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Frying Tonight in the Honda Camp

I understand completely why so many have given up hope of Jenson Button ever fulfilling the promise he showed when he first arrived in F1. Year after year he has carried English hopes into battle, only to disappoint through no fault of his own. It is no wonder that we despair of him ever getting the right drive at the right time.

And I have tried so hard to be loyal, even sticking my neck out and predicting a championship for him this year. Who could have guessed that Honda were about to confuse themselves utterly with a car that just does not do what it’s supposed to? Once again it looks as if I will have to shelve my hopes until next year.

Honda

Except that now there is a new hope from England, the amazing Lewis Hamilton who has done everything right so far, even picking the right team at the right time at his first attempt. The temptation to desert poor Jenson and join the masses betting on Hamilton is very strong.

But I will soldier on for a while yet, believing that miracles are still possible and Honda will work out their problems before long. Fat chance, I know, but this is probably Button’s last chance and I’m not ready to give up on him yet.

It does not help that Mike Lawrence has written a very good article for Pitpass dot com, analyzing Honda’s weaknesses, most of which I agree with. He places much of the blame on Nick Fry’s shoulders and it is hard to argue with his assessment; the buck stops inevitably with the boss of the outfit.

I think Mike makes a mistake in dragging Henry V in as an example, however. It’s an unfortunate choice that weakens the force of Mike’s argument. Henry was England’s hero, not only because he gave them victories, but also because he stood with them in their troubles, sharing their hardships and inspiring them to great things. Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s speech before the Battle of Agincourt may be romanticized but it is as good a guess as anyone else’s; the fact is that Henry’s troops fought as well as they did because they loved him.

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

Extract from Henry’s speech, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

The whole speech can be read here, if you’re interested. I know it’s a bit off the subject of motor racing but hey, it was Mike who introduced the idea. And I would hazard a guess that, were Nick Fry to have anything like the leadership qualities of Henry V, Honda would not be in the mess they are now.

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Theissen on Small Teams

Mario Theissen has returned to the theme of “small is beautiful”, repeating his intention that the BMW team will not grow into a huge operation, as so many of the successful teams do. Historically in F1, this is the way to go, smaller teams being more flexible and able to react to change faster than the big ones.

Theissen

Mario Theissen

This may be at the heart of the problems confronting teams like Honda and Toyota, their overabundance of funding meaning that they can invest in so many facilities that confusion rather than focused development is the result. There is also that old theme of mine to be considered: passion. It is easier to inspire a few people with a single vision than a big operation with many departments and localities.

BMW seem to be getting everything right at the moment. Even though they remain very realistic, as is clear from Nick Heidfeld’s recent interview, they are clearly the team with the best chance of competing with the front runners, Ferrari and McLaren. If anyone is capable of beating those two this year, it must be BMW.

It has to be said that the reason for the effectiveness of the BMW team is Theissen himself. He is a model of the successful F1 team manager, being able to direct his personnel in a common direction, provide vision without straying into fantasy and dealing with the press without drama. Compare the turmoil and personnel changes in a crisis of Nick Fry’s Honda team with the steady, unflappable improvement at BMW Sauber. Any team becomes a reflection of its leader and the Honda management should make Ross Brawn an offer he can’t refuse if they want to get their team moving forward.

It’s a philosophy that all the manufacturers should consider. The corporate direction of an F1 team just doesn’t work, as has been demonstrated so often. Mercedes have had it right, although I detect a move towards greater involvement of management in McLaren’s affairs, and FIAT have had the sense to let Ferrari get on with it, until recently, at least. If Toyota and Honda finally get the idea, watch out!

This year has seen some big changes in the teams, with established stars departing and new faces appearing in many places. Looking further ahead, we may actually be witnessing one of those changes of era that come along perhaps once a decade. If BMW continue their drive to the front and McLaren and Ferrari suffer a decline caused by greater interference from their attached manufacturers, the whole shape of the grid could alter over the next few years. Is it possible that the battles of the “two thousand and something teens” will be between BMW and Williams-Toyota? And McLaren seriously embarrassed by the greater success of their B team, Prodrive; perhaps Ferrari in another period of chaos and internal conflict?

