F1: Picking the brains of Ross Brawn

    Story highlights

    • A glittering F1 career has seen Ross Brawn win 20 titles
    • Reports of the Briton replacing Bernie Ecclestone as F1 boss "wide of the mark"

    (CNN)The saying "all brawn and no brains" definitely does not apply to ex-Formula One team boss Ross Brawn.

    At well over six-foot-tall, the Briton -- dubbed "the maestro" -- has been an imposing presence in motorsport for 40 years and masterminded 11 world titles in F1 with Ferrari and two more with his eponymous Brawn GP team. He also won seven more as part of the Williams and Benetton teams.
      Brawn quit F1 at the end of 2013, standing down as Mercedes team principal in "sticky" circumstances, but has recently been touted as a potential successor to the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
      If he does make a sensational return to F1 then Brawn can call on the lessons of his new book, "Total Competition," which outlines his strategy for success on and off the track.
      In an in-depth interview with CNN's The Circuit, the 61-year-old discusses the rumors of his return to F1, lessons he learned from seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and why he never went to sleep without a notebook by his bed.
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      CNN: What have you been doing since you walked away from F1?
      Ross Brawn: I've been doing a major restoration project on my house in Winchester, traveling, fishing, and working on a couple of small businesses totally unrelated to motor racing. I've been keeping pretty busy.
      CNN: You've dedicated the book "Total Competition" to your wife Jean. Does she want you to come out of retirement?
      RB: She wants me to do whatever I want to do. Jean's been a great support to me as have all my family. I don't think she wants me from under her feet because she says she sees less of me than when I was working!
      CNN: There's a lot of talk about your future. What is the truth about you becoming the new CEO of Formula One?
      RB: That's a little bit wide of the mark.
      I'm doing some consultancy for Liberty Media, who are in the process of taking a controlling interest in Formula One. They were keen to have a view of someone who had been involved in the sport, but who wasn't actively involved now.
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      I've given them some advice to help them understand Formula One a little bit better and some views on where I think F1 might want to look at going in the future. That's as far as it's gone.
      CNN: Would you like something more permanent than a consultancy role?
      RB: One of the key elements is how Bernie (Ecclestone) wants this to play out in the future. Bernie has been instrumental in the F1 we know today and he still controls and runs F1.
      CNN: What have you made of Bernie's comments that you'd be better suited to a job with the motorsport's governing body, the FIA? Was it a 'hands off my turf' message?
      RB: No. Bernie thinks of me very much as an engineer. I fit in that category with Bernie. But I was an engineer who owned a team that won a world championship so I think I'm a little bit different to just that category.
      Bernie was quite complimentary and thinks I can contribute to F1 but in a certain way but we've never discussed it.
      Brawn (right) and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone haven't always seen eye to eye
      It would be fun to sit down with Bernie and share our opinions and see what comes out of it but we haven't done that yet.
      Bernie I'm sure realizes his own mortality. He would want F1 to carry on in good shape when he's not able to continue. Once the dust settles I think it will be possible to work out how things might go.
      CNN: Have you spoken to Liberty about something long-term?
      RB: No. When they are at a stage in the future when the transaction is complete and Bernie is clear on what he wants to do, then we'll see.
      What I'm doing with my life these days is to my own timetable, so I've got plenty of flexibility.
      CNN: What is the key thing F1 needs to improve to move forwards?
      RB: My vision would be that you start to define where you want to be in five years' time with all the sport's shareholders.
      For instance, we need a more stable platform for the small teams. They need to be more economically stable so they're not on the verge of bankruptcy.
      Inadvertently, we've created a very expensive engine. A fair chunk of a small team's budget is going on an engine. Can we find a solution to that so they have a much more economic but competitive engine?
      The small teams are an essential entry point for talented drivers. You want drivers coming into Formula One who are there because they are the best drivers -- you want the Max Verstappens to have that road map of getting into F1.
      You don't want that held back because the small teams have to sign drivers with commercial backing.
      CNN: Is there a current driver that you wished you had worked with?
      RB: In terms of an established driver, I wish I'd been able to work with Fernando Alonso. He's a pretty special driver.
      Now of course you look at the young guys coming in and Verstappen is the outstanding one at the moment. Getting involved with a young driver and helping him understand things as he's getting established in F1, as Max is, is a lot of fun.
      Brawn was instrumental Michael Schumacher's seven world titles at Benetton and Ferrari
      CNN: What would be the main bit of advice that you'd give to Max Verstappen?
      RB: The relationship with the team is fundamental. The team is crucial to the success of the driver and vice-versa.
      The driver has got to understand that dynamic within the team -- how he is viewed within the team, how he can contribute and stay as a strong team member. The internal application and commitment is a process for any young driver coming in.
