>> The Red Bull dynamic
>> F1's nice guys lose out
>> Changing times
As the 1982 Swiss Grand Prix (at Dijon…) entered its final minutes, Williams team manager Peter Collins started getting edgy. Keke Rosberg’s Cosworth-powered FW08 was catching Alain Prost’s slowing Renault, but the laps were running out and it was going to be close. As well as that, there appeared the possibility – outlandish as it seemed – that Prost might be about to get a little local help. As the cars, now just a few lengths apart, went into lap 78, with three to go, Collins noted that already an official was unfurling the chequered flag, as if preparing to wave it next time around.
Peter therefore hastened to the rostrum, where he engaged the man in urgent debate, pointing out the race was 80 laps, and we hadn’t quite got there yet. “If necessary,” he said, “I was going to pin the bloke’s arms to his sides, so he couldn’t wave the flag…”
Fortunately it was not waved on the next lap, which was good for Rosberg, as on lap 79 he managed to find a way past Prost – but neither did it appear at the right moment, for by now there was complete Gallic confusion, with officials gesticulating in all directions. Keke, who wasn’t going to back off until he saw a chequered flag, finally received it after 81 laps and thus scored his first Grand Prix victory.
In Shanghai there was a similar debacle, the difference being that this time the flag was waved a lap early. Lewis Hamilton saw it but, believing there had been a mistake, did the same as Rosberg and kept his foot in. The flag had been waved after 55 of the 56 laps, and the rule to cover such an error stipulates that the race result shall be taken from the lap before. Thus the Chinese Grand Prix officially ended on lap 54, which was disappointing for Kamui Kobayashi, whose pass of Jules Bianchi on the final lap now counted for nothing.
The cock-up with the flag, and the consequently foreshortened race, meant that Ricciardo, fourth, officially finished three and a half seconds behind Alonso, but in point of fact when the correct flag was waved, after 56 laps, Daniel was but 1.2sec behind.
To separate Fernando, of all people, from a podium finish is the tallest of orders, but Daniel reckoned that, given another lap or two, he might have been able to DRS past the Ferrari – and, who knows, had he been able to catch it a little sooner, he might indeed have made it.
As it was, he had been earlier delayed – behind his team-mate – and had the race gone the full 56 laps, Vettel’s initial refusal to obey a team instruction to let Ricciardo through might have cost Red Bull a podium, for during the two laps in which they circulated together they lost nearly three seconds to Alonso. At the flag, as I said, Daniel was just 1.2sec behind Fernando.
In absolute terms, the foreshortening of the race made this an irrelevance, but Sebastian’s behaviour prompted a good deal of comment. At present the world champion is in territory unfamiliar to him, not only without the best car, but also struggling to get on terms with his team-mate. At three of the first four races Ricciardo has outqualified him, and twice Vettel has been ordered to let him through.
Although some disguise it better than others, top Grand Prix drivers are rarely devoid of ego, and of course the very public acknowledgement that you are holding up your team-mate is not easy to bear, but even so Vettel’s response in China was singularly churlish.
“Sebastian, let Daniel through, please.”
“Which tyre is he on?”
“Primes – but he stopped later than you…”
Afterwards Sebastian claimed that, given they were both on the same tyres, he hadn’t understood the request, but that when he did, he moved over because, “In the end there was no point in holding him back.”
Had he been the ‘team player’ that Christian Horner inevitably claimed him to be, he wouldn’t have held him back at all, and in fact it was irrelevant to suggest he hadn’t understood the request: all that mattered was that it had been made, in the best interests of Red Bull, and should therefore – however reluctantly – have been obeyed.
Over time Horner has become accustomed to defusing situations, but, “Come on Seb, this is silly…”, in Malaysia last year, is as close as ever he has publicly come to criticising Vettel. In Shanghai, while describing Seb as a team player for eventually letting Ricciardo through (if indeed he consciously did), in defence of his initial refusal to do so Christian dug out the old chestnut: “He’s a race driver. We employ these guys because they have that fighting spirit. Of course he’s going to question it to understand, but as soon as he did, he moved aside…”
In press conferences and paddock conversations Sebastian, as we know, can be both witty and charming, but that – perhaps inevitably for one of his ability and success – is not the whole story, and when things don’t go his way those two characteristics tend to be in short supply.
In the car, his natural arrogance can assert itself unattractively. We saw it in the short shrift he initially gave his team in Shanghai, and when Kobayashi – on fresh tyres – dared to overtake him (merely unlapping himself), his outrage came across on the radio like a spoilt little boy: “Tell him to get out of the way!”
