swinging axe?

Yesterday’s man Schumacher has been pensioned off in favour of today’s most explosive talent Lewis Hamilton. Norbert Haug, who was never the modern Alfred Neubauer he clearly wanted to be, has gone too. Then the heavyweight technical team – Bob Bell, Aldo Costa, Geoff Willis and Loic Bigois – face the possibility of having to shuffle up (or even shuffle out) to make room for Paddy Lowe, if he does indeed jump from McLaren (how Whitmarsh must now be grinding his teeth after that goodwill mission in the winter of ’08).

So will Brawn depart, too?

If he does, it shows yet again that past achievements can count for little in life. Whatever the backstory of the past three years, and whatever happens next, Ross Brawn remains a colossus of modern F1. But that doesn’t matter right now. Whoever you are, whatever your record and wherever you work, there’s always someone above you who knows how best to do your job. Or thinks as much, anyway.

f1 from the editor  Proof it can happen to anyone

The Mercedes board, it seems, have decided enough’s enough. Toto Wolff has motor racing experience in the DTM and Formula 3, but in F1 terms he’s been around for about five minutes, as a Williams shareholder. Even so, it is implied that he knows more about running a Grand Prix team than Ross Brawn. Strange how quickly things change.

Adrian Reynard found fortune turn against him even faster little more than a decade ago, and his account of his company’s sudden downfall came back to me as rumours about Brawn’s future surfaced.

Reynard ran what was once the world’s biggest, most successful racing car constructor, but as he tells Simon Taylor in our latest ‘lunch with’ interview in the March issue, his power crumbled not in three years, but in a matter of months.

“In August 2001 I made the decision to lay down 50 Indycars [for the following season],” Reynard tells Simon. “In the previous three years our sales had been running at that level and we knew all the teams, we knew what their needs were going to be. Then on September 11, 2001 I was coming out of a meeting when I heard what had just happened in New York and Washington…

“On November 3, when we arranged to deliver our first 2002 car, the customer didn’t want to take it. That was a surprise. Soon we had four cars sitting on the shop floor and nobody had paid for them… Soon from 375 staff, we were down to about 160. By February we were distress-selling the cars we had, because we were running out of cash.

f1 from the editor  Proof it can happen to anyone

“I had to accept there was no way forward. We were bust. Everything we’d worked for over 29 years: it had all gone.”

Reynard is not the most popular figure in motor racing circles. Despite the heartbreaking fall of his once-great racing empire, he walked away a rich man as his staff faced unemployment. But as you can read in the March issue, the dollars didn’t take away his genuine pain of his company’s failure. And for all his wealth, Brawn too will be hurting right now… especially if the axe does indeed fall.

Such is the competitive nature and professional pride of such pure-blooded racing men. Lest we forget, if it can happen to powerful figures such as these, it can clearly happen to anyone.

Aside from the fascinating Reynard interview, we wallow (with no hint of apology) in the glorious colours of Gulf Oils this month. There’s no particular reason, no special anniversary from which to hang our cover shoot. But with such a mouth-watering collection of cars just sitting at Duncan Hamilton’s premises waiting to be snapped, we couldn’t resist.

Ace photographer Matt Howell shot Roald Goethe’s incredible collection in a giant and very empty hangar. With some clever lighting and the fabulous backdrop of a newly-restored JW Automotive Mercedes transporter, Matt worked wonders. But then he couldn’t go too far wrong with a Porsche 917, Ford GT40, Mirage GR8, McLaren F1 GTR and so on – especially when they’re all painted in that livery.

f1 from the editor  Proof it can happen to anyone

Nigel Roebuck meets Martin Brundle for lunch to discuss F1’s top three drivers, and then has some ‘what if’ fun by creating his own 2013 GP calendar. Funnily enough, the demands of F1’s powerbrokers to claw as much cash from each race as possible didn’t figure too highly in his decision-making process.

Oh, and I didn’t think I’d be writing this any time soon, but Max Mosley pops up for a brief appearance, too. After all we wrote about him during his final months in office at the FIA, I never thought Max would be in any mood to speak to us again. But when Andrew Frankel called him to ask for his memories of Jackie Stewart’s March 701, he couldn’t have been more helpful.

Ross Brawn would probably be happier going fishing if this is the end of his F1 sojourn. He didn’t say so, but we suspect that’s not the case for Max Mosley.

f1 from the editor  Proof it can happen to anyone

Add your comments

24 comments on Proof it can happen to anyone

  1. dave cubbedge, 23 January 2013 17:01

    I wouldn’t think Ross Brawn has anything to worry about – there are at least seven-eight teams in F1 that could use his services and expertise.

  2. Phil Rainford, 23 January 2013 17:12

    One has to ask if Ross Brawn left how would Lewis Hamilton feel….Brawn must have been one of the resons Lewis made the move?


