When asked to comment on the consistently groundbreaking work of photographer Anton Corbijn, U2 lead singer Bono was quoted as saying: “When you have so much passion for your chosen field of expertise, you can’t really go wrong”.
This description could easily be applied to Ross Brawn, the proud purchaser of Honda F1, now renamed Brawn GP, and former technical director at both Ferrari and Benetton F1.
During tenures of unprecedented achievement at these Italian marques, Brawn forged an intuitive and symbiotic partnership with, statistically at least, the sport’s all-time greatest driver, a fearless wunderkind named Michael Schumacher.
Brawn’s technical, tactical and directional input should not be underestimated
The duo clocked up a total of seven drivers’ and seven constructors’ world championships across a 10-year period, feats that will engrave the reputations of both men on the annals of motorsport history.
Moreover, and as something of a by-product, Brawn flew the flag for British engineering, exporting the machinations and highly cerebral underpinnings of the UK’s approach to technical design to mainland Europe.
Although Schumacher’s peerless pointing of the car accounted for a significant proportion of this success – he was, after all, a driver so competitive that he thought nothing of nearly running his brother, driving a rival car, into a wall in order to gain a solitary world championship point – Brawn’s technical, tactical and directional input should not be underestimated.
With the all-consuming and relentless F1 schedule weighing heavily on the obsessive Brawn’s shoulders, the Ferrari team principle, whose career in motorsport began behind a milling machine at March Engineering’s Bicester factory in 1976, resigned from his post and took a well earned year-long sabbatical.
His re-emergence as technical director of Honda F1 in late 2007 was anticipated to be the catalyst that would catapult the Brackley-based and Tokyo-funded team into the big league, and break the Ferrari/McLaren stranglehold on world championships.
Honda F1 chief executive Nick Fry greeted Brawn’s arrival in buoyant manner, heralding him “a key appointment” who would be permitted “full responsibility for designing, manufacturing and engineering the team's car”.
Honda, the Japanese automotive bastion with strong links to the UK – particularly Swindon, where the popular Honda Civic model has been built at its Wiltshire facility since 2002 – launched into F1 motorsport in the mid 1960s.
Having competed, albeit somewhat unremarkably, for four seasons between 1964 and 1968, Honda withdrew from F1 following the death of its driver Jo Schlesser at the 1968 French Grand Prix.
Schlesser, a Frenchman and local hero, took an excursion from the track only for the car’s magnesium bodywork to react with the 58 laps worth of fuel on board. Positioned just centimetres from the fuel tank, Schlesser had little chance of escape.
Despite being a relatively common occurrence at F1 meets of the era, the impact of this tragedy resonated deeply at Honda. It took a 35-year hiatus from the pit lane, returning in 2005 with a successful 100% buyout of the British American Racing team, to which it had been supplying custom-built engines for five years.
British American Racing had itself been built on the foundations of iconic UK motorsport marque Tyrell. During the interim years between Honda’s retirement as an F1 team and its eventual rebirth, it provided race-winning engines for the McLaren and Williams teams, powering Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna to successive driver’s world championships between 1987 and 1991.