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The Most Wanted Man in Formula One

I seem to be saying “I told you so” a lot these days. And, when a rumor gets out that McLaren want Ross Brawn to work for them in 2008, it’s inevitable that I will say it again. It makes sense that they would want his services, if only to deny them to the competition.

Ross

Ross Brawn

One can understand too why Honda should be thinking about making Brawn an offer he can’t refuse, although it is unlikely that he could start soon enough to help them this year. When you’re as far up the creek without a paddle as Honda are, the chance of an outboard motor like Ross must seem very tempting.

Naturally, Ferrari chime in with Brawn’s promise that he’ll consult with them first; their motives may be similar to McLaren’s, however, and I doubt that they will offer the job that Ross wants – to be team boss. Nothing less will persuade him to work outside England again.

Although I think McLaren will win Ross over in the end, especially as they are talking in terms of next year rather than this (thereby allowing the man to catch a few fish in the meantime), the Honda offer may be quite tempting to him. No doubt there is a fat paycheck attached but, more importantly, there is a matter of the challenge involved. It’s risky but, if he could turn the team around and make them successful, his reputation would be enhanced even further.

What we tend to forget in all these possibilities is that F1 is a competition between teams. The sport has its stars and it is easy to assume that they would succeed wherever they went; history tells us a different story, however. Ferrari’s success over the last few years was achieved because they built a winning team – each of them had a part to play and did so admirably well. But remove a few from the equation and it begins to fall apart. Already there is muttering about the Malaysian GP and how things would have been different had Michael and Ross been there.

There is no such thing as a magic wand in F1. What is required is a whole bunch of them. Consider how John Barnard was regarded with awe while he was with McLaren yet failed to bring Ferrari success thereafter. And now Red Bull has Adrian Newey – the man who was expected to put them at the front of the grid this year. It hasn’t happened because it takes more than one man to make an F1 team.

Even so, Ross Brawn has much to offer the Honda team. He won’t fix the problems with the car but he could build them a team instead. That is clearly what he wants to do next – hence his determination to be boss at Ferrari or nothing. Nick Fry would have to take a lesser role but hey, if you want the best for the team, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. And, if anyone can knock the team into shape, it would be Ross.

The more I think about it, the more I think Ross has a great opportunity here. Even if he went to Ferrari as team boss, he would have Montezemolo looking over his shoulder; the Honda team would be his alone, however. And what a chance to show how important he was in Ferrari’s success!

He’s not asking me but, if he ever did, I’d have to say, “Go on, Ross, live dangerously. Take the Honda job and show us just how good you really are.”

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Fuel to the Brawn Fire

Some people just don’t know how to go on sabbatical. Ross Brawn is obviously bored already with his round-the-world fishing holiday and has been talking to the German magazine, Auto Motor und Sport about his return to F1.

Brawn

Ross Brawn

He says very little but there are hints included that tempt me to say, “I told you so.” From being a certainty, returning to Ferrari as the boss is now just an option. And resuming as technical director won’t cut it anymore. It seems to me that Ross has realized that it may not be as easy to go back to Ferrari as he once thought.

In a year’s time, the team as now constituted will be settled and everyone jealously guarding their position. Stepping down to allow room for Brawn may not be a priority for whoever is leading the team by then. Someone is bound to come up with the idea that, just because Ross was a great technical director, it does not follow that he would make a great team boss.

Clearly, Ross is keeping his options open. He is prepared to give Ferrari first shot at a job offer but it has to be as the boss. Once honor is satisfied, he is up for grabs by any team that makes the right offer.

Most likely to want Brawn is McLaren. Mercedes is apparently a little annoyed by Ron Dennis’ sale of shares to an Arab consortium and may well be looking for ways to increase their hold on the team. Since Ron looks to be preparing for retirement anyway, Ross Brawn might appear at just the right moment to be his replacement, especially as he has already demonstrated a loyalty to his employers and a willingness to tread the company line.

Whatever happens, it is becoming apparent that Brawn’s future is not set in stone – he has options apart from Ferrari and is not averse to considering them. All that remains to be seen is whether Ferrari can continue to win, now that the Schumacher/Todt/Brawn triumvirate is broken and dispersed.

Personally, I doubt it.

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Nigel Stepney and Ferrari

Some things make no sense to me. While Kimi Raikkonen is telling us how like a happy family the Ferrari team is, technical manager Nigel Stepney reveals to Autosport that he’s dissatisfied with recent personnel changes and wants to take a break until Ross Brawn returns.

Ferrari

The family product

Ignoring the fact that this is more evidence of trouble brewing at Ferrari, it still seems a strange thing for Stepney to go public on such matters. Presumably he has told his employers how he feels but, since he talks only of wanting to take a sabbatical rather than announcing a done deal, it must be that he still awaits an answer from them. Is this Stepney’s way of getting his bosses to make a quick decision?

The whole interview is very revealing of Ferrari’s internal politics. From what Stepney says about wanting to move his career forward, it is clear that he was hoping to be promoted into a position that someone else has taken instead. To have waited until now to reveal his thoughts, weeks after the changes were made, Stepney must have tried the new arrangement and decided that he cannot work with it.

Ross Brawn’s return is held up as the solution to the problem, with Stepney expecting that he would move up to a senior role at that time. But the fact that he cannot grit his teeth and bear it for a year means that things must be very bad for him indeed. Which doesn’t sound like a happy family to me.

Perhaps he has realized that there is no guarantee that Brawn will become team principal when he returns. By the end of this year, the team will be very different from the one Brawn left and he may not be as welcome to some as everyone assumes. It’s only a guess but the changes made have a distinct “Italianization” feel to them. That must emanate from FIAT and would go with Montezemolo’s increasing interest in and influence over the team.

Even Stepney’s willingness to consider going to another team is odd if his hope is that things will improve when Brawn returns. If Stepney moves now, he can hardly expect to return to Ferrari at the end of the year; any team that employs him would want him for more than a year and it is unlikely that Ferrari would welcome him back with open arms after such a desertion.

Maybe I am reading too much into all this. Perhaps everything has already been agreed and this interview is merely preparation for an announcement. But, if so, it still looks like a weird way to go about things, you must admit.

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