Formula 1

Liz Nicholls

We chat to former motorsport engineer and Formula One team principal Ross Brawn OBE

Q. What advice would you give engineers looking to get into F1?
“A very small percentage of engineers who wish to follow a career in F1 succeed, unfortunately. There are probably a thousand engineers employed directly by the teams and a high demand for places within those. My advice is to look at the various disciplines; aerodynamics, metallurgy, software engineering, composite structures, engineering design, etc. Try to specialise. And get your hands dirty!”

Q. In 2009, preparing to race as Brawn GP, did you ever have doubts?
“Many. We had major set-backs from November 2008, when Honda announced they were withdrawing, until February 2009, when we did the deal to buy the team ourselves. Strangely, because there was no choice than to carry on, there was a simple commitment to be at the first race. However, there were many false dawns. We got there, but with no spare parts. Luckily the drivers, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were experienced, made no mistakes, didn’t damage anything and we finished first and second. It was a reward to the team after hard work in the face of adversity.”

Q. Is it still a good idea to have a race in Monaco?
“Yes, the combination of a street race, Formula One, speed, glamour, history, is intoxicating! It is the toughest challenge on the Grand Prix calendar. You’re racing at speeds up to 280kph on the streets of Monte Carlo and one mistake, you hit the wall, but the drivers love the circuit. It is a unique event and long may it continue.”

Q. Is it inevitable F1 will go electric?
“No, far from it! Formula One is primarily sport and entertainment, and the pursuit of technology is secondary. I do think the sport is at a crossroads. Formula One has been aligned with road cars. But, on the road, the role of the internal combustion engine is now being challenged by new technologies such as hybrid, electric or fuel cells. Formula One provides an accelerated learning and development for manufacturers. The noise is one of the major emotions, especially when you attend a live event. Electric motors are virtually silent. The sport has to take all of this into consideration and decide what it wants to be. The fans will vote with their feet.”

Q. Is there one defining F1 moment you’d change?
“The loss of a driver is the most traumatic event one can experience. Fortunately, I never experienced that in a team I was with, but in the F1 community we lost eight drivers during my 37-year career. Ayrton Senna died in 1994 which changed the sport in many ways, but the positive outcome was the loss intensified the approach towards the safety standards of the cars and the circuits.”

Q. Can you tell us about your new book?
“I was approached by a previous colleague, Adam Parr, ex CEO of Williams Grand Prix, who thought it might be interesting to compare Formula One with military strategy. We have tried to give a unique insight into the business and sport of Formula One and the strategies that were successful, along with stories and anecdotes. There were many interesting comparisons, particularly with some of the old Chinese writings and philosophies.”

Q. You’re a keen fisherman – game or coarse?
“Both. I was taught to fish by my dad when I was a nipper. We fished the polluted canals and rivers around Manchester in the late ’50s and early ’60s. I travel the world for different species; trout, salmon, bonefish, tarpon, permit, trevally, milkfish… anything that is strong, aggressive, tough to catch and that will take a fly. About five years ago I realised my dream and took on a small stretch of the River Itchen. I spend my time there watching nature and working with the river keeper. I’ve probably fished it only a dozen times. It’s become a special place for me.”

Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula One by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr is out now.