From Honda's withdrawal to a 1-2 finish in the Australian Grand Prix in under four months, Ross Brawn, Nick Fry, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and the rest of the Brawn GP team have had a winter of uncertainty with no shortage of ups and downs.
Their collective faith in the potential of the 2009 car was rewarded in emphatic style at Melbourne and, once the celebrations had died down, Fry spoke to AUTOSPORT about the journey the team has taken since December.
Q. Can you really believe what happened in the Australian Grand Prix?
Nick Fry: It is slowly sinking in. It is a kind of strange feeling, as we knew the car was capable of it - but after so many problems in the last couple of years it is difficult to believe that even when you have the equipment, that it is all going to come right.
I think someone was smiling on us in Australia. Rubens [Barrichello] deserved second place but we needed a bit of help to get that. But it was a great team performance, and a demonstration of what you can do with a lot of hard work - sticking together with great loyalty. Everyone has done their bit and worked incredibly hard under very difficult circumstances.
Q. The team played down its form before the weekend. But having seen in Australia how quick it can be, were you always that optimistic about it?
NF: I think everyone was secretly optimistic, but didn't want to say anything for fear of almost jinxing it. I think you get a little bit superstitious about this, as we all wanted to keep schtum and say nothing, just in case it wasn't true. In our hearts we knew our car was really good. I think we've had just so much support, which no doubt over years ahead will come out - whether it was some of the other teams, Luca di Montezemolo offering instantly a Ferrari engine, or Ron Dennis doing the same for Mercedes-Benz and working really hard with us to make sure we could fit the engine.
Then there was the British government, the department of business, the ambassador in Tokyo got involved to make sure we could stay open, and persuading Honda that they should help us as much as possible - so many people who have actually played a part in this. A number of MPs have been really helpful - everyone has wanted us to survive, and they are all very happy - and deservedly so.
Q. You must have known when Honda pulled out that the car was good. So, did that provide some motivation to keep this team alive?
NF: You are quite right, that if we would have been shut down then the biggest disappointment would have been not knowing how good this car was. People would have lost their jobs and there would have been other problems, but there would have been this lingering doubt about what could have been.
Q. What do you say about people who say your car's speed comes wholly from the diffuser?
NF: I am very glad about that because if they think that is the only secret of the car's speed then they are going to be very sad when they find out the truth. The car is a very neat piece of design, a lot of work went into it over the course of the whole year, and it is a very good quality of car. But there is no one secret to it. I think most people realise in this sport that there is no Holy Grail, and that feature is not the Holy Grail.
Q. Are you keeping your powder dry, in terms of showing the full potential of this car, until after the FIA Court hearing into the diffusers?
NF: I think that others did a remarkable job in Autralia. It wasn't easy. We may not have helped ourselves, but Robert [Kubica] at the end could easily have caught Jenson [Button] as he was on the better of the two tyres. The Red Bull is clearly very fast so we are going to have to work for this. We have a little bit of an advantage so hopefully we can get some results over the next few races, because we are going to need a bit of a lead before Ferrari and McLaren get their acts together. By the time we get to Europe, I am sure they are going to be on our heels.
Q. Do you think there is more to come from the Brawn GP car?
NF: We are going to try a few things out. Obviously this is the car we are going to be racing. I cannot say we were sandbagging in Australia, as we were going as hard as we could. And we could easily have been beaten, but if we smarten up our act we may be able to get a big of an advantage for this weekend. Who knows?
Q. Can you push on for the title do you think?
NF: What was in Ross's mind and my mind all through the winter is that we are only going to continue if we have got a chance of winning. This is too much like hard work to be going around at the back of the grid. We have built up a team over several years now with absolutely top quality facilities, we have first class people, and we are not here to just go F1 motor racing just for the sake of it.
Ross and I were absolutely determined that we would put a structure in place which was still capable of winning. I think it is far too early to talk about championships. We won the first race and I hope we can get on the podium in the next few, but I think we are under no illusions that to hold back the might of some of the big constructors is going to be very difficult, especially as unfortunately we are going to have to go down to about 450 people, as that is all we can afford. So we are going to be the underdogs.
Q. So does that make it more important to lay down the foundations for a title challenge early on in the season then?
NF: I think everyone is familiar with how F1 works - in that if you start with a good car, then it stays a good car. And if you start with a poor car then it gets very, very difficult. I think we have started with a very good car. We can still work on this and this is a car where if we did nothing to it, it could still do very well through the first part of the year.
