Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Valencia, 2010

Schumacher was key to Mercedes’ championship success – Brawn

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Michael Schumacher played a major role in transforming Mercedes into championship contenders before he left them, according to former team principal Ross Brawn.

The seven-times world championship spent three seasons with them before being replaced by Lewis Hamilton at the end of 2012. Mercedes have swept the championship in every season since 2014 but Schumacher, who turns 50 today, has been unable to share in their success since he was injured in a skiing crash at the end of 2013.

Brawn said Schumacher’s arrival provoked some resistance in the team but he “helped to instil and reinforce the principles of how to do things” which won him support.

“I’ve worked with Michael and knew what he was like and the standards he maintained and I knew the levels he worked to,” said Brawn in an interview for the official F1 website. “Those guys hadn’t.”

Among those who were initially unsure about Schumacher was Jock Clear, who had been Jacques Villeneuve’s race engineer when Schumacher collided with the Williams driver while trying to beat him to the 1997 world championship.

“Jock Clear who was Villeneuve’s engineering when Michael and Villeneuve came together, almost hated Michael with a passion, yet became one of Michael’s closest friends when Michael came to the team and worked with him,” said Brawn.

“Michael’s work ethic, discipline and application just won everyone over. It raised the standard of the team in knowing what they could or should be doing. I think I had an impact but Michael had just as much, even more impact on the team when he came and worked there.

“Andrew Shovlin said to me, especially when they won their first world championship and I was talking to him about it, he said Michael had an awful lot to do with us winning this world championship.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described Schumacher as “one of the founding fathers of the success we have had in the last five years.”

“There is no other driver like him and his vast experience contributed tremendously in the development of our team,” Wolff added. “He played a crucial role when we rejoined F1 and was one of the people who laid the foundation for our future success. We’re extremely grateful for everything he did for us.”

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Brawn said Schumacher’s return to the team came about after Jenson Button, who had won the world championship for them, made a surprise move to McLaren. Schumacher had tested for Ferrari with a view to substituting for Felipe Massa when he was badly injured in a crash at the Hungaroring.

“Because of Felipe’s accident Michael tried to get back in the car and that kind of alerted me to the fact he was starting to get withdrawal symptoms. He’d had his bike accident and he’d hurt his neck quite badly – much more than people probably appreciated because he kept it quite quiet. Eventually he had to admit he couldn’t drive the car when they tried to get him in the Ferrari, his neck was just giving him too much grief. But it showed to me he was keen.

“And when, quite frankly, we were caught off-balance by Jenson deciding to leave, I rang him up and said ‘do you fancy a beer’ and he said ‘I know what you want to ask, let’s have one’. He kept his finger on the pulse so it was no shock to him.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2011
Schumacher had three win-less years at Mercedes
“In fact we agreed to try and find a way forward very quickly and Mercedes were very keen to have him in the car of course, Norbert [Haug, Mercedes vice president of motorsport at the time] was very keen to get him in the car. So then it was just a question of working out a deal that everybody could live with. So that came together fairly quickly.”

Schumacher arrived as Mercedes took over the Brawn GP team, which had won the 2009 championships despite the withdrawal of previous manufacturer backer Honda 12 months earlier. However his spell at the team was win-less, which Brawn put down to the shortcomings of the machinery the team produced compared to when the two won a string of championships at Ferrari.

“I think the difference was that we no longer had a dominant car,” Brawn reflected. “In those periods with Ferrari we always had a strong car or the strongest car. The reality was we didn’t have it in 2010.”

“The team had been in survival mode because we simply didn’t know where we were going and we couldn’t commit the budget to putting in a strong development programme for 2010. We were basically keeping a close eye on every expenditure because we thought we may have to survive another year with no major [investment].

“It was a sign of the times that in that period we won the world championship and still didn’t have a major sponsor. We were the fairy story of that year but we still didn’t have a major sponsor. It was a pretty tough economic environment at that stage.

“We went in 2010 with a gently warmed-up version of what we had in 2009 rather than making the level of progress. Of course new regulations in ’09, other teams got on top of them more quickly than we did. So in 2010 we were pretty average.”

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Keith Collantine
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  • 30 comments on “Schumacher was key to Mercedes’ championship success – Brawn”

    1. A really interesting read. I remember being so excited when Schumacher was announced for 2010; I think many (including me) excepted him to be immediately challenging for podiums and wins. As Ross Brawn says, the car simply wasn’t fast enough for that.

      Comparisons between drivers are always sketchy, but Rosberg came to Mercedes as a slightly unknown quantity, someone who was probably better than Nakajima and about Webber’s level. That Schumacher couldn’t beat him immediately meant to most that his comeback was a failure. I sometimes wonder if we should view Schumacher’s comeback in a different light following recent years.

