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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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Thoughts on the Australian GP

As expected, Raikkonen won with ease, the Ferrari clearly the quickest car on this track and the driver one of the three fastest men in F1. Although the entire world is now expecting a Ferrari walkover this year, I am not convinced. The McLarens were good too and will get better.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen getting it done

Of course, the red team will improve their car as well but it is hard to better something that already seems just about perfect; go the wrong way and you could ruin it. And there are those lingering doubts about Kimi’s ability in testing – can he give the kind of input to the engineers that they had from Michael Schumacher? Massa will help with that but again I am unsure of his technical prowess.

I am also not all that impressed with Felipe’s drive through the field. When you have a car as superior to the rest as the F2007, it does not look all that good to be held up for lap after lap by a car as evil-handling as Button’s Honda. I’m sure Michael would have made short work of it.

Enough has been said already about Lewis Hamilton’s excellent race without me adding the same accolades; the lad is a star and will ensure that McLaren win the constructor’s title this year. Alonso is brilliant and will assist in the development of the car until it can beat the Ferraris so Ron Dennis has plenty to smile about at the moment, in spite of not winning this first race of the season.

The BMWs were not quite on the pace of the front runners and Renault were well off it. Both will improve with time, however, and may be able to challenge for the lead in later races.

The Hondas were awful, with Barrichello having the better time of it and expressing himself reasonably happy. Button thinks that the problem lies in the front aerodynamics but, judging from what Flavio Briatore had to say about the Bridgestones being the root cause of Renault’s difficulties, I would suspect that tires also have a lot to do with the Honda malaise. Hopefully, they will find a solution and be more competitive in future races.

Otherwise things went more or less to plan. The Toyotas were a bit better than we’d guessed, the Williams a bit worse. But which would you rather be sitting in for the next GP?

Finally, another word about Scott Speed: until his front tires deflated, he was well ahead of Liuzzi. Gerhard Berger was content with the Italian’s performance in this race – perhaps he will admit that the American seemed pretty “committed” too…

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Honda’s RA107

Having made a wild prediction that Jenson Button will be champion in 2007, naturally I have been awaiting the unveiling of Honda’s new car with some interest. The launch has been quite low key and optimism reined in so that we are not led to expect miracles. I like that – we’ll see soon enough in the races just how good the car is.

RA107

Barrichello in the Honda RA107

The car is still in its interim black livery, the new colors not to be revealed until next month, and this makes it difficult to see what changes have been made. But it is performing well enough in early testing, apart from stopping on Button’s first lap in it. That is what testing is all about, after all – identifying any problems now rather than in the races. Both drivers seem very happy with it and Barrichello especially is sounding confident.

This realistic but determined attitude seems to run throughout the team. After the disappointments of last year and then the flourish at the end, no doubt they have learned their lesson and are not going to set themselves unattainable goals this time. Maybe it’s my hope that they can upset the old order (which has been unassailable for a while now) but I think we will see Button leading quite a few races this year. Even Flavio Briatore added Honda as an afterthought to his list of most likely winners.

Speaking of Flavio, I see he’s been having a go at Ron Dennis again, mocking McLaren’s takeover of Valencia for the launch of the MP4-22. And he’s right, of course – no matter how much of an extravaganza you put on for the launch, all that really matters is how well the car performs in the races.

On that basis, Honda’s launch was just right – never mind the hype, we’re here to do the business.

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Drivers for 2007

With McLaren’s announcement of Hamilton’s promotion to second race driver for the coming season, it looks as though there is only one seat left to be filled in F1: the second Spyker drive. That is assuming that Gerhard Berger is telling us the whole truth when he says there will be no changes at Toro Rosso for 2007 – the official announcement has yet to be made.

Button

Jenson Button in the Honda RA106

My bet is that Tiago Monteiro will get the Spyker drive. The team know him and none of the other drivers have been outstanding in their tests for the team. A threat of sorts came from Christian Klien but he has now been confirmed as a Honda test driver so that takes him out of the equation.

The teams that are sticking with their drivers for next year are Toyota, Honda, Spyker and, if you count the last few races of 2006, BMW Sauber. These are the ones that know exactly what they can expect from their drivers, have already established a working relationship with them and are satisfied with their choice. And that should give them a slight advantage over other teams that are still settling down after changes and learning how to get the best from their new drivers.

Or so it would seem. In fact, we all know that Spyker will not be challenging for race wins so any advantage they have will make little difference to the leaders. And Toyota’s choice seems typically conservative to me, a driver pairing that has already shown itself to be subject to some strain, with Ralph tending to underperform and Jarno more interested in his own career than in the success of the team. This is one team that could have done with a good shake-up on the driver front; I’d have sacked them both and looked for a good veteran and a promising youngster.

But that is not Toyota’s way. The reputation for reliability of their road cars is founded upon their philosophy that nothing new goes on the car until it has been tried and tested to the point of boredom. And this seems to be spilling over into the race team; they are not known for their introduction of fresh and innovative new designs in F1.

Which may go a long way to explaining their failure to deliver on the success we expect from a big manufacturer in the sport. Had they decided to go with a more radical driver line-up for 2007, their chances would be better, I think.

The other two unchanged teams, Honda and BMW, are the bright hopes for the future, of course. Both of them are looking very good, they have potentially exciting drivers and the ambition and ingenuity to succeed. My only doubt comes from BMW’s caution when it comes to their prospects for next season; they are low key on this and clearly do not expect to be challenging for a championship just yet.

That may be realistic but it also indicates a certain surprise at their progress so far. They are ahead of schedule and seem a little unsure of themselves as a result. And one thing we do know: any team that is going to win the championship must be absolutely convinced that they can do it.

Things are very different at Honda. They expected to be in amongst the leaders in 2006 and their disappointment at their results in the first half of the year showed in changes in personnel and rumblings from upper management. The fact that they did turn things around in the last races of the season shows that, whatever they changed, it was a step in the right direction and they are motivated now to erase the embarrassments of 2006. Conviction and determination will not be lacking in the Honda camp next year, methinks.

All of which is good for Button and Barrichello. Both drivers have made a habit of being in the wrong place at the right time or the right place at the wrong time. It may just be that, at last, they have managed to get everything right and 2007 will be theirs for the taking.

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