Brawn GP F1 Team gains second life after Honda withdrawal
Team regains 42% of disputed points
by Rodrigo Marques Barbosa
The start of the Formula 1 2009 season inspires reflection on the conflict of cultures in the global corporate environment. I explain.
Two pilots leading the way in the early days of this year's championship were considered has-beens last year. After Honda announced its withdrawal in December, Brazilian pilot Rubens Barrichello was assumed to be retired, and his mate, Englishman Jenson Button, unemployed.
Despite both pilots having no major achievements in their F1 careers (apart from being among the best active pilots in the world), Rubens and Jenson have finished the 2008 season at 14th and 18th, respectively, and now are among the favorites for winning the title. How can this be explained?
Is it the car? This is perhaps the first answer that comes to mind, but what about the team’s backstage administration, something not always considered by the motoring press. That is Ground Zero of the culture conflict that makes or breaks an F1 team.
I experienced the world of F1 in 2005 and 2006, working at Honda’s office in Brazil. I was the bridge between the team and the car manufacturer. In early 2006, I took a group of journalists to Barcelona, Spain, in the world media event to present car and drivers for that season. There I was able to witness some of this conflict of cultures.
Even though Honda acquired 100% of the shares of former BAR Honda at the end of 2005, and from thence over the entire management of the team (something Honda hadn’t done since 1968), the English team's DNA was not altered by any means. The change came in the way things were run. The difference now was that the British had to report to the Japanese executives.
Watching the training and the race of the Malaysian GP last weekend, I heard a comment from Brazilian TV’s commentator Reginaldo Leme that supports my point. The journalist mentioned that team members (whose majority of members came from former Honda) had complaint that there were too many chiefs in the previous team, run by Honda. As goes the popular saying, a dog with two owners dies of thirst.
Today, the impression I take from watching the team when celebrating and smiling (at least until the conquest of the second consecutive race by Jenson Button) is that the team breathes more relieved. I even noticed a lighter air in Rubens, a brighter aura, if you will. Is it just an impression?
The fact is that there was indeed a clash of cultures in the decision making process along with the team. I will not make any value judgment on any culture, but what I witnessed is that, on one hand, there was a staff of Japanese engineers and administrators that pointed to one direction, and on the other hand, a same sized - but subordinated to the first - group of Englishmen who saw the picture in different colors.
Speculation or not, the results are there for everyone to see. After three seasons considered by critics and fans as mediocre, Honda did not support the weight of the investment (with no return) and gave up the team. Surprisingly, since the current design of the Brawn GP car was initially for a Honda engine, and not Mercedes, the result combined as wine and cheese. Although they still await the trial of the controversial issue of the rear diffuser, the combination of the Mercedes engine with the project captained by Ross Brawn, the team's current owner, is a success, having earned Felipe Massa’s comment that the “car is from another planet “.
I will leave to the reader to take any conclusion on why the Brawn GP team got it all right from the beginning. Anyway, the joy of the pilots and other members of the team is pretty much visible. In the pits, on the podium or in the paddock, they are only smiles.
For us, fans of the sport, a new F1 team is always welcome, especially when it comes to the arena ignoring favorites, and taking home two consecutive poles and two consecutive victories, besides the expressive mark of 25 points gained so far (or 42% of the total disputed until now). As a Brazilian, I am now cheering for Rubens to find his way and compete with Jenson for the position of first pilot of Brawn GP.