Aerodynamics is an arcane science. In fact, to call it a science is probably giving it more credit than it is due – it remains an area where things can seem perfect in theory and the wind tunnel, but go hopelessly wrong when the car actually gets out on the track. That seems to be what has happened at Honda this year; according to all their calculations, this should have been the car to take them to the top, but in practice it has proved a huge step backwards. Super Aguri reap the benefits of development of last year’s chassis while the factory team scratch their heads in puzzlement as to what to do next.
It reminds me of the Arrows A2, the “Buzz Bomb” of 1979. On paper it should have been the best of the ground effect cars, with its extensive areas intended to suck the car to the ground like a leech; in reality, it was almost undriveable, porpoising down the straights as the low pressure area wandered around under the car as it pleased. The engineers slaved away with it all year, trying to make it work, but gave up in disgust and reverted to standard practice in 1980.
Not that the Honda is as obviously as bold an experiment as was the A2, but it may well be that the designers have made a similar mistake in pushing the theory further than it is ready to go. Aerodynamics has come a long way since the early days of ground effect but it is still a discipline in which there are few rules and practical experience remains the arbiter of what is right or wrong.
The change to Bridgestone tires has not helped either. Only McLaren and BMW of last year’s Michelin runners seem to have progressed in their understanding of how to make the Bridgestones work properly; the rest are struggling. And poor Honda has to work out how much of their car’s handling problems are due to the tires and how much to some undiscovered design flaw.
So is the Honda a bad car? It is far too early to say – there may be a tweak or modification that is all that is required to get the engineers moving in the right direction. But, even if that happens, there will be a mountain to climb to catch up to the front runners. Honda may not be down and out for this year’s championship but they have certainly made things very difficult for themselves.