In tone it was reminiscent of his contemptuous demand, early in the notorious race at Sepang last year: “Mark is too slow. Get him out of the way…”
At present it seems that Sebastian, in the parlance of today, is not ‘in a good place’. From the word go, he has been lukewarm about the new F1, and it must be a shock to the system to find himself not only without the best car, but also – for now, anyway – on the back foot in comparison with his team-mate.
Of course he will come back to winning again – drivers at Vettel’s level always do – but I find curious the suggestion (as has also been made of Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari) that ‘as it is, the car doesn’t suit his driving style’. When was such a thing ever said of Senna or Schumacher or Alonso? A great driver surely adapts to what he is given, doesn’t he? These are very different times, I grant you, but spare a thought for Stirling Moss, who won at Monaco in a Maserati 250F and a Lotus 18.
At the beginning of last year, talking through the season to come with Anthony Davidson, I began by asking him who would win the World Championship. He didn’t hesitate: “Sebastian Vettel.”
Why such an instant response? “Because the rules are virtually unchanged. If we were sitting here now, and it was the beginning of 2014, I’d be saying the World Championship was wide open, because the cars will be completely different, with the new turbo engine and so on – and no blown floor. In my opinion, Alonso’s the best driver out there, but given that in 2013 the rules stay virtually the same – and the fact that you can still blow the floor, which is such a tricky thing for the engineers to do – I think there’s no way Vettel and Red Bull will lose.
“The blown floor gives you more downforce – and it’s not ‘dirty’ downforce, where you gain loads of drag and lose speed on the straight: in effect, it’s free downforce and there’s no downside to it at all. Red Bull has mastered it better than any other team, and Vettel’s the master of driving it.
“If you look at the difference between the start of 2012, when the regulations had changed, and they were pretty much without it – and Webber more than held his own against Vettel – and later in the year, when they found the secret again, it tells its own tale, doesn’t it?
“The technique required for driving with a blown floor is completely counter-intuitive, that’s the point. If you think of it in terms of a motorbike, when you brake and the rear of the bike gets a bit light, the last thing you want to do at that point is downshift, because it’s going to lock the rear up – and when that happens in a car, obviously you risk spinning.
“Driving with a blown floor, though, when you downshift, it revs the engine more: with that comes more thrust – and the more thrust that goes through the diffuser, the more grip you have. To a driver, it’s the very opposite of what you would instinctively do. Just at the moment you’re thinking, ‘I can feel the rear moving – I haven’t got much grip here’ you ask for another downshift, to help with the grip.
“The reason why drivers get to the top in the modern era is that they’re very good at driving single-seaters with a lot of downforce and peaky power. As I say, if we were a year on, and looking to 2014, I’d be much less confident about predicting the champion, because the cars will be so different, with less downforce, much more torque – and, say it again, no blown floor. Why Sebastian seems to be better with it than Mark, I don’t really know…”
Webber himself didn’t know, either, but he freely acknowledged it to be the case. “It was very powerful for Seb – he is anyway a master of slow-speed corners, and he did a very good job with the blown floor – just made it work better than I did, end of story.”
According to Helmut Marko, the pantomime villain of the F1 paddock, Vettel has struggled this season, in comparison with Ricciardo, because of problems with both engine-mapping and the latest Pirellis. And that, in light of something else Webber had said, was a surprise: “Two of Seb’s other strengths are that he’s very, very, good with both engine-mapping and tyres…”
Before the season started Mark was confident that, in a new era of F1, Ricciardo would show very well against Vettel, and at the Silverstone WEC race I reminded him of what he had said. “No blown floor, mate! Red Bull’s was better than anyone else’s, and, like I told you, Seb made brilliant use of it, but now it’s gone. There’s much less downforce than there was, and Daniel seems to be very comfortable with that…”
Since the embarrassments of the pre-season tests, most of which were Renault-related, to no one’s surprise Red Bull’s subsequent progress has been considerable, to the point that although – as the team misses no opportunity to remind us – the car remains significantly down on power, over the lap it appears at least a match for all save Mercedes. If history is any guide, we may reasonably expect that gap to close, at which time the mood of its number one driver will presumably lighten. It would surprise me, though, if Vettel’s other problem – the uncomplicated pace of Ricciardo – were to melt away.
Thus far 2014 is not turning out to be much of a year for the good guys. In January Martin Whitmarsh was deposed at McLaren following Ron Dennis’s in-house coup, and more recently we have had Stefano Domenicali’s departure from Ferrari.
