2007 Team Review - Honda 07 Nov 2007
If Honda had known in the New Year that they would lead their customer team, Super Aguri, by just two points at the seasons close, they may well have shut up shop then and there. But back then the Japanese team were tipped for great things and the mood at the UK base in Brackley was buoyant.
They had already got over the toughest hurdle, chalking up that crucial breakthrough victory in Hungary in 2006. And with experienced line-up of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello leading the charge again, Nick Fry still at the helm, and the Japanese car manufacturers pockets as deep as ever, the foundations for a fruitful season were all present and correct.
The team had even spent valuable time devising a truly innovative environmentally-friendly livery to mark them apart. All, however, came to nought at the season-opener in Australia. Button and Barrichello only qualified in 14th and 17th respectively and in the race could manage no higher than 11th and 15th. A glorious start it was not.
Having been brought down to earth with such a resounding bump, the team were left searching for answers, and their fans for the slightest glimmer of hope. Was it just a blip? Unfortunately not. The RA107 proved just as unwieldy elsewhere, hampered by poor aero performance and a lack of stability under braking. Button and Barrichello - who had regularly qualified in the top ten in 2006 - only made it into Q3 five times all season. Four came courtesy of the British driver, who proved more adept at eking extra speed from his troublesome steed than did his Brazilian team mate.
Under race conditions too, the Hondas struggled. In Spain, where the similarly-powered Super Aguri squad scored the first of their four points, the best Barrichello and Button could manage was 10th and 12th respectively. Desperate times call for desperate measures and nobody was much surprised when Honda tested an adventurous-looking new aerodynamic device, quickly dubbed elephant ears, on the RA107s nosecone at Mays Barcelona test.
The new winglets didnt last long, but Hondas hard work on the test track did eventually start to pay off. At the French Grand Prix - eight rounds into the season - the team finally scored their first point of the year, thanks to Buttons eighth-place finish. But it was little solace for a team that had won 86 the year before.
As early as July the team were already looking ahead to 2008 and as such kick started a major recruitment drive for technical whizz kids. As part of the shake-up, the team also bid farewell to sporting director Gil de Ferran. Back on track, however, things looked to be going from bad to worse. There were mutterings that an incorrectly calibrated wind tunnel was to blame for the RA107s lack of pace and in Hungary the team scored their worst result of the season, with Button retiring early on and Barrichello finishing two laps down on the leaders - beaten even by backmarkers Spyker.
But even in those blackest months the team managed to remain upbeat. Both Button and Barrichello reaffirmed their loyalty, confirming they would continue to drive for the outfit in 08. And not long after, the duos admirable faith was partially rewarded, firstly by an upswing in qualifying performance, then by some more points - one for Button at Monza and then a further four after his impressive drive to fifth place in China.
The relief in the Honda garage was almost tangible. But for Barrichello, the most experienced driver on the grid, the despair would continue. After the final round - his home race at Interlagos - the Brazilian had the bitterest of records to celebrate. For the first time in his 15-year Formula One career he ended a campaign without scoring a point.
With title-holders Renault floundering, 2007 could easily have been Hondas year. Instead it fell to BMW Sauber to lead the best of the rest behind Ferrari and McLaren, while the Japanese team tumbled to eighth in the rankings. Looking on the bright side, they did ultimately out-score Super Aguri, and the early focus on their 2008 challenger should pay dividends next season.