News that former Ferrari and Mercedes team leader Ross Brawn is “definitely retiring”, to concentrate at least until the summer on his favourite hobby of fishing, appears to come at absolutely the wrong time for Formula 1.
Early indications are that, as a result of comprehensive rule changes, F1 is heading into an era of unprecedented technical turmoil. When Red Bull, by far the sport’s biggest winner of the past three years, has to call off a season-opening test because its engines won’t work, you can be damned sure the problems are urgent and very serious.
At times like this, it is the calmest and most experienced heads that get teams get back on track, and Brawn’s is the calmest and most experienced of the lot — he proved it repeatedly at Ferrari, at his own Brawn GP team, and most recently at Mercedes.
Not only that, Ross Brawn has for years played a quietly key role in maintaining a proper element of sanity in the sport’s rules as they change. It seems certain they have more changing to do. F1 needs Brawn in the room, talking sense.
A few races into 2014, when teams get their new, complex new powertrains working — and they will — it is perfectly clear that from now on winners will be those who prove best at juggling all the new variables, who know best when to use their car’s limited fuel for speed and when for range; when to collect electric power and when to deploy it. Making such calls in the heat of battle will be vital as never before, and Brawn has consistently been the sport’s calmest and best at just this discipline.
Frankly, I think (as Niki Lauda does) that Brawn will be back. It probably hurts quite a bit to have been dumped by the new order at Mercedes, for no good reason. Such things take a bit of getting over. Besides, Brawn has shown once before (in 2007, when things changed at Ferrari) that he sees benefit in taking a break.
I choose to think that Ross Brawn, who has seen the current era of turmoil and constant fire-fighting coming at a distance, can do without it. But even from the riverbank, he’ll be carefully watching the progress of F1, and when it again assumes a shape he finds interesting — that of the noisiest, more colourful game of chess going — he’ll step right back in.
Any other outcome, for a mere 59-year-old with Brawn’s level of know-how, would be a grievous waste of talent.