Don’t Play Poker With Ross Brawn
Somewhere in the wake of the tire drama at this past weekend’s British GP that has required all of F1’s attention, there is a more interesting if not entirely new story to be told. I have been on every site I know of and read quite a few blogs and with the exception of just one I have not seen or read anything addressing what can only be described as a “remarkable transformation” of the Mercedes W04 chassis being fielded by both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. As of today I can only find one F1 site running a story on this issue. To me this recently discovered race pace must now be considered genuine and warrants much more attention. I will be glad to oblige.
Everything I am about to say is unprovable, speculative, conjecture, but someone needs to take a stab at this and I won’t let the fact that I know little to nothing about engineering, or the engineering of an F1 race car get in the way. Ha Ha.
Let’s start with what everyone that follows F1 knows to be true. It has been said many times by drivers, engineers, designers and team principals that performance gains are generally small and difficult to come by. A remarkable feat has been achieved If a team can find just a tenth or two. Just four races ago the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton went backwards. Think about it. Hamilton started second and at the race’s end he finished in twelfth and a lap down. That is about a minute and twenty-four seconds off the winning car of Fernando Alonso, folks. Four races later they have three podiums including two wins. How on earth did the Mercedes made such a leap in performance since the Spanish GP?
Answer: It was the secret 1000km test. A test that was the equivalent of three race distances. Mercedes has done three more races than any other team. So now I get it, now it is becoming quite clear. We all had it wrong. Pirelli and Mercedes were telling the truth. Ross and company indeed did not gain any advantage in understanding the tires. No, in fact that was never the goal from the beginning. The real goal, the real understanding, was never about the tires was it Ross? It was about your car. Wasn’t it. You are a clever one.
It makes sense, right? You and Mercedes don’t make the tires, so why on earth would you want to know anything more than what you already know. Your race car heats them up to fast and out of their operating window, great for Saturdays, but disastrous come Sunday. And since you can’t change the tire itself, then what is left? To change the car, it’s fundamentals, it’s geometry. You spent three days not looking at tire data, if we are to believe Pirelli’s story that they did not share any of it with you. But the telemetry of your 2013 racer, there must have been telemetry streaming off the car. And of course you had your drivers to debrief after each session. Yes it is all becoming clear now, I am getting the full picture of how this all went down. You applied your findings to the following races and, voila.
Look no further than this past weekend’s result to confirm what I and many others surmised the moment the story broke. Despite the fact that Pirelli tested 2014 rubber and kept the tire data away from your engineers, there was quite a benefit to testing the equivalent of three race distances?
Ok Ross, your secret is out, and if I can figure it out, then it is a foregone conclusion that your secret is already known up and down the pit wall. The change in performance and exactly where it came from will not be lost on any of your competitors. I am still a little perplexed as to how on earth you got away with it. But then again one only needs to remember this is F1, and in F1 anything goes depending on who, what and how much is involved.
In this case the ‘who’ is Mercedes Benz, one of the biggest global leaders in automobile manufacturing. The ‘what’ is the Mercedes engines that power three teams, and possibly more in the future, on the Formula 1 grid. How much? Millions are at stake at a time when F1 is trying to entice car companies into the fold, a euphenism for redirecting money and resources back to the sport via the manufacturers. In hindsight, F1 was never going to bite the hand that feeds it, was it?
I have said this many times, if Adrian Newey is the best aerodynamisist in F1, then Ross Brawn is the best strategist. Once again he showed us why. Yes the stakes were high, but as James Bond said to Vesper Lynn in Casino Royale, prior to the big game with Le Chiffre, “You never play your hand, you play the guy across from you.” Ask any professional bookie and they will tell you it is not about winning or losing per se, it is about betting across the board, covering the spread, looking at all the data and then making an informed decision. You will win some and lose some, but if you follow the same strategy every time you will eventually come out ahead.
That is exactly what Ross did those three days after the Spanish GP. An opportunity arose to correct a deficiency in his race car. It would come at a cost, but if it worked out it would be a real payday (on Sundays that is). He sat down and looked at all the data and like a true gambler, the kind that plays intelligently from the mind and not clumsily form the heart, it was simple case of reward vs. potential penalty, for surely there would be one.
How severe a penalty, that was unknown, but it was worth the risk. The guy across from him with cards in their hand was the FIA and Ross played his hand perfectly, doing just enough to show good faith. Laughable, in this blogger’s opinion, because he and Mercedes knew exactly what they were doing, that it was wrong on the surface and it contravened the sporting regulations. But they set it up to use some clever reasoning to claim they did not break the rules.
The way Ross contacted and inquired with Charlie Whiting, it was too vague to cause a red flag and not specific enough to produce an interruption or later, a punishment that would seriously jeopardize Mercedes’s F1 operation. Well played indeed Ross.
As things turned out, Ross and company got a slap on the wrist from the FIA in the form of an official reprimand and a penalty they suggested themselves. They will not participate in the young drivers test. Benefit vs. penalty. So yes, they will miss this test which since Silverstone’s tire drama will become more of a proper test and that will be slightly hurtful. However, the real damage has already been done to the other teams. Mercedes has taken two wins and a third in the three races since the secret test in Spain and now must be considered a real threat to the top teams, especially Red Bull, for the simple fact that so far this year Mercedes has out-qualified them whenever it has been dry on Saturday.
Clearly Ross thinks his team is a threat now. Here is what he said shortly after Sunday’s win, from an article I picked up at planetF1.com:
Brawn, when asked if his team is capable of winning the title this year, says. “I don’t see why not. Red Bull last year had a great middle of the season. We’ve got two drivers on top form, the team is really gelling now, and why not? We’re certainly going to try.”
I am always amazed at the lying, covering up, saying something without really saying anything, saying one thing and meaning another that goes on when team principals are being interviewed in F1. I am also amazed how team personnel can keep a straight face while completely glossing over important facts. In this case, Mercedes’ complete reversal of their existing tire issues. To listen to Ross Brawn comment after the race regarding future races it is as though the issue never existed.
I am also amazed the interviewee didn’t ask the question on everyone’s mind: Ross, do you think the 1000km test has had any influence on the change of fortunes in race conditions for Mercedes? Do you still maintain there was no benefit? That is what I would have asked!
So here we are one third of the way done with this 2013 season. In many way it is looking very similar to 2012 with Red Bull and Ferrari fighting for the top prize on Sundays and the same two drivers leading the championship. Vettel in the superior car vs. Alonso in the little red engine that could (well that almost could, but didn’t).
However, in many ways it looks completely different to last year. There would appear to be a new kid in the sandbox. He has a brand new shiny car and he wants to play with the big kids now. So far everyone is playing nice, so far Red Bull and Ferrari have have gone along with the International Tribunals findings and punishment, but this is F1 and season is long and if the Mercedes starts to win on a regular basis, well, the sandbox could get quite messy…
-jp- (I wonder what odds Nico taking the championship I can get, ha..ha…)