On a personal level, Domenicali – like Whitmarsh – will be much missed in the paddock. As team principals of Ferrari and McLaren, the pair did much to repair the relationship between the teams following the state of toxic warfare that existed, particularly through the ‘Spygate’ affair, during the Todt-Dennis era. Both Stefano and Martin are civilised individuals, but even as I write those words I can hear the old cliché – ‘too nice a guy’ – being trotted out. Maybe so.
Given the mood of Luca di Montezemolo in Bahrain, Domenicali’s departure was not a complete surprise. One way and another, Luca made himself look rather foolish that weekend, not least – in a fine display of solidarity with his team – by theatrically flouncing out of the circuit a dozen laps from the end. “There is nothing more to see…” he said.
Actually, there was.
Back in 2008, when it had seemed momentarily – prior to Lewis Hamilton’s last-ditch pass of Timo Glock – that Massa had won the title for Ferrari, Felipe’s dignified demeanour at Interlagos moved everyone, but back in Italy, meantime, di Montezemolo was busy destroying his TV set. Perhaps, who knows, Luca had sight of one when he got to the airport in Bahrain, in which case he will have been similarly tempted.
For one thing, for all his naysaying, this had been a riveting Grand Prix; for another, his sainted Ferraris had been embarrassingly off the pace. And for another yet, there was the unendurable sight of Aldo Costa – Ferrari’s former technical director – accepting the team trophy on behalf of Mercedes.
When di Montezemolo sacked Costa in May 2011, many thought his decision unjust. “Aldo,” murmured a Ferrari insider, “is just another of Luca’s scapegoats…” If his talents were no longer required in Maranello, however, in Brackley it was a different matter. Having for years worked with Costa at Ferrari, Ross Brawn lost no time in recruiting him as engineering director for Mercedes: “One quick chat was all it took…”
It might have been happenstance, it might not, but whatever the motive behind sending Costa to the podium in Bahrain, it was inspired, for undoubtedly it will have added salt to di Montezemolo’s wound, and after listening all weekend to his endless complaints about ‘the new Formula 1’, Mercedes personnel had endured about enough.
Niki Lauda, as ever, was straight to the point: “All this nonsense about sound and fuel… it was one of the best races I’ve seen in my life, and anyone who complains this is boring is an idiot.” Whomever can he have been talking about? Niki offered a clue: “I hope that tomorrow Bernie and Luca take the time to watch it on TV…”
Unlikely, I’d have thought. Through the days building up to the race, Ecclestone and di Montezemolo had missed no opportunity to denigrate 2014-style F1, just as a few days previously had Red Bull patron Dietrich Mateschitz. The suggestion was that this three-cornered talking down of the sport’s credibility was a sledgehammer attempt to reduce its value preparatory to buying it back from the dread CVC. Asked if such were the case, Bernie was less than convincing: “Not really, no…”
Any other motivation, though, would be hard to fathom. Why else, at the start of an entirely new era of F1, would three of its most powerful figures so determinedly attack it?
It could of course be argued that, in the cases of di Montezemolo and Mateschitz, simple sour grapes were playing a role. For years the patrician Luca, while refusing to countenance criticism of Ferrari by a mere employee (notably one F Alonso, whom he publicly excoriated last autumn), has banged on about his disappointment with the team’s performances, endlessly reminding one and all of the privilege of working for the greater glory of Maranello. Having worked his nuts off for several years, and conspicuously flattered the cars he had been given to drive, as proud a man as Alonso did not need to be treated like a schoolboy in disgrace.
If di Montezemolo revels in the grandiloquent gesture, Mateschitz is quite a different proposition, preferring to stay in the background, and being wheeled out for public comment only when required by circumstance. Twelve months ago he got very agitated by the tyre situation, and on that occasion I agreed with him. With the ultra-delicate Pirellis on offer at the time, the early races of 2013 were farcical, with the drivers cruising for long periods, mindful only of radio instructions to ‘make the tyres last’.
“Everyone knows what is happening here,” Mateschitz said. “This has nothing to do with classic racing any more – this is a competition in tyre management. Under the given circumstances, we can neither get the best out of our cars or our drivers. The target was to get more excitement into the races, with more tyre changes – but not this much.This is now a different situation from the original intention.”
If it were undeniably the case that Red Bull was unable to ‘get the best’ from its cars, this was because the RB9 had more downforce than anything else, so therefore took more out of the flimsy Pirellis than certain rivals. In effect the car was suffering because it was too good, and if many rejoiced at this temporary clipping of Red Bull’s wings, still it was difficult to dispute Mateschitz’s point that the tyre situation had become ridiculous.
