Ted Kravitz Q&A: Analysing where Ross Brawn's exit leaves the Mercedes team
Sky Sports F1 pundit on how Brawn's departure came about, the extent to which Merc will miss him, Paddy Lowe's new challenge, and more
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 29/11/13 1:26pm
In the end, Mercedes' announcement on Thursday morning confirming Ross Brawn's exit at year's end came as a surprise to no-one. And yet the departure of one of F1's most prominent figures from one of the grid's biggest teams still provokes immense fascination.
So read on below as Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz examines the backstory to the high-profile split and the intrigue and potential challenges surrounding Mercedes' new joint management team, while also pondering where - indeed if - Brawn will resurface.
It was back in January when we first learnt about Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe's moves to Mercedes. Has Ross Brawn's departure been inevitable since then?
Ted Kravitz: "I don't think it's been inevitable because we've spoken to Niki Lauda, Toto Wolff and to Paddy Lowe at various times over the last year and at some point they've all said that they want Ross to stay if that's what he wants to do. Ross himself said that he would like to say if he was assured of being the point of reference.
"So I don't think it was inevitable, I just think there was an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object here. Mercedes had decided that the job was too big for one man and they weren't going to change their mind on that and Ross wasn't going to change his mind that he didn't want to be team boss by committee. That's what we are left with now."
Mercedes' thinking would essentially have been formulated when they had just finished fifth in the 2012 Constructors' Championship. On the back of this year's big improvement, and with all the promise of 2014, you suspect that they might not have thought along the same lines had that planning for the future taken place now...
TK: "Certainly the feeling that I get from talking to a lot of people in the paddock is that Mercedes had decided at the start of the year that they didn't need Ross. But then two things happened throughout the season which might have changed their mind. First the race in Malaysia, where Ross's authority was enhanced by the fact that his drivers listened to him and obeyed his orders not to change position, whereas Christian Horner's authority was clearly undermined in the same situation at Red Bull when Vettel decided not to follow his orders.
"Then I think Ross's hand was further strengthened by the 'secret test' episode and the hearing that followed. There he was able to convince the FIA that there had been no intentional deceit and no premeditated wish to deceive the governing body, and all the teams, and that in their test with Pirelli they were trying to do the right thing. Ross came out of that pretty well, even though if you look at the fine print, Mercedes were actually guilty of breaking the rules but got only a smack on the wrist in terms of penalty, which was missing the Young Driver Test.
Three into two ultimately didn't go at Mercedes
"So it looks like Niki Lauda and Mercedes and Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe had made the decision early-season and then realised half-way through that actually Ross was an important person to have on board and so we started getting the messages from them that 'We want to keep him'. But either Ross had decided 'The damage is done and you've appointed two people in my place' or they couldn't assure him that he'd still be number one, which is what looks like has happened. So rather than manage to keep him it just looks like he's decided that the right thing to do is leave."
Given Mercedes are targeting a World Championship assault with their new turbo engine next year - as Lewis Hamilton made clear to Sky Sports News this week - and Ross's title-winning credentials are proven numerous times over, how big a blow for them do you see his departure being?
TK: "I see it as one step forward and two steps back, unfortunately. I think you'd have to say that what you are gaining in Toto and Paddy and their clear talents is one step forward, but what you're losing with Ross is two steps back. I don't think there is any other way to see it.
"You're going to need a strategic brain on the pitwall next year and if something goes wrong, you're also going to need the meticulous, calm approach and experience of a man who knows how to get you out of the hole that you're in.
"Now, actually, it looks like, if we're to believe everything we hear out of Mercedes, that it's likely that things aren't going too wrong for them and that they've got a car that has spent longer in development than most and an engine and energy-recovery system package which is pretty mature in its development as well.
"So maybe they'll get away with it because they'll have the best package, they'll be winning races and they'll be saying 'Who needs Ross?' Well, that's fine, but wait until the bad times or the times you don't want a computer to tell you what the strategy is, when you want a calm head on the pitwall. That's when they will miss him."
How do you see the Wolff/Lowe 'dual Team Principal' arrangement working? That fact such a scenario is fairly unusual in F1 makes it something of a test case for the sport doesn't it?
