Ross Brawn’s team still has a long way to go, the car has no sponsors on it, the Mercedes engine deal is rumoured to be for just one year and they have to find partners in an economic crisis, but for 2009 things are a lot rosier for this team than they might appear. For one thing, Ross is not running the team on a shoestring, he has been given a budget not just to compete, but to impress.
Honda estimated that it would cost them €100 million to close the team down and rather than do that, with all the bad publicity that would entail, my information is that they have effectively given that sum to Brawn as a subsidy to run the team in 2010. After that he’s probably on his own. So he needs to show performance this year in order to attract long term partners, a point he made yesterday during his briefing. Added to the £45 million the team gets from Bernie Ecclestone as its share of the commercial revenues, this gives the team a very healthy estimated €145 of budget for the season – hence being able to prioritise Barrichello’s skill and experience over Bruno Senna’s sponsorship money.
Despite being Billy Big Pockets, I’m told that the team aren’t going to be throwing the money around in the non-engineering areas, so hospitality and marketing activities will be strictly ‘credit crunch rations.’
There are sacrifices being made for the greater good; Jenson Button was on around £12 million a year in the Honda days and he will have taken a big cut, just to be able to keep his career going, a bit like his old mate David Beckham. That said, he had just signed a new deal with Honda in October, so they would have paid him two years’ money anyway. I don’t think he’s exactly suffering. He admitted that having stared into the abyss over the last few months, he comes back to F1 with a greater desire to do well and get more from a career, which has yet to peak.
So how is the Brawn GP car and what are the prospects? Well I’m delighted to say that the car looks very good indeed. It’s fast, that’s the main thing. They also ran quite reliably for the two days I was in Barcelona, but gremlins will strike them, it’s inevitable with such short lead times. One thing in their favour is that the exhausts come as part of the Mercedes package, so that’s one less installation elent to go wrong.
But making a fast car reliable is infinitely preferable to the other away around, which is what they’ve had to deal with for the last two years.
Jenson did a long run on Monday afternoon of 20 laps, the kind of stint he would expect to do in the Spanish GP between pit stops. It was highly respectable, starting out in the low 1min 22s and coming gradually down to the mid 1m 21s. The car is consistent, driveable and a great basis on which to chase more performance. On Wednesday he did a lap in the low 1min 19s, which is fast by any standards. When I spoke to him and Ross over the last few days I could tell they were so happy about the performance of the car right out of the box. It’s a bit like 2004, when they had a good ‘un from the word go. That year only the Ferrari was faster.
It’s going to be a very tight midfield again this year, which will probably contain Red Bull, Brawn, Williams, Force India and Toro Rosso, possibly in something like that order, to start with at least. And where might McLaren slot in there?