The wisdom of the award-winning Ross Brawn

Friday 02 February 2024

Ross Brawn OBE was a delighted recipient of the prized Keith Duckworth Award at last weekend’s prestigious Night of Champions held at the Royal Automobile Club in London.  

Dedicated to the late Keith Duckworth who, together with fellow former Lotus employee Mike Costin, founded legendary Cosworth in the early 1960s, the award was introduced last year by Motorsport UK to recognise technical excellence in motorsport design and engineering.  

The inaugural winner was Sir Patrick Head and this year’s recipient was no less worthy. Brawn’s innovative and visionary approach to technology, engineering, and strategy has had a profound impact on Formula One and motorsport as a whole. Moreover, Ross owes some of his success to Sir Patrick. 

“I was always fascinated, challenged and enthused by engineering so, when I left school, I started an apprenticeship and, at the end of that, I took a chance by answering an advert to work at Williams Grand Prix. And the first person to interview me was Patrick,” he recalled. “It was about six weeks until Patrick offered me a job. He later told me that I’d been his second choice and the first choice had already come and left! Regardless, that interview was a pretty important point in my career as I don’t know what might have happened otherwise.” 

As technical director of championship-winning Benetton and Ferrari teams, Ross went on to be the mastermind behind all seven of Michael Schumacher’s world titles. Then, after a brief sabbatical, he returned initially as team principal of Honda. When the Japanese company withdrew, Ross formed his own Brawn GP team which remarkably won both the F1 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships in its debut season.  

“There have been so many standout moments in my career but that interview with Patrick was the first,” he admitted. “I’ve been blessed with lots of highlights: those early days with Williams when we made tremendous progress in a relatively short time; I was fortunate with Benetton and ultimately Ferrari and then, of course, with Brawn GP which was a very, very special adventure.” 

He also acknowledged that being born in this country was fortuitous start for any budding young technician. “The UK leads the world with motorsport engineering – particularly Formula 1 – so we should be very proud of that heritage and the role the UK has played in that. It is a huge part of the success of any Formula One team. Without a great car, whoever the driver is, you won’t win.”    

More recently Ross’s renowned technical expertise saw him appointed as Managing Director, Motor Sport for the Formula One Group – a role which resulted in F1 becoming a far-improved sporting spectacle. He defends the growing number of Grands Prix on the calendar but admits the ongoing appeal of the current generation of sizable F1 cars needs closer attention. 

“Formula One has expanded to meet the demands of the fans,” he explained. “As long as the racing is good, we are on great tracks and the audience wants it, then Formula One should support that. Whilst it does put a lot of demands on the people, there’s the capacity within a team to spread that load. In NASCAR, for example, where there are races every weekend, crews are rotated.”  

As for the current generation of F1 cars, Brawn describes them as ‘pretty chunky’ and says we ‘should look at what kind of racing car we want in the future’.  

“Things have improved in the area of safety and that must be maintained but we need to look at whether we need the existing power units as they are quite heavy and come with a pretty big battery – is that the right power unit for the future? Unless we change them, I’m not sure there’s a solution to slimming the cars down.” 

In music to the ears of many hardcore enthusiasts, Brawn suggested that a normally aspirated, high-revving, lightweight engine might be a better option. “Maybe that’s relevant when we get into fully sustainable fuels. When that happens, will we need the hybrids, the batteries or the electric power? We are at a crossroads in Formula One and it will be very interesting in the next few years.” 

Switching back to current times, Brawn was delighted to be joining Motorsport UK for its Night of Champions and even more thrilled to be picking up an award which meant so much to him personally.  

“It was a great evening and wonderful to see so many people from grassroots motorsport being recognised and rewarded – that’s where it all starts after all,” he enthused. “My award is very special to me as Keith Duckworth was a hero of mine. I was very lucky to work with him during the final few years of his career when I was with Force Lola Haas and we had a Ford Cosworth engine. Keith and I used to have some quite vigorous discussions as to whether the car had too much drag or the engine didn’t have enough power! He was an iconic character and so it was a real honour to receive this award.”