Exclusive Ross Brawn Q&A: More motivated than ever
After winning five consecutive titles together at Ferrari, Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher have a mountain to climb before they can consider achieving even a fraction of that at their new project, Mercedes GP. Team principal Brawn, however, is adamant Schumacher’s decision to come out of retirement was right, and is convinced both the team and the German driver will be stronger next season…
Q: Ross, how often this season have you had time to ponder how to improve the Mercedes while sitting in your rose garden or while fly-fishing?
Ross Brawn: (Laughing) Ah, to be honest I still had some days off to relax, but I have to admit it wasn’t all too often! This season is really demanding and difficult for me. Funnily enough, these rather slim successes have boosted my motivation and determination. I would say that right here, right now I am more motivated than I was a year ago when it looked pretty clear that we would win both titles.
Q: It sounds as though your first year of partnership with Mercedes has been a disappointment?
RB: Formula One is a very competitive business. A few tenths can decide if a season was a success or a failure. We had decided by mid-season that we would rather concentrate on the future - meaning the 2011 car. I am a realist and have been in the business long enough to know that frustration can sometimes be part of the game.
Q: What exactly has gone wrong?
RB: I don’t want to dig up excuses, but the fact is this car was being developed when the team was in the reconstruction phase. When I took over the team from Honda at the end of 2008 we had to downsize our headcount by 100 and it took quite some time until we were fully operational again. At the same time our focus was to win the championship, which is why we have invested less than we ought to have done in this year’s car. Right now I feel that we are in a good state compared to Ferrari, Red Bull and Ferrari - given the fact that we are already a substantially smaller team than they are. That makes me very optimistic for the future.
Q: In 2011 the headcount at all the teams has to be reduced. But isn’t it a fact that the three top teams, who still have a huge headcount, still have the advantage as they can develop next year’s car with more manpower?
RB: Maybe. But right now we are already 100 percent focused on next year’s car whereas those fighting for the championship have to split their resources. In the end it’s not an advantage or a downside that we have, as we are developing the 2011 car with the same resources as Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull.
Q: Although you’re already focusing on next year’s car it doesn’t necessarily mean Michael Schumacher will win a race again. He has been beaten frequently by his team mate, Nico Rosberg, even though you always stressed that their driving styles are pretty similar…
RB: It is not as simple as that. Michael’s driving style depends on a strong front tyre that can withstand his hard braking and the steering manoeuvres that he prefers. Nico has simply understood better how to handle these front tyres. I have to say that this year’s front tyre is very uncommon. That stems from the fact that the FIA wanted to promote KERS and had asked Bridgestone to develop tyres that would fit a certain weight distribution and thus create a specific tyre characteristic.
Q: So Bridgestone is to blame for Schumacher’s failed comeback?
RB: Of course not - and Nico is a fantastic driver and a real benchmark, aside from the fact that Michael found it difficult to adjust to these tyres. Next year we expect the Pirelli tyres will work better for Michael’s driving style and only then will we know if Nico really is quicker than Michael.
Q: So do you already have data from Pirelli which has given you hope their tyres will solve Schumacher’s issues?
RB: In fact we still have very little information about the tyre characteristics. But as particular as the Bridgestone tyres have been this year I don’t expect the Pirelli tyres to be. There has even been a change for the worse from 2009 to 2010 - something that we had not anticipated and thus had not considered for our weight distribution.
Q: Does that mean Schumacher would have struggled less had he returned to racing in 2009?
RB: The tyres definitely would have suited his driving style more. But without any tests that would have been difficult. In 2011 all drivers start from zero, so any disadvantage Michael might have will disappear.
Q: To what degree are you developing the chassis to suit Schumacher?
RB: Not really. This year it simply was the fact that Michael and the car simply were running over the front tyre. The major difference between the three front-running teams and us is that they’ve found a way to use the front tyre and we haven’t.
Q: In Hollywood the saying goes that you are only as good as your last movie. For a Formula One driver that means their last race. How is Schumacher coping?
RB: Michael is disappointed, of course. Still he is enjoying the challenge very much. He definitely doesn’t come to a race wishing to be somewhere else. He wants to work with the engineers, wants to find solutions and is extremely motivated. He is enjoying racing. His starts are fantastic and he’s doing incredible first laps. But of course he’s also a bit frustrated that his performance isn’t better. But I tell you, Michael is a very ambitious person and he didn’t win seven titles because he’s quick to capitulate. He is working very intensively with the engineers and pushes the people back home in the factory.
Q: You have known him for a very long time, and you are probably the only person who is really able to judge his performance. Has his skill diminished?
RB: He has become more relaxed. Five years ago he would have found it terribly difficult to handle such a situation. He’s much cooler and much more mature - and that doesn’t mean that he is less ambitious or committed. I am really impressed with how calm he stays.
Q: But to be blunt - is he as good as he was?
RB: If you take the telemetry data in fast corners or his reaction time when the car breaks away, I don’t see any difference. There he’s still the old Michael. But in the slow corners he cannot make full use of the tyres as Nico can. Nico has put the bar very high in this respect. But I guess that’s okay for Michael as he clearly sees where he has to improve. I predict that in 2011 we will again see the true Michael - when we’ve delivered him a better car.
Q: Before, Schumacher was always the benchmark. Now it is his team mate. How is he dealing with that?
RB: Well, naturally he’s not happy about it, but he has a clear goal to reach - and he has always loved challenges.
Q: How often does he call you about the development of the 2011 car?
RB: We speak a lot but he is also speaking a lot to the engineers and the aerodynamicists. On one hand to support us, on the other to see how we are progressing.
Q: If he weren’t Michael Schumacher - the seven-time world champion - would he still be in the car?
RB: To be honest, probably not. But because we know Michael, we know that there is still a lot to come because Michael is in many fields more talented than others - in driving and in the cooperation with the team. The team are very happy with the way Michael is contributing. If he were a rookie we surely would have asked ourselves if he has the capacity to advance. With Michael we know that he has.
Q: Formula One pundit - and former team owner - Eddie Jordan has predicted Schumacher will retire at the end of the season. What do you say?
RB: It is definitely not true. What sense would it make at that stage of his comeback to pack in his job? He’s not going to do it - be sure of that!
Q: Jordan also predicted that you and Mercedes will part ways…
RB: Of course I will retire one day, but I want to step down when I’m successful and not in a situation like I’m facing now. Right now I still have enough motivation to get up in the morning and go to work. And yes, there will come a day when I will hand over the team to someone else.
Q: Could Schumacher be that someone?
RB: I have never talked to him about such an option. He is a very intelligent man with a balanced family life. I don’t know if he really wants to do that to himself. As team principal you don’t get the same adrenalin rush as when you are driving a car. What you get is a 10 to 12-hour working day and I am not sure if that would satisfy or motivate him.
Q: How do you respond to the rumours about friction between Mercedes and yourself?
RB: It’s sad that such rumours always get around. But let’s be clear - none of us are happy with the performance this year, and of course Mercedes want to know how and when we will improve. But nobody needs to tell me that it is important to win. And probably we can still improve the relationship between Brackley and the Mercedes engine factory, but Mercedes is very open to all suggestions. So at the moment there are no problems whatsoever. They will come if we are not able to improve in the future.
Q: So could it be that you and Schumacher will walk happily into the sunset next season?
RB: Next year would probably be too early. I like this team. We have gone through many things together. I would never leave the team in an unclear situation. But I also don’t want to do this job when I am 65 years-old. Bernie Ecclestone set the benchmark very high, true, but I don’t think that I am as highly productive as he is!
source Formula 1? - The Official F1? Website