The Honda Dilemma
by Carlos Soto
Article is written by and copyright (c) 1999 Carlos Soto.
It seems that Formula One teams are looking for deeper involvement with their engine manufacturers, involving them more closely in the design and running of the team, rather than just as "suppliers of motive power."
This offers teams some great advantages. They gain more integrated development of the car with the engine manufacturers working close to them, while saving a bundle with the manufacturer paying for engine development, rather than having to pay to get them off a shelf. Furthermore, with ever increasing anti-tobacco laws around the world, teams need to establish long lasting relationships with moneyed partners, preparing for the day their main sponsor quits, leaving the team with a budget crisis.
Such is the case of Williams who are now going into partnership with BMW. The German manufacturer is not only supplying engines, but also providing the sponsorship money that Winfield will stop delivering next year. The relationship between McLaren and Mercedes is getting stronger all the time, with Mercedes actually buying into their Formula One partners to the tune of 40%. Ford played a very important role in Stewart's team and now owns it, indeed, they are relaunching as Jaguar next year. It's speculated that Renault will return in 2001, partnering Benetton, and it's been rumoured they could even be buying the team, so they can have a works team as they did back in the 80's. Toyota has announced it's entrance to F1 in the year 2002 and they are likely to buy Minardi or Arrows. And of course Honda won't escape this new tendency - few would be surprised to see them either form a team of their own, or buy out British American Racing.
Everybody was counting on a Honda team for the year 2000 before the project was dropped due to the death of Harvey Postlethwaite. However they chose instead to partner an F1 team. So it looks like they will give their main engine to BAR, and a secondary engine to Jordan, although exactly how they will differ is unknown. But should they supply both teams with the same engine? And if they can only supply one team with their primary engine, which should it be? A look at both teams will illustrate the situation.
BAR has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. After everybody waited for the first race of the season to see if Reynard could again win their first race in a new category, the team has run on unnoticed throughout the season, and the only headlines that they have captured relate to their poor performance. The biggest excitement the team provided was when Villeneuve held up Schumacher in Spain, the crashes at Belgium and how they were close to scoring a point at the Nurburgring.
An incredible number of Did Not Finishes (DNFs) were not caused by the Supertec engine. In fact the only real problem with the engine is it's lack of power - which was still sufficient for Williams to score regularly. So that implies most of the DNF's are due to the car itself, which is a clear sign of poor development and lack of reliability.
BAR have been by far the worst team in the '99 season, performing even worse than Arrows and Minardi, despite having the '97 F1 world champion and the '98 F3000 champion. In fact Tyrell's final season was far better than BAR's first season, even thoughthey only had a fraction of the budget and arguably the worst engine of the field…. Sure, Tyrell didn't score any points either but at least they finished a lot of races.
On the other hand there's Jordan. After their first win at Belgium last year, the team hasn't stopped impressing. They have been very consistent and reliable and are clearly the third best team on the grid. Further improvement could see them on the front of the grid alongside Mclaren and Ferrari, and they have closed the gap right down this year. They have one of the hottest drivers in this year's season, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen put his disappointing Williams years behind him, and became a genuine title contender. Next year, they will have alongside him one of the more promising Formula One youngsters, Jarno Trulli, which could be a combination to reckon with in 2000.
So now there is a decision for Honda to make. They can go and partner BAR, developing the car and trying to score points. It means starting with an unreliable base, which needs time to come together before contemplating winning races, and a lot more until they become title contenders. Or they can go and partner Jordan. A team that they already know and have already worked with. A team that's winning and that could be contending for the title as early as next season. And a team that would benefit more from the budget released from engine purchases to further develop the car.
So what should Honda do? It looks pretty clear to me…
Carlos Soto is 19 years old, living in Bogota, Colombia. He's a 4th semester mechanical engineering student, and a fan of auto racing from birth.... Totally unashamedly, he's a fan of Juan Pablo Montoya (can't wait to see him in F1), Hakkinen and Frentzen. If you want to know any more, just ask him!