Brawn BGP-001 and McLaren MP4-24

McLaren’s Dennis ‘asked Brawn GP for secret car data in 2009’

F1 history

Posted on

| Written by

Former McLaren boss Ron Dennis took the unusual step of asking 2009 championship leaders Brawn GP for secret details of their car’s performance.

Dennis made the request after McLaren’s unsuccessful start to the 2009 season, the year after it took Lewis Hamilton to his first drivers’ title. Brawn GP agreed to share the information with McLaren according to former CEO Nick Fry, who supplied it.

In his new book “Survive. Drive. Win.”, Fry revealed how Dennis called him and said: “I wanted to ask a favour.”

According to Fry, Dennis told him McLaren’s MP4-24 chassies “is totally under-performing, as you have no doubt noticed, but my engineers say our aerodynamic package is on the money. The thing is I just don’t believe them.”

Dennis “wanted to know just how good our aero package was and exactly what numbers we were seeing in our testing in the wind tunnel”, information Fry called “the closely guarded crown jewels of Formula 1 racing”.

Dennis’s request came two years after McLaren were fined $100 million by the FIA following the ‘Spygate’ controversy, when it was discovered they had used sensitive information from rivals Ferrari. However Fry said Dennis’s request referred to Brawn’s car performance, rather than its design or specifications.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Brawn were the surprise pace-setters at the beginning of 2009. The team was formed after Honda scrapped its F1 team at the end of 2008 and which Fry led a management buy-out of the team and technical director Ross Brawn. Its 2009 car, which had been developed to a new set of regulations at huge expense during Honda’s ownership, proved extremely competitive when it raced.

Brawn stunned the F1 paddock with their pace in 2009
Brawn won six of the first seven races of 2009. During that time McLaren recorded a best finish of fourth.

With no Honda engines available, Brawn had joined McLaren in using Mercedes power, which Fry acknowledged was partly thanks to Dennis. “[He] had been instrumental in agreeing to let us use Mercedes engines. He had agreed to it and had waived his veto even though, as the main customer, McLaren had the right to stop Mercedes linking up with anyone else.”

Although Fry acknowledged that “requesting the aero number from a rival team is just not a question you would normally ask”, he decided to share the information with Dennis, who responded with “stunned silence” when given the details.

In the second half of 2009, McLaren produced an updated MP4-24, which scored two wins and four pole positions. Brawn went on to win the constructors’ championship while its driver Jenson Button claimed the drivers’ title. At the end of the year Button moved to McLaren, while Mercedes took over Brawn GP.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“Survive. Drive. Win.” by Nick Fry and Ed Gorman is published by Atlantic Books.

F1 history

Browse all history articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

38 comments on “McLaren’s Dennis ‘asked Brawn GP for secret car data in 2009’”

  1. Very interesting titbit.

    Coming on the heels of Spygate, I’m sure Ron must’ve made sure that any information obtained wouldn’t have been significant to raise the FIA’s ire, even if it came to their attention.

    By the sound of it, it sounds like Brawn shared the concept (i.e. the principles behind their diffuser) than any specific detail, which seems like the kind of philosophy engineers bring with them when they migrate between teams.

    Even so, it raises a question around at what point does such assistance become collusion. What if those two wins were sufficient to knock a competitor’s WCC standings, or – just spitballing here – cost RBR/Seb the title?

    There’s no easy way of policing this (we’re coming to know of it a decade later!), but it just goes to show that cooperation between teams needn’t be limited to just the relationship between A and B teams.

    1. I don’t know that much the rules of F1, but it’s forbidden to share knowledge between teams if they want so? Also, selling parts to another team isn’t, indirectly, sharing knowledge too?

    2. Dennis “wanted to know just how good our aero package was and exactly what numbers we were seeing in our testing in the wind tunnel”

      The way I see it, it’s not collusion. It just asking for data to set the bar.

      Probably Ron got report from his engineers that the car achieved X value and that’s the best / better than anyone else under the new regulation. However now Fry gave him Brawn actually can achieve Y value which is better than X thus the proof Ron needed that McLaren design is not good enough and it’s possible to achieve better. Not to mention, if they can get close to or beat Y, then they can win races. It does gave advantage when you have a clear goalpost instead of shooting in the dark, but I think it’s still far from what can be call as cheating.

      1. @phylyp Damn it, all these years and still no edit functionality.

        1. @sonicslv: And yet… some want to scrap Friday practice sessions. Only fair tho… every comment here is 1st Draft Theater

      2. @sonicslv

        The way I see it, it’s not collusion. It just asking for data to set the bar.

        Agreed. However, that feels rather unusual, specially for F1. It also feels rather unfair for other teams that didn’t get that benchmark and might have the same feedback from their aerodynamics team (“Yeah, our aero package is spot on”). If you then read that Dennis was instrumental in Brawn GP getting Mercedes engines, it sounds like Fry was returning a favour.

