What has been the ultimate clash of the Titans in modern, super-budget Formula One? Schumacher v. Hill, Hakkinen or Alonso? Alonso v. Hamilton? Hamilton v. Massa? Perhaps you are thinking it is obviously McLaren v. Ferrari. What else? The answer is what it has been since 1994, Adrian Newey v. Ross Brawn.
After leaving University in 1980, Adrian Newey joined the Fittipauldi F1 team. He then joined March, initially as an F2 race-engineer, before designing the IMSA title-winning March GTP sportscar. Next was Indycar for March with his design skills netting the 1984 Indianapolis 500 and 1985 and 1986 CART titles. Newey returned to F1 with the FORCE team which soon folded. March F1 took up his services with the team becoming Leyton House and Newey promoted to Technical Director. The team declined with suggestions that Newey was too focused on aerodynamics and he was sacked in 1990.
Ross Brawn started his career as a trainee engineer for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. In 1976, he joined March Engineering soon becoming an F3 mechanic. Brawn became a machinist for the young Williams team in 1978, and was promoted to R&D and then to an aerodynamicist position. After short spells with Haas Lola and Arrows, Brawn was recruited in 1989 by Jaguar, designing the cars that won the 1991 World Sportscar Championship.
It was 1990 when Adrian Newey joined Williams as Chief Designer, and ’91 when Ross Brawn joined Benetton as Technical Director. They worked under Patrick Head and Tom Wilkinshaw respectively, but emerged to have the most influence on the cars of the teams they worked for.
The Newey-penned Williams-Renault shone in 1991 with seven wins but no titles, before dominating for two years giving Mansell and Prost World Championships. Ross Brawn had joined an initially mid-field team but 1994 saw Michael Schumacher taking his first World Championship for Benneton-Ford, with Williams-Renault winning the Constructors’ Cup and the two teams winning fifteen out of sixteen races. In 1995, Schumacher and Benetton-Renault took both titles and the two teams won sixteen of seventeen races. Benetton having built the team up around Schumacher’s wishes, floundered after his departure and Williams-Renault blitzed both titles in ’96.
By 1997, Ross Brawn had followed Schumacher to become Technical Director at Ferrari and Adrian Newey had the same job-title at McLaren-Mercedes. All seventeen races were won by the four teams Brawn and Newey had left or joined.
However battle re-commenced in earnest in ’98 with McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen beating Schumacher to the title in the last round and in ’99 beating Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine also in the last round after Schumacher broke his legs at Silverstone. Constructors’ Cup honours went to Mclaren in ’98 and Ferrari in ’99.
We all know what happened next. Five years of double-championship success by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. McLaren-Mercedes (Constructors’) managed next-best in 2000 and 2001, third-best in 2002-2003 and stank in 2004. In 2000, Ferrari and McLaren won all seventeen races.
Fernando Alonso and Renault broke the Brawn-Newey stranglehold in 2005 and 2006. By ’06, Adrian Newey was at Red Bull Racing. RBR remained mid-field in 2007/8 but in the latter season Sebastian Vettel won for STR at a wet Monza in a car with indisputable Red Bull DNA. Ross Brawn took most of 2007 off before joining Honda, writing off the 2008 car to concentrate all efforts on 2009.
I hardly need remind readers of Honda’s withdrawal and 2009 being between Brawn-Mercedes and RBR-Renault, the two teams winning fourteen of seventeen races.
In the last eighteen years (1992 to 2009), Brawn and Newey have been involved in 13 Driver World Championships and 13 Constructors Cups. In the other five years, three can be excused as they were both rebuilding with new teams or on leave. Otherwise only in the Renault years did they between them only manage second-best and Pat Symonds may not be around for a while (besides Renault’s singular advantage may have been the mass-damper).
So who is the best, Ross Brawn or Adrian Newey? First, it should be observed that they differ in approach – Ross Brawn heads the racing side of the team (or the team) and Adrian Newey leads the design of the cars (imagine if they joined forces). Statistics unsurprisingly favour Ross Brawn with an eight:five advantage both in Driver titles and Constructor titles. In race wins (going back to 1992), Brawn has 113 and Newey 95. This is a total of 208 out of 304 races which is 68.4% (includes STR win).
And will it be RBR and Mercedes in 2010? RBR’s bugbear in ’09 was lack of consistancy in both the car and the driver. Vettel had two avoidable accidents, one engine failure and one suspension failure whilst Button had 16 points finishs and one unavoidable accident. It looks to be a strong year for Alonso and Ferrari but RBR look faster and do not be surprised if Schumacher and Mercedes clock up points with more consistency than any other combination plus Michael finds more of his speed in coming races.