Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ross Brawn gives masterclass in management

Ross Brawn must have some faults, but I have to say he keeps them very well hidden. Not only does he design brilliant cars and generally have a genius for picking the right race strategy at the right time (remember Hungary 1998, anyone?) but he's very, very good at the people stuff. He's always keen to honour the contribution of the team and the drivers to success and to make sure that everyone gets the chance to share in the success. He makes sure that different people get to go on the podium at the end of races they've won after being fed up when it was always Flavio at Benetton who kept the glory moments for himself. It's no wonder he was recently honoured for his outstanding achievements to the sport.

Today we saw one of the reasons why Brawn GP like Ferrari and Benetton before them have enjoyed huge success.

First of all, let's look at the race through the eyes of Rubens Barrichello. As far as he was concerned, he did what he had to do to win the race. He passed pole sitter Mark Webber at the first corner, narrowly avoiding ending up as a casualty when Webber got too close. So, he was there, in the lead, so all he needed to do was rely on the team to deliver the strategy to keep him there and he'd have his first win for Brawn. I think in his head he actually drove 60 laps on that first one and was already climbing the middle stop of the podium.

Instead, even after the man he passed was given a penalty for the incident at the start which should have ruined his chances, Rubens finished in sixth behind, for hevaven's sake, his team mate.

You can see why he was fizzing mad and got out of the car physically exhausted, dehydrated, aching and mentally crushed. If he'd won, the aches wouldn't matter, but he was a man who'd delivered for his team and felt in that moment that they'd let him down. Put a microphone in front of him and he was just going to let rip. And he did.. He pretty much called the team for everything: "It was a good show from the team in how to lose a race......They made me lose it." And those were the nice bits. He said that he wanted to go and get the first plane home and not go to the team debrief and listen to what he termed "blah blah blah".

I did feel sorry for him and thought he needed a cuddle and some hot chocolate to calm him down. I understand why he lashed out, but I suspect once he's calmed down he'll see things differently. For a start, if he'd managed to get past Massa he wouldn't have lost 2 seconds a lap to Webber after his first pit stop. Secondly, the second and third places in qualifying were always a fragile projection for the race given the cars' light fuel loads. Also, it wasn't the team's fault that there was a problem with the fuel rig. The Brawns were just not in the running this weekend, something that'll change when they start racing in sunnier climes.

Eddie Jordan on the BBC tore Rubens to shreds for his outburt and said that some would give him the sack for such treacherous comments against his team. Frank Williams wasn't much better, suggesting that a red card would be appropriate and anyone doing that in his team would get a severe dressing down. He slated what he called superstar drivers. I don't really rate the interpersonal skills of someone who shoves someone out the door when they deliver him a world championship so I've never forgiven him for the way he treated Damon Hill. Or David Coulthard for that matter. If it had been Flav, he'd have absolutely gone mad.

That's not the Ross Brawn way, though. He was the soul of calmness and discretion when the BBC went scurrying round to find out what he thought of Rubens' outburst. I didn't expect any different from him, but it was a bit of a masterclass in management. Ted Kravitz did his best to try to wind him up but he must have known he was on a hiding to nothing. He basically said that Rubens was right - the reason they hadn't won was because they weren't quick enough, and he understood what it must have looked like to Rubens cos his radio hadn't been working properly and he may not have realised everything that was going on. Ross also went out of his way to publicly praise Rubens for his contribution to the team. That's very much deserved because they have benefitted from his experience.

I was reminded of the 2006 Monaco GP when Michael Schumacher misjudged the last corner right at the end of the qualifying session. Alonso, who was on a flying lap at the time which was aborted and allowed Schumacher to keep his pole position, was none too chuffed. The stewards came down on Michael like a tonne of bricks and relegated him to the back of the grid. Ross's view was that Ferrari were a family and sometimes things happened that you didn't like, and your kids did things that sometimes you'd rather they didn't but you just deal with it.

Ross also knows that things are going to get more fraught between the drivers. We're half way through the series and Jenson's lead in the world championship has been cut by 5 points in the last two races. The gap in the Constructors' Championship is down to less than 20 points, when it was 43.5 not that long ago. Jenson will expect the team to get behind him to make sure he wins the championship and there were signs of that today when we overheard him radioing his engineer asking him to basically get Rubens out of his way. He will start kicking off if he doesn't start winning again.

On the other hand, Rubens wants, and deserves, a proper victory, won with the team behind him on his own merit. He thinks he's been done over twice this year, in Barcelona and Germany today when he could have won. He doesn't want to have to take a victory slung his way out of pity when Jenson has won the championship as happened at Ferrari when it was all about Michael. His position is getting weaker though given the fact that he's now 24 points behind. He will see it as only being 3 points behind Vettel, and 1.5 behind Webber, though, with him still being very much in contention.

At Red Bull, in some ways the situation is better, in others it's worse. Better because the gap between the drivers is so small that they have no choice but to let them race each other - but then worse because which of them is seriously going to be able to challenge Jenson. There may well be a febrile atmosphere there for a while until either Webber or Vettel starts to get the best results.

So there's challenging times for both teams as the season gets serious. Both Ross and Christian have to keep their drivers performing as well as possible for as long as possible and have to make the right calls on the championship. I'm looking forward to seeing how they deal with the task ahead.

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