Q. Has life been helped by the cost cuts, the testing ban, in terms of holding back the development potential of other teams?
NF: The reality is that you could not conceive of what Ross and I have taken on, even a year ago. The reality is that the FIA and FOTA initiatives have enabled us to do this, because the costs are coming down quite dramatically and it will be more difficult for the others to fight back. But thanks to Honda, we have great facilities which will last us some time before they need money spending on them.
Q. There appears to be a lot of good will in the paddock towards Brawn GP. Do you expect the attitude from your rivals to change now that you are successful?
NF: I think that people have got short memories, but it is rather nice that people do seem to be very appreciative of what we have done. I think people inside the sport and inside the team have seen what we have had to go through to get this far, and it has been in many ways a big challenge - enjoyable but bloody hard work to get where we are today. People inside realise that. It is just great that people like Ron Dennis, who not only helped us with the engine, but provided moral support and was frequently on the phone asking us if everything was alright and was okay.
There were also people like Jody Scheckter, who realises what it is like from the inside, he has been there like a cheerleader in the background. Also Jackie Stewart, who has provided great advice on putting a team together. Luca di Montezemolo also. There are also so many who have supported us and made us believe we can do it. Bernie Ecclestone is no exception. He said right from the time that Honda pulled out that we would be in Melbourne, and from time to time I was not sure I believed him. He always said - you guys will make it. And now he thinks we are past the worst, so I hope he is right.
Q. How close did you come to not making it?
NF: I think people on the outside have no appreciation of how close we came a number of times to being closed down, and it took the combined effort of not only Ross and myself and the team, but some of the people I've mentioned before, to make sure we put things in place to continue. We are here by the skin of our teeth.
Q. You've been with Jenson Button through the good times and the bad times. How has he reacted to the situation?
NF: Jenson has been loyal beyond any reasonable expectation, and I think what has gone on in the past has built up that confidence - that we always battled through one way or another, whether it be the legal issues with Williams where he paid through the nose to stay with us, whether it be over the last winter where I know full well he had offers from other teams and would not even consider them. He told his manager to not bother considering them, as he wants to drive this car.
As has been stated in the press, he has taken a massive cut in pay and benefits to drive this car because all he wants to do is win. He has been loyal to Ross and I. We think he is a great driver and he demonstrated that again in Australia. More like that, the better he will get.
Q. How do you think it will pan out between Rubens and Jenson?
NF: I think it is helping both of them. They are both incredibly quick, and for Rubens' doubters I think his performance in Australia was a good answer to them. We have seen a phenomenally quick driver, but one who is also massively motivated. They are pushing each other the whole time and I just thoroughly enjoyed qualifying in Melbourne, just to see purple from one of them, and then the next one. It bounced back and forwards and that was great to see. They work so well together.
Q. When Ross Brawn was brought to the team, he was hailed as the man who would turn the team around. Has he surprised you with what he has done?
NF: Ross was the only person that I wanted in the team. We battled pretty hard to get him, and there were a lot of people who would have liked to have him. The technical side was expected, but over the winter he and I not only worked closely together but we have kept each other going. It has been very tough - as one day he would be down in the dumps and it was my turn to push things on, and then when I was coming in a bit depressed and thinking it was all a bit too much like hard work, he would be in the same position and pushing me along. I really don't think that it could have been done with only one person. The rest of the team, the finance director, the legal director - they all played a massive part in bringing this all together.
Q. The car is still predominantly white, and Richard Branson will decide in the next few weeks about the level of his involvement in taking that deal forwards. What is the commercial situation at this team?
NF: The commercial state is pretty healthy. We would not have kicked this off if we did not think it had a good chance. We have certainly got the money for this year, and we are well into next year now. Richard's contribution to the coffers is much appreciated, but Ross and I strongly believe and it has been proven by the amount of contacts we have had, that if you have a good car, then the Brawn GP logo on the airbox is effectively a for sale sign to buy this space. People want to be associated with success, and what this is all about is that it is a good news story.
In times that are pretty hard for everyone, we've got something here which clearly is a bit of a fairytale but is also highly attractive to potential sponsors. So I don't think this is going to be easy, but we will work with Richard and see if we can persuade him to up his game in terms of Virgin's support of the car - which he seems happy to consider. I think Virgin is a very attractive brand, which will attract other people to come on board. I am very optimistic at the moment.
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