Ross Brawn, Mercedes, Shanghai, 2013

The brains of Brawn come out on top again

2013 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Friday’s verdict by the International Tribunal was a victory for Mercedes and a vindication of the position taken by its team principal Ross Brawn.

The team may have lost its chance to run in the forthcoming Young Drivers Test but it escaped the potentially far worse punishments which could have included a race ban or confiscation of points.

For Brawn it was another encounter with the hand of FIA justice in which he has emerged as the biggest winner.

1994: Option 13

Michael Schumacher, Benetton-Ford B194, Spa-Francorchamps, 1994Brawn was the co-designer of the Benetton B194 with which Michael Schumacher clinched the 1994 drivers’ championship.

A major change in the technical rules for that season saw the outlawing of traction control and other driver aids. But the performance of the B194 at the start of races aroused suspicion – not least from Schumacher’s major rival Ayrton Senna prior to his death in that year’s San Marino Grand Prix.

Benetton, along with McLaren and Ferrari, were requested to provide examples of their cars’ source code to the FIA. FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting found the B194’s launch control programme was still present and could be activated using a computer:

“Launch control” is not visibly listed as an option. The menu was so arranged that, after ten items, nothing further appeared. If however, the operator scrolled down the menu beyond the tenth listed option, to option 13, launch control can be enabled, even though this is not visible on the screen. No satisfactory explanation was offered for this apparent attempt to conceal the feature.

But Benetton were cleared after the FIA ruled they hadn’t used launch control – at least on the occasion in question:

The best evidence is that Benetton Formula Ltd. was not using “launch control” (an automatic start system) at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Had the evidence proved they were, the World Motor Sport Council would have been invited to exclude them from the world championship. Given the evidence available, such a course of action would obviously have been wrong.

Of the various controversies he has been involved in, Brawn singled this out as one he felt especially “aggrieved” about. “We were simply accused of cheating,” he said in an interview in 2007 (republished in a book earlier this year). “All the race data from Imola was available, and it showed no signed of traction control or launch control being used.”

It was the first of several rows Benetton were embroiled in during the 1994 season. Schumacher was stripped of victory in the 1994 Belgian Grand Prix after his B194 failed a post-race plank wear inspection which the team blamed on him spinning across a kerb. He was also disqualified for a driving infringement at Silverstone and banned for two subsequent races.

1994: Refuelling

Michael Schumacher, Benetton-Ford B194, Hungaroring, 1994Benetton were cleared on another technical matter during the 1994 season. At the German Grand Prix a fire erupted during Jos Verstappen’s refuelling stop. The FIA subsequently accused Benetton of removing a filter from their refuelling equipment.

Although Brawn was not responsible for the design of the Intertechnique refuelling rig the similarities between this case and the recent row over Mercedes’ clandestine testing are striking.

In last week’s hearing Brawn produced an email exchange between himself, Whiting and an FIA lawyer which indicated they had been given approval to conduct the disputed test. That revelation helped Mercedes avoid a serious penalty.

In 1994, Benetton claimed they had permission to remove to filter from their rig. Following their exoneration by the FIA World Council its president Max Mosley noted explained: “it was allegedly said, at a low level, between Intertechnique and the Larrousse team, and they did produce a letter from Larrousse saying this, and also a drawing from Intertechnique showing how the filter could be removed.”

It was later alleged Mosley advised Benetton’s defence lawyer not to seek to blame the FIA when presenting their defence following a public spat between the governing body and the team.

1999: Bargeboards

Five years later Ferrari had hired several key members of Benetton’s ‘dream team’ including Schumacher and Brawn, now technical director. But a one-two result in the Malaysian Grand Prix turned sour when both cars were thrown out after failing a scrutineering check on their barge boards.

Ferrari’s disqualification was a double blow: stripping Eddie Irvine of his victory and handing it to Mika Hakkinen gave the McLaren driver enough points to win the championship with one race remaining.

The team made its appeal at a hurriedly-convened hearing during the two-week gap before the season finale in Japan. Their case, explained by Brawn, was that the FIA stewards had measured the bargeboard from an incorrect reference point on the F199.

The court found in their favour Ferrari got their win back, and F1 got its final-round championship decider. But the title didn’t go to the Scuderia’s driver: Hakkinen won at Suzuka following a lacklustre performance by Irvine.

