After months of speculation and rumour, Ross Brawn has announced he is quitting the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team at the end of the year.
The team will now be headed up by Executive Directors Charles ‘Toto’ Wolff and Paddy Lowe, who will respectively look after the commercial and on-track operational sides of the team.
Brawn has served at the helm of the Brackley-based team’s workforce since 2007, having played a major role in the team’s fortunes during its respective Honda, Brawn GP and Mercedes guises.
But his future has come under increasing scrutiny this year in the wake of the appointments of Wolff and Lowe, with the latter particularly viewed as the 59-year-old’s long-term successor.
Brawn was known to be unhappy with the forces which were at work to fast-track Lowe’s promotion, and was a staunch opponent of the team having multiple leaders at the top, arguing that it diluted the team’s leadership.
He had said as recently as the Japanese Grand Prix that he would only be prepared to remain with the team if he maintained full control of it.
It would appear that the decision was made for him – despite whatever protests Wolff, Lowe or non-executive chairman Niki Lauda might want to make – with the burly Englishman confirming his departure today ahead of an official press release from the team itself.
“The most important consideration in my decision to step down from the role as Team Principal was to ensure that the timing was right for the team in order to ensure its future success,” he said.
“The succession planning process that we have implemented during this year means we are now ready to conduct the transition from my current responsibilities to a new leadership team composed of Toto and Paddy.
“[Next year] will mark the beginning of a new era in the sport. We therefore felt this was the right time to simultaneously begin a new era of team management to ensure that the organisation is in the strongest possible competitive position for the years to come.”
Brawn is one of the most respected and acclaimed engineers and team principals in the sport’s history.
His career in motorsport began in 1976 when he joined March as a machinist. Two years later, he switched to Williams, quickly moving up through the ranks to become an aerodynamicist.
He served brief stints with the Haas Lola and Arrows teams in the mid-to-late 1980s before joining Jaguar’s sports car division, designing the XJR-14 that won the 1991 World Sportscar Championship.
In mid-1991, he returned to F1 with Benetton as the team’s technical director, spearheading its 1994 and 1995 Drivers’ Championship title successes with Michael Schumacher where he was widely credited with devising the team’s racewinning strategies.
Together they claimed five consecutive Drivers’ Championship titles between 2000-2004 and six consecutive Constructors’ crowns between 1999-2004.
At the end of 2006, he opted to take a one-year sabbatical to coincide with Schumacher’s retirement, but he returned to the sport at the end of 2007 to try and rebuild the Honda F1 team, which had achieved little in the way of results since it completely bought out the BAR operation.
Honda pulled the pin on its F1 programme barely a year later, leaving Brawn and the team in the lurch unless a buyer could be found. With no buyer in sight, Brawn and the remaining senior managers within the team invested their own money to perform a full buy-out, renaming the team Brawn GP.
Despite minimal sponsorship income and having the challenge of shoehorning a Mercedes engine into its 2009 car, the season was a fairytale for the team, as it won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
Before the end of the season, Mercedes agreed to a complete buyout of the team, with Brawn remaining in charge.
It is not yet clear if Brawn will remain in Formula 1 following his complete departure from the team on New Year’s Eve, although paddock gossip suggests that he is being courted by McLaren (or its Honda engine partner), as well as Ferrari.