This time around his sentiments were similar, but his beef (after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification at Melbourne) now lay with fuel, rather than tyre, conservation. “Formula 1,” he said, “should again be what it has always been: the ultimate discipline. It is not there to set new records in fuel consumption or so you can talk at a whisper during a race…”
Funny thing: Dietrich seems rarely to get exercised by anything when his Red Bulls are winning, which they have done with consummate regularity these last four or five years. As he complained about the Ricciardo situation, he warned that his commitment to F1 was not unlimited.
As one who puts four of the 22 cars on the grid, Mateschitz has become a phenomenally powerful figure in F1, and one unusually close to Ecclestone. When he said his piece about the tyres last May, it was a certainty that something would be done about it, and from Montréal on Pirelli brought more durable rubber to the races. If that not surprisingly infuriated such as Lotus, Ferrari and Force India, whose advantage had been instantly compromised, it delighted Red Bull, for the RB9 was now able to spread its wings. Sebastian Vettel won the Canadian Grand Prix, and in the dozen races that followed was defeated only twice.
As he went through his post-race doughnuts in Abu Dhabi, though, perhaps Seb’s mind was already on the F1 to come: “Thank you, boys,” he said on the radio. “We should remember these days – it won’t always be like this…”
In fact, it has been exactly like that – but for Mercedes, rather than Red Bull. And this time around the complaints of Mateschitz (and di Montezemolo, to say nothing of Ecclestone) are rather less easy to resolve than merely adjusting tyre compounds.
The fact is that some years ago all the teams agreed to a new formula that, being in tune with a changing world, just might persuade existing engine manufacturers to stay involved in F1, as well as potentially attracting new ones.
“We all participated in constructing these regulations,” Ron Dennis said, “and we need to get on and make the best of them. We should be proud of our technology – these are regulations that in the end are going to reduce fuel consumption across the world. The fact that the cars aren’t as noisy doesn’t matter: we can fix that easily, so stop the whingeing.”
Quite so. On his visit to Bahrain FIA president Jean Todt agreed – with a touch of exasperation – to have the wretched noise question looked into, but that was as far as he was prepared to go with the wish list of Ecclestone, di Montezemolo & co. This was not a Banana Republic, he said, and it was absurd to be demanding urgent rule changes.
And so it was. The cars have been designed around the rules as stipulated, and it’s fatuous to speak in terms of ‘changing the fuel flow’ or increasing the size of the tank – let alone, God help us, shortening the races. As Mercedes could quite reasonably argue, why was there any need for change? Hardly the team’s fault, after all, if its rivals couldn’t make the new rules work.
During the build-up to Bahrain, di Montezemolo came forth with an emotional explanation of his distaste for the new F1. “The risk of the new rules,” he said, “is drivers having to think about saving tyres and fuel – this is not Formula 1, which should be extreme, from the first to the last lap. The engine should be music, not noise. And the rules should be not so complicated that the people don’t understand what’s going on, with the fuel meter, and so on. For me F1 is more important than that – it’s our life, and we have to think of the future together, and try to share common goals.”
What Luca appeared to be saying was that F1 should be an entity unto itself, with no need of any kind of nod to a changing world. Had the change in regulations not come about, Mercedes and Renault would have quit, and Honda would not have returned – and that, theoretically, would have left Ferrari to supply every team with engines, as in the dying days of A1GP.
The reason for di Montezemolo’s dislike of today’s Formula 1 is somewhat at variance from the one he offered two decades ago, when Ferrari was again off the pace, this time because it couldn’t get to grips with active suspension.
This was 1993, and Luca’s remarks made Patrick Head very angry: “If anyone is letting down the front end of F1,” he said, “it’s Ferrari, and – surprise, surprise – di Montezemolo is suggesting that the rules need changing! Why? Because he says that 95 per cent of the lessons learned from F1 have no application for road cars, and that’s what matters most. Nothing to do with the fact that, whatever they do, their car leaps in the air every time it sees a ripple in the road…”
Four years ago Bahrain opened the season, and the race was about as stimulating as an Ed Balls speech. In the early hours of Monday morning, as we hung about in the airport, many were already suggesting that the new format of Grand Prix racing was a disaster, that the ban on refuelling had been a great mistake.
