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Behind the scenes on Melbourne raceday
Behind the scenes on Melbourne raceday
Posted By:   |  29 Mar 2009   |  8:28 am GMT  |  23 comments

It was Ross Brawn himself who made the connection, when we were talking on Saturday morning about the last team to win on its F1 debut; Wolf in 1977.

“Yeah, I was working for them then,” he grinned.

Ross started out at Williams, but when Sir Frank got involved with Walter Wolf, Ross was seconded to go and work on the black and gold cars. What an amazing symmetry that 32 years later Ross should repeat the feat with cars bearing his own name.

Brawn was the story in Melbourne this weekend, from every angle; the staggering pace of the car, the front row qualifying performance and 1-2 in the race and of course the appearance of Sir Richard Branson and Virgin in F1 after decades of thinking about it.

Branson was giggling like a schoolgirl after the race, admitting he was ‘hooked’ on F1 and revealing that Bernie Ecclestone had rung him after the race to say that he would be meeting him off the plane and taking him directly to a casino, where Bernie would gladly place a million pounds on any number Branson suggested at the roulette table!

When asked if he would be a silent partner in the team, the business world’s leading self-publicist said, “I don’t really do silent.”

He’s delirious, but he also knows that the price tag just went up. If he is going to pump some proper money into the team, it’s going to be decided over the next few weeks. He won’t be in Malaysia (who would, if they had an option?), but is likely to make an appearance in Shanghai. His money will have a decisive influence on the way this championship unfolds. The team has a decent budget for the season, but extra money will mean extra development and that will be necessary if the team are to keep McLaren and Ferrari behind them.

The Brawn team members meanwhile, acquitted themselves well for an outfit that is not used to dominating. There was a palpable sense of nerves on the grid, but the experienced hands, like sporting director Ron Meadows, kept things in order. The mechanics bustled around the two plain white cars, sitting on the front row of the grid, pointing down towards the first corner.

It was my first time on the grid since the US Grand Prix of 2001, my last race as a pit reporter before taking over from Murray in the commentary box. I’d forgotten how much energy there is down there.

Alonso was very impressive, fired up and instructing his engineers on how he saw the race unfolding and what options to think about on strategy. He leads, without a doubt.

Every car, particularly the quick ones, has a member of another team hanging around it, looking at details in the design. The grid is the only time that the cars are fair game to be examined like that.

Behind the scenes this weekend was a sense that F1 has renewed itself, that the credit crunch might have actually saved F1 from itself, by forcing everyone to address spending, by creating the circumstances for the Brawn team to exist and to write a thrilling new chapter in the story. Most sponsors and teams have made cutbacks, some have already made redundancies, but in austerity comes a spirit of togetherness and that is very much the tone at the moment.

There were politics between teams over the protests and the appeal and so on. But there was almost a conviviality about it. After Williams withdrew it’s protest against Ferrari last night, this morning Stefano Domenicali went down to the Williams area for a friendly chat with CEO Adam Parr. The atmosphere between the teams is the most cordial I’ve seen it in F1. One McLaren figure even told me today that he was a bit worried because he actually felt sorry for Ferrari for their poor showing! That is what you call rapprochement.

The teams are not at each other’s throats as much as you might imagine. Sure there are some people who are annoyed by the diffuser trick that Brawn, Williams and Toyota have played, but they also know that they are in a much bigger game with Bernie and Max and that sticking together is the important thing.

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I looked to me as though KERS was being used mainly to give extra boost on exiting corners. That probably gives faster lap times than a couple of extra mph on the straight.

With regard to Chris Hill’s comment on gearing: if the cars are hitting the rev limit on the straight the top gear must be too low. Otherwise, what happens when they pick up a tow? Presumably KERS could be used to give you extra revs on the straight when not behind another car.


The background of the battery is Grey, the amount of red indicates how much boost they have left (resets when they go over the start/finish), and when it turns yellow that means the driver is using it.

I’m not sure about charging, I would guess that they generate more than enough electricity the previous lap (the amount of time they can use it is limited by the ECU I believe) so that’d suggest they’re just constrained by the regulations, I would guess that the amount of horsepower is too, but no one seems to be talking about it (browsing through regs. documents gives me sleepyitis too unfortunately).


“He won’t be in Malaysia (who would, if they had an option?) “

Whats the story behind? I have been to the Sepang track, it is not exactly world class, and rather dirty as well. Is that the only reason, people prefer not to visit? Or there are other reasons?