  3. Bob Strutton, 23 January 2013 17:19

    From back in his slot racing days to now, Ross is, and always will be, a winner !

  4. Peter Mann, 23 January 2013 17:28

    It’s pretty obvious what Ross should do if Mercedes don’t want him – replace Paddy Lowe at McLaren!

  5. Piero Dessimone, 23 January 2013 17:33

    It will be a pity if Ross Brawn will go but I guess he will not have financial problems or troubles to find another job if he will wish to do it. As always big car manufacturers (except Renault) are a waste of time and mainly money when they get involved as a full team in modern F1 (from the 70s to date) except being very successful in filling the wallets of Mr.E and the other team principals that are smart enough to associate with the car manufacturers for a given period of time. Lauda has already been involved with Jaguar/Ford and we all know what happpened there, Toto Wolff has yet to prove himself (thank you for putting money in Williams). When Mercedes bought Brawn GP I foresaw what it is happening today. In a couple of years Mercedes as a team will be history and since they have already presented the turbo engine maybe they will stay as supplier. I hope for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg that I will be proven wrong. I look forward to receive the new Motorsport issue.

  6. Michael Spitale, 23 January 2013 17:34

    This story keeps getting more and more odd. Is Lauda trying to build a German super team? It seems there is little to no game plan. ….or perhaps this was the plan all along and it is simply unfolding now…?

  7. Bill, 23 January 2013 17:45

    “today’s most explosive talent Lewis Hamilton”

    Pass me the vomit bucket, please.

    Reynard, hahahaha. Wasnt he the guy who used crude wintunnels for BAR…in the United States?

    Mercedes would be mad to get rid of Brawn, with BAR as example. Big name team bosses came in and out. Dave Richards was hailed as the best thing since sliced bread…and crashed out bigtime. Bobby Rahal and Lauda didnt make it, Mario Theissen at BMW was a failure, and Toyota was maybe the most like Mercedes: they bought all the big wigs and never produced anything.

    Jacky Stewart can say Mercedes will leave if they dont produce results, saying big names should remain in F1, but he himself sold his own Stewart F1 team after only 3 (!) years to Ford.

    I thin Brawn suffers from the lack of testing. Right now you need a good base, and develop that eternally in simulators. That was never Brawns forte. I think it would be a shame if he leaves, and will cost Mercedes and Hamilton a lot. Funny, that with Hamilton in a team, always there is trouble. Maybe the explosive talent remark isnt so far fetched, just not on track, as mr Smith would like to believe.

  8. Geoffrey Bird, 23 January 2013 18:36

    I can’t wait to read Ross Brawn’s memoirs!!

  9. chris b, 23 January 2013 19:58

    i do wonder if Merc are trying to sort of reincarnate Herr Neubauer and as you suggest DS make this some sort of Austro-Germanic endeavor, well good luck to them if they do! thus far they have shown an exemplary example, they seem ambitious and yet human, not as other manufacturers have come and gone, and earned a lot of respect so good luck Merc.- especially as finally you have two decent drivers – at last –

    i have a problem with Ross, a brilliant engineer and manager who has done wonders in his career, but when at Ferrari and was it the barge boards? how one measures them? i still have problems with the FIA about that – but perhaps Ross might fancy taking over at Williams and put them back where they rightly belong

    p.s. so looking forward to this month’s magazine, those Gulf cars look awesome, especially the Porsche 917

  10. Jason Gozzett, 23 January 2013 20:50

    I can’t imagine that Ross Brawn would be out of work for long if he finds himself out of work at Mercedes as I’m sure his services will be greatly in demand. However, rather like the lure of joining a team that has Adrian Newey as head of design, I can’t help thinking that part of the lure of driving for Mercedes for Lewis Hamilton was the fact that Ross Brawn would be his Team Principal and chief strategist.
    If he is forced out of Mercedes it may not be bad for Ross but I do not think it will reflect well on our sport!

  11. Tony Geran, 23 January 2013 21:28

    It would seem strange to dump a guy responsible for 8 world championships for someone with 5 mins F1 expereince as a shareholder. I wonder if Hamilton has got some sort of performance clause, or better yet, a management stability clause in his contract. Looking forward to receiving the next issue

  12. Bill Howard, 23 January 2013 21:37

    How about Ross Brawn to Mclaren and Martin Whitmarsh being pushed up stairs. Stupid maybe but i am not sure MW has what it takes at the very front of the business as nice a chap as he is.But if RB could work with Schumey then he can work with anyone. Just a thought!!

  13. Steve W, 24 January 2013 01:13

    Somehow, I have this feeling that modern-day “Mercedes” will soon join the ranks of other recent corporate giants “Toyota”, “Honda” and “BMW” and ultimately fail in the world of Formula One…

  14. David H, 24 January 2013 01:54

    Tough for McLaren if Paddy leaves with latest design details—doubt that ‘garden leave’ means much these days. Hope for their sake at least Honda comes on as an engine supplier—I’d imagine some of the MB engines will be more equal than others. I would delight in Ross moving to McLaren or Ferrari and beating MB by a mile.

