Analysing Ross Brawn's Importance to Mercedes' Formula 1 Future
The speculation continues to swirl around the future of Mercedes' Formula One chief Ross Brawn.
With Mercedes' saturated executive level, something has to budge. And it looks like it will be Brawn. Which begs two questions.
Why is a man who has won world titles with three different teams, and helped transform the fortunes of each outfit he has worked with, potentially out of a job?
And how will Mercedes fare if they axe the man who has brought them back to winning ways as a manufacturer?
Without Brawn, there would be no Mercedes. Simple and true.
Do not forget that the team was born from Brawn's own self-titled outfit that won the 2009 World Championship.
It seems incredibly harsh, then, that the man at the centre of the entire operation is being shifted to one side.
But it is a consequence of the German marque's relentless quest to lead the way in F1, a quest which has resulted in the sacking of long-time motorsport chief Norbert Haug, the signing of Toto Wolff in a team principal-esque role (that was once monopolised by Brawn) and huge technical recruitment of ex-chief designers Geoff Willis, Aldo Costa and Paddy Lowe.
Throw in the non-executive Niki Lauda and it is easy to see why there is no longer any room for Brawn.
The sad fact is Mercedes believe the "one man on top," singular principal structure should be left in the past.
And as the structure is abandoned, so too will Brawn, who, as per BBC Sport, has little interest in being a cog in the machine: He wants to pull the levers.
What Brawn Brings
Brawn's track record in the sport is remarkable.
He has won drivers' and constructors' titles with three different teams: Benetton, Ferrari and Honda/Brawn.
During a 22-year career as an F1 technical director, he has amassed 101 wins, 240 podiums and guided two huge names back to winning ways.
Having transformed Benetton from a race-winning team into a leading outfit in the mid-'90s (with the help of clever, if questionably, technology), Brawn was coaxed to Ferrari by Michael Schumacher.
Ferrari, led by Schumacher, had already clinched second in the 1996 teams' championship. But under Brawn's guidance, they would finish second twice in '97 and '98, and then end every season from '99 through to 2004 as constructors' champions—a run which included Schumacher's five consecutive drivers' titles.
Leaving Ferrari in 2006, Brawn joined Honda's failing F1 programme ahead of 2008. Though he had little to do with that pig of a car, it was high ingenuity that led to Honda perfecting the double-diffuser throughout that year. When Honda pulled out at the end of '08, Brawn stepped in and led a buyout of the team.
His own self-titled Brawn GP outfit utilised the double-diffuser to devastating effect, winning both the drivers' and the teams' championships in the squad's only season in F1.
When that merged into Mercedes, the going was initially difficult as Red Bull got the upper hand and began to perfect the technical advances that Brawn himself had previously been at the forefront of.
However, it was his reputation that lured the raft of technical talent, as well as driver Lewis Hamilton, to the team, and this year Mercedes has amassed more than a fifth of the total points available for the season.
Brawn's legacy at Benetton can be summed up pretty swiftly.
The team was solid if unspectacular when he took over, but became a world championship-winning outfit under his guidance. It then slipped further and further backwards when he left, before being bought by Renault.
Prior to Brawn's arrival, Benetton had won four races across five seasons with a best overall finish of third in the constructors'. The team's 196-point haul across that period was a paltry five percent of what was on offer.
During Brawn's six-year tenure, the team won 22 races and claimed the drivers' title in 1994 and '95, with the constructors' title in 1995 as well.
Brawn trebled the team's points share to 15 percent and helped them finish on the podium 64 times.
The team won just one race in the five seasons it existed after Brawn's departure. That first year, '97, they finished third, aided by the design and data from previous years, which would become inferior as time passed.
If the numbers in a relatively small and moderately successful team were impressive, Brawn's record with Ferrari is utterly outstanding.
As mentioned, Brawn's Benetton protege Schumacher had already left for Scuderia in 1996, helping them to three race wins and runner-up in the constructors' championship.
But under the stewardship of Brawn, Schumacher and Ferrari became unbeatable.
After narrowly missing out on both titles in 1997, when the team won five races, just once over the next nine campaigns would Ferrari not be one of the dominant forces.
The team amassed more than 25 percent of the points available in eight of the next nine seasons and won six straight constructors' titles from '99 to '04, as well as five straight drivers' titles ('00 to '04) for Schumacher.
Brawn left at the end of 2006, with a roll of stats that reads 67 wins, 59 poles and 145 podiums.
Brawn's Phoenix, Mercedes' Rise
Arguably Brawn's greatest success came in 2009.
Having spent a year on sabbatical from Ferrari, he announced he would be joining the Honda squad for 2008.
The team had suffered an awful 2007 season, but that year it would only get worse. With Brawn joining too late to have any significant input into the car, the team slumped to ninth in the constructors' championship, its worst since BAR was first formed in 1999 and scored zero points.
However, throughout the season (and with the 2009 regulation shake-up looming) Brawn had been behind the pioneering double-diffuser development. After two dreadful years, it looked like the Japanese manufacturer's fortunes would change.
They did, but not as was expected. Honda pulled the plug, hundreds of people were out of a job and two fully-developed cars were left with nowhere to go before preseason testing.
Then Brawn stepped in. Orchestrating a buyout from Honda, his Brawn GP outfit swept all before them with the double-diffuser proving incredibly potent in the opening races. Jenson Button won the drivers' title and Brawn the constructors' crown.
Brawn sold the team to Mercedes at the end of the year but stayed on to spearhead the German marque's return to factory status for the first time in 50 years.
Three disappointing seasons followed as Red Bull grew ever-dominant, but the team has rallied this season with the Brawn-led captures of Lewis Hamilton and a raft of impressive technical staff.
Three wins have guided Mercedes to the brink of the runner-up spot in the constructors', yet Brawn seems poised to be axed.
What Is Mercedes Losing?
A proven leader.
There's no doubting that Toto Wolff is a capable frontline member of Mercedes' executive structure. There's also no doubting the ominous collective knowledge of the Costa/Willis/Lowe technical triumvirate.
But will Mercedes' belief that one man cannot run a modern-day F1 show be its undoing?
In Brawn's immediate absence, life seemed rosy at Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen won the 2007 title and Felipe Massa came within the closest of margins of doing the same in 2008. The impressive points share continued (37.5 percent and 29.86 percent), and Ferrari was the teams' champion in both years.
But, as the regulations were overhauled for 2009, Ferrari felt the full force of life without Brawn.
There was just one win in '09, and though Fernando Alonso challenged for the 2010 and 2012 titles, they've won one more race in '11 and just twice so far this year.
For a team as large, well-funded and knowledgeable as Ferrari to be impacted by one man's departure goes some ways in indicating his importance.
Brawn's been fortunate to work with teams that bankroll his technological ideas and drivers that respect him enough to take his word on strategy as gospel. Few have that sort of luxury in a sport full of egos and protected purse strings.
That's not sheer luck, that's a testimony to his standing in the sport. Mercedes is foolish if they think his departure would not be a loss.