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NOVEMBER 6, 2000

Irvine dismisses Brawn's contribution to Schumacher championship

JAGUAR team leader Eddie Irvine has firmly dismissed Ross Brawn's supposed role as the as the great pit lane strategist who helped steer Michael Schumacher to his goal of becoming the first Ferrari World Champion driver in 21 years.

Irvine's critique comes at a time when the 46-year-old British engineer is being lauded as a key player in Ferrari's championship equation, yet the Ulsterman who won three Grands Prix for Ferrari in 1999 has told The Sun newspaper that this is far from the case.

"I'm sorry to shatter the illusions that many may have, but he (Brawn) had little to do with Schumacher's success," he says with a candor which is almost painful.

"Take Schumacher out of the equation and what would Ferrari have won? Schumacher will probably have 10/15kg more fuel in his tank than his rivals, so when a McLaren pits Schumacher is able to run for several more laps to open out a lead. That makes Brawn come out looking like some kind of superstar."

On the face of it, this seems a controversial assessment. Yet, in fairness, Brawn has always acknowledged that Michael was the key element in the Ferrari equation, making the point that - when the mathematics require it - he is always able to pull something special out of the bag.

"In Michael," says Brawn, "we have the best reference point you could have. You can see what Michael can do and it's very easy to dismiss his team-mates, even though they may be very, very good.

"Michael's driving at crucial moments has been the key this season. "(For example) when we won at Imola, it was because he responded exactly when we needed it. As soon as Hakkinen was in the pits for a second time, bang, Michael did the business.

"It was a race we won which they should have won thanks in part to that longer middle stint and in part to Michael putting in the fast lap times at exactly the right moment."

Irvine may be correct in the sense that Schumacher could have done the job anyway, but that short-changes the close personal partnership which exists between the German ace and the methodical British engineer. They have worked together in close harmony now since 1992 and operate on a level where they almost instinctively know what the other is thinking.

Such partnerships are rare in Formula 1. Which is why, whatever Irvine may think, their combined total is always going to be worth more than the sum of the two component personalities considered in isolation.