The most anticipated story of 2013 has finally reached its endgame: Ross Brawn will leave the Mercedes F1 team on December 31st, it was announced today. The news comes as no real surprise, as it was foreshadowed a few weeks ago in press reports. Brawn had made his decision at the time, but had requested that the announcement come after the season had ended.
It ended well and Brawn can sign off having lifted Mercedes to second in the constructors’ championship, a significant achievement, given where they were in 2010-12.
Now they have a platform to challenge the Red Bull hegemony and with the hybrid powertrain they have built and the team of chassis engineers they have assembled, a championship challenge is there to be made.
But Brawn won’t be part of it. He and the team could not agree on a role for him which gave him the status as reference point which he wanted. He was not interested in being an wise old counsellor, he wanted to run the show and the new management group of Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda did not see eye to eye with him on that.
He was given the chance to make the decision and it has been presented that way, but all along it has had the feeling that a new broom was passing through and he wasn’t going to be able to stay in a position of control any more.
Paddy Lowe has big shoes to fill, but he’s a highly intelligent, experienced and ambitious man. He’s moving up to a different kind of role now, as Brawn did when he started with Honda in 2008, and there will be some adaptation.
The key for him will be the support of central figures in the team like Sporting Director Ron Meadows, engineering chiefs like Aldo Costa and Bob Bell as he gets to grips with his new role. Mercedes have some very good people and a much clearer management structure than McLaren, Lowe’s former employer, so it’s clear that the buck stops with him.
It is not known where Brawn’s future in Formula One lies, with a role in the FIA or a move to another team still possible options. Brawn has not been approached yet by the FIA. The feeling is that he has not been particularly active in looking for the next move; that he will bide his time, take half a season off and see how the landscape looks in 2014 when the cars built to the new rules go racing and then decide whether he has more another big challenge in him. He says he’s too young to be a grandad and that he likes the idea of racing, but the right role will be essential. The only viable options would be McLaren – but that would require a shareholder revolt – and Ferrari, but they have a new structure with James Allison and will want to give that a chance to mature.
Lowe will take control of the technical side of the Mercedes team and Toto Wolff will lead the business side. They have both been able to spectate on Brawn’s leadership style and see the way that he has helped turn the team around from its difficult days of 2007 and 2008, through the Brawn GP wonder year, to Mercedes ownership.
The move has been expected since January, when news broke of Lowe joining the team, which Brawn did not appear to have been in control of. Leaks in the media throughout the season have further cemented the suspicion that Brawn was nearing the end of his career at the team.
Next year brings a host of fresh challenges to the F1 teams and ones that require dedication to a long-term project. Therefore, it gave the opportunity for a smooth hand-over between the senior management.
The 59-year old has achieved all he can in this sport, the only engineering boss to win races with four different teams, even taking a team under his own name to a double World Championship, which had only been done before with Sir Jack Brabham and Sir Frank Williams.
Any sighting of him in a new role in the coming years will be a sign of his passion – more than necessity. He is a very wealthy man, having sold Brawn GP to Mercedes for €123 million, as well as earning very well at Ferrari for 10 years.
“The most important consideration in my decision to step down from the role as team principal was to ensure that the timing was right for the team in order to ensure its future success,” said Brawn.
“The succession planning process that we have implemented during this year means we are now ready to conduct the transition from my current responsibilities to a new leadership team composed of Toto and Paddy.”
Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda, admits that he tried to keep Brawn at the team, but says you cannot hold someone back when they have made a decision.
“We have had long discussions with Ross about how he could continue with the team but it is a basic fact that you cannot hold somebody back when they have chose to move on,” Lauda said.
“Toto and Paddy are the right people to lead our team in 2014 and beyond.”