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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 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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The Perfect Second

Mention of Riccardo Patrese yesterday reminds me of a quality that he developed in the later part of his career; in his era, he was the ideal second driver. Much fuss is made of a driver’s chances of becoming World Champion and we tend to disregard anyone who will obviously never make it. Yet, from a team point of view, it makes a lot of sense to have a clear number one backed up by a solid number two driver. And good second drivers are even less common than potential champions.


Riccardo Patrese

Time and again in history we have seen the weakness of the “two number ones” strategy – they tend to push each other off, take points away from each other and end up squabbling over the amount of support each is given by the team. Much better is to have a stated number one backed by a sound, honest and capable number two.

I am not talking about the Michael Schumacher type of arrangement, where the second driver is not only expected to take points from the competition but also to sacrifice his position to the number one when necessary. That is where the honesty bit comes in – any driver needs some form of incentive and the possibility of beating the number one in a fair fight should always be left available.

The ideal second driver is capable of adding regularly to the team’s points score and moving up to the number one’s position should he drop out. Usually, the second is an experienced driver who has come close to beating everyone on occasion but now recognizes that he lacks that final edge of genius that belongs to the champion. Yet that does not deter him – love for the sport keeps him in the game and he becomes a real asset to any team, sharing his knowledge with the other driver and steadily racking up the points.

This was Patrese in the second half of his career. In his youth, he had been a little wild and was often accused (sometimes unjustly) of causing accidents. As time went on, however, he settled down and became a solid, dependable veteran, unlikely to win but always giving his best and a valuable yardstick to the performance of others as a result. It is no wonder that he lasted in F1 for so long.

Looking at today’s crop, now that Mickey the Shoe has gone, it is not immediately apparent that there are any perfect number twos around – or it would be so if David Coulthard had not kept popping into my mind as I wrote this. He has all the necessary ingredients and it remains only to be seen how he will react if Mark Webber starts to beat him consistently. I suspect that he will cope with it and continue to give honestly of his best, remaining an indispensible part of the Red Bull team, but only time will tell.

So few drivers manage to deal with such situations. Jacques Villeneuve went off in a huff at the mere suggestion, Webber himself found it intolerable that his employer seemed to put more faith in his rookie teammate at Williams, Barrichello struggles to prove that his Ferrari years have not broken him; all very understandable, since everyone comes to F1 with high hopes and rightly so.

But real character and maturity is shown by the man who learns his limits and comes to terms with them. And that is why perfect number twos are so rare. It’s a sport for huge ambitions, unassailable egos and belief in one’s own superiority. When time has eroded those youthful dreams, few are able to see that they still have much to offer.

But the wise team manager will grab such a driver and put him with their new hotshoe discovery, knowing that this is the sure road to success.

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