The late Peter Warr, at the race as a guest of Tony Fernandes (whose team was then known as ‘Lotus’), could only smile as he looked on. “Some of these people haven’t been around very long, have they? If they had, they’d know that it will come right, because it always does…”
Indeed so, but I’ll admit that I have been amazed by how swiftly the latest, ultra-complex, version of F1 has come right. The pre-season tests at Jerez and Bahrain had been so chaotic, particularly for the ‘Renault teams’, as to prompt some – not altogether facetiously – to speculate that the Australian Grand Prix might not have need of a chequered flag.
In point of fact, there were 15 finishers, and yet again one could only marvel at the abilities of the F1 fraternity.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was a wonderful motor race, and only the most blinkered – or biased – could suggest otherwise. It’s a fact that Mercedes had a quantifiable advantage, as evidenced most notably by the rate at which Hamilton and Rosberg pulled away from the field – 23 seconds in 11 laps – after the safety car period towards the end. Lest we forget, though, it was just so with Vettel’s Red Bull in similar circumstances in Singapore last autumn.
Simply, for the time being at least, the pendulum has swung. In Shanghai, not a great race but still an interesting one, there was no battle between the Mercedes drivers, for Lewis immediately disappeared into a sphere of his own, but Nico, in spite of a poor start and complete telemetry failure, was still comfortably quicker than the rest. Of course other teams, notably Red Bull, will close the gap, but for now it is reassuring to remember the words of Paddy Lowe in Bahrain: “We said from the start that we wanted Lewis and Nico to race from lights to flag…”
As news broke of Stefano Domenicali’s resignation, I recalled a conversation with Ross Brawn, in which he talked about living with pressure.
“When Honda decided to pull out of Formula 1 at the end of 2008,” Ross said, “and we then decided to try to carry on ourselves, everyone assumed that the pressure on me must have been higher – running a team bearing my own name – than anything I’d experienced before.
“In fact, it wasn’t at all, because the pressure was internal. Of course we had a great desire to do well, but there was no external pressure on us, in the sense of someone looking over us all the time, and giving us a bollocking if we didn’t do well. What I never felt was the tension that’s there at Ferrari, and never relents – or, rather, relents the night you win the World Championship and that lasts for just a few weeks.
“At Ferrari,” Brawn went on, “it’s a pressure born of the media, the tifosi, the history… you’re under intense scrutiny, and if you make one wrong move you’re castigated in the press. OK, you can say, ‘I don’t care what the press thinks’ – but it’s there, and people are reading it, and your family sees it, and it creates a pressure, believe me. Of course the flip side is that when you do well at Ferrari there’s nothing like it – so you get both extremes…”
I mentioned to Brawn the name of a celebrated Italian journalist whom Enzo Ferrari somewhat surprisingly hired as team manager in 1967, adding that John Surtees had told me that in fact this fellow had been on the Ferrari payroll long before that: “The Old Man paid him to write stuff critical of Ferrari, just to keep everyone on their toes…”
Ross smiled. “Well, I must say there were times when I wondered if maybe that policy still applied! Sometimes it felt that… things were said to the press just to create pressure and tension: if the team wasn’t doing well, we certainly knew about it in the papers. Two or three years into my career at Ferrari Luca and I had a big falling-out over something he’d said – and after that he never took that approach with me again.”
Brawn did, of course, have the advantage of being (together with Todt and Schumacher) one corner of an immensely powerful triumvirate within Ferrari, but Domenicali never had any such clout: as a loyal Italian ‘company man’, promoted from within, there was always the presence of di Montezemolo at his shoulder.
Maybe it was the unrelenting pressure of which Brawn spoke that finally told on Domenicali. In light of di Montezemolo’s mood as he left Bahrain, and subsequent remarks that he would do ‘whatever is necessary’ to change the fortunes of the team, Stefano perhaps saw no alternative but to fall on his sword. Others might be feeling a little nervous just now.
Domenicali has been replaced as director of the Gestione Sportiva by Marco Mattiacci, and clearly events had proceeded with some pace: in the Shanghai paddock Mattiacci declared that only a week earlier, on the Friday after Bahrain, had di Montezemolo contacted him about a change of role. Three days later came Domenicali’s announcement.
Given that Mattiacci has no previous experience of working in motor racing, some have speculated that his appointment is merely a holding operation, but this seems unlikely, given that prior to accepting di Montezemolo’s call to arms, Marco was the president and CEO of Ferrari North America: this was not some little job from which Luca plucked him.
