I was interested to see some quotes from Jenson Button’s race engineer Andrew Shovlin in a story on the BBC website about what the team has done to send it’s 2009 challenger down the wrong path on development.
Since Jenson Button’s last win, in Turkey three races ago, he has not featured in the top three in qualifying or the race and the only podium has been Rubens Barrichello’s at Silverstone. Button toiled there, largely it was assumed, because he could not get the tyres up to temperature, but in the final laps he suddenly got on to the pace, which is a more complex problem.
Shovlin, like all the other Brawn engineers will not have been able to relax on the beach during the enforced two week shutdown. His mind will have been turning over possible reasons for the car’s erratic behavior. He told the BBC’s Sarah Holt that, “At the moment there is such a small window where it is working really well and we can’t cope with that. We need to fix it so it’s quick on any track and in any temperature.”
From then on it didn’t change all that much for the first four flyaway races, which it dominated, then they had a major upgrade in Spain which seemed to work well. Monaco was all about Button’s finesse and Turkey was a great drive again by Button, forcing Vettel into a mistake on the opening lap.
Brawn would love to wind the clock back to the specification which worked perfectly on all circuits, but according to Shovlin, “It’s not as simple as going back to an old car specification. That’s not the answer; it is something much more subtle than that. We may have done something to the car to make it more sensitive.”
Button’s plaintive wails over the radio that the tyres are not working, or that he has savage oversteer have become as much a soundtrack of these last three races as the sound of the engines. It is the sound of the dream of a lifetime slipping away.
So can they fix it? Well their biggest problem is that testing is banned, so even if they think they’ve found the answer and line up a few solutions, they cannot go out on track to test them for verification. That will make the task ten times harder. It also means that they have to spend precious time during Friday practice at Grands Prix sorting out problems, rather than going faster.
There is another area of concern, which Shovlin hints at in his interview, “The problem this year is the budget,” he says.
When Brawn led the management buyout of the team he was given, as he said at that Barcelona test, “a budget to impress,” with which to develop the car. The idea being that they would find sponsors and partners to ensure their survival into 2010 and beyond.
But they had a nervous few months recently, as the business plan called for them to receive $35 million owed to the team for Honda’s share of TV and prize money. This money was not forthcoming and in June and July the team had to be very careful about committing funds to development, because they also had to keep one eye on budgets for 2010.
My understanding is that they received this money when they signed the Concorde Agreement last week, so that puts some much needed funds into the team.
I know also that there are sponsors and investors who have been sniffing around F1 for some time but were unwilling to commit until stability was restored with the Concorde Agreement. We may start to see them come in soon and hopefully one or two of them will go Brawn’s way. In addition, as front runners this year, their share of the prize money next year will be or the order of $70 million.
But the team is definitely in a finely balanced situation, with regards to this year and next and as Red Bull is throwing the kitchen sink at trying to win this world championship, Brawn must decide when and how much to take from Peter to pay Paul. And then find a quick fix to a complex problem.