Pre-season testing has concluded and the form of the 12 Formula One teams has been hard to gauge. Varying fuel loads, different tyre compounds and the importance teams place on race simulations make it tough to pinpoint which team has its act down pat unless you are a seasoned F1 observer standing trackside watching the behaviour of the cars as the drivers put them through their paces. In the winter of 2009, however, it was clear that one team had its act down pat and that everyone else would have to play catch-up.
It starts with an implosion
The story of Brawn GP started around midway through the 2008 world championship season. It's the traditional starting point in a season when a team decides whether to keep pushing development on their current car or start work on their new challenger. A grand total of three points scoring finishes in eight races made the decision for Honda F1's team principal Ross Brawn to start looking ahead. The opportunity to get a jump start on interpreting the sweeping regulation changes for 2009 also made the decision easier for the cash-rich team that had fallen short of its true potential. With Honda's vast resources at his disposal, Brawn started work on a car that he believed could finally get the factory Honda team to consistently win races. But then along came the recession...
The economic reality posed by the plunge in stock markets the world over hit F1 hard where teams like Honda and Toyota had been spending close to (sometimes in excess of) 300 million dollars a season just to make up the numbers. Honda's reaction to the recession still came as a shock to the F1 fraternity when they announced that they would be ending their involvement in F1 and selling their team.
After prospective buyers ranging from the likes of the Virgin group to Prodrive, the team was finally bought by a team of men who had made up Honda's top brass led by Brawn. The team ended up being called Brawn GP and the car that would have been known as the Honda RA109 was christened the BGP001. Since Honda was no longer willing to provide engines, a Mercedes engine was shoehorned into the car and pictures of the completely sponsorless team's white car was circulated over the Internet.
Behind the scenes, however, about half of the 700 strong staff had been laid off as the team struggled to keep costs down in order to complete a full season.
What all the fuss was about
To everyone but in the know at Brawn GP, it seemed like the team management had gone through an awful lot of fuss to save a sinking ship. As soon as the team unleashed the BGP001 on track during pre-season testing, however, it became crystal clear that the team would be the one to beat. Not only did Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello consistently post the fastest times at the Circuit de Catalunya and at Jerez, no team's car came close to matching the
BGP001 on the long runs and in race simulations.
F1 observers started to recall similarly sensational testing performances. In particular Red Bull Racing's sensationally fast testing times that consistently broke the lap record at the Circuit de Catalunya as well as the Prost team's super fast times that turned out to be just light fuel runs in order to get sponsors excited.
However, they soon caught on that the BGP001's pace was for real and that it would take nothing short of a miracle for a team to stop Button and Barrichello's new missile.
And the rest is history...
The fans of 'legacy' F1 teams like Ferrari and McLaren were in for a shock when Button put his BGP001 on pole for the season opening Australian Grand Prix by over 0.6 seconds from teammate Barrichello.
Even though the car was known to have an innovative (and barely legal) double diffuser ordinary F1 fans were caught completely off-guard by the team's dominance of the event after it seemed like they all set to become no more than a footnote in F1 history.
While the team's early season advantage was nullified when Red Bull developed their own double diffuser, Button hung on to win the drivers' championship as the team took the constructors' title.
The team would not survive beyond the 2009 season, however, as Mercedes finally realized their ambition of fielding their own F1 team. It mattered little to the people who had been involved in that roller-coaster of a season though. And in many ways was proof that sometimes, even in F1, miracles do happen.