SAO PAULO (Reuters) - If a jubilant Jenson Button had his way, fellow Briton Ross Brawn would have his name on a shiny medal as well as on a championship-winning Formula One car and team.
Without the ‘Big Bear’, as the new world champion likes to call his boss, Button might have become just another has-been thrown on the scrapheap along with hundreds of Honda employees before the season had even started.
From staring at the prospect of closed factory gates 10 months ago — Button said his friends had jokingly asked him last winter when he would be joining the dole queue — the team are now on top of the world.
Brawn, winner of multiple titles with seven-times champion Michael Schumacher as technical director at Benetton and Ferrari, is quite simply a Formula One phenomenon.
Likened to Manchester United soccer manager Alex Ferguson as a winning machine — an apt comparison since Brawn supports the club — the burly Briton held the team together in the darkest of days to lead them to what some have hailed a miracle on wheels.
After Button and Brawn triggered wild celebrations at Interlagos on Sunday by clinching both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, a sober look at the statistics showed just how much the bespectacled 54-year-old has achieved.
He has been involved in eight constructors’ titles in his career, the same number that McLaren have won in 43 years of existence.
His tally of race ‘wins’ is equal to the 113 victories achieved by Williams since 1979. If one totted up all the points his teams have scored and then attributed them to him, he would rank fourth overall in the all-time list.
“This team would not exist if Ross wasn’t here,” said Button.
“He has got his name on the side of the car and that is a lot of pressure for one person...the guy deserves a medal for sure. I don’t think any of us think that we could have done it without him.”
Three years ago, Brawn was enjoying travelling the world on an extended fishing holiday. After years of domination with Schumacher, he felt he had earned it.
The great German had retired at the end of 2006 and the Briton decided to take a year away from the sport that had been his life since he joined March in 1976 as a milling machine operator.
He returned at the end of 2007 as team principal of Honda, a team with plenty of money and little success. After one season in the job, his Japanese bosses decided they had had enough and pulled the plug.
With a new car that he believed to be a potential race-winner, Brawn and the existing management pulled out all the stops to stay in business, succeeding with a buyout only weeks before the season started.
They considered Pure Racing, and a revival of the Tyrrell name, before settling on the one that made most sense despite the big man’s own reservations — Brawn GP.
“Ten months ago, the team didn’t exist,” he reminded reporters at Interlagos. “We had a team of people who worked through a whole winter not knowing if they had a future. But they still worked 60 or 70 hours a week, whatever it took.”
Brawn, with enough money in the bank to be financially secure for the rest of his days, could have walked away. He saw it differently, determined to save jobs and keep the team going.
“There were days when I went home in the evening when I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said.
“Taking something which was on its knees and almost finished, and arriving where we have today is for me an exceptional experience; just seeing the resolve of people who didn’t give up.
“They were facing being put out on the street and we said: ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen but we need your support because if it can happen, without your support we won’t be in a position to do it.’ And they just did.”
Much of that loyalty was down to his own sheer presence. When Brawn speaks, people listen.
The team turned up at the first race in Melbourne with a Mercedes-powered car almost devoid of sponsorship and, with Button leading home Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, became the first in 55 years to win one-two on their debut.
Button then streaked to six wins in the first seven races to lay the foundations for his ultimate success. Brawn were the first team to win the constructors’ title in their first full season.
“This team has done staggeringly well and what we have achieved this season after the winter we had is exceptional,” said Button. “I don’t really think there has been a season like it in Formula One.”
“Don’t feel sorry for me as it has all come good but it was a tough winter, but probably a lot tougher for the team personnel than it was for me.
“I didn’t know if I would be racing in Formula One this year. That is the truth. I had a couple of options but nothing that would have furthered my career. I was thinking of taking a year out, but if you do that you get forgotten.
“So I am happy that we have been able to turn it around and get the car on the grid in Australia and this is the end of the fairy tale.”
Editing by Clare Fallon