2006 Team Review - Super Aguri 06 Nov 2006
Formula One newcomers go from zero to hero in 18 races
This time last year Super Aguri seemed little more than a pipedream, albeit one imagined by Japanese racing legend Aguri Suzuki. But after several months pursuing sponsors and staff - and being granted a late championship entry by the FIA - the team made it to Bahrain.
Just appearing on the start-line was an achievement in itself, but, hurriedly conjured from the remnants of the defunct Arrows team, Super Aguri faced an uphill struggle. The advantages of customer-spec Honda engines, seasoned lead-driver Takuma Sato and experienced staff, was somewhat negated by the teams chassis. The SA05 - based on Arrows 2002 model - was four years out of date.
From the very first event the Super Aguris struggled to match the pace of the rest of the grid. In Bahrain, Sato qualified four seconds behind the leaders and 1.5 seconds off Super Aguris nearest competitor, Midland. In the race there was little improvement, with rookie Yuji Ide retiring with mechanical problems and Sato finishing at the back of the field in 18th.
Things would get worse before they got better. After a catalogue of mistakes - including taking out Albers Midland on the opening lap at Imola - the FIA lost patience with Ides driving standards and he was swiftly replaced by Franck Montagny, a former Renault tester. The Frenchman had more pace and experience than his predecessor, but like Sato, there was only so much he could do to offsets the deficiencies of his machinery.
Only the promise of a newly-designed car - the SA06 - spurred the team on. Its arrival in Germany - one race later than planned - coincided with the appearance of a new driver, Sakon Yamamoto, who took the place of Montagny. In qualifying, veteran Sato asserted himself, splitting the Midlands to take 19th on the grid. Although neither SA06 finished the race, it was an encouraging start.
Similar teething problems would continue to stall the teams progress for the next two events before a September shake-up of their engineering staff - with Mark Preston becoming technical director - seemingly reinvigorated the squad. Over the remaining four races, there was a significant upturn in the speed and reliability of the Super Aguris, who began challenging not only the Midland machines, but also the Toro Rossos.
In Italy Sato finished in front of Albers Midland, while in Japan - the teams home event - both cars made it to chequered flag for the first time since the launch of the SA06. The old erratic Sato returned briefly in China, his second blue-flag offence of the season getting him disqualified, but then at the final round in Brazil all the teams hard work was suddenly repaid. Both cars finished, but that was not all, with Sato putting in a storming drive to finish 10th and Sakon Yamamoto setting the seventh-fastest race lap. It was a fantastic way to end the year.
They may not have scored a single point, but Super Aguris debut season will be remembered as a success - and given what they have achieved in one short year the teams outlook can only be bright.
More 2006 team reviews - Renault, Ferrari, McLaren, Honda, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull, Williams and Toro Rosso.