Super Aguri set to make the grid 11 Mar 2006
The 2006 season sees 11 teams competing in the FIA Formula One World Championship for the first time since the demise of Arrows in 2002. The newcomers are the Super Aguri team.
Super Aguri, founded by ex-Formula One driver Aguri Suzuki, have faced a race against time to get their challenge ready for the first round of the season, struggling both to be given permission to race, and more recently to actually manage to get a car together. Despite being run from Arrows F1's former base in Leafield, England, Super Aguri are seen as a predominantly Japanese team, with two Japanese drivers in Takuma Sato and Yuji Ide, plus a supply of customer-spec engines from Honda.
Work on creating the team went on for months before the official launch, with plans becoming widely known throughout the paddock during the second half of last season. Indeed, Sato went so far as to announce that he would likely be driving for what was a still-unconfirmed team when he left BAR.
Unfortunately for Super Aguri, problems with their initial application for entry to the 2006 championship meant they were forced to gain the consent of every other team in order to race. Fortunately, all of their rivals eventually agreed, thought it meant further delays that Super Aguri could have done without. The team's original plans revolved around racing a developed version of a former BAR chassis, but these were abandoned when other teams argued that this would break the sporting regulations. This, together with the team's late entry, means that they have not been able to get their 2006 car ready to race in time and will start the season using a machine based on an upgraded version of Arrows 2002 A23 chassis.
These were the cars bought from the liquidators of the Arrows team by Minardi's Paul Stoddart and subsequently resold to Super Aguri. The team have modified the chassis to take the Honda V8 engines and to ensure they meet 2006's more stringent safety requirements. A new aerodynamic package, also to 2006 standards, will also be introduced before the first race of the season, though this has undergone only minimal testing. The team has announced plans to introduce their own 2006 car at the San Marino Grand Prix, though this date may yet prove somewhat optimistic.
With such an outdated car, few expect Super Aguri to doing anything more than make up the numbers during the first few races of 2006, and the team tacitly acknowledge that to run in any position higher than last will be seen as a strong performance. Early testing suggests that the A23-based chassis is seriously lacking in pace compared to more modern rivals, running about three seconds a lap down on the next-slowest car on the track.
That said, Sato's qualities as a driver and a racer frequently impressed during his time at BAR. His pace was often outstanding, although errors of judgement and some unfortunate racing incidents marred his reputation for consistency. Ide is virtually unknown outside of Japan, although his extensive racing experience - predominantly in Formula Nippon and the Japan Super GT series - means that he is regarded by the team as a safe pair of hands.
The team's prospects will only really become clear once the 2006 car they have developed makes its debut. However, their Honda V8 is likely to be among the more powerful engines at the back of the grid, meaning that non-last-place finishes may yet become a reasonable, and achievable, objective.