Maybe Branson is delirious at the moment about Brawn, but I am afraid that I find that scary. Sorry to say it, but in my experience people who can suddenly fall head over heels in love with an idea can equally quickly lose interest and run.
Very easy indeed to love Brawn GP in the euphoria of this brilliant result, when their car is the pick of the field. However the reality of F1 for most teams, most of the time, is hard slog, many tens of millions spent, and very little to show for it in terms of podiums.

Brawn, if they are to survive and prosper, need backers who will stay the course over the years when the going gets rough, as it inevitably must.

Although it may not bear fruit immediately, the enormous investment that the big teams like Merc are putting in this year, e.g. £70m on KERS alone, will be carried over to the advantage of their cars in the future, even when the teams’ annual spending is limited. A bit like an athlete building up his body on steroids and reaping the benefits in results for years afterwards (can’t think who that might be!).


Was it just me or did I just see the KERS graphic a couple of times on the BBC broadcast? I would have thought that FOM would want to show off their new toy more frequently, or do they not control when it shows up?

As it was, Martin mentioned it a few times but the results of using the button were not that dramatic.

What I saw was a battery graphic that was either grey (empty) or yellow or red. What’s the difference between the latter two? And can the drivers only use it once per lap because of regulations, technical limiter or not enough juice in that short time? Tracks with more braking, like “Montreal”, would seem to me to create more braking energy to capture, thus allowing drivers to use it more frequently.


For me, the really interesting story was the race pace of the few KERS assisted cars, especially Ferrari at the start and Lewis everywhere else after that.

It may not be great for a quali laptime, but it can get you past people who are not using it quite easily, will this be the deciding factor of the 2009 F1 WDC, WCC ?


I don’t quite understand your reply, Steve.

If you are at your maximum speed using engine power alone, and you then hit the KERS button, you are going to bounce off the rev limiter unless your gearing allows you to go faster.

If your gearing allows you to go faster, surely it won’t be optimal when you are not using KERS?


Re the KERS and gear ratios: As far as I understand it, this isn’t an issue. The gearings act to multiply the engine revs on the way through to the drive wheels, so the gear ratios are fixed to the engine revs. Since the engine revs are limited to 18,000 rpm, then it’s this that limits the top speed of the car. All KERS can give you is a power boost, enabling you to get up to the top speed faster.

I think that’s right, but I’m open to being corrected 🙂


Loving your work, James. Missed your commentary today too…


Actually Chris Hill asked a very good question.

If you are using KERS, your top speed increases, so you need a higher top gear.

But then if you don’t use KERS, your top gear is going to be too high for the unassisted engine.

I would really like to know how the teams cope with this problem.


The information you get on here is fantastic – better than most writing I’ve seen across all sports. I’m really happy I stumbled across this place a few weeks back.

Why if I may ask is Malaysia that bad? – is it just running in the heat and humidity (which I would have imagined would be somewhat better than normal this year due to later running) or is there something else – should I take it off my list of countries to go to at some point?


fantastic blog! i just found it and am enjoying it very much. In response to Chris Hill’s question about KERS—–it uses stored energy from the braking system to provide a power boost—hence it’s name is Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS)


What diffuser trick? Three teams read the rules. Seven teams didn’t. Simple as that. Or are you supposed to read something in the rule book which isn’t there in black and white?

Technically these three teams are 100% legal, or they would already have been thrown out. But are they legal politically, i.e. is the burden of changing the cars going to be placed on the three or on the seven? That is the only question and it’s where the decision of the court of appeal will be made. It’s a purely political decision and it relates to the way the F1 establishment wants the sport to shape up, not to the rights and wrongs of the issue.

However if the decision of the court implies teams have to read something into the rules that isn’t there in black and white in the future, then who knows where that can possibly lead.


Once again a great article. I certainly think that TV`s loss is our gain. The amount of little details you out into this blog is outstanding and is making me enjoy F1 all the more (you should be put on a retainer by FOTA 🙂 )

I know McLaren and Ferrari will already have designs of the new defuser (and maybe gearbox housings and suspension mods) to allow them to use a “trick” diffuser, but I am not too sure how effective these would be, am I not right in thinking that the diffuser/rear end treatment is a major part to the total concept of the car??

Also a little off topic, how do the KERS runners acocunt for the extra 80BHP with the gear ratios etc


Great insight James, These are the things that set your articles apart from the other news sites.

So do you think Mclaren just find themselves lucky to get the points? Or after the race things look a bit better?

Ferrari are really feeling bad to have Mclaren person feeling sorry for them! Is it that bad in the red garage?


“One McLaren figure even told me today that he was a bit worried because he actually felt sorry for Ferrari for their poor showing! That is what you call rapprochement.”

Not to mention a double irony.

If Mr. Dennis reads this blog your source will be an ex-McLaren figure.

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