Even in a world as full of legends and heroes as Formula 1, the name of Ross Brawn OBE will always be writ large.
Engineer, designer and master race strategist, his record in F1 speaks for itself. As technical director at Benetton (from 1991) and then Ferrari (1997-2006) he was the brains behind seven F1 constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ titles, five of them consecutive and all of them with the driver with whom Brawn is most connected, Michael Schumacher. Two more titles for his own Brawn GP team in that brilliant Jenson Button-dominated year of 2009 gives him a total of 16 F1 world championships. You’d need a big mantelpiece…
Today, 18 months after he announced his retirement, he can sit back and watch F1 on the telly and see how his legacy continues still, with the team that Brawn GP became (outfit by name of Mercedes-Benz) continuing its dominance.
Or does he? Watch F1 that is. Maybe he’s not interested any more, or just too busy fly fishing, his other big passion (he announced his retirement from a salmon river in Scotland). Perhaps he’s tired of the calls for him to return to F1, most recently by Red Bull’s Christian Horner who cited him as the ideal person to determine the future direction of the sport.
We will just have to ask him. Conveniently he was bringing his favourite Ferrari down for Revival (the ex Stirling Moss 250 GT SWB, see more on that here) and happy to field our questions. His answers may not be what you were expecting…
Do you enjoy driving?
I do. But I don’t do competition driving. It’s a paradox really but I don’t like driving fast. I prefer to drive well within my limits and enjoy the experience. One of the most rewarding drives last year was the London to Brighton Run, which I am really looking forward to doing again this year. Driving these old cars is a challenge, though not speed related.
So we won’t be seeing you on the grid at Revival?
I enjoyed doing a parade lap with Stirling in the SWB during Revival, but I won’t be taking part in historic racing myself. I guess after years of intense competition people expect me to be very competitive, and I am in certain environments. But I like to get away from competition when I am doing other things.
Such as fishing?
I am very keen on fishing. There was a time when I had to catch the biggest and most fish but now I am much more relaxed. If a big fish comes along it’s a bonus. It’s just great to be out there enjoying the environment.
You have quite a collection of cars, where do you drive them?
I take them to car shows, my friend Jody Scheckter’s place for CarFest, Goodwood of course and also in the village where I live we have the Stoke Row Racing Club, which every year puts on a great car show. Hundreds of people come to it. Now I have retired I would like to do some tours. An ideal journey in the 250 GT SWB might be one of those Scottish Highland tours, but nothing competitive.
What’s in your garage?
The 250 GT SWB I brought to Revival. Another 250 GT SWB – yes, it’s rather embarrassing to have two – and some more Ferraris. A 250 GT/E, a 275, a rare right-hand drive Daytona Spider, a 288 GTO, an F40 – all the classics. Plus I have an AC Ace and some Jaguars, E-types and MkIIs, from the time I worked for Jaguar in the early ‘90s. I own the only surviving example of the 1904 Wilson-Pilcher which I drove last year in the Brighton Run. I have a Mercedes Gullwing and a 300 SL Roadster, and have just bought an original Morgan Three-wheeler. I don’t sell cars so it’s a gradually increasing collection.
All those cars plus fishing, so you really are retired?
It’s a dreadful cliche but I don’t know when I found the time to work.
You still must miss the world of F1?
I miss some of it, I don’t miss all of it.
Some people have said you are just the man to save F1 from itself
I never say never, but nothing has appeared to make me want to go back. I can’t see what would present itself to make me want to change direction in my life again.
What do you think about F1 this year?
I think when you move away from something it is very easy to be critical, so I won’t be. I am obviously delighted to see Mercedes doing so well. I am very comfortable that I left them in such good shape. And I am very pleased to see Lewis (Hamilton) doing so well. There was a lot of work to get Lewis into the team and he is probably at the peak of his career at the moment.
Can you see Lewis Hamilton going on to win a lot more F1 championships?
I don’t see why not. Lewis has the right demeanour and he loves racing, which people sometimes overlook. He is very intense and does his job very well but he doesn’t seem to suffer the pressure. He is able to switch off and enter his other world as soon as racing finishes. I think this will give him a lot of longevity. But it may also mean he takes the opportunity to stop when it suits him…
Photography by Pete Summers