Much has been eulogised about the Brackley-based outfit since the re-birth of the Honda F1 team as Brawn GP. The most surprising recent historical reference centred on Jenson Button’s confident driving style. His smooth, almost effortless negotiation of the tight corners of Monaco showed the Formula One world that his status of champion in waiting is not an exaggeration of his talent.

Ross Brawn, the man nicknamed the ‘Big Bear’, is now the Briton’s mentor at Brawn GP but has had a history of successful drivers beneath him. Not least Michael Schumacher, the man who is attributed with changing the face of modern F1. Brawn’s influence on the German’s career is often understated in the media, but his tactical nous, technical intelligence and his desire to win propelled Schumacher’s career to the arguably unreachable heights of any other driver in the future.

With veteran Rubens Barrichello by his side, or at least slightly behind him, Button has the perfect launch pad to attack his final assault on the F1 Drivers’ title. Take Monaco for example where Kimi Räikkönen was Jenson Button’s primary competition. Barrichello leapt off the line to squeeze past Räikkönen into Ste Devote and protect his team mate from the charging Prancing Horse. Not only this, but he drove his car so wide that when his rear tyres degraded and his lap times pushed 1m 20s, the Finn could not slip past to launch his attack on Button, now 9 seconds ahead of the chasing pair.

Throughout the race, Button delivered 80% of his lap times within 0.4 seconds of each other until he needed to push on and gain an advantage ahead of his second pit stop, where he shaved 0.8 seconds off his fastest lap and kept it there for the next 5 laps. With the very best car on the grid, the best team alongside him and arguably the most inspirational man on the pit wall with him, is there any reason why Jenson Button cannot claim his first Drivers’ World Title?

The answer to this is still up for debate and will presumably only be answered after the chequered flag falls at the Yas Marina circuit in November. The facts, however, remain that Herr Schumacher claimed 7 World Titles, set numerous records and remains one of the most iconic F1 personalities even 3 years after his departure from the grid.

There is little doubt that Button has the qualities of a World Champion – his driving style is easy on his tyres, smooth to watch and supremely consistent, but Schumacher had something else. He had the aura of a Champion that lifted his entire team as he strode purposefully through his garage. He had the ability to deliver quick lap after quick lap that simultaneously lifted and educated his team.

Perhaps Button can be likened to Schumacher in his driving style and the team around him, but the aura of a Champion that comes with pole positions and victories still eludes the Briton. The paddock can see it, however, and it is growing with every lap he drives as Championship leader, owing in no small part to the Midas touch of F1’s ‘Big Bear’.

F1 Paddock Insights

May 20, 2009

Despite the hope of a resurgence of many of the teams in the Formula One paddock leading into the Spanish Grand Prix, Brawn GP’s Button and Barrichello stormed to another 1-2 to extend their Constructors’ lead. This weekend the teams travel in style to the playground of the rich and famous, Monte Carlo. 2009 marks the 80th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix with its stature as the pinnacle of motor racing seemingly getting more pronounced every year. Here’s the latest from the paddock in Monaco.

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– The ruling from the French FIA court of appeal has just been announced, ruling against the Italian team’s opposition to the proposed budget cap. Ferrari had hoped that, due to a clause in the agreement signed with Bernie Ecclestone, they could veto any major decision made by the FIA. It appears, however, that the FIA is now clear to push forward with its plans to install a budget cap and it will be up to the teams to debate at what level it is set. With the matter of the two-tiered technical regulations decided, the word from inside the courtroom is that the teams can now push harder for the budget cap to be raised, with Ferrari, Toyota, Renault and Red Bull Racing the most fervent of supporters.

– Beneath the Formula One drama on the track and the usual soap opera carrying on off it, there is another little sub-plot developing between two of the sport’s heavyweights, Flavio Briatore (ING Renault team principal) and Ross Brawn (Brawn GP). First, Flavio was in support of the inclusion of Ross Brawn’s reincarnation of the Honda F1 Team. Then the team ran the controversial double diffuser, started doing rather too well and Flav wanted to remove Ross as the technical delegate of FOTA. Add to that the dispute over unpaid television and prize monies from 2008 and Flav was starting to get a real bee in his bonnet over the Brackley-based world-beaters. Now the Italian has told F1 insiders that no-one in the Formula One paddock can match the Brawns for the remainder of the season –yet more sour grapes, Flav? The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are getting pretty close and Ferrari’s rise in the past few weeks looks ominous for the other teams.

