Staff pay heavy price for Brawn supremacy

F1 team to cut 270 jobs despite making the most sensational debut since 1955
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The Independent Online

Brawn GP are making more than a third of their staff redundant, their chief executive, Nick Fry, said in an announcement yesterday that took the gloss off their debut victory at the Australian Grand Prix at the weekend.

"It's about 270 [job losses]," Fry said. "We are about 700 people at the moment and we talked to the staff about going down to about 430, which is where we [the team's predecessors, BAR] were in 2004... It's the change of technical regulations and obviously we are now a private team."

Brawn have replaced Honda in Formula One after Fry and the team's principal, Ross Brawn, led a management buyout of the underperforming team. The Japanese company had announced in December that it was pulling out as an F1 constructor and engine supplier because of the global financial crisis, leaving the entire workforce at the factory in Brackley, near Silverstone, facing the loss of their jobs.

Honda's estimated team costs last year were $300m (£220m) and their heirs, who announced Richard Branson's Virgin Group as their first significant sponsor on Saturday, are now operating on a far smaller budget.

Formula One's rules have also changed, with fewer staff needed now that testing is banned from the start of the season to the end of the year. Brawn are also buying in their engine from McLaren's partners, Mercedes.

Britain's Jenson Button led Brazilian team-mate Rubens Barrichello in a one-two finish in Melbourne on Sunday in the most successful debut by a team for 55 years. Though the remarkable result for the new team was a hugely popular triumph not everyone was happy about it. The Renault team principal, Flavio Briatore, who worked with Ross Brawn in their days together at Benetton, told Italian media over the weekend that the speed of the new cars from Brackley was "dangerous".

Briatore told the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Brawn's performance advantage reminded him "of the dangerous situation that we had in Formula One back in 1994." That season, Briatore's driver, Michael Schumacher, came to the fore, partly because in 1993 Benetton, ahead of sweeping regulation changes similar to those that have come in this season, focused on their 1994 car. Schumacher was beginning to run away with the championship with two clear victories over title favourite Ayrton Senna, when a serious crash for Barrichello and the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Senna, all in the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, triggered wholesale immediate and longer-term changes to slow the cars for safety reasons.

Renault were one of the teams who protested about the legality of the diffuser design on the Brawn. But the diffuser is not the only secret of the Brawn's speed. It is just a key part of the overall package. After the race Barrichello revealed that his car's diffuser had been seriously damaged, yet he still raced to second.

Telemetry from Button's car during the second qualifying session, when all cars had low fuel loads, indicated that the 2009 Brawn is not so much faster than its 2008 Honda predecessor.

Corners are seen by designers to be more critical to safety than straights, and the cornering speeds of the two cars are not dissimilar. Where the performance increase comes from is in better traction out of slow- and medium-speed corners, thanks to a return to slick tyres, better acceleration from the Mercedes-Benz engine, and superior straight-line speed. If the Brawn were to use the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) that Renault's Fernando Alonso raced in Australia, the latter would have been even higher.

"Flavio was just blowing smoke," one fellow team principal said. "Nobody wants to start flagging up F1 as dangerous at a time when the cars are very safe, and he got pretty short shrift... Brawn are just doing a better job than anyone else right now."