Can Ross Brawn save Formula 1?

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As Formula 1 struggles under the weight of waning interest, the FIA, Formula One Management and F1 Strategy group have met a few times this year to discuss possible changes with very little agreed upon. This has left some fans critical of the F1 Strategy group’s efficacy and prompted questions about its viability in directing the future of the sport.

Several years ago, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone laughed at the thought of a breakaway series ran by the teams. The reason? Ecclestone knew then that the teams would never agree on anything when heavily leveraged in the running of the sport.

The venerable ringleader seems to have been somewhat prophetic as the F1 Strategy group has agreed on very little outside the color of driver’s helmets. The group consists of Red Bull, Ferrari. McLaren, Mercedes, Williams and Force India. The FIA and FOM hold positions equaling six votes for each entity while the six teams enjoy one vote each.

When the new group was formed, FIA president, Jean Todt, said:

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“It will be a democratic and balanced organisation, which doesn’t exist now. So for the FIA it is a plus.

“For me, it will be much more open to be able to change something. At the moment, with the way it is structured, you can never change anything.”

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It seems it has been quite the opposite in 2015 and some teams are now dissenting from the concept.

The first to dissent from the F1 Strategy group narrative was Force India as the team has been calling for serious reconsideration on topics ranging from the regulations to the prize money compensation system. They were also very critical of the stopgap measure of customer cars or three-car teams.

It now seems that 4-time world championship winning Red Bull have now weighed in on the dissension as team boss Christian Horner said:

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“The Strategy Group at the moment is fairly inept and I keep saying it needs the commercial rights holder and the governing body to decide what they want Formula 1 to be and then put it on the table to the teams and say ‘this is what we want the product to be, these are the rules, there is the entry form’,” Horner said.

“Maybe you need an independent, someone that isn’t currently involved, somebody like a Ross Brawn, who understands the business, understands the challenges to write the specification for what a car should be.”

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It’s an interesting choice as Ross Brawn has been involved in the F1 technical and sporting working groups (TWG and SWG). In fact, he was present during all of the debates over the future of F1 engines—no, not just the current hybrid power units but the old teeth-gnashing days in 2001 when V10’s ruled the world. Back then, it was acknowledged that Keith Duckworth, cofounder of Cosworth, had advocated a fuel flow valve 20-years prior that would have worked to reduce the power of the engine. Sound familiar?

Back in 2001, the real concern was reducing power and controlling costs but also the group admitted that the sound, power and high revs were all key to Formula 1’s appeal and the TWG knew that. They decided the leave the engines alone until 2007 but they did contemplate road relevancy and hybrid technology. They also suggested that the hybrid was a stopgap measure until fuel-cell technology arrived.

The TWG also understood, back in 2001, that each engine manufacturer was in F1 for their own self-interests and that a complete overhaul would be difficult to sell. Renault had just come back to F1 and desired very stable regulations in order to develop their innovative approach to the engine design with differing V-angles etc. Ferrari were providing the previous year’s engines to two smaller teams and Ford were seeking to relive the halcyon days of the DFV by helping Jaguar achieve its dream.

Why is any of this important? Because there is a precedent and Ross Brawn was present and active in those negotiations. He has seen this play before. He knows the plot but is he the right man for the job of F1 Delphic Oracle? Brawn was involved in slowing F1 down for safety reasons and he was also there when the series became almost entirely a war of aerodynamics. Now the era of engines has returned and so far, the F1 Strategy Group has gotten it wrong and equally frustrating, they seem incapable of even deciding on how to get it right.

Horner’s recommendation was well received from the other dissenter, Force India, as team boss Bob Fernley said:

[quote_box_center]“I think that type of thinking is to be encouraged,” he told Sky Sports. “I think it definitely needs some sort of interaction somewhere, but with all due respect, we have the FIA to do that. So they should be taking responsibility.”[/quote_box_center]

It may seem odd that now, while suffering under the frustratingly poor performance of their Renault-supplied engines, that Horner would draw such a stark line against the F1 Strategy Group and that notion wasn’t lost on Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenborn:

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“The independent teams have been saying this for very long,” she told Sky Sports Digital.

