The Cooper Files: Ross Brawn on the Austria 2002 team orders affair

Newcomers to this blog might not know that when I started it earlier this year I promised to delve into my old PCs and find interesting stories that, where possible, had some relevance to today. Yesterday’s race in Hockenheim created such a feeling of déjà vu that I just had to dig out something on Austria 2002, so here is what Ross Brawn had to say after that race just as the scale of the negative reaction was just sinking in.  I can remember a few of us sitting with Ross, and when somebody asked him what the forecast had been, I chipped in with ‘storm clouds gathering!’ I guess you had to be there…

Anyway, his comments make for fascinating reading today, and the parallels with the line that Stefano Domenicali – who was Ferrari team manager in 2002 - took yesterday are remarkable. Bear in mind however that at the time, team orders had not been banned, so Ross was completely open about what had transpired. Intriguingly I seem to recall that some of the toughest questions here were asked by the same guy who gave Fernando a hard time in Hockenheim…

Ross Brawn Q&A: A1-Ring, May 12th, 2002

Q: You said at the launch in Maranello that is Rubens was in the lead you would not ask Michael to go past him. What’s changed your mind in the six races since the launch?

“The situation today was that Michael had 44 points and Rubens had six. If they were both fighting for the championship on an equal points basis we wouldn’t have made the decision we made today. And Rubens understands that. I have no problem with the decision we made today, and nothing’s changed it.”

Q: One of your fellow technical directors described it as cynical, possibly bordering on fraudulent…

“I don’t really want to comment on other people’s opinion. We controlled the race today. We told the drivers we didn’t want them racing, we told the drivers they had to cut the engine revs, we told the drivers they had to look after the brakes, we told the drivers not to take any risks with backmarkers. That’s the nature of F1, that’s the nature of the business we’re in. When you make that decision then you going to make the decision to control the race thereafter. You can’t tell your drivers not to race, and then not be prepared to make the decisions that come after that. Michael may come back and say why wasn’t I allowed to race? We don’t want to damage the equipment, we want to give ourselves the best chance of winning the drivers’ championship. I understand it’s something which is going to raise a lot of opinion, but we have to do what we feel is right.”

Q: Do you think that the sport has been damaged?

“There’s obviously been a lot of reaction. We all have to make decisions, we all have to make decisions on what’s best for Ferrari. I can’t really answer that question really. If we are able to reach a situation where mathematically we’ve won the championship, then it will be interesting to see. But we had that for five races last year and I don’t think it made any difference.”

Q: Has Michael actually communicated to you that he thinks it’s wrong?

“No, Michael doesn’t think it’s wrong. Michael likes Rubens a lot, and he doesn’t like Rubens to have a lost a race and for him to have gained one, and it’s natural for him to feel that way. But he also understands why we do it, because he was there through those years when we lost the championship at the last race. Michael didn’t ask for it, Michael didn’t particularly enjoy it, but it’s what we feel is correct to maximise our chances for the drivers’ and the constructors.”

Q: What’s upset a lot of people is the feeling that you are so far ahead this year…

“I can understand that, but people are making judgements about the championship before it’s won, and we’re not making those judgements. Michael broke his leg in ’98 [actually 1999]. Anything can happen in a championship, so we just don’t take the slightest chance. We don’t get conceited enough to say we’ve got such an advantage we don’t need to follow our policy today. It’s really as simple as that.”

Q: When Michael broke his leg and Eddie lost the championship at the last race, Eddie had already given away points early in the season…

“That’s true, and obviously if we’d known Michael was going to break his leg, we wouldn’t have done that. But I don’t think any of us knew that! The drivers have a fair chance until the points where one clear has a much stronger chance of winning the championship. They both get exactly the same equipment, they both get good support from all the team, and when one starts to assert an advantage, then we give our support to that driver. Too many championships have been lost in the past when teams haven’t given that support to their driver. We don’t operate like that.”

Q: Does it go against the grain for you as a racer?

“Those decisions are very difficult. It’s difficult for all of us. As I say we sat there in Suzuka [‘98-‘99], we sat there in Jerez [‘97], and wondered what decisions we could have made during the year that could have avoided the situation we had then. It’s both sides.”

Q: At what point was the decision actually taken and conveyed to the drivers?

“The decision was there all weekend. Rubens knows the situation. Rubens has just signed a new contract, and he was very aware of the situation. If Rubens starts 2003 and is 44 points against six after five races, he will get to take race wins in the same fashion. So Rubens knows the circumstances. Even before the weekend it was a taken.”

Q: Did you actually tell him?

“I speak to the race drivers during the race, so I spoke to Rubens and explained the situation. He was very professional about it.”

Q: At what point did you tell him?

