The decision by Mercedes to part company with one of the finest tacticians and team principals the sport of F1 has ever seen must have been a hard one to come to.
Per Sky Sports, Mercedes announced on Friday that Ross Brawn would step down as team principal due to a restructuring to the management structure that leaves executive directors Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe in joint charge.
Mercedes could live to regret this decision. Brawn has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success in Formula One, helping Benetton and Michael Schumacher to successive world drivers’ titles and a constructors’ title in 1994 and 1995 before guiding Ferrari to six successive titles from 2000-2005.
Having completed a takeover of the Honda F1 team at the end of 2008, Brawn went on to win both the constructors’ and drivers’ titles with the team bearing his own name in 2009 before being bought out by Mercedes.
So what exactly is Mercedes going to miss about Brawn, and is he as important to a team as, say, Adrian Newey? First, it must be highlighted that the roles of Brawn and Newey to an F1 team are very different.
The Brawn Supremacy
Brawn has always been the tactical brain of every team he has worked with. He makes the calls on tyre strategy, when to bring his drivers in and when to react to what another team is doing.
He has all the data available to him on the pit wall of how the car is behaving and what the tyre wear situation is, and he communicates all of this back to the driver via the team radio. Brawn’s authority is such that the drivers invariably listen to him.
Nico Rosberg demonstrated this in Malaysia by agreeing to hold station behind teammate Lewis Hamilton for the good of the team, whilst Sebastian Vettel chose to ignore Christian Horner’s similar orders.
Talking to Sky SportsF1, Ted Kravitz is in no doubt that Mercedes made the wrong decision and will miss Brawn’s tactical brilliance.
I see it as one step forward and two steps back, unfortunately. I think you'd have to say that what you are gaining in Toto and Paddy and their clear talents is one step forward, but what you're losing with Ross is two steps back. I don't think there is any other way to see it.
You're going to need a strategic brain on the pitwall next year and if something goes wrong, you're also going to need the meticulous, calm approach and experience of a man who knows how to get you out of the hole that you're in.
In his column for The Telegraph, Tom Cary shares a similar view. He goes as far as to say that Mercedes “bungled it” as they had already decided to bring in Lowe and Wolff.
Paddock opinion varies but one can only think that Mercedes bungled it. Having brought in Toto Wolff to run the team, they prised Lowe from McLaren, then 2013 went better than expected and they realised that maybe it wasn’t such a smart idea to let Brawn go.
Any team would miss someone of the calibre of Brawn, a man who has a winning habit so long he should be called Mother Superior. A team principal who, unlike many today, has a strong engineering background. Who understands not only where to find the loopholes but has the rare ability to then put forward the case as to why a double diffuser, say, should be declared legal. A brilliant strategist with an uncanny ability to read a race and react to what is happening on track.
For all his tactical brilliance, Brawn’s Mercedes team was still left chasing the tails of the Red Bulls and often Ferrari and Lotus for the past couple of seasons. He failed to extract the best from his old pal Schumacher during his disappointing comeback.
Newey the Design Genius
Whilst Christian Horner is a fine team boss and tactician in his own right, nobody can argue that the Red Bull success story owes almost everything to the design brilliance of Adrian Newey.
No matter how good the brains on the pit wall are, no driver wins a race without decent machinery at his disposal. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have enjoyed sporadic moments, but can anyone name the chief designer at Mercedes? Thought not.
Newey-designed machines had already won five constructors’ titles at Williams and one at McLaren before he joined Red Bull late in 2005. Eight years later, Newey added another four to his CV.
Whilst Brawn is credited with exploiting a clever loophole in the regulations with the controversial double diffuser in 2009, Newey’s work on Red Bull’s exhaust-blown diffuser in 2010 gave the team an advantage over the field.
Both Newey and Brawn have enjoyed the luxury of working with some of the greatest drivers the sport has ever produced, but those certain Germans benefited from the team around them.
Whilst the roles of Brawn and Newey are different, they do share similarities. Brawn has a strong engineering background and understands the minute technical details and inner workings of an F1 car, whilst Newey has a say in strategy as he sits next to Horner on the pit wall.
Any team would be blessed to have just one of these geniuses in their ranks, but for me, the car is king, and one man shines brighter than almost anyone in the sport.
That being said, I think Mercedes may already be regretting the decision, and I am sure Brawn will be back, possibly in 2015 with the return of Honda or perhaps back to Ferrari.
Whom would you pick if you could only choose one?