The off-season for Brawn GP has certainly been a rollercoaster of doubt, excitement and speculation. For months we all waited to see what would happen to the Honda team after their announcement to withdraw from the Formula One championship, and just as everything appeared to be falling apart, a management buy-out saved the squad and kept the tally of ten teams on the grid. But will Brawn be fighting for survival in 2009, or will they be fighting for the championship?
Brawn GP have done very little running in the off-season in comparison to their rivals. They spent much of the winter in the Brackley factory dealing with various companies and wealthy individuals who were interested in buying the team. Throughout all this time, no car made its way to a circuit for testing, and the staff at Brackley feared their jobs might be lost.
However, as soon as the announcement that Ross Brawn had struck a deal with Honda to buy the squad, everything suddenly went into overdrive. The team ran privately at Silverstone before heading to Spain for the group tests at Barcelona and Jerez. And I don’t think anybody expected to see what they saw.
It would appear that the Brawn BGP 001 is pretty quick. This is something quite incredible when you consider the major shakeup in the technical regulations that has occurred this year. With such a change in the way the cars are designed, most teams were anxious to get as much running as possible. However, on the first day of the Barcelona group test, Button managed an astonishing fourth fastest time, just 0.2s shy of Trulli’s Toyota.
From there it just got better for the team. Third on day two, fastest on days three and four. As you could imagine, Brawn very quickly became the talking point of the final sessions. Although their outright pace may not be as superior as the large margins may suggest, the new car doesn’t look overly shabby.
In Jerez, Barrichello and Button maintained a dominant presence and both drivers appeared satisfied with the progress being made to the car. They may have been showboating in order to attract sponsors or just generate some hype, but some journalists who attended the tests also noted that the BGP 001 looked consistently quick over longer runs.
With a Mercedes engine for 2009 and a chassis that not only looks gorgeous, but appears to be performing well, we could see a sharp improvement over the disappointing 2008 campaign when the team were owned by Honda.
In keeping Jenson Button they have retained a favourite among many of the fans, and ensured this season will not be the first with only one Briton competing. And by re-signing Rubens Barrichello, they have kept a safe and steady pair of hands in the second chassis. Barrichello is experienced and will help the team iron out any kinks with the car.
So what can we expect from Brawn in Melbourne? Well, Bernie Ecclestone is excited. When the new points system was announced in March, Ecclestone used Button as example of how the idea of race wins equals championship could benefit the sport. If the Brawn really is as quick as the test times suggest, Jenson and Rubens should be fighting for victories in the first fly-aways. From there on in, things may not be as easy due to the larger budgeted outfits ramping up development.
Personally, I’m yet convinced of the Brawn’s pace, but it certainly is very exciting. Not only have the careers of two drivers and a factory full of staff been saved, but the reinvigorated team appear to be able to fight for points.
It’s already been said many times over, but it is worth repeating: I bet Honda are kicking themselves right now.