Japanese driver ecstatic after putting fledgling team on map
In their 21st race together, Takuma Sato and Super Aguri scored the teams first world championship point on Sunday when Sato brought his car home in eighth place in the Spanish Grand Prix.
It was, as Sato said, an absolutely amazing weekend for the Japanese team, especially as Sato also became the first Honda-powered driver to score a point in the 2007 Formula One campaign.
The omens had looked good for Super Aguri following their promising showing in the pre-race test at the Circuit de Catalunya. We evaluated a lot of aero kit specifically for Barcelona at the test, said Sato. It included bodywork fairing, engine cover, a new rear wing and some new floor, and also a new gearbox from Honda. I was very happy and it was a good surprise to see how competitive we were.
Unfortunately, the second day of the test was hit by rain, meaning Sato and the team would have to evaluate more aero developments during Fridays practice session and would not get a chance to go for performance runs. On top that, the temperature was 10 degrees hotter, meaning the team needed to make set-up changes.
Nevertheless, Sato was confident going into Saturday and after final practice felt well prepared for qualifying. He started with a bang, going 10th fastest in Q1, easily through to Q2 and looking good to make Q3 for the second time. I was going to nail everything for the last run in Q2, but unfortunately we had a fuel pickup problem after my first run and I couldnt make it back to the pits, so I qualified 13th. I had a couple of tenths in my pocket and it will be very tight but we could have challenged for Q3.
Thirteenth became 12th when Jarno Trullis Toyota failed at the start, and a restart was needed, but 12th just as quickly became 13th when Sato was beaten off the line by the Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. Then there was drama when Giancarlo Fisichellas Renault went off at Turn Nine. Both Hondas got past the Italian, and so too for a moment did Sato. He had dirty tyres, and into the hairpin he was desperate to get back and we went side by side. After that I had to settle in behind the two Hondas and Giancarlo.
To be honest I struggled on the first two stints. We couldnt maximise the tyre management in terms of tyre pressure so the balance was difficult to handle. I had oversteer at the beginning of the race and was losing time. At my first pit stop we made an adjustment but it didnt work out as we expected and the cars balance changed 180 degrees to big understeer. That was better for stability and long runs than oversteer, but still the lap times couldnt come together. I was able to catch Barrichello and Fisichella, but I was just hanging onto them. I never gave up of course and just kept on going.
Eventually Barrichello made his second stop, and that was the crucial moment of the race for Sato. Rubens pitted and had to push really hard. When I came out after my stop I was ahead of Rubens so that was really good. Also, the car was better balanced on the prime tyre so I could push hard again. Every lap counted crucially.
That was very true. Both Renaults needed to make a third stop, and Fisichella was therefore within reach. Now in ninth place, Sato could smell a point. My race engineer Richard (Connell) told me to keep pushing, we are fighting with Renault, and I didnt know where Giancarlo was! Every single second was counting. Then when Giancarlo came into the pits I had a radio from Turn 12 that he was in. I came past the pits, still no Giancarlo, where is he? Then where the pitlane finished he was there and we were side by side, and obviously I had good momentum and fractionally I was ahead. That moment was fantastic - very exciting!
My chance of surviving was very little, but of course this is pure racing. On the first lap he caught me up really rapidly and I had to do everything I could. But after two or three laps I could maintain the gap and that was really good.
So Sato crossed the line in eighth place to the delight of the whole Super Aguri team. Its fantastic, he said. All the hard work done by the boys in Leafield on limited resources, and back in Tochigi - the Honda support is enormous and the fans and sponsors. I am proud of them all.
Once he comes off cloud nine, Sato will be back in action very quickly at Paul Ricard in France, testing a high-downforce aero package in preparation for the next race in Monaco, his home city. Our target this year was scoring a point, so the first step, job done. Now its going to be hard to improve on that, but of course we will try.