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2006 Team Review - Honda 20 Nov 2006

Race winner Jenson Button (GBR) Honda celebrates.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 13, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, 6 August 2006 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, French Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Magny-Cours, France, 15 July 2006 (L to R): Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA106 passes Takuma Sato (JPN) Super Aguri F1 SA05.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 10 March 2006 (L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team with team mate Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda Racing F1 Team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Spanish Grand Prix, Preparations, Barcelona, Spain, 11 May 2006 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Race, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 2 April 2006

After scoring 11 world titles and 71 race wins during their previous incarnations as a constructor in the 1960s and an engine supplier in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Honda had pedigree. Following their buyout of British American Racing, the Japanese auto giant’s return to running a Formula One team caused many a sleepless night for the midfield.

The fast and reliable performance of the RA106 in testing did little to assuage fears and with Jenson Button staying on for another year and Rubens Barrichello joining from Ferrari, the team had the added benefit of one of the season’s strongest driver line-ups.

Although some very impressive qualifying performances, including Button’s pole position in Melbourne, proved the Honda could equal the frontrunners on one-lap pace at least, it failed to come close during the races. Struggling to find the right set-up to get heat into his Michelin tyres, Button finished more than a minute down on Fernando Alonso’s Renault in Spain. And with Barrichello finding the transition from Ferrari more difficult than anticipated, Button’s third place in Malaysia was the best result the team could muster from the first seven rounds.

Honda continued to struggle as the mid-point of the season approached. The Montreal race saw Barrichello retire with engine troubles and Button crawling home in ninth, hampered by next to no grip. Although Barrichello finished in sixth place in the US, the team went on to suffer their first - and only - double DNF in France a fortnight later. With neither Button nor Barrichello running higher than 11th, the pair eventually succumbed to the same recurrent engine problems. Having scored a meagre three points in four races, Honda looked firmly on the back foot, with BMW Sauber gradually gaining ground on them for fourth place in the constructors’ standings.

But the team had already taken steps to head off a crisis. They had parted ways with technical director Geoff Willis and Shuhei Nakamura had taken over all technical responsibility. The much-needed Honda revival began in Germany. Although Barrichello would fall foul of more engine trouble, Button’s strong drive to fourth secured five valuable points for the team.

There was even more to celebrate in Hungary with Button claiming a deserved maiden victory after a difficult drive in wet-dry conditions. It was the team’s first win since their beginnings as BAR back in 1999 and with Barrichello’s fourth place they netted a respectable 15 points from the race. Although Honda would not win again in 2006, Button would go on to score in every remaining race, including a third-place finish in Brazil. In all the team would notch up a further 34 points, securing fourth place in the constructors’ championship with a 50-point advantage over fifth-placed BMW Sauber.

In 2007, with main competitors Renault, Ferrari and McLaren having to adapt to new driver line-ups, Honda could well enjoy further victories.

More 2006 team reviews - Renault, Ferrari, McLaren, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso, Spyker MF1 and Super Aguri.