MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team principal Ross Brawn took part in a wide-ranging discussion about Formula One at last week’s FOTA Fan Forum. Here are some edited highlights from the discussion…
On the importance of maintaining Formula One as the technological pinnacle
RB: F1 has to be the pinnacle of motorsport technically and commercially. The fascination of F1 for me is that combination of drivers and technology, and the fact that championships can be won by a good driver in a great car, sometimes a great driver in a good car, but never a great driver in a poor car. We’ve got to have that technology to add that ingredient to F1; we do need to be mindful of keeping the technology relevant.
In the case of Mercedes Benz, KERS is having a direct spin-off on our road car side. The great thing about F1 is that it accelerates any developments. This sporting war that we have just accelerates every technology and we find and develop technologies in months that in the outside world might take years, because we want to find that competitive edge. Look at the battery technologies that McLaren in fact worked with Mercedes to initiate: those battery technologies are going down to the road cars and that makes us much more relevant for the road car manufacturers to get involved.
On increased openness in Formula One…
RB: The driver-pits radio channel is completely open and it’s up to the commercial rights holder to decide what gets broadcast. The teams all agreed to make that available for broadcast, and at the circuit. There are a huge number of things that we need to improve, both in terms of the spectacle at the track and watching a race at home.
We’re making some in-roads into the use of Internet technology. My wife now looks at all the split times when she’s sat at home watching the race and that’s something we didn’t have a few years ago. In fact, she gives me a hard time if she spotted something I hadn’t seen! We have to make in-roads into all of those areas.
One of the things that we have to overcome is that the exclusivity of F1 has bred an attitude among the drivers and among certain team members and we have to break that down. If you’re in Nascar, you know as a driver that you’re expected to devote time to the fans; it’s seen as part of your job. We’ve got to open up in that respect in F1; we need to start drivers on that path so that we don’t have to change them later on.
On the importance of environmental issues to the sport’s future
RB: Martin launched a great initiative that looked at the carbon footprint of F1 and ways in which we could reduce it. There’s been a strong drive to cut down on the amount of equipment that we take to each race and there’s now a cap on the number of people we can have at the track. We’ve looked at all possible initiatives we can to reduce the size of our carbon footprint and it’s fair to say the cars are only a tiny part of that impact.
The important thing about racing cars is the message they can give out. With the new engine in 2014, it’s not about the new engine being more efficient in itself, it’s the message it gives that it’s – and I don’t like using this word at my age! – cool to have a really efficient engine. One that’s going to race on a lot less fuel because we’re setting dramatic targets for the amount of fuel we race on in the future: thirty, 40, 50 percent less than we have now, but still with the same amount of power and excitement that we have now. We don’t want to have fuel economy racing, but we want to set targets for the engineers.
On what’s being done to get more young people into the sport
RB: I think the sport does quite a lot. We all support various initiatives, starting with ‘F1 in Schools’, which is a competition for young children to build a little CO2-powered projectile. They learn to design that in school, so we try to sow the seeds of an engineering challenge and a team challenge at a young age, and that’s been very successful.
Then we move on to ‘Formula Student’, which is an initiative that a lot of universities are involved in now. A team of students design and build a racing car and they then compete against each other. The big event is at Silverstone, coming up shortly, and I think we have 130 universities competing.
I’ve spoken to students, who say they’ve gone to a particular university because it has the ‘Formula Student’ programme. It’s a fantastic initiative because it involves engineering and they also have to present a commercial model concerning how they have raised the money. There’s team building, there’s driver management – it’s a great programme that a lot of people support. Our chief engineer on the race team came up through that programme.
Every team in F1 takes students on and we have 10-15 graduates in our company. They’re great because they’re cheap and they’re enthusiastic. It invigorates a lot of our staff to have these young people around, all champing at the bit to make an impression in life.