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2008 Team Preview - Honda, Super Aguri, Force India, McLaren 12 Mar 2008

The retired Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team watches Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22  pass.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 5 August 2007 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA108 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 26 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 Team walks the circuit.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, 12 March 2008 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Force India F1 VJM01 Formula One Testing, Day Two, Barcelona, Spain, 26 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 Formula One Testing, Day One, Barcelona, Spain, 25 February 2008. World © Patching/Sutton

While the midfield looks competitive, down at the back of the grid there’ll be clashes aplenty with Honda, Super Aguri and Force India all vying to make their mark during 2008. Will Honda resurrect their chances? Will Super Aguri’s SA08 prove as surprising as its predecessor? Or will debutants Force India make a splash?

One thing is for certain - McLaren won’t be at the bottom of the table for long, as they attempt to outdo Ferrari and claim the constructors’ crown as their own. In the final instalment of our three-part feature, we take a look at the teams that ended last season in positions eight to 11…

16 Jenson Button 17 Rubens Barrichello
Testers: Alex Wurz, Mike Conway, Luca Filippi

Honda made much of the power of dreams and their Earthdreams programme when they launched their eco-friendly Formula One car last year, but it proved to be an utterly disastrous season that brought the team to their knees. Jenson Button did a fantastic job to maintain his momentum as, for yet another year, he saw his genuine aspirations of mounting a championship challenge crumble the moment the first race started.

Testing times suggest that the new RA108, at least in its current guise, is not going to turn that trick for him either. Insiders say his first comments on the new car were unprintable. At the launch in late January, there was much evidence of brave smiles for the cameras to disguise an ongoing crisis.

But… nobody in the real world doubts that the presence of new team principal Ross Brawn will have a huge influence on the team’s development in the medium term. His record at Benetton and Ferrari speaks volumes, and this major asset will surely lead the team from the wilderness. It will, however, take time.

Super Aguri
18 Takuma Sato 19 Anthony Davidson
Tester: James Rossiter

The one thing that Super Aguri can rely on going into the 2008 season is the inherent strength of Honda’s RA807E V8. But it remains to be seen how weak other aspects of the set-up will be.

This time last year Aguri Suzuki’s little team embarrassed the Honda 'Mother Ship', whose own RA107 performed lamentably in the early races. By contrast, Super Aguri’s RA106-based SA07 went well enough for the irrepressible Takuma Sato to perform some giant-killing acts, most notably on a troubled Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in Montreal.

Now the little team face 2008 with modified versions of the RA107s, after a great deal of uncertainty over their financial wellbeing. They missed the final two winter tests, and only in the days prior to Melbourne was news of a buyer for the team announced. Losing a team is never good news, especially when they are as popular as Super Aguri, and one hopes that the acquisition by the Magma Group can be successfully concluded.

Force India
20 Adrian Sutil 21 Giancarlo Fisichella
Tester: Vitantonio Liuzzi

In the beginning it was Jordan. Then it became Midland. Then Spyker. Now it is Force India. Can Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya finally get this once successful team back on track, and turn the corner from also-rans to respectable midfielder status?

Technical chief Mike Gascoyne believes so, and has been busily assembling a very strong technical department to do just that. It includes engineers such as Mark Smith and James Key, and other personnel who were with the team in its Jordan heyday. In Mallya they have finally found somebody with the necessary finance and the will to invest it in moving from the tail end of the field into the midfield. Nobody is pretending that Force India will emulate Jordan’s bold acts of yore just yet, but watch this team very carefully. If anyone is going to surprise with their progress by the end of the year, it could be this one.

22 Lewis Hamilton 23 Heikki Kovalainen
Testers: Pedro de la Rosa, Gary Paffett

No team in history has ever gone through as bruising a season as McLaren experienced in 2007. First there was the exhilaration of Lewis Hamilton’s early performances, and the on-track fight with Ferrari. Then came the 'Stepneygate' spy scandal, followed by internal strife between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. It concluded with a US$100m fine, disqualification from the world championship for constructors, and Kimi Raikkonen pipping Hamilton and Alonso to the drivers’ title in the final race.

In theory, there should be the humiliation of a garage at the wrong end of the pit lane this year, but within McLaren right now there is no looking back. Everything is totally focused on one task, and one task only: winning. The team’s philosophy has always been to win every race; that’s the way to win championships.

In recent testing the MP4-23 set the pace, giving rise to optimism that Hamilton and his new team mate Heikki Kovalainen will be able to take the fight to Ferrari once more. Whether they have the necessary technical savvy, and the strength of character to get on with one another, remain but two of the fascinating aspects of this team’s battle for redemption.