In my chats about Formula 1 with more casual fans, or perhaps those who just hear headlines in the news about F1, I have noticed a worrying trend. There are many people out there who simply do not buy the idea that Brawn have become so dominant on merit. There are a number of reasons.
First of all, there is no doubt that this is an unusual situation, which raises suspicions among many. This is, after all, a team that did not exist a few weeks before the season began. With hardly any meaningful testing, they hit the ground running in Australia and have been dominant ever since. Never has a new team been so successful so quickly.
Of course, those who have studied the situation know that there are good reasons for this. For starters, the car was always going to be mighty. It is the first car which Ross Brawn — one of the smartest men in the business — has overseen the development of. That Ross Brawn, a man who has been responsible for so many World Championships in the past fifteen years, should be able to put together a winning car should not be such a surprise.
The Brawn team is helped by the fact that the team knows how to win races. Ross Brawn himself has the confidence, experience, expertise and management skills to turn an average team into a great one. He was a pivotal influence in the dominance of Michael Schumacher throughout his entire career. You can add Ferrari’s dominance in the late 1990s and early this decade to Ross Brawn’s CV.
The old Honda team and Jenson Button also won a race, which must count for something. It has been noted that often the first race is the most difficult one to win, so Button’s win in 2006 — though some saw it as a bit of a fluke — must count for something, despite the two year long slump the team took afterwards. This is especially the case when you consider Toyota, who seemingly did their best to throw away victory in Bahrain. That was a scenario which some saw as the jitters of a team not used to winning.
There is also the fact that this car was basically developed with Honda’s resources. Honda gave up on the 2008 season pretty much straight away, allowing them to focus fully on 2009 while others had to split their development between two radically different cars.
The fact that Honda have pulled out has also given Brawn the ability to run with Mercedes engines. There seems to be little doubt now that Mercedes has the strongest engine in F1.
Many casual observers do not seem to be aware of these factors surrounding Honda’s exit. It rather underlines just what a mess the Honda management made of F1 by letting this massive PR opportunity slip. Not only that, but Honda continues to pay Brawn for the privilege of not entering F1. Their customers, including Force India who used to run Ferrari engines, have been effusive about the Stuttgart company’s lump.
Brawn have also probably been helped by the fact that this year’s World Championship is being run to radically different technical regulations to last year. The cards were thrown in the air by Max Mosley, and Brawn have ended up with all the aces in their hand. You could argue that it was engineering excellence rather than luck that has placed Brawn in this position. But ask Max Mosley’s “man in the pub”, and he thinks it’s all too fishy.
This hasn’t been helped by the fuss that was made over the diffusers earlier this season. In my conversations with more casual fans, I have been left with the distinct impression that there are many out there who believe that the F1 community is also sceptical of Brawn’s success and that there is a full-blown investigation into whether Brawn are cheating. This nasty impression could have been avoided had the FIA simply declared that the diffuser was fully legal before the season started, but petty political interests yet again got in the way of common sense.
I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who was encountering these sceptical views about Brawn’s success. But speaking to other F1 fans, it seems as though the public at large is suspicious of the emergence of Brawn and Jenson Button. I heard something similar on last week’s Formula 1 Blog.com podcast. I have even caught myself being sceptical when I sought to explain just what it was that made Brawn so superior this season.
I think it’s a shame that people should find it so difficult to come to terms with Brawn’s success. There is no real suspicion that Brawn have cheated their way to the top. The car is a beauty, and the real consensus among the F1 community is that engineering excellence has brought Brawn where it is.
What does this situation tell us? Perhaps that the FIA should quit meddling with the rules all the time and bring about stability in the regulations. That would remove much of the doubt that a team that climbs its way to the top does so on merit.
Perhaps it also says that a situation where the sport’s grandees are neutered means that people see a victory by a small team as less legitimate. People would probably believe if Brawn were fighting with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren rather than Red Bull.
It doesn’t bode well for Max Mosley’s future vision for F1, where Ferrari may not exist at all, in favour of smaller teams. Max Mosley’s friend, the man in the pub, wants to see the historic names battling for wins.
Personally, I find that sad. Privateer teams are every bit as important to the history of F1 as names like Ferrari. You only really have to go back fifteen years to see a period where practically every car was entered by a privateer, and Championship after Championship was won by a Williams or a Benetton or a (pre-Mercedes) McLaren.
But the public at large has become used to an F1 dominated by manufacturers. The sport faces a difficult transitional period if the public is supposed to take Max Mosley’s new F1 seriously.