        I can’t imagine Cyril Abiteboul calling Ferrari to ask how much power they’re getting from their PU.

      3. @phylyp

        Actually Ron was asking for data and nothing related to the concept.

        He was being assured that the aero side was as good as it can be and much blame was being placed on the complex coanda exhaust and other matters. This division in the engineering of the overall car was being exposed due to the regulation changes and was I imagine, very much a function of the sort of double matrix management system in place at the time. A system reasonably effective for a bureaucracy or admin function. Or even large multi site projects. In my experience however, it frequently fails when an overall interacting fast developing multi changing single site rapidly changing concept is the required output.

        I seem to recall they had designed the front wing the wrong way round – very much as the inboard/outboard types we are all more aware of at the moment, they had got it fundamentally wrong somewhere.
        It was effectively the wrong way up….

        If ever there was a mid (actually right at the back) grid car the likes of which Hamilton’s detractors say he has never driven. That was exactly it. Yet he managed to drag something out of it and by the season end, bar a breakdown or two, would have won far more. Reliability cost him Abu Dhabi for example as he was flying there and well in the lead. Thus it did not cost RB any title charge. Sebs clumsy driving did as Newey pointed out in his book.

        Spot on that aero.. Spot on Gov

        1. Although Fry acknowledged that “requesting the aero number from a rival team is just not a question you would normally ask”, he decided to share the information with Dennis, who responded with “stunned silence” when given the details.

          DrG and @sonicslv – the bit I’ve quoted above – Fry’s words and Ron’s reaction – makes it seem like there’s more to the story than just confirmation that Brawn can achieve value Y (which is greater than McLaren’s X), or that it was data in which there was no harm in sharing.

          As @warheart mentioned, Fry was returning a favour to Ron, which brings with it a perception of quid pro quo. And for a sport that has ten competitors, the fact that two are trading favours about their car is almost never a good sign.

          We ought to bear in mind that both cars were customers of the Mercedes engine, so with that variable out of the way, sub-sector timings must have given McLaren all the indication they needed as to how draggy their car was in relation to Brawn, or how much downforce they were achieving through the corners.

          I must admit I don’t recall each sentence of Brawn’s book (so I could be wrong here), but AFAIK, he doesn’t mention this episode, so it’s interesting that he elected to skip mention of the matter. Maybe when a camera corrals him during the next pre-race event, someone ought to ask him “Hey, you know 2009? What did you guys share with Ron?” :)

          In any case, I’m not buying Fry’s book :)

          1. @phylyp – most excellent observations, and I too am not buying the book for the same reason as you – Nick Fry using Schumacher’s predicament to promote himself is cheap and so desperately pathetic.

          2. Requesting aero numbers is about the same as requesting the horsepower of an engine. It is not about sharing designs like in Spygate. So your quote of Fry is exactly as it is. Nothing more to it. And apparently the number was way better than Dennis expected it would be.

            And may be Brawn didn’t know about this request, and therefore it wasn’t in his book.

          3. @phylyp
            You missed my point Ron asked for data. Essentially points of downforce knowing their own. He did not require or ask or get the “how”

            He was simply and very unusually asking a rival team to provide the benchmark by which his team can be measured. I have no doubt Fry felt both pride and a little boastful to be asked such. Particularly given it is a closely guarded secret. I somehow doubt he felt beholden because they gave him an engine.

            I fully believe he as a none technical felt that with Macca running around at the back with the WC on board they were never going to catch up hence why not?

            I prefer to imagine the stunned Ron at the end of the phone. We should give some credit for him refusing to believe his aero team. He was after all right and they had made some truly ludicrous mistakes all hidden under the “we were fighting for a title” excuse. Happily ignoring the modified matrix system had parallel car development teams working at the same time. In other words the 05/6 team thus working on the 09/10 got it wrong. Huge. Truth is spygate and the impact went way beyond the expected 08 year.

        2. I seem to recall they had designed the front wing the wrong way round – very much as the inboard/outboard types we are all more aware of at the moment, they had got it fundamentally wrong somewhere.
          It was effectively the wrong way up….

          It wasn’t that they designed it the wrong way up, it was that they hadn’t discovered the value of outwashing using the front wing end plates which most other teams had in the off season. Once they developed the end plates they were competitive.

    3. No he didn’t share the concept. He shared the downforce e.g how much downforce. Not how they were achieving it. Read the article please.

    4. Reading the article it says “However Fry said Dennis’s request referred to Brawn’s car performance, rather than its design or specifications.” which I take to mean that they didn’t share the concept or shape of any parts, but simply shared how much downforce the car produced in various situations. This will have been enough for Ron to go back to his engineers and say their car was not “on the money” and needed more work to get “on the money”.

