NOW THAT WAS A CAR THE BRAWN BGP 001
There was more to this seeming rags-to-riches fairytale than met the eye…
It’s the stuff of fairytales: underfunded team scrapes on to the grid at the last minute with a car almost devoid of sponsorship, and proceeds to dominate the season. When the legend becomes fact, as the reporter tells Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, print the legend.
But things aren’t always what they seem. The Brawn BGP 001 was, pound for pound, among the most expensive Formula 1 cars of all time. During its 18-month gestation, up to three separate design teams located in various parts of the globe were working on the concept; then it nearly tripped at the final hurdle when Honda withdrew from Formula 1 in December 2008.
Having bought British American Racing (BAR), formerly Tyrrell, at the end of 2005, Honda had spent lavishly but found only diminishing returns. Jenson Button’s tremendous wet-weather win at the Hungaroring in 2006 was the high-water mark, after which the team slid to the back of the grid. Conspicuously, too – pop magnate Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment company had been brought in to spice up the brand, resulting in the ‘My Earth Dream’ livery.
Honda’s next move was to bring in former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn as team principal at the end of the 2007 season. He quickly outed the team’s ’08 car as hopeless, and diverted as many resources as possible to researching ways and means to exploit the new rules package coming in for 2009 – rules that mandated lower, wider front wings and higher, narrower ones at the rear. To that end he co-ordinated the efforts of engineers from Honda’s defunct second-string team Super Aguri, Honda’s Japanese research base at Tochigi, and both windtunnels at the F1 team’s Brackley HQ.
“The car was taken in three different directions in the windtunnel,” says former Honda test driver Alex Wurz. “Two directions were found to be wrong, so the team could just switch.”
Honda did not stick around to enjoy the return on their investment, however. So after several months in limbo, Brawn put together the finance for a management buy-out and the newly renamed BGP 001 ripped up the test tracks of Europe before Button and Rubens Barrichello took a dominant one-two at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Though its chassis had been hacked to accommodate the hasty change of powertrain (from Honda to Mercedes), the BGP 001 had three advantages: the front wing, which dictates the aero map of the car, was in a far more advanced state of development than its rivals; it had a controversial loophole-exploiting double-diffuser to boost downforce at the rear; and it went without the additional bloat of KERS, a technology that proved to be a lame duck in its debut year.
Brawn’s sparse operating budget began to show as rivals caught up, but six wins in the first half of the season enabled Button to tie up the drivers’ and constructors’ titles with one round to go.