Brawn and brains! In-depth review of the title race and a look ahead to 2010
Inside track on how a British team caught their rivals on the hop to help Jenson Button become a worthy world champion
Sunday 25 October 2009
So, how did Brawn produce a wondercar so quickly?
They didn't! The BGP001 had a very long gestation period, with work beginning on it as early as 2007. Aerodynamicist Ben Wood began working on the car while he was at Honda's Super Aguri satellite team, and Honda simultaneously had a team working on their 2009 concept. Eventually they were combined. Honda had such an appalling season in 2008 that development instead went into the 2009 car, which became a Brawn when Honda pulled the plug on F1 last December. Ross Brawn and Nick Fry took over the team, and Martin Whitmarsh at McLaren persuaded Mercedes-Benz to throw them an engine supply lifeline.
How important was it for Jenson Button to make a fast start to the season?
In retrospect, that was completely crucial. At the start of the season he had the equipment he needed and made the absolute best of it to build the points lead off which he would later live in the hard times.
How did Brawn catch their rivals on the hop?
One of the key aspects of the Brawn was its clever "double diffuser", which created more efficient aerodynamic airflow and downforce than their rivals (except for Williams and Toyota, who had similar devices) who had not spotted the loophole in the regulations which Ben Wood did. It helped in the early races, though most had caught on and up by the fourth or fifth, and it was not the Brawn's sole virtue.
Why were Brawn not as good in the second half of the season?
The car had a problem in generating tyre temperature because it was easy on its rubber. This was fine at very hot races where this was a virtue, but it became an issue at the cooler European events where the Red Bull, with its greater downforce, had a significant advantage, and the KERS energy storage systems on the McLaren and the Ferrari offset their aerodynamic shortcomings.
Did Jenson ease off?
No, but he did appear to adopt a tactic of driving for points. He maintains that he drove the car to the maximum, but his strategy drew criticism that he lacked a bit of tiger. One of the key factors was simply that his smooth driving style did not generate the same tyre temperature that team-mate Rubens Barrichello's slightly coarser style did, thus penalising him in certain races.
We controversially said that he will never be a great driver. Do we still stick to that?
Our headline said that, our text didn't. It's a semantic point, but we said he would not be regarded as a "great" the way Jim Clark, Gilles Villeneuve or Ayrton Senna are. That's still true. But in comparison with his rivals in 2009 there were clear times when he put in great drives, and there is absolutely no question that he is a worthy world champion, nor that his success will be a massive boost to the sport. It's hard to think of anyone out there who is a better bloke, and he deserves his success.
How did Lewis Hamilton drive this season?
For the first time in his F1 career, Hamilton had a bad car. The McLaren MP4-24 simply lacked aerodynamic grunt. But that did not stop him wringing the best out of it on every occasion, most notably at Monza where he crashed while pushing Button for second place. That was what a real race driver does. What Villeneuve or Senna would have done. And he won two races, Hungary and Singapore, which speaks volumes.
What now for Button and Brawn; they won't let him go, surely?
Once it was hard to see where else Button could go, but this week McLaren expressed strong interest in partnering him with Lewis Hamilton to give sponsor Vodafone a British champions superteam. Ross Brawn admits that agreeing terms with Button is the number one priority now and there is clearly some desire on both sides to stay together. Button took a 60 per cent pay cut to stay with Brawn, to drive a car in which he believed, and since he had to pay his own expenses that was closer to 80 per cent in real terms. Now he wants to jump from £3 million to £8m, but Brawn have offered only £6m. McLaren could easily top that, and get a driver they really respect. There's a very strong chance it could happen.
Can Brawn and Button repeat their success?
There is absolutely no reason to suppose that Brawn will suddenly lose pace, though their BGP002 won't have anything like the same gestation period as the stunning 001. If they can rectify some of the shortcomings, such as the tyre-warming issue, there is no reason to suppose that Brawn will not be highly competitive, although the opposition will be even stronger when Ferrari and McLaren get their acts properly sorted with their new cars. It could all depend on whether or not Button stays with the team.
Will next season be a belter, with four world champions (Hamilton, Raikkonen, Button and Alonso) in the running?
2009 was a fantastic season, with good racing and incredibly close lap times all down the field. Four world champions racing competitive cars is a mouth-watering prospect, and other drivers such as Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Tonio Liuzzi in competitive cars will add to the lustre. Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will all do better than they did in 2009, Red Bull have a mission of vengeance, and Brawn won't rest on their multiple laurels, while the new teams – Lotus, Virgin Manor, USF1 and Campos – will all add to the spectacle. Hopefully, under the new regime of governance in the wake of Max Mosley's retirement, there will be much less emphasis on the politics and controversies, and more on the racing itself. For all the flak that came its way in 2009, Formula One is in great shape.
A1 Grand Prix: Hundreds of jobs to go if series is wound up
A1GP, the single-seater race series featuring teams representing individual countries, has almost no chance of surviving into a fifth season, according to organising staff – many of whom have not been paid for almost six months.
The series was due to begin in Australia this weekend but mounting unpaid debts after the liquidation in the summer of A1GP Operations, the series' operating arm, mean the cars are still being held by the freight company which transports them to the races.
About 300 jobs are likely to go if, as seems certain, the series is wound up, though A1GP chairman Tony Teixeira, a South African businessman, insists he is working on securing a financial package to pay off creditors and guarantee the series. One member of staff said the cancellation of the Australian race signalled the end.
"Most of us believe there is no coming back. The situation hasn't been helped by the recession but there's been a lot of mismanagement. The series has a total budget of no more than $90m [£55m] for all 20 teams, which is what it costs to run a small F1 team, but revenue generated has been negligible. There was money spent on things that didn't matter – like parties."
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