Brawn interview: phoenix from the flames

Ross Brawn knew from the moment he first put his feet under his desk at Honda Racing's Brackley headquarters that he was facing a challenge like none he had experienced before in his career. But even he could never have expected the turn of events that he has faced over the past two weeks

Brawn interview: phoenix from the flames

Yet through what he calls the 'tragedy' of Honda's decision to pull the plug on their Formula One operation just 12 months into his tenure as team principal, Brawn believes that not only can a buyer be found to save it - but that the outfit can still be a huge success on track in 2009.

Reclining in a chair in the boardroom at Brackley, overlooking the factory grounds that are now up for sale, Brawn confesses that the work needed to keep his F1 team alive is certainly a departure from the other chapters of his career.

"Well, it is the first time I've been made redundant!," says Brawn, conceding how unique a situation he finds himself in. "But motor racing and particularly Formula One, which is what I know, is always a series of challenges. And often challenges that you do not expect but you have to deal with.

"This is a challenge on a level that does not bear much comparison with what has happened before, but you just have to look at things that have happened that were not planned.

"For me personally, there were things like the bargeboard incident in Malaysia (in 1999) where you suddenly have a situation and you have got to deal with it - in whatever way you can. And this is a situation that we have to deal with.

"We have to put together our plans, we have to work out of a way of finding a suitable buyer for the company, identify them and decide on the shape of the company for the future. This is an unplanned challenge, but life and motor racing is full of unplanned challenges. I left Ferrari because I was getting a little bit bored, so this is certainly something to stop me getting bored."

Brawn says there was little inkling about Honda's plans prior to a meeting he and CEO Nick Fry had with senior chiefs from the Japanese car manufacturer last Friday. The pair had been expecting to be asked to make drastic cost cuts.

"It was a big shock," he admits. "We realised the (economic) climate is difficult at the moment, so we were working on budget reductions for next year. Of course, through the FOTA group and the FIA initiatives, there were plans to reduce the costs so we felt we were going to be able to make changes without affecting our competitive situation - because at the end of the day we are all here to win. So it was quite a big shock when we heard the news last Friday."

After the initial shock, however, Brawn had to quickly change focus and start thinking of the future. A few days were spent getting the situation in order, before the heartbreaking task of summoning the team's staff to a factory meeting at 6pm on Thursday to tell them the bad news.

"There are many tragedies in the whole tale," says Brawn. "There is obviously the difficult situation for our staff, the timing is not great just before Christmas - so that is the human tragedy.

"Then there is the tragedy of the interruption it will cause with the car, because I think we have a great car for next year. We went through the pain of 2008 to make the gain of 2009 - to think we did that and we are not going to get the rewards is very frustrating.

"I hope we can find someone who can pick this up and really reap the rewards and benefits of what we have done. The car is all but designed - and our judgement on its performance level is that we will be very competitive next year and it will be a great shame if it does not see the light of day."

Honda have agreed to fund the team until March, but at nowhere near the level they would have done if they were sticking to their plan to return to the front. It means that Honda Racing will skip the next two pre-Christmas tests in Jerez, and also a change of plans in terms of the timetable for launching the new car.

"We were scheduled to have the new car running at the end of January and now, because of a probable engine change, we are scheduling the beginning of March. And while we were going to start with our launch spec aero package and then do a major upgrade before Melbourne, I think we will be going straight to the new package - which for timing and logistical reasons won't be quite as intense as the Melbourne package was (originally) going to be.

"But in these circumstances we need to do that. It will still be a very competitive package and, with the progress we have made - particularly in the wind tunnel, I have no doubts the car will be competitive. It is a shame because obviously we had a nice plan and we had all our pieces our place."

Brawn sees no reason why whoever buys the team cannot expect them to deliver the kind of form he was predicting for Honda in 2009. In Brazil, Brawn said he hoped the team could be a match for BMW Sauber - something he thinks is still possible despite the setback.

"I think it can," he said. "The thing with the new regulations is that there will be quite a big of disparity between the teams, especially to begin with, and if the constraints on wind tunnel testing which we are debating (in FOTA) now come into force, then the chance for massive catch up will be lessened. So I think there is still every chance that we can be very competitive next year."

While such thoughts remain academic until a new buyer is found, the one thing that is for sure is that Brawn has vowed to be totally dedicated to the team until the future is defined one way or the other.

"I am committed to this programme to see it through to the end, whatever that might be," he said. "I am committed for all sorts of reasons because it is a very good team here, nice people and they have worked very hard on this car. And it would be wrong of me to do anything but stay here and support the efforts to keep it alive.

"Whether I stay here long term is another matter. It depends on the level of the team, the new owners, whether I want to work with them. That is still open. The important thing is I am definitely committed to seeing the team through this phase to come out the other side.

"I don't have any great interest in scratching around the back of the grid so if unfortunately the team cannot find owners who have the ability or aspirations to compete, then I will see it through and we will go from there.

"If the owner has the ability and aspirations to compete at the front it makes no difference who they are. It is nice to be with a manufacturer because of the resources, but maybe that period is changing now, that phase of manufacturers is starting to ebb."

There is a lesson from the past that is important here too. The last time Brawn spent a season focusing entirely on developments for the following year was 1993, when he was at Benetton. The following year, the Enstone-based team upset the big guns and helped Michael Schumacher to his maiden championship.

The ambitions may not be so lofty this time, but it would be a real tragedy if Brawn and his men were not given the chance to show how history can repeat itself in F1.

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