MO­TOR­SPORT MO­MENT

When a fledg­ling team was formed from the ashes of Honda Rac­ing F1, no­body ex­pected it to chal­lenge the es­tab­lished play­ers. Brawn GP had other ideas…

Evo India - - CONTENTS -

The Brawn team’s dream sea­son ris­ing from the ashes of Honda Rac­ing F1 with Jen­son But­ton be­hind the wheel

THERE WAS NO EX­PEC­TA­TION THAT THE TEAM WOULD ACHIEVE ANY­THING

NEI­THER JEN­SON BUT­TON NOR HIS EN­GI­NEERS COULD quite be­lieve it. The new Brawn BGP 001 felt re­spon­sive and pre­dictable around the Cir­cuit de Catalunya, but as ‘Jense’ came trundling back down the pit­lane, he was hardly jump­ing out of the cock­pit with joy at the car’s raw speed. But the stop­watch told a dif­fer­ent story: a most un­ex­pected one…

That year – 2009 – re­mains the only time that a team in For­mula 1 has won the cham­pi­onship in its de­but sea­son. Yes, you could ar­gue there’s an el­e­ment of se­man­tics at work, given the Brawn team had al­ready ex­isted for three years as Honda Rac­ing F1. Then again, if you wanted to play that game, you could say the 2009 dou­ble cham­pion com­bi­na­tion was re­ally the ghost of Ken Tyrrell: Bri­tish Amer­i­can Rac­ing bought the Tyrrell team at the end of 1997, which be­came BAR-Honda, which be­came… well, you get the idea. In fact, a re­turn to the Tyrrell name was even con­sid­ered for 2009’s new­est team.

What made this such a mem­o­rable mo­ment was the un­ex­pected na­ture of Brawn’s suc­cess. It was a rags-to-riches tale, by F1 stan­dards at least, of un­prece­dented pro­por­tions. (At many points over the win­ter of 2008 it looked un­likely the team would even sur­vive.) Even more so, there was next to no ex­pec­ta­tion that the team, based on its pre­vi­ous Honda-branded form, would achieve any­thing at all. Af­ter all, it was fresh off the back of two ut­terly mis­er­able sea­sons, which in­cluded the schmaltzy, toe-curlingly naff ‘Earth Dreams’ liv­ery that re­placed vir­tu­ally all ex­ter­nal spon­sor­ship and co­in­ci­den­tally marked a sig­nif­i­cant drop in form from the glory years of But­ton’s 3rd over­all in the 2004 cham­pi­onship.

It be­gan with the credit crunch. You re­mem­ber: that mo­ment when the world seemed to im­plode back in 2008 and, even in

F1, spray­ing the cash around no longer be­came pru­dent or even pos­si­ble. For Honda, haem­or­rhag­ing money back home and un­will­ing to pub­licly be seen to pay a ru­moured $300 mil­lion a year on some­thing as friv­o­lous as an F1 team, enough was enough. It wanted out, and so team prin­ci­pal Ross Brawn was sum­moned to a meet­ing at a Lon­don ho­tel and, with­out any prior warn­ing, the an­nounce­ment was made of Honda’s im­me­di­ate with­drawal.

There fol­lowed a win­ter of tee­ter­ing on the brink, with po­ten­tial suitors ma­te­ri­al­is­ing and then van­ish­ing or dis­carded; for But­ton and fel­low Honda in­cum­bent Rubens Bar­richello it was too late to re­al­is­ti­cally se­cure a top drive for 2009. They just had to sit and wait. Even­tu­ally, in March it was an­nounced that a man­age­ment buy-out by Brawn and CEO Nick Fry had suc­ceeded, and that the team would

be known as Brawn GP, with the first car called the BGP 001. The team se­cured a Mercedes cus­tomer en­gine deal, al­though it re­quired a num­ber of com­pro­mises for it to fit in a chas­sis de­signed for the Honda V8.

What the op­po­si­tion didn’t know was that far from be­ing des­tined for an­other life of can­non fod­der at the back of the grid, the pro­posed Honda RA109 for 2009 had been in ges­ta­tion for a long time. Re­al­is­ing it had a tur­key on its hands early in the 2008 sea­son, and with sig­nif­i­cant rule changes for 2009 that in­cluded aero re­duc­tion, the re­turn of slick tyres and the in­tro­duc­tion of KERS, Honda – now with the mas­tery of Ross Brawn at the helm – had got down to work early.

The ace up Brawn’s sleeve was the so-called ‘dou­ble dif­fuser’. In­stead of the top of the in­verted U-sec­tion be­ing the up­per limit of the dif­fuser, Brawn used the crash struc­ture to raise the height above the stip­u­lated max­i­mum. Was it le­gal? The rule-mak­ers and lawyers even­tu­ally de­creed it was, but only af­ter other teams protested and But­ton’s early vic­to­ries hung in the bal­ance.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall when But­ton and Bar­richello topped pre-sea­son test­ing, first at Barcelona, and then at Jerez. It wasn’t just run­ning light to at­tract spon­sor­ship ei­ther: come Mel­bourne for the first race, and But­ton scored a his­toric vic­tory for the de­but­ing team, and he would go on to win six of the first seven races, leav­ing the es­tab­lished teams gasp­ing in his wake.

Nat­u­rally, it couldn’t last. Brawn’s fi­nances didn’t al­low for much in-sea­son de­vel­op­ment, and like a swarm of an­gry bees, Red Bull and McLaren were soon eat­ing away at the

Brack­ley team’s ad­van­tage. Bar­richello would score wins at Va­len­cia and Monza, keep­ing him in the ti­tle hunt, but it was re­ally whether But­ton and Brawn could ab­sorb the pres­sure, keep scor­ing points, and hang on as Se­bas­tian Vet­tel closed in. They could, se­cur­ing both the driv­ers’ and con­struc­tors’ ti­tles at the penul­ti­mate race in In­ter­la­gos, Brazil. It was the last time a pri­va­teer team would achieve such suc­cess, and un­less there’s a sig­nif­i­cant re­dis­tri­bu­tion of F1’s sta­tus quo, will prob­a­bly re­main so for the fore­see­able fu­ture. F1’s very own fairy-tale end­ing.

THE ACE UP BRAWN’S SLEEVE WAS THE ‘DOU­BLE DIF­FUSER’

Top: Rubens Bar­richello cel­e­brates win­ning at Monza. Above: But­ton and Bar­richello achieved 15 podium fin­ishes be­tween them dur­ing the 2009 sea­son

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