There is one thing for sure: change will always happen – it’s the only thing you can depend upon.

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What’s Wrong With Renault?

The world champions are in trouble so far this season, their car apparently not as good as they had hoped, their drivers unconvincing and team boss Briatore already talking about next year’s car. Things could be worse, as demonstrated by McLaren and Williams last year, but not much; when you’ve been used to winning, it hurts to know that you are no longer in the running.

Fizzy

Giancarlo Fisichella

All this was fairly predictable (in fact, I did so in November last year), although we may not have expected the car to be as poor as it has turned out. Much of that drop in performance can be attributed to the change to Bridgestone tires, Renault having experienced more problems in this area than most teams, but there seem to be design weaknesses too. Otherwise Briatore would not be mumbling about next year’s car already.

The big question is how much Alonso’s departure has contributed to Renault’s fall from grace. That it has had some effect is undoubted – Alonso is so strong a driver that he would have hauled the car into higher positions than Fisichella has managed to; but it is doubtful that even he could have turned it into a race winner.

I think that little blame can be heaped on the shoulders of the Renault drivers. Fisichella is doing his best with the machinery he has been given and Kovalainen has made the usual rookie mistakes but should get better with experience. Unfortunately for Fisichella, the failings of the car will be blamed on him to some extent at least; this is his make-or-break year and it grows ever more likely that he will find himself out of a job at the end of the season. No doubt Briatore is already looking for a replacement.

And he will want a proven driver to lead the team although, with the sudden influx of new talent, there aren’t that many of the old guard left to choose from. I have seen Webber suggested but the Australian will have learned the lesson of patience from his time at Williams; Red Bull’s RB3 may not be as competitive as Webber had hoped but it does show that the team are heading in the right direction, perhaps to make a big breakthrough next year. Mark will stay with them, I think.

So who else is there? Raikkonen is pretty securely contracted to Ferrari and Alonso to McLaren – not much hope there. Heidfeld will stick with BMW if he has any sense at all, Ralf and Trulli are in their make-or-break years too and will probably break. Of the experienced drivers, there is just one possibility left and, although it may seem utterly ridiculous, it may be forced upon both parties.

Jenson Button could be the one that Briatore’s eye alights upon. He is contracted to Honda but, as we have seen in the past, neither Button nor Flavio take much notice of contracts. The Briton’s talent is doubted now but he has never had a decent opportunity to prove himself; he is quick and just might come good in the right car. It’s a chance that Briatore might be prepared to take.

As for Button himself, he must have realized by now that he made a bad mistake in going to Honda. The fact that they have had persistent problems with the front of their cars and been unable to solve them is worrying, to say the least. He could be open to an approach, despite recent assertions to the contrary.

All speculation, of course, and things may happen this season that make such an eventuality impossible. It is very early in the season still and one cannot discount the possibility of Renault solving their problems and returning to competitiveness in the coming races. It just doesn’t look likely, with Briatore becoming so desperate that his public pronouncements get wilder and wilder…

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Tilke in India

I see that Hermann Tilke has been nosing around Delhi, working out where a street race circuit could be run. Good luck to him.

I have seen mention of India’s enormous bureaucracy as an obstacle to a GP there but, so far, nobody has pointed out what may be an even greater problem, especially if we’re talking street circuits. Think of all those photos of Indian street scenes you’ve looked at (there’s one below if you haven’t seen what it’s like) – apart from the traffic, which would be moved out of the way, presumably, what about the cows?

Jaipur

A street in Jaipur

Somebody made a joke recently about cows being the only thing to see at Magny Cours but, in India, they could be a really big problem. They’re sacred to Hindus, remember. And that means you can’t just move them on when they decide to take a nap in the middle of the road.

In America, Christiano da Matta has just spent months in hospital thanks to hitting a deer that had wandered on to the track. That was in a country where deer are definitely not sacred and yet somehow that deer had managed to find its way there. Cows tend to be a lot bigger and heavier than deer…

Understand, I’m not against all these new GPs adding to the calendar – as long as they don’t replace the few great circuits we have left. I just hope that Bernie has considered all the implications of racing on the streets in India, including some sort of an agreement regarding cows.

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