OPINION: Brawn GP's Formula 1 fairytale story is well-known. Following Honda's sale of its team to Ross Brawn for £1, it went on to win both the drivers’ and constructors’ world titles in 2009. Disney and Keanu Reeves do it justice in the new four-part Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story documentary.
If you were to describe Formula 1 as a film genre, action, thriller and, sadly, tragedy would be among the first three options that come to mind. But for the 2009 campaign, ‘fairytale’ is the only word that fits the bill.
In the winter of 2008, the Honda team was seemingly dead and buried. But 12 months later, following a rule change that shook up the competitive order and a rescue package of the Brackley squad known today as Mercedes led by Ross Brawn and Nick Fry, it had delivered the world championship for Jenson Button and added the constructors' title for good measure. Remarkably, Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story manages to do justice to this story and then some.
Since launching in 2019, covering the previous year’s campaign, Drive to Survive has been widely credited as being a large factor in the increased interest levels in F1, and its influence is tangible here. Acting as the host, The Matrix star Keanu Reeves interviews a wide range of relevant personalities. Among them are those you would expect such as team owner Ross Brawn, Button and CEO Fry, but there are others that you may not expect too, with the informative and engaging former Brawn GP legal director Caroline McGrory a particular highlight.
The reason McGrory’s insight is crucial is that the 2009 season also saw the creation of the Formula One Teams Association [FOTA], with the potential of a breakaway championship to rival F1 a very real threat. While the on-track action is left largely to the drivers and Brawn himself, McGrory explains the details of FOTA’s dealings with then-supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the former FIA president, Max Mosley – both of whom are firmly painted as the villains of the piece for the most part.
Another pantomime villain is former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, who hints that Brawn's car "was not 100% inside the rules" and is largely disparaging of the outfit.
Despite following a relatively familiar formula to that of DTS, this documentary avoids the constant criticism that blights the Netflix series – the bending of the truth to create a compelling narrative. This could be because the truth of 2009 is so frankly unbelievable that extra spice was not at all needed, but it is certainly refreshing to see the actual events recounted rather than a storm created from nothing.
Four hour-long episodes is the perfect runtime to tell this story with each offering providing a clear and distinct part of the story, with Honda’s exit, Button’s wins, the closing of the chasing pack and, ultimately title success all being given their own moment in the sun. In fact, the only major plot that spans multiple episodes is the looming threat of a FOTA breakaway championship.
Approaching Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story, there were concerns over whether a Hollywood actor that few, if any, had recognised as being an F1 fan should be handed the reigns on an unscripted documentary such as this. But by the end of the introduction to episode one, these fears were washed away, with Reeves’ passion and enthusiasm evident. Watching the A-lister speak in such a candid way to interviewees, including Ecclestone, proves without doubt that he is a fan.
The story is told in great detail, with much fondness, and previously unheard anecdotes make the near-four hours fly past
On the candid aspect, it is only right and proper to suggest some level of parental guidance on this one. The language used throughout proves to be on the more industrial at times, with a c-bomb dropped at least once and plenty of effing and jeffing.
There has been much anticipation surrounding this documentary and viewers will not be left wanting. The story is told in great detail, with much fondness, and previously unheard anecdotes make the near-four hours fly past. It is also – in this writer’s opinion – never a bad thing to see one of the most beautiful F1 cars of all time once again. Clear a day in the diary, grab the popcorn, and enjoy.