      Hamilton is regarded as one of (if not, the) best of his generation and Rosberg held his own against him for four seasons, culminating in his WDC in 2016. Does knowing how good Rosberg really is/was show Schumacher’s 2010-2012 as slightly better than they were interpreted at the time? Personally, I think so.

      Happy Birthday to a Formula One great.

      1. For me the way to view his comeback is in terms of seeing him against others who came back to the sport having retired or versus those who at his age had had enough of racing. The fact that he was still hungry to race says a lot about his personality and his commitment to the sport, whereas you look at the likes of Rosberg and Hakkinen who won titles and swiftly departed the sport. As the article says he re-defined what an F1 driver was and what they bring to a team. The likes of Hamilton and Verstappen are the first of that new generation to be bred for F1. Ultimately the records Schumy set will go and they will be broken by the new breed he has helped bring about by how he performed.

        1. “The likes of Hamilton and Verstappen are the first of that new generation to be bred for F1. Ultimately the records Schumy set will go and they will be broken by the new breed he has helped bring about by how he performed.” – Doesn’t make any sense at all. HAM and VER are from different generations altogether and if you think that HAM is part of this so-called “new breed”, you should include many others instead. In fact, you should include at least everybody who entered the sport ’07-(around)’10 or was born from ’85-(around)’90.

      2. Spot on. Different points of their career of course which we have to take into account.

        As Brawn said, the Merc wasn’t a dominant car for Schumacher to win, which he did have in most (all?) of his championship winning years. And with the assistance of the FIA in his Ferrari years.

        Raikkonen in his prime was better than Schumacher.

        1. I think Schumacher in his prime was better than Hakkinen.
          I rank the older Finn above.

        2. And with the assistance of the FIA in his Ferrari years.

          Do take into account that Mercedes race tyre woes did not get under control until that infamous Pirelli test, so I’d recommend reviewing the term assistance.

          Rosberg and Hamilton were killing it on saturdays and then going backwards on sundays in 2013, and observers have pointed out that those drivers who had spent the longest in the Bridgestone years -like Webber and Schumacher- were the ones that struggled more with the new generation of tyres.

          1. So you’re comparing 1 test that was approved by the FIA to years of assistance Ferrari received from the FIA?

        3. Raikkonen in his prime was better than Schumacher.

          I think you’re underrating Ralf :P

          1. Schumacher was better than raikkonen even in their prime, but coming from a schumacher fan, probably doesn’t have much weight, but I’d consider anyone saying raikkonen was better than schumacher at any point of their careers as a raikkonen fan.

            Raikkonen just wasn’t performing at the same level for his whole career, schumacher was when keeping into account the age he drove at during his 2nd career, and only in 2003 and 2005 raikkonen’s performance was good enough to compete with a similar car, if schumacher hadn’t retired in 2006, which I always thought was a little too soon, I’d expect him to win the titles the following 2 years, considering how close it was for raikkonen and hamilton.

        4. “Raikkonen in his prime was better than Schumacher.”
          That’s a tough one to call.

          I was never a Schumacher fan, i was a Hakkinen fan and obviously Kimi when he took over Mika’s seat.

          But watching old races back, i really appreciate just how good Schumacher actually was now.

          I honestly think you can throw Kimi and Mika into a similar camp, for pure, outright speed, i reckon both were faster than Schumacher. If they had a perfect car and you needed a man to get it around the race track as fast as it could possibly go, either of them at their peak would be who i’d pick.

          But it i had a fast, but not always perfect car, over a season where you face different conditions etc and was going for a Championship, it would be Schumacher every time. The guy was absolutely relentless, ruthless, adaptable, smart and even when he couldn’t beat the others on outright pace when all the stars were aligned for them, he could hold on well enough to take advantage of situations in ways nobody else could. If the car was there or there abouts, he’d get the most from it. He was the complete package. A Genius.

          And as said, i was a Hakkinen fan!

          1. @mrcento So well said!

            I am now Tifosi because of him. I think it says enough.

        5. @ BMF66
          I’m a big fan of Kimi but i don’t think Kimi and Michael are poured from the same bottle,

      3. If you take everything into account I think you can’t find any fault in schumacher’s performance during his comeback:

        1) 41-43 years old, with drivers starting to get worse once past 35 and FAR worse past 40.
        2) 5th best car, think about it, schumacher very rarely had such a bad car his first career, that would be the jordan of his first race, I think all his benettons were better and even the terrible ferraris of 1996 and 2005.
        3) Several injuries coming from motorbike accidents and so on.
        4) 3 years outside the sport don’t help, he got better after 2010.
        5) Different tyres and regulations he struggled to adapt to, not sure if this is true but could be an additional reason if those don’t do enough to explain the difference compared to his first career, and imo they do.

