- The Inside Line
The end of an eraKate Walker November 28, 2013
When it was confirmed that Ross Brawn would be stepping down from his role as team principal of the Mercedes Formula One team, the news came as little surprise. Rumours of his imminent departure had been doing the rounds since January, when it emerged that Paddy Lowe would be leaving Woking for Brackley.
What does surprise, however - although perhaps it shouldn't, one corporate behemoth being much like another - is what Brawn's departure means for the future of the sport. As has been widely reported, Brawn's position at Mercedes became untenable when he learned that Stuttgart's corporate vision involved a team run by numerous chiefs with varying responsibilities and not one old-fashioned team principal.
Having suffered through the Honda years of corporate inefficiency and endless decision-making by committee, Brawn favours a one team, one boss approach. The incompatibility of his desires with those of his German paymasters meant there was no choice but to leave.
It is too early to say whether Mercedes' vision will prove to be the more sensible approach in the next era of Formula One. After all, much has changed in the sport over the past twenty years - Adrian Newey is probably the last remaining technical director to have designed a car from nose to tail, as modern designers and engineers specialise from the outset of their careers.
And there is no denying that the role of a modern team principal is rather more varied than was the case twenty or thirty years ago - in addition to running the team, managing people, overseeing strategy and managing intra-team communication there are sponsors to glad-hand, VIPs to kowtow to, and endless meetings of FIA strategy and working groups to attend. That's before you even start to think of playing politics in the piranha club.
No one can be master of all those trades, so there is a certain amount of logic in splitting the roles, giving a technical specialist oversight of the car, a networker the job of seducing sponsors and corporate bigwigs, and a politician the task of maintaining relations with other teams, the FIA, and the commercial rights holder. It's likely we will see a lot more of this division of labour in future, especially for teams the size of Mercedes.
But Ross Brawn is right when he says that there needs to be one big kahuna, a man or woman with whom the buck stops. By dividing responsibility one also divides accountability. In order to run a successful race team, there should be one person with general oversight and the power to say yay or nay. As Brawn learned at Honda, decisions made by committee tend to turn thoroughbreds into camels, no matter how large the budget at hand.