Inside Line: Brawn shows he can provide the brains: Derick Allsop continues his look at the Benetton-Ford Formula One team. Here he to their technical director the problems of designing competitive grand prix car

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The Independent Online
WE ARE constantly hearing about the pressures on modern Formula One drivers, but consider the responsibility shouldered by the car designers. Unless they produce the goods, no amount of driving talent can deliver.

Camel Benetton-Ford took the calculated risk of creating a new car for this season and teething troubles were inevitable. They have, however, persevered with their development programme and the addition of traction control at Monaco significantly enhanced the performance of the B193B.

Benetton arrive in Montreal, for the Canadian Grand Prix, in buoyant mood and their times in qualifying reinforce this optimism with Michael Schumacher third on the grid and Riccardo Patrese fourth.

Ross Brawn, the team's technical director, says: 'We're starting to get on top of the new car and doing the job. Where we are now is at least where I expected us to be and we still need to go a bit further to challenge Williams.

'There is a lot of pressure on me and the team. It is very much a team effort, involving Rory Byrne, Pat Symonds, Frank Dernie and many others. I think we all feel the pressure performing, particularly when we have good drivers. You're tested every two weeks. There's an evaluation of what sort of job you are doing.

'Looking at it one way, the failure of the team would be down to me because if a group of engineers aren't producing the goods, then that's my responsibility.'

Despite the pressures, Brawn maintains an unruffled demeanour. 'I don't know whether it's constructive to lose your rag,' he says. 'That does happen occasionally, but it tends to be behind closed doors. I think that's the only way to operate. It's a bit melodramatic to start screaming and shouting in the pit lane. Not my style.'

Brawn, who worked for Williams, Arrows and TWR, where he designed the Sportscar World Championship-winning Jaguar XJR-14, has found his release in fishing and, more recently, gardening. He has a three-acre garden, which he plans to restore to its former glory.

He says: 'It's a bit of physical exercise and once I get occupied in it I generally clear my head of what's happening in racing, and I think that's essential. We've got one or two people in the team who don't need the release. I do. I need to have something else and I think it makes me better for it. So I can perhaps have a weekend off and come in on Monday morning fully charged up, ready to go and tackle it.'

Soon Brawn and his colleagues must begin work on next year's car, a task complicated by the uncertainty over technical regulations. The end of driver aids appears to have moved nearer at this meeting with the declaration that active suspension and traction control are illegal.

'The problem lands on the engineer's plate,' Brawn says. 'The decisions themselves aren't perhaps as important as the right timing for them. The fact that the thing has been debated so much means we don't have a clear picture of what's going to happen. The brief is pretty ambiguous.

'For instance, what is active suspension? No one has defined it. I can see it being a very contentious issue, because it is inherent in Formula One that you take advantage of the regulations to the maximum.

'We've been thinking about next year's car for several months, and in August we have to make a decision on what we're going to do and stick to it. As for changing the car for the next race, no, we can't. It would take six months because it is designed as an active car, aerodynamically and mechanically. It would also incur a lot of cost to go back to a passive car this year.'

Brawn still has unfilfilled aspirations this season. 'We've got to start winning some races,' he says. 'I think we'll be competitive here in the race. We've got to improve our act and aim to finish second in the championship to Williams. So we've still got a lot of ambition for the rest of the season.'

Schumacher's prospects at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are undermined by a sluggish start. He has a problem with the traction control adjustment and almost stalls. He is down in seventh place. Patrese has a spin, breaking off part of the front wing, and eventually has to retire with cramp in his right leg.

Schumacher seems to grow stronger as the race unfolds and is hounding Ayrton Senna for second place in the closing stages. Just as the German prepares to attack, the McLaren-Ford falters. They almost collide but Schumacher squeezes by on the outside and goes on to claim the six points, behind Alain Prost.

A jubilant Schumacher says: 'Coming back from seventh to second is almost as good as a win for us.'

Designs on Victory, the inside story of Camel Benetton-Ford, by Derick Allsop, is to be published by Stanley Paul later in the year.