        1. Re taking things into account, Rubens would probably disagree about the Schue having “no fault”. The swerve on the straight could eadily have been fatal.

      4. Surprised you can see your keyboard with the vivid shade of pink of the glasses you wear.

        Facts as a flexible friend

      5. Yip the if’s and but’s nothing can change that. The record books show Schumacher = 7 WDC titles, 91 GP wins, 65 poles.

        The right place at the right time also played in his favor but as Niki Lauda said: “you create your own luck and stay solely responsible for your own bad luck ……..”

        Did he steal the 1994 title by eliminating Hill in Adelaide ?? _ I think so, just as he tried his luck with Villeneuve in Jerez in 1997 but got caught out then? He stuck to the task at Ferrari and from 2000-2004 it paid off. He is one of the greats.

        now for the BUT – had Senna not died at Imola in 1994 – just what would the history of F1 be today?

    2. ‘MSC is good but we still fired him’
      ”MSC cannot win when he does not have the strongest car”

      Wow vettel is really the new MSC.

    3. Of course, having manufacturer money and political clout in F1 is not seriously the reason Merc have been so dominant. Not at all.

      1. NO its mainly is because they decided they’d never catch up under the pre hybrid rules, even with all their clout and money, so focused on the technical miracles/boring dull in reality, very early. At least 2 years from memory. A mistake the FIA are keen not to make again is to give manufacturers so much spec detail so early

    4. The best, at least post Prost and Senna.

    5. I think in commemoration we could take 15 minutes and head over to youtube to watch: SCHUMACHER vs Hamilton EPIC BATTLE ONBOARD F1 2011 Monza

      1. +1 …..to all those who say the old man didn’t still have it.

        1. +1 The “old man” had it, just that Mercedes didn’t had the speed and tire life. :(

    6. amazing read

    7. I believe those excerpts are from this week’s beyond the grid interview by Tom Clarkson for those interested in the full interview, it’s quite interesting (1 hour long though). On most podcast apps and F1 official websitz. He seems to have become some kind of F1 official interviewer. The podcasts are very “comfortable journalism” in that no hard questions are asked, but most of them are quite delightful (mostly because they talk about old facts and interviews are long enough to let some details slip through)

    8. Awesome read and comments….

    9. I think the commentary analysis on Schumacher’s relative performance during his second run in F1 is spot on. I think, however, that Brawn is looking at his own history with Schumacher through rose-colored glasses. I think it was clear he was frustrated with Schumacher toward the end of his run with Mercedes. If I recall correctly, Schumacher made several race-ending mistakes in his final year, and I doubt that Brawn’s feelings at that time line up with his statements in this interview.

    10. I think about Mercedes huge annual investment in F1, their inexorable recruitment of top expertise in engineering, their head start on the hybrid engine development and their “secret” tyre test, and I see a team that has a massive edge on the competition. Which has been evident in their results since 2014.

      I think about Merc dominating the strategy group for better part of the last decade along with Ferrari. Their constant politicking to shape rules to their favour, rules which under Liberty had the potential to improve equality and therefore racing amongst the teams.

      I also recall Brawn being at least partially credited Mercedes current success, especially in the first two years of their hybrid dominance. Brawn, the man Bernie Ecclestone called the best cheat in F1 with grudging respect.

      Clearly Merc’s rise to dominance had many, and much more important, factors than a single driver past his prime giving feedback on a car that wasn’t that great. Yes, I am aware of the mythology of driver influence on a team’s success – things like drive to win and work ethic. I think it is overrated though. Do we really think that at this level there is a lack of work ethic, professionalism or motivation amongst team members? Really? How much is the driver involved in management decisions that shape the team into what it is? The biggest thing I can see that Shuey did was anoint Merc with his publicity.

      Thus I can only see these words as an almost necessary tribute to the man F1 adores coming at as time when people remember his greatness and his fall. Perhaps tokenistic, perhaps not.

      1. Unbelievable chippy comment ! Go and have a beer or something

    11. The most important facts when judging MSC’s results in the Merc years are:

      1. Merc never quite got the grip on the tire degradation in those seasons, they were quite hard on degradation if you remember how Pirelli. They had some speed in 2012 but the tire life was killing them… 2013 quite the same, right up until new regs of 2014 an FRIC suspension.
      2. MSC improve every year and by 2012 was up to Rosberg speed at least. He had the bad luck of reliability and some ridiculous mistakes, but his form was much improved since 2010.

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