Despite having been widely quoted as backing Michael Schumacher to crown a sensational comeback in F1 2010 by lifting an incredible eighth drivers' world championship trophy, Mercedes Grand Prix team principal Ross Brawn has insisted that he does 'not want Michael to dominate' team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg.
Brawn and Schumacher, of course, go back a log way together, with the Englishman having helped to expertly engineer the record-breaking German legend to each and every one of his seven previous titles in the top flight, firstly at Benetton in 1994 and 1995 and subsequently at Ferrari between 2000 and 2004.
Their partnership is one of the most – if not indeed the most – successful in the sport's history, and therefore if 'Schumi' was not able to return to competition with the Scuderia
this year given the prevailing ban on third cars in F1, his next most likely option was always going to be with Brawn. And when the 41-year-old's appetite for glory and yearning for the thrill of the fight were re-awakened by his failed comeback in-place of injured former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa last summer – allied to the prolonged impasse
in contract negotiations with 2009 world champion Jenson Button – Brawn swiftly knew a golden opportunity was presenting itself to him.
“I saw last year that Michael was very enthusiastic about the possibility of driving a Ferrari when Felipe was injured,” he told the official F1 website. “I saw the excitement and the passion he had to do that. It became clear he still had a wish. We tried hard with Jenson to find a solution, but when it became clear that we were not able to find one, I started discussions with Michael and after a few days he at least agreed to take the discussion forward to see if we could find a solution.
“The first thing, of course, was for Michael to decide if he would want to drive again. He took a few days for that, which was absolutely correct, and he came back saying that he would like to drive again and that we should see if we could find solutions to all the aspects of this possibility. We worked on that for three or four weeks and found a solution. At that time – at the end of November – I was on my holidays doing most of the negotiations on the 'phone. Then we made the announcement shortly before Christmas.
“There is no marketing consideration at all for me. The opportunity was so tempting to partner with Michael again, and it was too good an opportunity to say no. I think Michael will bring a lot of things to the team, not just his performance but also in terms of motivation. At the factory there is a huge amount of excitement about the prospect of working with Michael – the engineers are very excited. There are many elements that Michael brings. As I said, it was too good an opportunity for us to ignore.”
A publicity boost or not, one thing that is inarguable is that in convincing the most successful driver in F1 history to make a return after three years out of the cockpit and going back on his initial intention to call it a day at the end of 2006, Brawn has pulled off a veritable masterstroke, and very probably the motorsport coup of the century.
That being the case, expectations are clearly high – and when asked recently who he would put his money on to be lifting the laurels come season's end this year, the 55-year-old plumped for his Kerpen-born protégé. No surprises there, you might think, but then what does that mean for Rosberg, who signed for the Brackley-based outfit ostensibly on the understanding that he would be at least joint number one.
“I think the question I was asked was which of the existing world champions would I back to win the world championship, and naturally it's Michael,” Brawn explained. “In a broader context, we have two great drivers and our objective is to be competitive. All you can do every year is try to be competitive. When you are competitive you start to win races, and from winning races, you might win the championship. That's all you can set out to do. I am not making a prediction that we are going to win the world championship, but if I had to back one of the four world champions, I would feel happy to back Michael.