2003: Tyres

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Monza, 2003Amid the row over Mercedes’ participation in a covert test for Pirelli an FIA press conference at the Canadian Grand Prix saw Brawn face intensive questioning before a packed room of journalist plus several aggrieved rival team principals. He gave a typically unflappable performance, yielding little ground and making it plain the test was his decision.

His calm and unemotional defence brought to mind a similar encounter ten years previously. Ferrari and tyre supplier Bridgestone had successfully lobbied the FIA to change how they measured tyres which forced their rivals, most of which used Michelins, to hurriedly change their compounds.

During a tense Monza press conference Patrick Head, technical director for Williams who Ferrari were trailing in the championship, piled the pressure on Brawn. Head claimed the Ferrari-instigated change in the enforcement of the rules forced Michelin to change a tyre construction that had been used for the preceding 38 races without objection.

Brawn held his ground, even as laughter greeted his insistence that the timing of Ferrari’s petition to the FIA was not timed to maximise Michelin’s inconvenience but due to Bridgestone being “an extremely ethical company” and reluctant to raise the matter.

But Ferrari had already won the important battle and two days later they won the real one, on the track. It began a string of eight consecutive victories for Ferrari and Bridgestone, during which time Schumacher and Ferrari clinched the 2003 titles.

2009: Double diffuser

Honda’s abrupt withdrawal from F1 at the end of 2008 led Brawn, who had joined them just one year earlier, to take over the team. Following two dismal years Honda had made an extraordinary effort to ready its 2009 design in time for a major overhaul of the technical regulations.

But the design of the diffuser on the car, now dubbed a Brawn BGP-001, was a source of controversy – as it also was on Williams and Toyota’s cars. Their ‘double diffusers’ exploited a grey area in the regulations to vastly increased the downforce produced by the rear of the car.

Debate over the legality of the cars raged in the build-up to the season. But all six cars were passed by the scrutineers at the Australian Grand Prix and Brawn sensationally scored a one-two finish in their first race after locking out the front row of the grid.

The stewards found in favour of Brawn and the other two teams when Red Bull, Renault and Ferrari protested the design of their cars. The matter was taken as far as the FIA’s appeal court who stood by the stewards’ decision.

This left most of Brawn’s rivals hurriedly catching up to copy the diffuser design. Some claimed that the ruling, which came during the final, acrimonious year of Mosley’s presidency, had been designed to drive a wedge between the teams who were challenging his plan to introduce a budget gap. Double diffusers were eventually banned at the end of 2010 following Jean Todt’s election as the FIA’s new president.

2013: Testing

Ross Brawn, Mercedes, Shanghai, 2013The revelation that Mercedes had conducted a three-day test with Pirelli ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix stunned their rivals when the news emerged following qualifying for the race. Red Bull and Ferrari lodged protests ahead of the race, which Nico Rosberg duly won for Mercedes.

The case was heard by the FIA International Tribunal, a new body set up two years earlier by Todt, who had previously been Brawn’s boss when the pair were at Ferrari. It found that the FIA had given Mercedes an indication that such a test could be allowed.

Although Mercedes were punished, the sanction of a ban from the Young Drivers’ Test was tantamount to a slap on a wrist. The punishment had even been suggested by Mercedes during the course of the hearing.

It left their rivals fuming: Ferrari called it a “rap across the knuckles” and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner pointed out they would always prefer to test using their race drivers instead of junior drivers.

But on the strength of what has gone before they can hardly have been surprised. Brawn has proved time and again his mastery of the rules, procedures and above all the politics of Formula One.

The testing row was not the first time Brawn has appeared before the FIA and come out on top after proving they had made a mistake. It was telling that afterwards he praised the independence of the Tribunal and its willingness to pursue justice even “if that involves some criticism of the FIA as well as other parties.”

Mercedes and Ferrari Pirelli tyre test row

Browse all Mercedes and Ferrari Pirelli tyre test row articles

Images ?? Ford, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Brawn, Mercedes/Hoch Zwei

123 comments on “The brains of Brawn come out on top again”

Jump to comment page: 1 2
  1. The mystery here is why Charlie Whiting still has a job.

    All right, it’s not really a mystery – I’m sure he did exactly what his bosses wanted him to do in giving Mercedes an “out”. What’s really a mystery is why the FIA imagines that this sort of manipulation of the rules to get a desired outcome is not immensely damaging to F1.

    In the long term you can’t have any sort of genuine sport when the answer to questions about the rules varies depending on which team is asking the questions.

