The Replay Motorsport project is working with older fans, reminiscing about favourite drivers, teams, races and circuits to help promote their well-being and mental health. A call to Sporting Memories Network from MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS led to a very special interview from the latest supporter of the project, current Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn.
A seasoned pro in the sport, Brawn has worked with most of the leading drivers in Formula One over the past four decades, including the soon-retiring ex Ferrari World Champion Michael Schumacher. He shared his favourite memories of his career, how he got started, who his heroes were and his favourite title working with Schui…
"My father was involved in motor racing and because of that, I have always been very close to it. My Dad did a little bit of racing himself, but he also worked for a company that supplied tyres to Formula One and other branches of motorsport, so I used to go to races with him. The drivers at the time included the real icons of Formula One, particularly Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jackie Stewart were the ones that I admired.
As I became involved in motor racing professionally, I was very fortunate to begin my early career with Patrick Head, who recently retired this year from Williams F1 after being there for 30 years, winning many World Championships. Patrick was the guy who set the standards for me in terms of engineering and approach. From a distance, another engineer who inspired me early in my career was Colin Chapman, who in those years was a truly iconic character. I didn’t know him very well but came across him as he was still in racing when I started.
Patrick Head actually interviewed me for my first ever job in motor racing. I was living with my parents in Reading at the time. I was in my early twenties and I saw an advert in the local paper for a metal working machinist at Williams in Reading. I’d worked as a machinist as an apprentice, so applied and went along for the interview, just to have a nose around and see what it was all about. Luckily for me they offered me the job, though I gather I wasn’t actually first choice, it was offered to someone else but they turned the job down so I was second choice and snapped up the chance. That was my first connection with Patrick.
I worked for them for a year, at which point Patrick and Frank left to set up another company, which I later joined, working with them for seven years in my second spell, which was the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, a period when Williams started winning World Championships. We won our first one with Alan Jones and our second with Keke Rosberg. My role was varied when I joined as there were just 11 of us in the whole team. When the team is that small you really do all sorts of varied jobs. I would make the bits for the cars for them, be a mechanic at the track, drive the truck and just do whatever I needed to, to make the whole team function.
As the team expanded, I had a young family at the time and didn’t really fancy the travel, so I became factory based and started an R&D group at Williams as the factory was expanding and Patrick decided we needed some properly structured research and development in its own small way, so I headed up that group. This was when I got particularly involved in the aerodynamics of the cars and focused on this work for a number of years, including building a wind tunnel at the factory. When I finally left Williams, I was chief aerodynamicist, despite not having any formal qualifications in the subject, but motor racing was like that in those days; if you showed an aptitude, you got the opportunity and felt your way through it to make it work. It is of course very different nowadays and we employ highly qualified academics, professors and doctors in the field of aerodynamics.
My next post lasted a couple of years working at a fledgling company called Force. It was an interesting group to work with and included Neil Oatley who has recently celebrated 25 years at McLaren as chief designer, Adrian Newey, who is now chief technical officer at Red Bull Racing along with a number of other people who have gone on to hold senior positions in motor racing for many years. This all came to an end when there was a buy-out and the company decided not to be involved in Formula One.
I then moved on to Arrows for three years and became chief designer, having some reasonable success. At this point I received a phone call from Tom Walkinshaw at Jaguar Sports Cars. They had just changed the rules in sports car racing and had become receptive to Formula One technology. I joined Jaguar when Tom persuaded me to cross over to sports cars for a couple of years. My remit was effectively to build a Formula One car, but with bodywork. The purple Jaguar XJR-14 (below) was born and it went very well. The car won the World Drivers’ Championship, we won the World Constructors’ Championship and we were triumphant at Le Mans 24 hour. This was when sports car racing was a competitive series; we were up against Mercedes, Peugeot and Porsche and there was some serious racing.
Whilst working in sports car racing, I met a young driver who was racing for Mercedes called Michael Schumacher, who stood out like a sore thumb as one seriously talented guy. I left TWR for Benetton F1 and when we got that team established we heard Michael was looking to come into Formula One. We immediately grabbed him and the next chapter of my Formula One career started.
Of all the victories with Michael the one that really stands out is the Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championship win in 2000 for Ferrari. Ferrari had not won the championship for 21 years. It was very special, made more so perhaps by the preceding three years, 1997, ’98 and ’99 which had all been pretty tough. We had had a chance of victory and lost each one, pretty much on the last race each year. Being so close to finally securing the title after such a long period without was extremely painful. 2000 was still a pretty tough year but we won and we did so with a bit of a margin, securing the Championship before the final race.
We won the title at Suzuka. I recall the intense pressure of that race, which intensified during a critical series of pit stops. We managed to execute ours perfectly and when we came out again and the other teams had completed their stops, we could see it had all fallen into place. I then conveyed the news to Michael that we had done the job and we just had to bring the car through to the finish now.
The period between successfully completing the pit stops and the end of the race was pretty tense. You experience a multitude of emotions until you cross the finish line. You have to contain yourself. You are still involved on the pit wall, you are still monitoring all the data, ready to react if anything happens; you could have a puncture, it might start raining, so I always supress any emotions. The bigger the event, the greater the emotions, but I have always contained them and still do to this day during any race.
The traditional post-Championship party for the previous three years had been pretty subdued affairs due to the immense disappointment of missing out so narrowly, so when we won in 2000 I remember the party just being an enormous outpouring of emotion, celebration, pleasure and relief.
Formula One is a team sport and being able to celebrate with your fellow team members is very special. It is to some extent an individual sport for the drivers themselves, but for the team around them there is a close bond. Friendships are formed that last many years and living through the disappointments together helps to prepare you to celebrate the triumphs together, making them so much more special.
We went on to win five Championships in a row together, a phenomenal period of success and achievement."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal of MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS shared these memories in support of Replay Motorsport, the project helping older motorsport fans. There are over 500 memories from the stars of sport, journalists, celebrities and fans to enjoy at www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com
Follow Sporting Memories on Twitter @sportsmemnet