2009 - When Brawn GP announced themselves to the world
Winter Testing is a time when new packages are unleashed on track and speculation starts for the season ahead. Brawn GP dominated the 2009 Formula 1 season from the moment they turned up at winter testing in Barcelona but their story is not so simple.
2019 Formula 1 winter testing approaches. Previous seasons featured: Red Bull indicate their dominance; Mercedes out-perform the rest and McLaren conquer everyone with the MP4/4. In 1988, Ayrton Senna driving the MP4/4 recorded a lap time two seconds quicker than the rest and his team went on to record 15 out of 16 race victories. Mercifully, for the Tifosi, the Italian Grand Prix would stay out of McLaren’s grasp - thanks to Gerhard Berger. However, in my opinion, there is no greater winter testing success story than that of Brawn GP in 2009.
On March 9th 2009, Brawn GP featured at Formula 1 winter testing for the first time with a car covered in very little sponsorship and a slick white and green livery. By the end of day one, the team had turned heads due to being fourth quickest on track. Day three saw them fastest overall with Jenson Button at the wheel before his time was broken the following day by his teammate Rubens Barrichello. Jerez saw the success continue and now Brawn GP were - ‘title favourites’.
Brawn GP may have ended the 2009 season as Formula 1 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Champions but the previous year was a very different story.
Formula 1 was focused on making the sport cost efficient for teams due to a changing world climate. The 2003 energy crisis brought about the 2008 automotive industry crisis. Fuel prices were rising; customers were not tempted to purchase grand automotive ‘gas guzzling’ machines and the automotive industry had to respond.
Therefore, to allow Honda time to refocus their finances elsewhere, they announced on December 5th 2008 that they would be leaving the Formula One world ‘with immediate effect’. The racing team would have to be sold - but who would be the group to buy it?
The 2009 F1 season would always be a season of change: lower and wider front wings; narrower and taller rear wings; the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) and slick tyres. These changes needed time to be implemented for a lot of teams but Honda had been working on these regulations since the middle of the 2008 F1 season due to their car’s underperformance.
In 2008, Honda knew the potential their 2009 entry had but they just had to make sure the car was still on the grid. Within the Honda ranks was team principal Ross Brawn having joined at the end of 2007. Brawn was aware of what was to come with the 2009 model and as a result of his desire and inside knowledge, the team was saved by a management buy-out led by Honda’s Chief Executive Nick Fry and Team Principal Ross Brawn.
On March 5th 2009, just 4 days before testing at Barcelona, it was finally confirmed that what was once Honda would now be ‘Brawn GP’ and would still utilise the services of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. Both drivers took a significant pay cut to be on the track – certainly a sacrifice well made.
Of course, a major contributing factor to Brawn GP’s success was the ‘double-decker diffuser’ which generated additional downforce. However, this was only because the design department had such an ingenious way to exploit a loophole in the rules. Toyota Racing and Williams F1 implemented the same device - but they certainly did not win the title.
As Jenson Button says in his autobiography: 'This is the way in Formula One. One team does something, the rest of the teams kick up a fuss about it, and the FIA is obliged to investigate.’
So, with winter testing around the corner and so much anticipation: who will be the team to surprise others; who will be the team the others complain about and who will be the team labelled ‘2019 title favourites’?
The wait is almost over!