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Brawn supremacy

Rubens Barrichello, Ross Brawn and Jenson Button celebrate
Brawn GP's remarkable one-two finish in Melbourne rounded off an F1 fairytale

By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Melbourne

A little under a month ago, Brawn Grand Prix did not exist. Now the team find themselves as winners of the first race of the new Formula 1 season.

In securing a one-two at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, they have completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the sport's history.

Team principal Ross Brawn was only confirmed as the team's owner 23 days ago, and yet already the team that rose from the ashes of Honda's withdrawal from the sport are the hottest team on the grid.

And that, says Melbourne winner Jenson Button, is just the start

"We should be the underdogs - but we're not," said Button, who endured a difficult winter not even knowing if he had a drive for the new season. "One of the reasons I was hanging in there was because I wanted to race this car in 2009 as it's so strong.

"I hope to sustain our performance, that has to be the aim.

"We want to compete the whole season because we are here for the championship."

It wasn't an option not to believe... it was a difficult winter but we came through it

Jenson Button

However, while the manner of Button's win in Australia suggests a title challenge is in the offing, Brawn face a long road ahead as question marks remain over the team's ability to sustain their momentum.

The top priority is to find new cash and sponsors - notwithstanding the new "substantial sponsorship deal" with Richard Branson's Virgin Group - amid the budget-squeezing climate of the credit crunch.

The team believe they could operate under proposals by the sport's governing body, the FIA, to cap annual budgets at £30m.

More sponsors to follow Virgin are expected in the coming weeks but finding a sustained partnership at a time when Renault, BMW Sauber and Williams have all lost key deals will be testing.

The team are already cutting back their budget and will cut their staff from more than 700 to 450. And on the track, it is considered inevitable that the leading teams will start to eat into Brawn's advantage.

Firstly, the team have no plan to install kinetic energy recovery system (Kers) - the optional system which gives McLaren drivers an extra boost of 80bhp for seven seconds a lap.

That could begin to negate Brawn's pace advantage and Button believes it will be impossible to overtake a car which is using Kers.

Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button
Barrichello and Button salute the crowd

There is also the chance that their car could be found illegal. Three teams lodged a complaint in Australia against the legality of Brawn's U-shaped rear diffuser design, and though the FIA rejected the protest an appeal will be heard next month.

And while Brawn is soon expected to introduce a new sidepod design which may add another three-tenths of a second to their pace, they cannot expect to stay ahead of the game indefinitely.

The team that raced last season as Honda were plunged into disarray in December when the Japanese manufacturer withdrew from Formula 1 because of the global economic crisis.

After an uncertain winter spent looking for a buyer, team principal Brawn was finally unveiled as the new owner on 6 March - and Brawn GP was born. From that moment on, there has been no looking back.

Even before Button's victory on Sunday, the team's rivals could see the writing on the wall.

In Thursday's first official media session in Melbourne, Ferrari's Felipe Massa said: "The picture from the winter is that Brawn is better than anybody. Maybe we are all fighting for third place."


Button, who was seated behind the 2008 championship runner-up, leaned forward and with a huge grin responded: "Sounds good to me."

And who can blame the Englishman for being in high spirits after a winter of discontent and two years struggling with an uncompetitive car?

The 29-year-old, who joined Honda in its former BAR guise in 2003, spent the off-season waiting patiently to find out if he still had a race seat.

Despite being linked with a move to Toro Rosso, Button, along with team-mate Barrichello, kept faith that the team would find a way to survive.

"It wasn't an option not to believe," said Button. "When we found out in December (about Honda's withdrawal) it was a big shock. I was expecting a negative atmosphere at the team but everyone has been really good. It was a difficult winter but we came through it."

Still, despite a £1 price-tag and potential interest, the team's survival hung in the balance.

This is the culmination of a long period of work

Brawn GP team chief executive Nick Fry

"There was an absolute fear that that might be it," said team chief executive Nick Fry, who spent months trying to sell the former Honda team.

"We went through a period of incredible highs and lows. It was never the intention of any of the management to own the team, but Honda ending up selling to Ross and we all supported him."

Brawn, 54, pooled together money from the team's share of F1's commercial income, divvied out by rights holder Bernie Ecclestone and existing sponsorship deals.

He also relied heavily on the good grace and generosity of Honda.

"I can't speak highly enough of Honda," said Fry. "They didn't just walk away and now we have a bit of breathing space."

Not even the absence a £300m manufacturer budget and only seven testing days on the track has halted Brawn GP's progress.

Not that Brawn GP is an overnight success, says Fry. "This is not something that happens by magic. This is the culmination of a long period of work."

Sir Richard Branson
Branson's investment could be crucial to Brawn GP's future success

Indeed it is. To give themselves the best chance of competing with their rivals, the team began work on their 2009 car as far back as November 2007.

With the raft of introductions including kers, an adjustable front-wing flap, and slick, non-treaded tyres - all designed to promote overtaking - Brawn GP stole an advantage by beginning development early.

BMW Sauber and McLaren also began work on their 2009 cars early last year but Brawn are perceived to have had at least a three-month head start.

And they appear to have benefited from the huge investment Honda poured into their headquarters in Brackley, Northamptonshire.

Brawn's new team were able to work with a full-size wind tunnel, a simulator and specialist equipment to tune the gearbox and engine and model the car, all of which came from Honda's capital investment.

When Brawn arrived at the team in late 2007 after 10 years as Ferrari's technical director, he also reorganised the staff, honing the levels of expertise within his aerodynamic and engineering teams.

The challenge now, having set the pace in such blistering fashion in Australia, is to maintain the high standards that have seen them take Formula 1 by storm.

"Hopefully this win is the first of many," said Button after Sunday's victory and, given Brawn GP's track record so far, who would bet against it being so?

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see also
F1 rivals fear new boys Brawn GP
25 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brawn GP maintain impressive form
15 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Honda team to return as Brawn GP
06 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Jenson Button
10 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Rubens Barrichello
10 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brawn GP
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1
Brawn GP Ten to tackle
23 Mar 09 |  Formula 1

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