TK: "The last time I remember having an arrangement like this was actually at the last team that Niki Lauda was in charge of and that was Jaguar. Then you had various people like Gunther Steiner, Dave Pitchforth, Richard Parry-Jones at the top, Bobby Rahal and Lauda himself all in charge of various bits of the company and it was a mess. That team folded effectively and it was sold to Red Bull for £1.
"I don't know whether this is something Niki Lauda believes, that the job of Team Principal is too big for one person, but who's going to be making the decisions? That was Ross's point: you need to have one point of reference. It's a warning to the team that he's saying 'Okay, well you've chosen not to have one point of reference, I'm off, good luck with that!'
"But it also reminds me of Nick Fry's role at that team. Ross was in charge of the racing side and actually people underestimated how much Fry did. Fry was in charge of running the company, doing all the boring things like budgets and HR and ordering in equipment and material, and also sorting out all the sponsorship as well. That's a big job. It worked with Nick Fry and Ross Brawn even though Fry was the race team MD effectively, a bit like the role Jonathan Neale has at McLaren.
"Toto Wolff seems to be in a higher position than that. Is he going to be content with doing the negotiations to sort out who's going to supply the team with their carbon fibre or which company gets the deal to run the canteen at the factory? Is that what he's going to be doing?"
And what of Paddy Lowe's role and responsibilities? At McLaren he was working quietly in the background the whole time, but going forward at Mercedes he's going to have a higher profile isn't he?
TK: "Paddy's never been a big paddock personality, he's an extremely competent and talented engineer and Engineering Director. But Paddy's problem is actually going to be one of authority amongst the three other technical directors employed at Mercedes.
"Paddy is now in charge of three people who considered themselves either his contemporary or his superior when he was at McLaren. You've got Aldo Costa, who was Technical Director at Ferrari at the same time when Paddy was in the same role at McLaren. You've got Bob Bell, who was Technical Director at Renault and actually stand-in Team Principal for a few races after Flavio Briatore left. He has been at Mercedes longer than Paddy too. Then you've got Geoff Willis, who is looking at future projects and is also a contemporary of Lowe's and just as experienced. So suddenly Paddy has been parachuted in as not only their boss but also their Team Principal.
Long-time counterparts Lowe and Willis are now on the same side
"The interesting thing for me is going to be how Paddy assures and asserts his authority over those guys and almost how he gives up being the team's Technical Director. He's going to have to trust those three to do their roles and not interfere and come in and say, 'Well I think we should be doing it this way'. That is going to be really difficult for him to do because nobody likes to give up their expertise, but he's above that now. He's a joint team boss."
That's Mercedes in 2014 then, but what next for Ross Brawn? He has been linked with a whole host of teams and positions - Ferrari, Williams, the FIA... - while he could conceivably take another year out. So do you think we'll see Ross in F1 again and, if so, how long before he returns?
TK: "We understand that he's going to take a bit of time to decide. He finishes work at Mercedes on New Year's Eve and I think he's going to take a bit of time before he decides what he's going to do.
"The Ferrari link is interesting in that Stefano Domenicali told us that if he decided, or more to the point if his bosses Luca di Montezemolo and FIAT decided, to bring somebody in above him then he wouldn't have a problem with that. That was the new line that we heard from him in Brazil. Will Brawn go to Ferrari? I think it's unlikely but not impossible.
"Then everyone's talking about this FIA role - well, I don't really know what that is! Is that replacing Charlie Whiting? Is that some kind of F1 Commissioner? Well, that's fine, but that doesn't have the competitive element that makes Ross get up in the morning. He has spent his whole career being a competitive man, and let's not forget, is Williams still completely out of the picture?
"We left that story in Abu Dhabi with Sir Frank Williams saying that he wasn't aware that Ross was available but he rates him as an engineer. Well, now Sir Frank, you've very aware that Ross is available so get on with it! That's one story that every F1 fan would like to see, Ross helping get Williams back to the top.
"How likely any of these things are we don't know but I've got a feeling Ross isn't going to be happy with just some kind of strange benign FIA role. But maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part."
Ross Brawn's Mercedes departure will naturally be a major talking point on this week's special Season Review edition of The F1 Show, hosted by Ted and Natalie Pinkham, on Sky Sports F1 at 8pm on Friday. Don't miss it!
Mercedes F1 joint team bosses Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe: Better than Ross Brawn? To be discussed: The F1 Show, tomorrow, 8pm- Ted Kravitz (@tedkravitz) November 28, 2013