  2. but my engineers say our aerodynamic package is on the money.

    So this aerodynamic performance delusion which we saw on display during the Honda years started much before then..

    1. Hakk the Rack
      4th October 2019, 8:24

      or simply they just lied to save their jobs :)

    2. If you go back and look in McLaren’s last season with honda they clearly did have a decent car.

  3. It was Alonso’s fault…

    1. Yeah, I kept waiting for ALO to be slaughtered as usual. It’s still early though:)

  4. teams always shared information throughout the years of f1. the spygate saga was blown out of proportion due to max mosleys disdain for ron dennis.

    1. Ron got his own back though. Had Max’s Nazi orgy video taped.

    2. he spygate saga was blown out of proportion

      I disagree.

      There is a difference between teams voluntarily sharing data (As in this case) or teams taking pictures/studying video of other teams cars to get an idea of different design ideas & what happened with Spygate where Mclaren essentially had all of the design documents/details on Ferrari’s car & were actively testing that data on there simulators.

      The first 2 things are an accepted part of the sport which you can’t really do away with, What happened with Spygate shouldn’t be acceptable & I always felt that taking a stance on it then & making it clear that it wasn’t acceptable (The the DQ & massive fine) was 100% the right thing to do.

  5. I don’t think it’s cheating or collusion, he is simply telling Ron what they can achieve, not how they are achieving it. To be fair a stopwatch would have told Ron pretty much the same thing

    1. So, uhh, then why didn’t he just get out a stopwatch instead?

      Clearly there was something more valuable in getting this information. If one could just compare sub-sector timing and get “pretty much the same thing”, why would you go through the process of asking a favor and possibly (again) coming under fire for having information about another team/car?

      1. Same engine, different performance. Similar concepts in design on certain areas. Obviously something is wrong with the Mac chassis and aero based on the on track performance.

        Ron already knew that before asking the question no doubt. I think he was just trying to shaft his own engineers with an “I told you so you incompetent *&^%s”. Must have been a great guy to work with.

  6. Getting sensitive information from other competitors seems to be in Ron’s genes! I thought this was illegal. So this Fry’s reward for Dennis allowing Brawn to use Mercedes power?

    1. Teams are permanently spying on each other.

      Best mates across teams are always going to share titbits of information. These are humans at the end of the day.

  7. I wish aero data would be made public for the fans. Full graph of downforce for both axis after each race.

    Teams have this data, fans would love it.

    Knowing say Mercedes has 10000 N downforce in turn 6 while Ferrari only peaks at 9000 N would be awesome.

    1. @jureo

      It would be great but the internet would explode if fans can’t speculate and make stuff up anymore!

  8. I don’t see anything wrong at all if you just ask. You can ask anything you want but nobody doesn’t need to give you anything. They choce to give their number. Probably just one. Total downforce in Newtons or whatever unit they want to use. Maybe lift/drag ratio. It is a bit like asking how much power does your engine make or how much the car weighs. Not necessarily even at what rpm does it make that power or the weight distribution. Just the total number of downforce. The number in itself doesn’t tell you anything about how they are getting it. Is it diffuser, floor, wings etc. It doesn’t tell how to design their car, their wings or the diffuser. A bigger number than mclaren’s simply tells mclaren their package is not good enough

  9. I miss team bosses like Ron Dennis.

  10. Wow, so the guys from Mclaren were the greates cheaters in the history of F1. I’m pretty sure there was also some kind of cheating in 2008.

  11. I’m sure Ross Brawn has gone on record to say that it was Martin Whitmarsh, not Ron Dennis, who was instrumental in Brawn getting the Mercedes engine for 09. I also recall Brawn saying Ron wasn’t happy about Brawn getting the engines at all.

  12. I like that some of these “moves” are becoming public domain with time.
    The media focuses on the big bad wolf and ends up missing the bear(s).
    I’m not bothered by this, this is f1.

  13. Ok, Toto should ring a call to Binotto asking Ferrari’s PU dyno graph as a benchmark. Lol.

  14. I think the article indicates that Brawn shared certain specific telemetry performance data from their car with Dennis. This certainly could be useful to another team but it’s not the same as sharing any design, non-obvious construction details or research data.

  15. I don’t see the big deal in all of this. Ron was given benchmarks by Brawn.. and maybe some wind tunnel numbers or telemetry data (the kind that was tweeted by Lewis in 2010). It’s not like a secret sauce was shared with McLaren. Considering that McLaren did Brawn a massive favour by giving them a Mercedes engine, which was instrumental in them winning the championship in 2009, it seems only normal that this basic level of information sharing would exist.

    I’m pretty sure there was more information exchanged in the Ferrari-Haas relationship as well. They were sharing the same wind tunnel, and it’s silly to think that they wouldn’t have at least shared telemetry data and benchmarks among other items.

Comments are closed.