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Honda’s Woes

I don’t know who “Helios” is (which is the idea, I think) but he appears to be a member of the Honda team. Certainly, his article for Pitpass today is written from an insider’s viewpoint. And it makes pretty depressing reading, especially if you were hanging on to the last shreds of hope that Jenson Button might yet get the chance of a few decent results this year.

Hondas

The way Helios tells it, Honda’s problems stem from a lack of leadership and too much interference from board room level. It is an all-too-familiar scenario to me, having worked for a few companies that suffered from the same disease. Racing teams need to be small, closely-knit groups of people utterly dedicated to their task and not subject to the whims and theories of people who know nothing of F1.

Saddest of all was to hear of Button’s attempts to re-inspire the team. He is trying, apparently, but his body language shows that he does not have much hope for success this year. It reminds me too painfully of Bernie Ecclestone’s assessment of Jenson last year.

Can you see Michael Schumacher in such a situation? I am no fan of Michael but I know that he would have insisted on the team being allowed to work the way he required and he would have brought about a unity of thought and ambition that would have seen them conquer their problems by now. It seems that Bernie was right and Jenson lacks the ruthlessness and singlemindedness to create an efficient winning team such as the German did at Ferrari. As does Rubens Barrichello, it seems.

Helios is in agreement with all the other Honda-watchers in citing Nick Fry as the source of their weakness. And one cannot argue with the fact that the buck stops at the desk of the team manager – he is the only one with the power to make changes in the team in the quest for greater efficiency. So far, that does not seem to be happening.

It’s a picture of a team in disarray, unable to explain the deficiencies of the car this season, embarrassed by the greater success of their tiny sister team, Super Aguri, and unhappy with the management. I have to say that, on this evidence, Button can forget any chance of winning a race this year and he will find it hard even to score points.

So much for my hopes of a championship for him this year.

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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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The Most Wanted Man in Formula One

I seem to be saying “I told you so” a lot these days. And, when a rumor gets out that McLaren want Ross Brawn to work for them in 2008, it’s inevitable that I will say it again. It makes sense that they would want his services, if only to deny them to the competition.

Ross

Ross Brawn

One can understand too why Honda should be thinking about making Brawn an offer he can’t refuse, although it is unlikely that he could start soon enough to help them this year. When you’re as far up the creek without a paddle as Honda are, the chance of an outboard motor like Ross must seem very tempting.

Naturally, Ferrari chime in with Brawn’s promise that he’ll consult with them first; their motives may be similar to McLaren’s, however, and I doubt that they will offer the job that Ross wants – to be team boss. Nothing less will persuade him to work outside England again.

Although I think McLaren will win Ross over in the end, especially as they are talking in terms of next year rather than this (thereby allowing the man to catch a few fish in the meantime), the Honda offer may be quite tempting to him. No doubt there is a fat paycheck attached but, more importantly, there is a matter of the challenge involved. It’s risky but, if he could turn the team around and make them successful, his reputation would be enhanced even further.

What we tend to forget in all these possibilities is that F1 is a competition between teams. The sport has its stars and it is easy to assume that they would succeed wherever they went; history tells us a different story, however. Ferrari’s success over the last few years was achieved because they built a winning team – each of them had a part to play and did so admirably well. But remove a few from the equation and it begins to fall apart. Already there is muttering about the Malaysian GP and how things would have been different had Michael and Ross been there.

There is no such thing as a magic wand in F1. What is required is a whole bunch of them. Consider how John Barnard was regarded with awe while he was with McLaren yet failed to bring Ferrari success thereafter. And now Red Bull has Adrian Newey – the man who was expected to put them at the front of the grid this year. It hasn’t happened because it takes more than one man to make an F1 team.

Even so, Ross Brawn has much to offer the Honda team. He won’t fix the problems with the car but he could build them a team instead. That is clearly what he wants to do next – hence his determination to be boss at Ferrari or nothing. Nick Fry would have to take a lesser role but hey, if you want the best for the team, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. And, if anyone can knock the team into shape, it would be Ross.

The more I think about it, the more I think Ross has a great opportunity here. Even if he went to Ferrari as team boss, he would have Montezemolo looking over his shoulder; the Honda team would be his alone, however. And what a chance to show how important he was in Ferrari’s success!

He’s not asking me but, if he ever did, I’d have to say, “Go on, Ross, live dangerously. Take the Honda job and show us just how good you really are.”

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Super Aguri and the Shadow of the Past

One thing about F1 can always be guaranteed: the off season will be enlivened by some controversy or other. This time it’s the Great Customer Car Row and we have been entertained by Gerhard Burger’s determined assertion that Toro Rosso owns the intellectual property rights to their car for 2007; the fact that Red Bull also owns those rights to a car that looks identical is neither here nor there, apparently.

Riccardo

Riccardo Patrese in the 1978 Arrows A1

But the ’tis/’tisn’t scenario can wear pretty thin after a while and, right on cue, Nick Fry arrives on stage to enliven the show with his denial that the new Super Aguri is really last year’s Honda. Ummm, yeah, okay Nick, so when are we going to see it?

There is a delightful thread running through Super Aguri’s part in the performance, however. Remember that last year SA were running an aging Arrows chassis – to which they had bought the intellectual property rights, quite correctly. And this brings echoes of history to my mind, shades from Arrows’ past when, just like SA, it was a new arrival on the F1 scene.

The year was 1978 and Arrows turned up for the races with a car that seemed suspiciously similar to the Shadow team’s entry. This might have been coincidence except that the Arrows designers were refugees from a big bust-up in the Shadow camp the year before. Shadow cried foul and took the matter to court, eventually being vindicated by a verdict that decreed that Arrows could no longer run their copycat car.

By that time, Arrows had designed a new car and so was able to continue racing; but it seems ironic that the distant inheritors of an Arrows product should be embroiled in so similar a kerfuffle. Are we talking some sort of F1 version of “the curse of the pharoahs” here?

Now that I have raised this specter from the past, I would like to mention something that puzzled me then and might have implications for the coming season. The driver of that first Arrows car, the A1, was a young Italian named Riccardo Patrese and he would have set an amazing record if the Cosworth engine had been a little more reliable. He was on course to win Arrows’ first race when the engine expired, thereby preventing what would have been a phenomenal debut for the new team.

For the rest of its brief career, the car remained very competitive, Patrese showing up amongst the leaders in almost every race. But the Shadow cars were nowhere, continuing the slide that was to end in their demise a few years later. One of their drivers was Clay Regazzoni who was no slouch and should have been able to give the inexperienced Patrese more than a run for his money – yet he finished the season in 16th spot, Riccardo in 12th.

My question is this: given that the Shadow and the Arrows were almost identical and that both used the Cosworth DFV, why was the Arrows so much the better car? Presumably the disruption suffered by Shadow when half their team defected may have crippled their ability to fight, but it still seems strange that a new team, also hampered by impending lawsuits, could defeat them so comprehensively.

It is all water under the bridge now and we might never know all the political and legal manouvering that went on at the time. Who cares now, anyway? I have one final thought, however.

We are told that history repeats itself; if that is true, is it possible that Super Aguri could prove quicker than the new Honda in the coming season? Highly unlikely, I know, but it would be deliciously ironic, you must admit…

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