“It was after the second pit stops. Once the second pit stops had been finished, and we saw the way the race was, I spoke to him and I explained what we wanted to do. It would have been very to have orchestrated some came in the pit stops, and make it look different, but we didn’t want to operate like that.”

Q: When was Michael made aware of it?

“After I spoke to Rubens and we discussed it then I informed Michael what the situation was. But I’d already told both drivers to back off and take it easy. Once we’d got through the second pit stops we knew what the situation was. It was just a question of looking after the equipment.”

Q: Was there a reluctance from Michael when the order came through?

“We didn’t get into detail, but I’m sure he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable about it. It’s natural. But Michael doesn’t run the team, and it’s not his decision.”

Q: Will there be the same decision if there was a similar situation in Monaco?

“Of course, yes. Until mathematically the championship is sorted either way, that decision could be repeated.”

Q: Why do you run two drivers?

“To win the constructors’ championship.”

Q: But Ferrari’s preference is the drivers?

“We don’t have a preference. Today’s decision kept the constructors’ championship exactly the same, and strengthened our position in the drivers. It wasn’t as though we gave away points in one championship against the other. It didn’t make any difference in the constructors’ position, and strengthened our drivers position. It seemed highly logical.”

Q: Can you see how this damages the legend of Michael Schumacher?

“Not really, no. Michael had nothing to do with it.”

Q: But when everybody writes the history of Michael Schumacher’s fifth championship, it won’t be that he’s the best driver, there will always be that paragraph the he was given that race in Austria…

“That’s the history of F1. That’s happened many times. I don’t think that’s held against the drivers. We all remember Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti [in 1978]. That’s the earliest one I remember. It goes back years, and that’s the nature of motor racing. It doesn’t get held against the driver.”

Q: You’re not expecting any ramifications from this?

“I don’t see why. The FIA made their position clear two years ago, and they see F1 as a team sport.”

Q: What about ramifications from the President of Ferrari?

“Nobody appreciates the reaction, but he understands that he’s part of the decision making process. Whilst he won’t appreciate the reaction, he also wouldn’t appreciate the reaction if we lost the championship at the end of the year.”

Q: Until the championship is won, Michael will be allowed to win every race?

“If the situation is there, yes. It’s no different to today. If that situation exists we will make that same decision…”

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Cooper Files: Ross Brawn on the Austria 2002 team orders affair

  1. Dan Shires

    The crazy thing is Adam that in the eight years preceding, they seem to have learned absolutely nothing.

    The fact is, Ferrari perceive themselves bigger than the sport, when it should always be the other way around. I’ve already stated on Joe Saward’s blog this morning that Ferrari misunderstand the importance of having the goodwill of the public.

    This situation just adds to the notion they are a corporation that doesn’t care about the sport or the fans, that are happy to ride roughshod over the rules for their own ends. Reading that back I suppose I’ve answered my own point though, they are a corporation who are only interested in the bottom line.

    Having worked in motorsport, I’m aware of how many wealthy corporate guests are invited to each race, with the express intention of investing in teams and the sport. How many of them will have visited teams up and down the pitlane yesterday and had their views coloured by Ferrari’s actions, ultimately damaging the continued health of F1 as a whole?

    Not only that, how many new fans or casual fans will have been put off? As a long term motorsport lover it gets harder and harder to tell people what they’re missing when they throw back things like ‘well it’s a fix’.

  2. cindy

    I suggest you have a interview with Ross Brawn on all these Team Order things. It should be fun to hear what he says about Austria GP 2002 and German GP 2010. How about in Hungary?

  3. It doesn’t really matter what Ross thought he was doing or how necessary it all was — he’s just an exec for an entertainment company, and for the actual paying customers of the entertainment it was a debacle on the same scale as the Indy tyre farce. F1 should try to provide what we want without endangering lives, and we want racing not deal-making, obviously.

  4. Carlos

    To be fair, Brawn could be honest in 2002 because it wasn’t illegal yet. We all know the ban on team orders has only caused them to be very cynically disguised, not eliminated.

    But it’s very helpful to see this interview and hear the team orders point of view. The big question now is how much of it was decided ahead of time. Did the team discuss team orders scenarios with Alonso and Massa at the beginning of the season? How much of a surprise was Smedley’s radio transmission?

    • RaulZ

      I think everything was discussed and clear, but Massa didn’t do his job, or he did it complaining and hurting his own team.

  5. tony

    Its all very clear and hopefully it will not re occur but I cannot get over the WMC? and the FIA’s apparent lack of concern. If they were concerned about the honesty and integrity of the sport something would have happening or be planned to happen BEFORE Hungary. It appears ot be an exercise in cynicism in the extreme – based on short memories and the end justifies the means

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