All Brawn and brain
The three Bs—Brawn, Button and Barrichello—turned in an A-list performance at the Australian GPindia Updated: Mar 30, 2009 23:21 IST
Forget the recession. Forget the pre-season politics. Forget, for the moment at least, even the deliberations of the FIA Stewards, the claims, counter-claims and protests by some teams. Where it matters most, on the race track, the 2009 Australian Grand Prix delivered a stunner of a race.
In what has to be the feel-good story of the year so far, 'the three Bs'–Brawn, Button and Barrichello– delivered a dream result. The Brawn GP operation, which only announced a month ago that it would be able to contest the 2009 World Championship, trounced opposition in practice and qualifying, locked out the front row of the starting grid, then dominated the race to score a 1-2 on team's debut.
Back in the early 1990s I met the veteran German racing driver, Karl Kling. The proudest moment of his life, he confided, was with Mercedes, when he followed the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio home in the 1954 French Grand Prix, to score the first-ever 1-2 victory for a team making its GP world championship debut.
Fifty-five years on, I never dreamt that I would see history being repeated. One can assume that Ross Brawn, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello feel a similar sense of pride and fulfilment.
It should be remembered of course, that the story behind this performance began long before Brawn GP was created. Over the past few years immense resources were invested in the team by Honda. The team won its first GP in 2006, with Button in Hungary. Then it went on a slide, dogged by wind tunnel problems, ill-handling cars and management infighting.
Former Ferrari man Brawn became Team Principal in late 2007, too late to influence the design of their 2008 car, which proved an even more spectacular underachiever than its predecessors. Early in the 2008 season, Brawn took the decision to effectively abandon all further development on the Honda RA108. It left Button and Barrichello trailing at the back of the field, but crucially it meant that Honda, now Brawn GP would have nearly a six-month head start over their rivals. It is that car, ironically no longer bearing a Honda badge and now powered by a Mercedes Benz engine, that took the Brawn team to victory in Melbourne. One key area of course, which had Brawn's rivals howling with indignation was his team's interpretation of the rules regarding the shape and size of the underbody 'diffuser'.
I believe that the team has merely done what good teams have done for years, cleverly exploiting a loophole in the new aerodynamic regulations.
The Brawn diffuser is a 'double decker' design. The 'U' -shaped center section visible between the cars' rear wheels is simply the lower deck. An upper deck is formed by the car's chassis and is a few centimetres higher than the diffuser height limit of 175mm. This extra area is critical in gaining downforce, but in the letter of the rules is not officially part of the diffuser.
While this area will remain the focus of debate in future races, I thought Rubens Barrichello's comment in the post-race press conference was particularly noteworthy.
In contrast to Jenson Button's drive to victory on a relatively clear track at the head of the field, Barrichello's race to second place was done the hardest possible way.
“I never thought I could finish on the podium after the start, I hit anti-stall and recovered quickly, then I was hit from behind by a McLaren and that put me sideways and I hit someone really hard" said Rubens.
“If people think our car is only good because of the diffuser, that big hit broke the diffuser completely, so the car was strong without it.”
The author is a veteran F1 commentator on STAR Sports.