When Jenson Button heard the news that former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn has joined Honda as team principal, his reaction was: "That is the best thing that has happened in a long time." It may just be the key that, in time, will put Button back on a par with the man who stole his crown as the leading British driver – Lewis Hamilton.
"I had a face-to-face with Jenson last Friday," Nick Fry, who remains the chief executive of the team, said yesterday. "He has been pleased with the changes we have made in the last few months, but like me realised that somebody of Ross's character was essential. It's a real big boost for him."
Brawn has impeccable pedigree. Back in 1994 and '95 he was the mastermind behind Michael Schumacher's first two world titles with Benetton, and then in 1997 followed the German to Ferrari. Their success there became the stuff of legend as Ferrari slowly built momentum until it became, for a while, an almost unbeatable force. Between 1997 and 2005 Schumacher won five more drivers' world championships; Ferrari, under Brawn's technical guidance, won five constructors titles in a row.
Yesterday, the 53-year-old, who took a sabbatical to spend most of 2007 pursuing his passion for sea fishing, explained why he chose Honda in preference to returning to Ferrari.
"My 12 months away helped me to focus on what I enjoyed about racing. I concluded that I missed the actual racing a lot. And I wanted to get back. I missed the sport, the teamwork. I liked being part of a group of people achieving something very difficult and rewarding, and I want to achieve that here.
"My first discussions were with Ferrari. But as Ferrari's success had continued without me, there was less of a challenge to go back. It would have been like putting on a very comfortable glove. It would not have been a strong enough challenge. And there were personal considerations. I was based in the UK for the last year and I got to know my family again. It would have taken special circumstances for me to go back to Ferrari again.
"I had very amicable discussions with them, and they came to an amicable conclusion. I was looking for a challenge. Honda has a fantastic racing heritage. I talked with Nick and considered whether they had an understanding of the difficulty of the challenge, and I saw that they want to meet it and have the commitment to do that. There are not many teams that can give you that. Honda was the only one I talked to after the Ferrari discussions came to nothing."
Brawn, who will handle the technical leadership of the team while Fry looks after the administration and marketing, admits that his undisclosed salary is "very much performance-related, which is a great incentive". And he had some encouraging words for the beleaguered Honda team, which had an appalling season as Button and team-mate Rubens Barrichello struggled with uncompetitive machinery.
"I know that the people at Honda have the commitment and resources to take things forward. That is vital.
"The great thing at Honda is that there are no preconceived ideas and no budget restraints. There is a willingness to provide the resource and support, and that is not so common in F1.
"When I think back to starting at Ferrari, there was no design office in Maranello. We needed to create that structure. We have a good structure here already. Honda is much closer to the top level than Ferrari was when I started there."
Meanwhile, Ferrari have announced that Stefano Domenicali will take over as team principal from Jean Todt. Todt's precise role within the team remains unclear for 2008.Reuse content