“I’ve decided,” the Ferrari president said, “to go for a young manager I strongly believe in, and a person from the Ferrari family, thus avoiding me going around the world looking for some mercenary…”
My dictionary defines mercenary as ‘a soldier hired into foreign service, actuated by the hope of reward’, so that will give Messrs Allison and Fry a nice warm feeling and, given that over time such as Postlethwaite, Barnard, Byrne, Brawn and Todt did rather well by the Scuderia, Luca’s gratuitously patronising remark comes rather ill.
Perhaps, therefore, there are times – even in Maranello – when only ‘some mercenary’ will do, but di Montezemolo’s hope will be that Mattiacci will grow into the job, and do it one day as Todt did. Luca, I note, has announced that he is going to spend more time on F1 in future. This might even mean staying to the end of a race.
When the rumours gathered strength last summer that Brawn was not relishing life with certain of his new colleagues at Mercedes, I nursed a hope that perhaps he might be tempted back to Ferrari, but at the back of my mind remained snippets of a conversation with him back in 2009.
Ross left the team at the same time as Schumacher, at the end of ’06, and although both eventually returned to F1, it was by no means written in the stars. Michael, still on the Ferrari payroll in an ambassadorial capacity, occasionally came to the races, but out of overalls seemed like a lost soul.
Brawn, meantime, ‘went fishing’, giving himself a year off to go travelling with his wife. He admitted that, as time went by, he actually came to enjoy his sabbatical more rather than less, but eventually concluded that, yes, he did wish to return to F1, and before anything else that meant talking with Ferrari.
“In a way,” Ross said, “one of the purposes of the sabbatical was to put a full stop at the end of my Ferrari career – but I’d made a pact with Jean Todt that if, at any point, I was going to get back in the saddle, I’d come and talk to him first. I had a feeling, though, that I wouldn’t go back, that it had been a fantastic period in my life, but going back might be like revisiting an old girlfriend – might be a disappointment!
“At the same time I’d have felt terribly awkward moving from Ferrari to another team, so I went to see Jean and met with Luca a few times. Jean was keen for me to come back, and it was all very friendly, but somehow it didn’t really gel.
“One of the problems was that if I’d gone back I would have wanted to do it as team principal. Stefano [Domenicali] had been a great servant to Ferrari, and quite rightly they wanted to give him an opportunity. I didn’t want to stand in Stefano’s way, but what was being discussed was how we might share the role and I didn’t see that as being a workable solution.
“Therefore we found ourselves in a slightly awkward position, in that Ferrari wanted me back, but they weren’t quite sure where to put me. I think we all reached a point where we thought, ‘Well, we’ve had the discussion, and it hasn’t crystallised, so it’s better just to part as friends, and do our own thing’.”
Whereas throughout his time of working for Ferrari John Barnard had refused to countenance living in Italy, Brawn, like Harvey Postlethwaite before him, positively embraced it. Family considerations, though, played a strong part in his original decision to leave.
“In 2004 I signed an extension to my contract for two years, and I told Jean and Luca that this would probably be the last two years. My wife was able to live with me in Italy, because our daughters had busy lives with their careers, but now they were both married, and if grandchildren came along it was natural that she would want to spend more time in the UK, so, in several ways, living in Italy had run its ideal course.”
Once it became clear that a return to Ferrari was not on the cards, Honda lost no time in making an approach and the rest is recent racing history. In the wake of the economic meltdown, Honda withdrew from F1, but Ross decided to try to keep the team alive. He not only succeeded, but won the World Championship with Jenson Button in 2009.
Thinking back to that time, by the by, one is acutely reminded of how the structure of F1 has changed – and not for the good. Very fortunately for Brawn, his time of crisis coincided with the recent formation of the Formula One Teams Association, and never – before or since – were peace and brotherhood more apparent in the paddock.
“There seems to be a much stronger camaraderie among the teams than there used to be,” Ross said at the time. “It’s a spirit of cooperation almost built out of adversity. Something that evolved from difficulties with the FIA is that the teams have become more united than I can ever remember.
“FOTA was formed in the first place to try to improve F1, not to get into confrontations all the time and, as a body, it was very supportive to us, and crucial to our survival. And so far, despite the efforts of some, it hasn’t fallen apart…”
Ah, but good things always come to an end, and once Bernie Ecclestone had bought off Red Bull and Ferrari, their swift resignation from FOTA (together with subordinates Toro Rosso and Sauber) at a stroke neutered any clout it may have had. Now, in 2014, we are into the glorious age of the F1 Strategy Group, and self-interest flourishes like never before. Cost cap, anyone?