– The big question inside the paddock this weekend is whether the cars struggling for maximum downforce can survive the pressure of 78 laps around the tightest circuit on the calendar. Bridgestone are introducing a new intermediate tyre that will offer the drivers more grip around the circuit this weekend. Couple that with the extra grip that slicks provide and perhaps the pack will be evened out where downforce previously made a lot of the difference. F1 insiders tell me that this Grand Prix should be a race for the Monaco specialists like Button and Alonso. Keep an eye out for the drivers running KERS as well this weekend as the short straights and need for acceleration could really play into their favour. However, it could also take them too wide and throw them into a barrier, there is no room for error in Monaco!

– Finally, the star of the 2003 British Grand Prix is back on our screens. No, we’re not talking about Rubens Barrichello but in fact Neil Horan – the defrocked Irish priest who invaded the track and forced Mark Webber to swerve dramatically out of the way. The diminutive Irish man popped up on our screens again on Saturday night when he performed his ‘soft Irish jig’ to the delight of the Britain’s Got Talent crowd and multi-million strong audience. Simon Cowell couldn’t stand the man, but the other two judges put him through to allow him a step closer to performing for the Queen – whether a publicity stunt or a big mistake, this could be his biggest achievement to date (his CV also lists the 2004 Olympic Marathon and the 2006 FIFA World Cup!).

With the cars set to hit the track in the Principality, the intense working conditions of the paddock as well as the inevitable murmurings of budget discontent should make this Monaco Grand Prix a lively one to be at. Always a hot ticket for the celebrities, the Cannes film festival has started the juices flowing among the Hollywood rich and famous, so expect there to be more A-listers than team personnel in the pit lane!

Enjoy the racing from the ‘Jewel in the Formula One crown’.

F1 Paddock Insights

May 6, 2009

Despite taking two weeks off, Formula One is still a hive of activity inside both the garages and law courts of the world. McLaren escaped with a slap on the wrist for their part in the lying scandal that has rocked Formula One since the opening Grand Prix of 2009, even though many people thought that the sanctions would be a great deal harsher. A suspended sentence, the firing of Dave Ryan and the expedited departure of Ron Dennis will, I think, be enough to scare McLaren into not trying to pull another stunt like that – this season, at least.

Almost like a new season – Never before has the start of the European season heralded such a breadth of technical developments to carry the hopes of the teams. The two week break has encouraged a raft of new developments across every single team. Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated development will come at the hands of Renault who teased us with their new diffuser at Bahrain. Spaniard Fernando Alonso has said this week that, “seeing the support of the fans always gives me a big boost”, couple that with “a new diffuser and floor, new wheel fairings to increase downforce and a new rear wing” and we should see a “reasonable step in performance this weekend.” Expect to see more this weekend from Ferrari, with their new, fabled double diffuser, too.

£40m enough? – The big news from the FIA in the last week has been the proposal of the £40m budget cap. The proposal has left FOTA divided, with the smaller teams delighted by the plans and the big boys now having to look at how they can seriously reduce their budgets. Even some of the satellite teams, such as Toro Rosso manage to spend upward of £60m per year. It leaves teams asking big questions of their finances and, unfortunately, now of their workforce. An F1 insider told me over the weekend that “the first thing to go will be the staff”, leaving even more people out of work, where the budget cuts had initially planned to prolong the life of teams and jobs. There are suggestions in the paddock that FOTA will respond by proposing a reduction in expenditure by 30-40%, rather than a budget cap – a good idea, but one that will not resolve the issue of new teams joining the F1 paddock.

Donington saga continues – As talked about in Bahrain’s F1 Insider, the Donington-staged British Grand Prix of 2010 could still be under threat. Donington Ventures Leisure Limited (DVLL) CEO Simon Gillett has met with the local council who had underwritten £100m for his re-development of the Donington site and the North West Leicestershire District Council has extended his grace period until the end of June. It is claimed that Gillett is yet to sign the planning agreements to detail the development of the site – necessary before any substantial backing can be put in place. Turns out he is still fighting on two fronts, too, as Tom Wheatcroft is still after his £2.47m, for which a law suit was filed two weeks ago.

Every car running McLaren? – Following the success of McLaren’s standard ECU throughout the paddock, an insider at the Woking-based technology firm are looking to implement the only truly productive Kers throughout the whole paddock next season. With limited downforce so far this season, the cars’ Kers have propelled them to the unexpected heights of 4th in Bahrain. Another potentially cost-saving measure, this could be the answer to the FIA’s Kers prayers, following the first 4 rounds of the season and less than a quarter of the field using the power booster regularly.

And finally – With the weather forecast looking mixed for this weekend, the paddock could be, once again, thrown upside down. An abrasive track surface, plus the high downforce requirements mean that tyre-life is limited around the Circuit de Catalunya. Will the rain play into the hands of the already-strong Brawns and Red Bulls or will we see yet another team leading the pack this weekend. Expect to see tight lap times, though, as most of the teams tested here in pre-season and should be on fairly familiar set-ups.

Enjoy the first European race of the season.