“Whenever you have a dominating team that team always tries something to strengthen their position. To a certain extent even if Red Bull comes today and complains they are very much part of this problem and they are the ones that have to take the responsibility for certain technical regulations that could or could not be adopted because they were against it. So it is not that easy to say now that they should bring in someone else just because it doesn’t suit them.

“They have been, after all, the team that for four years that dominated the sport. As an independent team we have always said that you have to have a different set of rules that is not just decided or influenced so heavily by the team that is dominating. And that is the same now, if you have dominated before you have to understand why would another team that is dominating today want to give up their position unless they look at the bigger picture.”

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That may very well be true and there is little doubt that Red Bull enjoyed the prosperity and heavy-handed position as the dominating force of F1 for four years but that was then, this is now. Life is about timing and perhaps Red Bull was the last to enjoy unfettered domination with no ill effect. Perhaps Mercedes just doesn’t have that luxury like Red Bull and Ferrari before them had. Perhaps the combination of regulations, engine and cost changes has shortened what otherwise could have been a long and prosperous 4-5 year domination for the German marque.

With all respect to Monisha, regardless of who said it when, the fact is that something has to change or F1 will suffer a serious financial slide. Each party in the Strategy Group will need to compromise and agree to something that is, ultimately, bigger than their individual involvement and to be honest, if they can achieve that, they will have done something huge in the annals of F1 history. The question is, could a man like Ross Brawn—who was part of this hybrid regulation change—see beyond the vested and personal interests to focus on the future of F1? Does he has a vision of what a successful, vibrant and highly desirable F1 looks like in the future?

Hat Tip: Sky Sports

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geeyore

“the current hybrid power units …. Back in 2001 …. the group admitted that the sound, power and high revs were all key to Formula 1’s appeal and the TWG knew that.” Many if not most of the current performance, technical, cost, and fan appeal problems stem from the single boneheaded decision to transform Formula 1 to Formula H(ybrid). At least for now, no other series with the exception of Formula E mandates the use of hybrid or “green” technology, although it’s certainly fine that teams want to use it within their particular set of governing rules (e.g., WEC). As… Read more »

Negative Camber

If memory serves, he was in favor of it at the time but that was because he was leading the Mercedes works team so even he had a knife in the fight as the board at Merc wanted a hybrid very much. So he towed that line. I suspect that he would now see the impact it has had and I am not sure what would feel about it now. Yes, I said it in 2009 and while most people believe me to be an armchair hack, I am versed on the sport and have been listening and watching for… Read more »

geeyore

I read somewhere recently that hybrid is perhaps 3 percent of sales in the USA and even less in Europe, where diesel predominates over hybrid.

runnah

Because electric cars are the laser discs of the day. Great in theory horrible in practice.

Chuck Voelter

I really wish they would just go back to NA V8s so everyone would just shut up about it, sorry if that’s not decorous.

runnah

I say we go diesel. Imagine 20 f1 cars rolling coal on the start line!

Andreas Möller

There’s plenty that needs doing. First off, the individual deals between Bernie/FOM and the teams have to be torn up. Then the FIA and FOM need to sit down together (without the teams) and decide what they want the formula to be. The message to the teams should simply be “this is what F1 is going to be from now on – you have the choice to participate or not, but these are the rules, regulations and how we are going to distribute the revenue.” Basically, they need to do what the FIA and ACO does for Le Mans/WEC. Sometimes,… Read more »

Henk

The main thing that needs to happen is starting a new TWG and SWG. This is the FIA’s job. The strategy group can’t make a proposal that’s less vague then the last one. The only concrete measure was the stillborn refuelling. The FIA should step up and take control. The current regulations are so bad that even the current winner Mercedes is willing to allow changes. Therefore the FIA holds all the cards. As long as the engine doesn’t change the teams will vote for anything that makes the cars go faster. The proposal has to be so specific that… Read more »

Shaolin

Of course he can save F1, he’s Ross Effing Brawn!