    1. I still think this is more about Pirelli blowing the tires this season, FIA and F1 knowing it but having to admit that they themselves wanted the tires and the lack of testing, and so between FIA and Pirelli they agreed to own the problem and that a test was necessary and there was room to accomodate it. I blame F1 for meddling with gadgety tires and not allowing enough testing to ensure their integrity for the entire season. Otherwise, where is Pirelli’s penalty in this? How come Michelin couldn’t get away with their tires failing at one corner of one venue and yet Pirelli gets off more scot-free than Mercedes? Answer? Because F1 mandated these tires and needed to help Pirelli out of a jam, and Whiting and the FIA knew it…knew that the racing is suffering from these tires these days.

      1. @robbie

        Otherwise, where is Pirelli’s penalty in this?

        Well they got a reprimand. But I think that only serves to demonstrate what nonsense it was to call a supplier to account in the same way as a team or driver. If the FIA wanted a more severe penalty it’s not like they’re going to ban the official (sole) tyre supplier from attending a race, are they?

        That shows why trying to shift the blame onto Pirelli is barmy. They are quite right to point out that as they are not competitors they are not subject to the Sporting Regulations. I don’t know what the FIA think they have achieved by giving them a reprimand.

        1. No you’re right, and it was more a rhetorical question on my part. And I always took your point with you accenting Mercedes’ consequences in this, as they are the only ones who’s Championship standings stood to be affected by whatever penalties would be meded out, no matter the level of Pirelli’ and FIA’s involvement.

          I think if anything I was expecting something in the way of a fine for Pirelli rather than a ban which would obviously simply not be doable, but the presence of a token reprimand and a sharing in the cost of the proceedings indicates to me that ultimately Pirelli was only guilty of doing as they were asked under limited testing conditions, and taking the tires a notch too far. But I am a bit surprised that Pirelli hasn’t been verbally castigated by armchair fans if nobody else, akin to Michelin with their US GP fiasco. Then again, perhaps Pirelli HAS received a fair bit of criticism for their tires this year anyway.

          So while I agree shifting the blame to Pirelli is ‘blarmy’ they and the FIA still needed to own this problem which I’m convinced is how the test happened to begin with, otherwise Mercedes would not have been approached to test. ie. even a reprimand might have been useless, but that is not to say their testimony at the Tribunal wasn’t crucial in spite of their ‘non-competitor’ status.

          Perhaps the Pirelli reprimand was to show the public that the Tribunal was looking after those whose opinion is that Mercedes are the main culprits in this test, which would imply underhandedness, which would also imply underhanded supplying of tires to Mercedes for the test.

      2. I still think this is more about Pirelli blowing the tires this season

        Opinions seem to vary dramatically on that point. Some people say Pireli got the tyres wrong, some say they delivered exactly what the FIA asked them for. I’ve even seen some people say both simultaneously!

        Of course if Pirelie got the tyres wrong then the FIA could simply order them changed to the correct specification, with no need for any “unanimous consent” nonsense. The fact that they have not done so indicates that the FIA are not unhappy with the tyres in general.

        The fact that the FIA consented to a test for Merceds (but nobody else) suggests that they are NOT happy with Mercedes – and Hamilton – being out of contention.

        The underlying problem remains that the FIA are not neutral enforcers of the rules but stage managers trying to put on a show – theater on wheels. As long as that is the case the rules will always be applied in a capricious and cynical fashion aimed at helping some teams and handicapping others.

        1. Opinions seem to vary dramatically on that point. Some people say Pireli got the tyres wrong, some say they delivered exactly what the FIA asked them for.

          I think we know from last year and the year before that in general these are the tires the FIA wants, and the teams, and the truth is the teams signed off on the current ones and didn’t seem to complain last September when they were given data on them.

          I think it was only once they raced in anger on them, due to the lack of pre-season testing afforded Pirelli at least at a hotter high speed corner venue, that everyone, FIA, Pirelli, the teams, and the fans knew what they actually had on their hands.

          But as I said to you on another post on this topic, FIA and/or Pirelli can’t change the tires too too much over what they provided the teams data on last September, because that could and likely would REALLY upset the applecart and hurt those who happen to be muddling through a little better on these tires.

          The underlying problem remains that the FIA are not neutral enforcers of the rules but stage managers trying to put on a show – theater on wheels. As long as that is the case the rules will always be applied in a capricious and cynical fashion aimed at helping some teams and handicapping others.

          I agree with you there completely.

          The fact that the FIA consented to a test for Merceds (but nobody else) suggests that they are NOT happy with Mercedes – and Hamilton – being out of contention.