  15. Bill, 24 January 2013 03:43

    To be fair, Ross Brawn was always the technical director. He thrived under Jean Todt, in fact, he saved Todts career imo.

    But I guess the writing was on the wall, when Norbert Haug was sacked. Mercedes F1 atm looks like a snakes pit.

  16. Paul Sultana, 24 January 2013 07:17

    can’t help thinking, when you’re mentioning big manufacturers in F1 , why everyone seems to steer clear of Ferrari. That”s the Fiat empire right there, but they have a group president that’s a racer at heart and that you can identify. Could you ever identify who pushes the buttons in the boardroom at merc or toyota like you can identify di montezemolo ? Maybe that makes all the difference. .

  17. Piero Dessimone, 24 January 2013 08:56

    Ferrari is not mentioned when talking about big manufacrturers because to be successful they managed (also thanks to DiMontezemolo) to stay clear of the Fiat beans counter but when Fiat tried to take full control of the Maranello outfit Ferrari went through one of the worst period of their history from 1986 to 1996 with just a little interlude in 89/90 with Mansell and Prost driving.

  18. Bill, 24 January 2013 15:19

    @ Piero, the 94 and 95 Ferrari was pretty good and only suffered reliability. But I take your point.

    Regarding the Brawn story: it all seems a bit premature. Andrew Benson falls flat on his face, again, with his tabloid speculation on Brawn. Im sure it must be hard to contain himself, with his burning love for Hamilton, and anything vaguely related to him.

    Brawn has dismissed the story, and actually it makes sense. You must be really crazy to sack a man responsible for a streak of championships unrivalled by anyone. That the Mercedes car didnt work wasnt his fault. He has no influence on the day to day running of his technical department, unlike with Ferrari. Imo:

    - Wolff steps in as the new Norbert Haug. He has no experience in running an F1 team by himself and Merc would be absolutly crazy to put him in charge.
    - Lauda is on board as advisor on the board, just as he did with Ferrari. He was instrumental in getting Schumacher to Jean Todt, and now managed to work on Hamiltons to sign for Mercedes.
    - Paddy Lowe would be an nice head of technical director, guiding Willis, Costa, etc.

    See, plenty of room.

  19. Piero Dessimone, 24 January 2013 18:04

    @ Bill, I agree with all your comments. Both in 89/90 and 94/95 the cars were designed by John Barnard away from Maranello.

  20. Markus Rohlm, 25 January 2013 06:53

    In a MS “Lunch with Ron Dennis” Ron said, referrring to Lewis Hamilton ” Last time I looked he worked for me”
    Hamilton’s response was to the effect he worked for Whitmarsh and Ron’s opinion did not matter.
    Love to see him try that on Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff!!!!!!

  21. Mike Dodd, 25 January 2013 10:20

    Laura clearly demonstrated in his contribution to the Ford F1 pantomime that he hadn’t a clue how to direct an F1 team. If Ross goes (God forbid), Mercedes F1 will be gone within 2 years having had Ms Wolff as lead driver in place of Hamilton in 2014.

  22. Lewis Lane, 26 January 2013 15:20

    With the Paddy Lowe element, am i the only one sensing that Ross is being sidelined or squeezed out, and no-one seems to have the guts to tell him?
    Potentially big mistake at Mercedes if that is the case, and i hope for both his and the team’s sake that i’m wrong…
    Seems to me as an outsider to be a growing element of that interfering big manufacturer mentality that wants instant results, doesn’t allow a team to develop and flourish, then “restructures” the people who actually know what they’re doing (see Honda, Toyota et al)…

  23. Lewis Lane, 26 January 2013 15:22

    PS: The idea of Ross at Williams has some appeal..!

  24. A.S. Gilbert, 30 January 2013 15:42

    Mercedes seemed very promising, must have believed they would be much further along, by now.
    Hiring Schumacher was a PR lightning rod, but he was a choice out of time.
    Given the current climate in F1, if Mr. Brawn’s services become available, his options will be intriguing. The majority of entreaties might be something like this…
    “Opportunity to work 80-100 hour weeks, with lately burger fueled enthusiastics. Charm, and be obsequious to sponsor legacy crones.
    Find seconds a lap, from newly signed, financially self sufficient lads from exotic locales. Refrain from mentioning the test drivers times in from of them.
    Desktop IT facilities provided, your own laptop optional, and welcome. Mathematic, diplomatic acumen, helpful.
    The corner upstairs office and share of a P.A. if you bring a proven body of work at the F1 level, and toe in the door with Euro 20,000,000 from the sugar bowl in your estate kitchen. ”
    Modern times, not necessarily the best of times !

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