Ross Brawn says that the teams that made the earliest start on their designs for the 2017 Formula 1 season will have an additional advantage because they can shape the direction of arguments over the interpretations of the new rules.
The 62-year-old was in charge of the Honda squad that later became his own eponymous team in 2009, and Mercedes during the design process for the two most recent major F1 regulation changes and both of those teams went on to win the championship in the first year of the new rulebooks (although Brawn left Mercedes before the start of the 2014 season).
Brawn, who was also a championship-winning technical director for Benetton and Ferrari during previous F1 regulation sets, therefore knows from experience how making an early start on a new set of F1 rules can reap huge rewards for teams.
As well as having more time to design the fastest car, Brawn explained that teams that quickly came up with innovative interpretations of the rules – such as the double diffuser that appeared on his team’s cars in 2009, as well as the Williams and Toyota machines – will be in a better place to defend themselves when those plans are questioned by other teams who are seeking to stop advantageous designs from being raced.
In an interview with the FIA’s AUTO magazine, Brawn said: “Once you get into the application of the regulations for your team, then you defend your corner in order to get all the advantages you can.
“If you start early enough, if you’re the first team to query interpretations with the FIA, is that then you have an advantage because you can start to shape the arguments.
“Being early in that process was important and we found that with the engine when I was at Mercedes. We’d started the engine project very early. With the queries we were making to the FIA for clarifications, it was clear that we were the first ones to do that, so we could start to debate various elements of it. It also gave us some encouragement because we knew no one else was ahead of us.”
F1 cars will be built to a new set of chassis regulations for 2017 and the cars will feature wider bodywork and front wings, wider and lower rear wings, as well as bigger tyres.
Brawn believes the arrival of the new rules will mean cars will look more exiting next season and a change from F1 being such an engine-dominated championship.
He said: “Outwardly they should make the cars a lot quicker. They’ll look racy, with wider track, wider tyres, and the way the wings are profiled the cars are going to look pretty exciting.
“It will be fascinating, though, as it’s putting the emphasis back on the chassis. There is a view that it was too much towards the engine, but actually I think it brought some balance. We went through a phase where the influence of the engine was almost neutral because everything was frozen and they were almost just a bracket between the gearbox and the chassis, whereas now people talk about the engines.”
Mercedes was either “going to stop or step up” after 2011
In the same interview, Brawn also revealed that Mercedes came close to pulling out of F1 at the end of the 2011 season, two years after it returned to the sport and signed Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg to drive the Silver Arrows 55 years after its works team had last participated in the championship.
At that stage the Brackley-based team had scored no wins and just three podiums, and had twice finished fourth in the two years since it had won both championships as Brawn GP.
But the German manufacturer ultimately decided to up its investment in F1, a decision that has brought three consecutive titles drivers’ and constructors’ championships since 2014, and 55 wins, 65 poles and 108 podium finishes since 2012.
“Mercedes’ 2014 success was actually born at the end of 2011, 2012 when we had a tough meeting with the board,” said Brawn. “They were either going to stop or they were going to step up, because 2010 and ‘11 weren’t good enough. We had been following the resource restriction philosophy, which was collapsing. We were 450 people and we were fighting teams that were 500 or 600 people, and there’s no solution to that.
“We said to the board: ‘Either we step up or we ought to step back because we’re in between at the moment.’ The board, all credit to them, said: ‘OK, we’ll step up. We’ll give it a go. What do you need?’
“So it was then that we put the project teams together for 2014. We hired Aldo Costa. We hired Geoff Willis. We hired the people we needed and it started to come together. That’s the strategic planning you need. You’ve got to have a vision of where you want to be in six, 12 months, a year, two years.”
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