      That was always Michael Schumacher's strength, he was a strong team member. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are too at Mercedes.
      CNN: What was the biggest thing you learned working with Michael Schumacher?
      RB: Michael's single-mindedness made everyone else committed. It dragged you along as well, you knew you couldn't let the side down. Michael just being around was a huge motivator for people.
      To try and emulate that yourself, to create the right atmosphere, the right positive feeling within the team, was an important lesson that I learned from watching Michael.
      Michael also had a lot of humor and a lot of spirit so when there was time to enjoy ourselves, he enjoyed himself as well. That was a fun part.
      CNN: When you were technical director at Ferrari you won the driver and team titles between 2000 and 2004 with Schumacher, how does that compare with the title-winning season at Brawn in 2009?
      RB: I was fortunate to have many special periods but because of the despair we had in November 2008 -- when Honda announced they wanted to close down the team -- and then the elation we had in March 2009 when the Brawn team won our first race, that made that period truly exceptional. It was a unique experience.
      Brawn helped guide Jenson Button to the 2009 world title with his eponymous team
      CNN: How do you look now on the recent success of Mercedes?
      RB: I'm very pleased with the success of Mercedes. I had a slightly sticky ending to my career there. In some ways writing the book was helpful to me to think about where I failed in that process -- which I certainly did.
      CNN: Would you do anything differently?
      RB: My behavior was a reaction to how I felt at the time. I was tired and exhausted from everything that had gone on.
      There were things that I could have avoided in retrospect. Whether I would have behaved any differently if I went through it again I don't know.
      But I acknowledge that I played a fair part in the events that followed; my lack of engagement with the board of Mercedes, my lack of long-term commitment which the board was seeking, all created enough uncertainty that the board of Mercedes made the decisions they did.
      The book was very good for me, very cathartic in discussing that.
      CNN: The book also discusses what you describe as a lack of trust between you and Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda, who were brought into the Mercedes management when you were team principal. Could you work with them again?
      RB: I've spoken to Toto since but I haven't spoken to Niki.
      I asked Toto to read that chapter in the book and we had a bit of a laugh about it so I don't think there is any damage done.
      The trust was broken but I tried to explain that I was responsible for that as much as anyone. Once we'd gone through that step it was difficult to recover from it. It was difficult for me to then reverse back out of that situation. I decided the best thing was to stop.
      Ross Brawn (center), says he's not spoken to Niki Lauda (left) since he left Mercedes
      CNN: You had a big hand in laying the foundations of Mercedes success. Do you feel you get enough credit for that?
      RB: I think so, the team have been very generous in the credit they've given me for the championships they've won. Lewis and Nico in particular have been very generous.
      But, and I said this to Toto after I spoke to him about the book, they should be complimented because I threw the ball at them and they caught it and carried on with it, the team looks great at the moment.
      CNN: What do you think will happen with the rule changes in 2017?
      RB: There is a perception that Red Bull will take full advantage of these new regulations because historically they've always been very strong in that area (aerodynamics) but I don't think you should underestimate Mercedes.
      CNN: What is a day in the life of a team principal like before a major regulation change? Is it sleepless nights with a notepad and pencil?
      RB: I did have a notepad and pencil by my bed but I wasn't sleepless. I would just wake up occasionally when a thought had matured in my mind and I jotted it down before I forgot it, that was how I operated.
      CNN: The book is a guide to a strategy for success, what are the three tips you would give to someone aiming for success in any field?
      RB: I don't want to be pretentious enough to say the book is a guide to success. It's an explanation of philosophies and cultures that I used in my career and in Formula 1 and if people take something out of it then I'd be very proud that they did that.
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      If we wanted to pick out aspects of the book, then treating people how you want to be treated is a vital element of building a team. When you have those discussions and make those decisions just think about how you would react if you were on the receiving end of the action you're taking and have respect for people.
      There was a very strong culture of constant improvement in the teams I ran and quite a structured way of doing it. Constant improvement to my mind can't be done on a casual basis, it has to be a structured basis.
      Being a good employee was always vital to me and the advice I gave young people when they came into the company was be prepared.
      My mantra was that luck was preparation waiting for an opportunity. What I mean is those opportunities will come and if you're not ready for them then you can't take them.
      CNN: Finally, who would play you if the book was made into a film?
      RB: Who was that darts player than everyone compared me to? That wasn't very complimentary ... Russell Crowe would be good. I'd be impressed if he'd play my part.