          Is it possible FIA/F1 wants to see Mercedes stronger? Or LH? Absolutely. But they also consented to, and did, a Ferrari test (or two), and apparently Red Bull were asked but declined, so I’m sure not convinced that May’s Pirelli test was about FIA helping Mercedes. And if that was the case, then people need to get off Mercedes’/Brawn’s back because all teams would have taken such assistance.

          Just one other point. If we are going to go down the path that this might have been FIA wanting to boost Mercedes into contention, then as I said early on after Monaco when the news of the Pirelli/Mercedes test hit, thank goodness they didn’t use a top 3 (at the time) team. Red Bull themselves admitted that if it had been them doing the test that would be way too contentious. Especially since they were the most vocal for change and just being vocal alone got them all kinds of criticism.

        2. Johnny Five
          25th June 2013, 0:32

          COTD to @jonsan for the perfect usage of the word capricious. Well done Sir! Boundary pushing in the use of English language!

  2. i dont think his brains that came out on top, as Mercedes were proven guilty – and he took the blaim for the test, its just luck for him the penalty wasnt severe – maybe he made a deal with the judges, as he suggested the penalty handed out. if anything i think it is his bad sportsmanship that has come out again. 2003 was when i first saw his true colours, when another driver dared to pass Michael Schumacher (Juan Montoya), Brawn called the move unclassy, and then i remember his disgusting spin-talk about the tyre situation when Michelin were forced to change the tyres they had used for like 40 races, and that instantly helped Schumacher win the championship over Montoya.
    Brawn has not been a team principle, he lucked in in 2009 with a well built Honda and manipulated rules to enable a double diffuser on his car. in that year the team went backwards, redbull caught up at the end.
    every year since then, under Mercedes, the team has gone backwards as the year has gone along.
    This year will be no different, the fall hasnt started yet because of the tyre test helped them stay in it.
    Brawn will get the boot at the end of the year, and good riddence as far as i am concerned. he hasnt done anything for f1, he can go the way of briatore, he is no different – just a rich man running an f1 team and cheating to get ahead.

  3. Well, Ross is certainly not all brawn and no brains!

  4. This is only a “victory” if one beleves that Brawn should have lost the testing case on the merits. Many people including me believe that the punishment here fit the crime, as it were, and vice versa.

    That said, this is a good historical document tracing the relationship between a leading F1 team leader and major technical disputes in the sport.

    1. @dmw Surely if you believe they were right and they were rightly exonerated that is also a victory? As I said at the start it’s a vindication.

  5. Brains of Brawn.. pun intended?

    1. @cyclops_pl Wordplay intended.

      1. A nifty one :)

        1. @cyclops_pl Ta very much :-)

  6. I think that there is no more need to prove that Ross Brawn is a very smart guy, who knows the playing field very well. If there were talks about lobbying the FIA or even manipulating the rules in 2003, then this time nothing suggests that that is the case, the old fox just saw an opportunity and made use of it. I don’t believe that Mercedes didn’t understand that they were breaking the rules but they obviously felt that they had legal ground that would allow them to escape without a remarkable penalty. I think that Brawn understood the situation very well but believed that the expected gain outweighed the risks and was proven to be right… once again.

    Last September, I was among those 39%, who said that Hamilton would win the title with Mercedes until 2015 and my vote would still be the same. There are many reasons why I think so but the ‘Brawn factor’ is definitely one of them.

  7. Another example of Brawn exploiting the rules was Silverstone 1998 where he got Schumacher to serve a stop/go penalty after the race had finished…

    1. Mmm, that’s not quite how I remember it. While I don’t always like Wikipedia, this is how they have the incident.

      Two laps from the finish, Schumacher was issued with a stop-and-go penalty, meaning he had to drive through the pit lane obeying the speed limit, stop at his pit box and remain stationary for ten seconds before leaving the pits and continuing with the race. The penalty was given for passing Wurz under the safety car, as the safety car regulations continue to apply until the start/finish line is crossed. The penalty should have been issued within 25 minutes but Ferrari were informed 6 minutes after the limit had expired. The handwritten notification was also unclear as to which penalty was actually being issued: a 10s stop/go, or 10 seconds added to Schumacher’s race time (a penalty which could only be used to punish an infraction in the last 12 laps).[3] However on the final lap of the race, Schumacher came in to serve the penalty and in doing so crossed the finish line (which extends across the pit lane) before reaching his pit box and before Mika Häkkinen crossed the finish line on the race track. However, because the stewards had incorrectly issued the penalty Schumacher escaped punishment as the stewards later rescinded the penalty. A protest was lodged by McLaren-Mercedes who felt Ferrari cheated by not having Schumacher serve the penalty, was rejected by the FIA. As a result the three stewards involved handed in their licences at an extraordinary meeting of the FIA World Council.

