As Max Verstappen wrapped up his third title in a row this week by winning 19 out of 23 races, it’s easy to forget there was once a time when Formula One seasons went down to the final race of the year.
Lewis Hamilton has been on the wrong end on a couple of recent thrillers, when Verstappen controversially pipped him in 2021 and his Mercedes teammate Lewis Rosberg broke through to win the championship in 2016 and retired immediately afterwards.
Stream Over 50 Sports Live & On-Demand with Kayo. New to Kayo? Start Your Free Trial Today >
The years between Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton’s dynasties created arguably the most unpredictable and entertaining championship battles for a neutral fan.
And the new Disney documentary Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story charts the thrilling 2009 season and a Hollywood-esque fairytale that will never happen again.
What is the Brawn F1 story?
Brit Jenson Button won the world championship in a tight battle with teammate Rubens Barrichello in a true sporting fairytale. But there’s so much more to the Brawn story than that.
Ross Brawn served as the technical director at Benetton and Ferrari and is seen as the mastermind behind Michael Schumacher’s seven world championships.
After leaving Ferrari, he was lured to the struggling Honda team as team principal, but Honda soon blindsided the team by pulling their funding during the global financial crisis, leaving hundreds of workers out of a job.
Brawn and team CEO Nick Fry negotiated an ownership buyout deal, purchasing the team from Honda for one pound and renaming the outfit Brawn GP.
Brawn’s 2009 season is one of the most famous in F1 history.
Jenson Button won the championship in a fairytale season. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
In 2009, F1 entered a new era of regulations and a genius Japanese engineer found a loophole in the rules that allowed Brawn to add a second diffuser to the back of the car, giving it more downforce and making it extremely fast.
After winning six out of the first seven races of the season, Button told his team: “You’ve built me a monster of a car. You guys are absolute legends.”
Making the story even more remarkable was the fact Brawn was operating on a shoe string budget and couldn’t afford for their drivers to crash as they barely had any spare parts.
Controversy erupted midseason when the rival teams took Brawn to court, arguing the double diffuser was illegal. The FIA ruled the car was legal and Brawn went on to win the championship by the skin of their teeth.
Mercedes agreed to give Brawn an engine for their F1 car and after the success of 2009, bought out Brawn and turned it into the Mercedes juggernaut we know today.
Which big names are interviewed?
Surprise surprise, long serving Red Bull team principal Christian Horner gets plenty of airtime, describing Brawn as a “smiling assassin”.
“Suddenly this team that everyone just wanted to survive, is killing is,” Horner said.
“The best way to become unpopular very quickly is to start winning.
“Ross, he’s got this outlook of the big bear, this big cuddly guy that would never dream of doing anything questionable in any way.
“Yet really behind the scenes, he’s the most cut throat ruthless competitor probably we’ve ever come across. He’d sell his grandmother to get what he wanted.
Former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone added of Brawn: “People believe in him because he looks innocent and he wouldn’t hurt anybody, therefore people sort of trusted him completely. Most people trusted him.”
Brawn’s two driver engineers, Jock Clear and Andrew Shovlov, are excellent interview subjects, as are plenty of the staff who have gone to have careers with Mercedes, including now Williams team principal James Vowles.
Keanu Reeves interviews Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Photo: Disney+
Why is Keanu Reeves hosting the doco?
Actor Keanu Reeves is a mega motorsport fan and is front and centre in the documentary, interviewing Brawn, Button and all the key players behind the scenes during the 2009 season.
Reeves is a major part of the series and isn’t afraid to let the F-bombs fly during interviews with some of F1’s heavy hitters.
At one point he asks Brawn and the team’s financial boss Nick Fry about their reaction when they were told Honda was cutting their funding.
Reeves asks: “Was there a moment in the hallways when you look at each other and you’re like, Ross turns to Nick Fry and says what the f*** and Nick turns to Ross and goes what the f***?”
Reeves asks Horner about the growing tension between Red Bull and Brawn throughout the season over the contentious double diffuser.
He quips: “Is (Red Bull technical guru) Adrian Newey like I’m gonna make a f***ing double diffuser and f*** this guy?’”
At one point, Shovlov refers to his rival engineer Clear as a “sneaky little f***er”.
Another sweary moment comes when Clear recalls Brawn’s description of the Honda car after he first joined the team.
“The 2008 car – the first thing Ross said was, ‘Let’s cut the bullsh*t. This is a sh*tbox. You’re not going to win anything with this’.”
Keanu Reeves isn’t afraid to let the F-bombs fly. Photo: Disney+
For F1 diehards, the documentary and Reeves’ style is a welcome contrast to the narrative choices and somewhat dry talking heads featured on Netflix’s Drive to Survive.
The Matrix and John Wick star’s unique narration style takes a little while to get used to, but but there’s no doubt Reeves is a strong choice of host.
Adam Driver stars as Enzo Ferrari in an upcoming film about the birth of the iconic motorsport brand, and Brad Pitt is appearing in a fictional F1 story about a veteran returning to the grid in search of glory.
But of all of Hollywood’s ventures into the F1 world, Reeves may have the best starring role of them all.
Keanu Reeves and Jenson Button in Brawn GP documentary. Photo: Disney+
Why can’t we have fairytale F1 seasons every year?
Commentator and former F1 driver Johnny Herbert believes such a fairytale will never be repeated in F1, such is the stranglehold the top teams have on the sport.
He pointed to the ongoing struggles American outfit Andretti have had in their efforts to join F1 as an 11th team.
“It’s a wonderful and rare story,” Herbert told news.com.au.
“I don’t know (if a Brawn fairytale would happen again). I don’t see it at the moment because there doesn’t seem to be a will from the teams to allow even Andretti to come in.
“I want it to happen. Take Andretti, they say, ‘It’s worth it, they don’t bring anything to Formula One’. For me, they bring two more drivers onto the grid. That’s more than enough. I hope they do make it and it does happen.
“It was a lovely, fairytale story.”