History often places the birth of Team Brawn on March 6, 2009, and this is legally true. It was on that day, or rather that night since the official press release was sent at 1:08 a.m., that Ross Brawn concluded with the Japanese from Honda the takeover of the team which they had decided to close suddenly. , without notice or warning sign, on December 5. One more collateral damage caused by the subprime financial crisis, which brought the world economy to its knees. A pretext, above all, as Honda no longer thought it could get out of the tunnel.
After Jenson Button’s lucky victory in 2006 in Hungary, the Japanese brand had produced a disastrous single-seater in 2007 from every point of view, just good enough to scrape the bottom of the grid with its eco-friendly decor as ugly as it is clumsy in a voracious sport in fossil fuels. And 2008 hadn’t helped matters: Ross Brawn, its new technical director for a year, hadn’t seen fit to look into a hopeless case – a Honda « poorly designed and poorly assembled » according to him -, preferring to put all his time and all his energy into the single-seater of 2009, that of the big technical bend decided by the FIA.
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This March 6 was placed three days before the astonishing entry on the track of the BGP001, during the tests in Montmelo, near Barcelona. A just-in-time loan that will become a staggering ready-to-win for the competition, coming from the dunce of the 2008 class with its 9th place in the constructors’ world championship. « From zero to hero », as the English say. And even if it looked like a miracle at first, it never was, far from it.
The Mercedes rather than the Ferrari
This March 6, 2009 therefore comes four months after the shock announcement of the Japanese house. After a three-month reprieve plus another to be exact, which allowed him to go around potential buyers so as not to leave in limbo – question of image – 680 employees in his English « chassis » factory in Brackley, not to mention those of its « engine » department in Japan. The big names jostled, from the British David Richards, successful ex-boss of Subaru in the WRC and much less BAR in F1, the former name of the Honda team, to the Mexican Carlos Slim, the richest man world, including Richard Branson, head of Virgin. But Ross Brawn has always had a head start in discussions. Quite simply because the 2009 car has been ready for a long time, and he knows how to use it. Incidentally also because he has had his entries for almost two years at Honda, and that the pursuit of activities with the administrative Nick Fry has everything to reassure. With one detail: on December 5, it has a chassis but no engine since Honda was doing everything.
When making his choice on the replacement V8, the Briton forgets his ten years in red, superbly ignores the Ferrari and opts for the Mercedes. He has just finally pushed Lewis Hamilton towards the title at McLaren but that’s a detail: the Brixworth block is above all less demanding in terms of cooling and that changes everything. He is also more compact and given the dimensions of his single-seater, that won’t force him to redesign the pontoons. In short, it saves time and money and, in any case, justice asks him to run the factory at a lower cost while waiting for a deal to be concluded. And it is perhaps also for this reason that it does without KERS, a heavy energy recovery system of uncertain reliability.
Williams and Toyota had also smelled the good shot
The suction phenomenon – the famous Venturi effect – created under the car is unbeatable, and the other teams know that a trap has just closed in on them because a single-seater is an all-in-one. Each must redesign the front wing, the sidepods, the flat bottom, make space in areas impossible to clear to adopt in turn a double-diffuser. All of them are embarking on do-it-yourself patches except Williams and Toyota, which have also smelled the good trick. But on the track, the Brawn BGP001, immaculate white only broken by a few yellow lines and devoid of any sponsor, has no equal.
Honda sold its team to Ross Brawn for a symbolic pound and offered him 150 million dollars for final settlement (which would have cost some to close the team), without understanding that it had missed the opportunity to finally become World Champion. In reality not huge for the time, the sum will ensure Brawn GP to operate without going crazy. The new owner increases the workforce of the factory under 500 people and offers Jenson Button 20% of what was provided for in his contract. « I think this car has a chance, so I’m ready to take a pay cut », he explains. Ross Brawn has always made good cars at Arrows, Benetton and Ferrari and he knows it.
Rivals convinced the Brawn rides below legal weight
And with Rubens Barrichello, he will fly over the preparation tests in Catalonia. With a full tank and tires that have 50 laps, the Englishman set the best time in Catalonia, to the point of arousing suspicion among the timekeepers who removed his time from the top of the time sheet. « His time was removed from the circuit screen because he seemed to have cut a chicane, explained Simon Cole, track engineer. After discussion with the other teams, this was not the case! Everyone said ‘they obviously took the ballast of their car’ (to respect the minimum weight). Everyone was in denial and we were flabbergasted! » The other team bosses gave interviews explaining: ‘Of course, when you don’t have sponsors, you remove the ballast to improve your times!’
« The new aero and slicks weren’t a problem for me or the team.said Jenson Button, about the all-out revolution having banned grooved tires and electronic traction control, and introduced the tilting front wing of the cockpit. The car’s balance was good straight away. I didn’t have to change my driving style, just adapt it to a lighter, more sensitive car. The KERS? I can’t talk about it, we don’t have it. Good, we can focus on the rest. I don’t think not having it is a big handicap. »
Brawn GP only had a development budget of $400,000 for the whole year, 100 or 200 times less than the wealthiest, and won the lawsuit brought by McLaren Ferrari and Renault before the FIA.
Above all, she will leave with a second in advance, which Red Bull will take all season to catch up. Too late to prevent Button, author of six victories in the first seven races, from becoming world champion.
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