      If that piece of rule interpretation was the product of Brawn’s brain, I would not be surprised. I don’t particularly like the dear chap, but I admire his sheer cunning. And i think he should have a role inside the FIA (but not at the same time as his Mercedes roile) to make sure the FIA rules and regs are actually watertight (or Brawn-tight). Poacher turned Gamekeeper sort of thing.

  8. @keithcollantine This was a fantastic article!

    I would love to see a similar article for someone like Colin Chapman or Patrick Head. It would help us get a reasonable perspective on how bold Ross Brawn has been over the years.

  9. I seem to recall Irvine saying he knew he had no chance whatsoever of winning the championship when Ferrari arrived at Suzuka with the old floor on the car, so I guess they were pretty worried the barge boards would have been questioned again after the last race.

  10. If Ross wasn’t British we’d be all calling him a cheat.

    1. I completely disagree there: I am a British national and completely disregard patriotism (hence why I strongly dislike Hamilton, fairly strongly dislike Button and support a German driver, despite the Germans being the national enemy of Britain!) when it comes to my judgement of people and I feel it’s only logical to assume others will do the same. As I am one of the more vocal members of this site I think I can be used as a prime example of the fact that nationality isn’t always relevant!

      As for my opinion on Brawn, I feel the penalty on this occasion was soft as they have still gained an advantage effectively and clearly were undertaking a test which contravened the regulations (hence why they were punished). I do like boundary pushers as they make the sport exciting, but save it for the technical side of things is what I say to Brawn.

  11. I’ve said this in another article on this website, and I’ll say it again… If the chief designers and principals of the teams on the grid aren’t pushing the boundaries and flirting with illegality to gain an advantage over their rivals, their not doing their job properly.

    When you take a step back and look at it, Brawn is a genius rather than a cheat. I’ve generally admired his work in F1, although I find it very hard to defend him and Mercedes over the recent tyre test…

  12. There is nothing genius about him apart from strategy calls! The only thing he does is hiding behind the political power of Ferrari at first and now Mercedes! (remember what Mercedes shareholders threatened to do) Well Benetton of course is a different case but not because of Brawn’s genius. After the tragic events of Imola a) FIA didn’t want to put F1 into further disrepute by claiming that the champion leader is simply a cheater and b) Schumacher at that time as a driver was the only bright light at the end of a long and dark tunnel for the sport. Not only its greatest ever driver was tragically killed but also some of its greatest ambassadors had recently retired (PROST, MANSELL, PIQUET).
    FIA needed desperately a climaxing title fight and Benetton was their last card to play and went for it.

    As for his technical genius after him and Rory Byrne parted ways he hasn’t produced anything significant bar the controversial Brawn GP car.
    A great analyst-strategist no doubt but everything else just fell into place by being in the right place at the right time.

    1. @philby Interesting name you have there.

      But anyway, he’s had to be VERY good to always be at the right place at the right time since 1994. That’s almost 20 years ago! Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, thrice is a trend… you see where I’m going with this. ;)

      1. @Journeyer, As i said he is a great analyst-strategist and obviously that applies to the choices he makes in his professional life and not only behind the pitwall, I merely suggested that his legacy to the sport isn’t by no means equal to the ones of Chapman, Brabham or Newey for that matter. He somehow gets more credit than he deserves (my opinion of course) while mr. Byrne gets less. He is a political animal but his failure (so far) of making Merc a top contender exposes his shortcomings.

  13. The problem with current F1 comes from the fact that the competition is among cheaters (Brawn, Newey, Horner, and some others) not among pilots. It seems to me that, for me, is time to retire from this farce and stop putting more and more money into Bernie’s “organization” (he is the BIGGEST cheater of them all) watching these so called “races” on TV.

  14. “my (sport TBD) guy and/or team would never do such a thing!!!”

    it’s 2013, and that attitude is as outdated as tuberculosis. come on, kids.

    as another has said, i’d like to read similar articles on newey, head, chapman, gascoyne and others that have been banging away for years in this pressure cooker.

  15. @keithcollantine “he sad in an interview in 2007 .. ” should be “he said..”

Jump to comment page: 1 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.