One year ago today, Honda announced it was putting its F1 team up for sale. In the 12 months since then their successors, Brawn, stunned us by not only surviving but by dominating the first half of the season and ultimately bringing home both world titles.
It may have been called a ‘fairytale’ but there was a twist at the end of the story. By being taken over by Mercedes the team’s long-term stability has been secured – but in gaining that they’ve lost their world champion driver.
Revisit the remarkable story of Brawn below including footage of that first test at Silverstone and Jenson Button talking about his championship victory in Braszil.
The Honda crisis
December 4th 2008 – Honda to sell team or quit
It was clear to anyone who watched the 2007 and 2008 world championships that Honda were struggling badly. Throughout 2008 the mantra from the team was how they were focusing their energies on 2009.
December 5th 2008 – The official announcement from Honda and the FIA’s response in full
But facing a sharp downfall in car sales Honda abruptly decided to pull the plug on its F1 team, regardless of what those running it thought of their chances for 2009. The initial instruction from Honda was to wind up and shut down to the tea. Nick Fry and Ross Brawn ultimately persuaded them to opt for a manegement buy-out – but it took months to agree.
In the meantime the F1 world reeled as it felt the first effects of the credit crunch. Here’s some of Sky’s reportage of the story which I appeared on last year:
Janaury 8th 2009 – David Richards says F1 costs are still too high – and he’s not buying Honda
The new year brought no good news. David Richards, who looked like the best bet to save Honda, confirmed he wasn’t going to take over the team. Other people rumoured to be taking over the team were Michael Schumacher and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu.
February 17th 2009 – Will Honda’s team race in 2009? (Poll)
Weeks away from the start of the season, half of fans still thought a way would be found to save the team. They weren’t to be disappointed.
February 28th 2009 – Brawn Racing? Surely not…
Becken pointed out in the comments that the names of two websites referring to ‘Brawn Racing’ had been registered by a former BAR employee. It seemed too good to be true but…
The birth of Brawn
March 6th 2009 – Brawn GP takes Honda F1’s place on the 2009 F1 grid
The deal was finally announced – the team formerly known as Honda would now be called Brawn GP.
March 6th 2009 – Brawn GP tests its 2009 F1 car
The team quickly booked a test session on Silverstone’s Stowe circuit. The first impression of the car was good, despite a rushed job to fit a customer Mercedes V8 in the back in place of a Honda. But it was impossible to judge just how good the car was with no other cars to compare it against at the test.
March 9th 2009 – 2009 F1 testing: March 9th (Update: pictures and video added)
The team formerly known as Honda finally arrived at a group test session and it was immediately clear that despite missing two months’ testing they had one of the fastest cars on the grid.
In this video, which includes footage of the first test at Silverstone, Button talks about his feelings on driving the BGP001 for the first time:
As soon as I jumped in it I though ‘Wow, this is good pace.’ On my first five lap run I was six-tenths quicker than anyone.
March 13th 2009 – If Brawn GP really are that fast…
It quickly became clear Brawn’s pace was going to have a dramatic effect on the championship.
March 26th 2009 – Jenson Button changes helmet design
On the eve of the first race of the championship, Button dropped his customary Union Flag helmet design to chime in with the bright colours of the new Brawn team.
The season, part one: Dominating
March 28th 2009 – Jenson Button leads Brawn GP 1-2 (Australian Grand Prix qualifying)
Any remaining doubts about the speed of the Brawns vanished when Button and Rubens Barrichello locked out the front row of the grid for the season opener in Melbourne.
While Button took a lights-to-flag win Barrichello had to climb through the field after dropping back at the start. When Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica crashed late in the race it handed Barrichello second place – giving Brawn a scarcely believable one-two finish on their debut.
April 7th 2009 – Technical review: Australia and Malaysia
The BGP 001 exploited the rule allowing a ‘double-diffuser’ which rival teams including Red Bull protested.
April 14th 2009 – FIA to rule on legality of Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers (Poll)
After the first three races the FIA rules the diffusers were legal. That left Brawn’s competitors rushing to put their interpretations of the double-diffusers on their cars. Button won the first two races and finished third in the rain at China behind the Red Bulls, which had emerged as their closest competitors.
Round six and win number five for Button at the Circuit de Catalunya. But this time questions were raised over his strategy which helped him get past Barrichello who led in the early stages.
May 24th 2009 – Button closes on ‘best start’ record
Only Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher had made better start to championships than Button did over the first six races of 2009.
This early in the season it looked like a foregone conclusion that Button would get a contract extension. But in the end neither Button nor Barrichello stayed at Brawn.
May 28th 2009 – Mercedes should put a sticker on this car
Brawn’s status as a customer team meant Mercedes couldn’t use their success to promote their products. The engine manufacturer would take care of that problem within a few months.
Button’s championship lead hit 26 points after his sixth win at Istanbul, aided by a Sebastian Vettel’s costly mistake on lap one. This was the highest Button’s lead reached all year – and his last win of the season.
The season, part two: Defending
Two weeks later the tables were turned and Red Bull romped to victory while Button struggled. A combination of the team easing back on development to start work on its 2010 car, and difficulties getting the car to heat its tyres up (which particularly affected Button) plagued them for much of the second half of the season.
Barrichello’s complaint about the team giving him a “blah, blah, blah” explanation for his problems at the Nurburgring became infamous instantly, and inspired a spoof music video.
With seven races to go, Button was the favourite to win the championship among F1 Fanatic readers, with 41%. The man thought most likely to rival him at this stage was Mark Webber, who’d just won his first Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
I like the way the first two comments on the article above perfectly encapsulate the arguments for and against Button as world champion.
August 23rd 2009 – Rubens Barrichello grabs win from Lewis Hamilton (European Grand Prix)
While Button’s qualifying performances let him down his championship rivals couldn’t string enough good results together to seriously damage his lead. Barrichello won at Valencia but Vettel retired with engine failure and Webber was out of the points in ninth.
The low point of Button’s season came at Spa, when he was knocked off on the first lap by Romain Grosjean. But once again his rivals failed to capitalise.
September 9th 2009 – Mercedes to take 75% stake in Brawn – but what does that mean for McLaren?
Behind the scenes, things were developing rapidly for Brawn. Nine months after being ditched by Honda the team were preparing to link up with a manufacturer once again.
September 13th 2009 – Barrichello leads one-two as Brawn are back on top (Italian Grand Prix)
There was a resurgence in form as well, the team finishing one-two at Monza. Barrichello turned the table on Button for this one, but only took a two-point nibble out of his team mate’s championship lead.
Button’s second half of the season had largely been an exercise in beneath-the-radar points-gathering. That all changed at Brazil, where he had to race through the field after qualifying a disastrous 14th.
Meanwhile Barrichello went backwards after starting on pole position. Fifth place was enough for Button to seal an incredible and unlikely championship win with one round to spare.
In this video Button talks about his emotions on the final lap before he won the world championship:
A final twist
November 16th 2009 – Mercedes Grand Prix take over Brawn for 2010 – but what about Jenson Button?
Mercedes completed their deal to take over Brawn ahead of the 2010 season – meaning the name Brawn will be gone from the grid after a single, astonishingly successful season.
November 18th 2009 – McLaren confirm Jenson Button will join Lewis Hamilton for 2010
But the biggest surprise was still to come, as Button announced he would go to McLaren to defend his championship title in 2010. In effect, he’s gone from one Mercedes customer to another.
The rivalry between these two teams should provide one of the most fascinating storylines of 2010.
Pictures from Brawn’s incredible year