There was more to this seem­ing rags-to-riches fairy­tale than met the eye…

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS -

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.


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