Exclusive interview - Honda's Nick Fry 12 Dec 2006
Spurred on by the sweet taste of victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix - the first win since the teams BAR beginnings eight years ago - Honda are looking forward to more success next season. After investing in a new wind tunnel and increasing their engineering headcount, the team hope to oust their aero gremlins in 2007. With this, a solid winter testing programme, talented drivers, a brave new marketing concept - and the psychological benefit of having broken their duck - team CEO Nick Fry is certainly expecting more points
Q: In the past few months Honda has undergone several important changes including the opening of a second US$50 million wind tunnel in Brackley and the recruitment of over 35 new staff members for the aerodynamics department. Did you identify the aero package as a weak area of the 2006 car?
Nick Fry: Aerodynamics clearly has been a weak point. Compared to Renault and Ferrari we are beginners and just dont know enough about it. It is really a miracle that we have come so far with our small, 50 percent wind tunnel. The small wind tunnel has caused us a lot of difficulties, especially in the field of correlation with the tracks, though in other fields it did help us improve the car. Concerning the recruitment of a large number of staff, this is a very time consuming process, which I do not see finished by the middle of next season.
Q: You introduced your latest specification engine at the Japanese Grand Prix and, with both cars finishing in Japan and Brazil, this is the V8 you must homologate with the FIA for 2007. How satisfied are you with the engine?
NF: We ended up pleased, but to get there it was clear that we had to take risks. By trying an engine design for next year very early, we had to face some manufacturing quality problems. Once we had solved them we were in good shape and could run the engine flat out for the whole race. And we decided to take the risk, as we could not lose or gain any championship positions anymore. We gained confidence for next years regulations.
Q: In the winters first two test sessions in Barcelona and Jerez the Hondas were running well, with Rubens Barrichello ahead of test drivers Christian Klien and James Rossiter. How would you describe your performance so far?
NF: It is very difficult to read anything into the results of our drivers compared to the other teams. Even within teams every driver is doing different tests, and has different fuel loads. In our case we ran five different suspension settings to try to explore the Bridgestone tyres. If teams decide for marketing reasons to run on a low fuel load to achieve the fastest time, I think no one who is involved in this industry is misled, because it doesnt mean anything, and has no effect on the development of the car.
Q: Recent tests seem to have shown that the new Bridgestone tyres react differently to different cars. How does this theory fit with the Hondas?
NF: Everyone has a lot of work to do on the tyres, and a lot of teams are trying out different things. I am confident that all the teams will find a solution. In our case we changed from Bridgestone to Michelin very recently, and now we have to reverse that. And these are not things that can be simply changed with springs and shock absorbers. This is fundamental geometry! If you get it wrong, you have to change a lot of inboard parts, which will result in a lot of extra work.
Q: You recently took on Christian Klien as your test and reserve driver. What impression has he made on the team and how far do you believe he will be able to push forward the development of the car?
NF: The initial impressions are very strong and he fits into the team very well. He was quite similar in time to Rubens. He is still a young guy and he has a lot to learn. From the first discussions with Christian, we felt he would be good for us, because we tried all the time not to concentrate on individuals, but on the overall team spirit.
Q: With the exit of British American Tobacco, Honda hasnt named a new title sponsor. Will that change? Or is Honda - aside from some smaller sponsors - the sole financier of the team?
NF: We do not have left any space on the car for next year, even though there will definitely be opportunities for other partners. We have a marketing plan, which will surprise a lot of people and get them interested by our approach for next year. You will not see a car covered in Honda logos, it will be something very different. In terms of timing we will start testing our new car in the third week of January - around the 22nd - but our marketing plan and our new partners will probably not be presented until the beginning of March. So you could say that we will have two launches: one of the car and one of our new marketing concept. Until the presentation of the marketing concept the car will very likely run all in black.
Q: From their beginnings as BAR, it took the team almost eight years to land their first win. Have you cut the Gordian knot? What can we expect from Honda in their ninth season?
NF: The win was very important to us, because it did turn the team from people that believed the team would, to a team that has won. Its a small but very significant difference. Clearly we want to win some more next year. But we are under no illusions that to beat Ferrari and Renault will be very difficult. And the closer we have got to the top of the grid, the more we have realized how much we dont know and how much we have to learn. People underestimate how much experience exists in a company like Ferrari which we simply dont have. True, Honda has been in motor racing for a long time, but it stopped and it started, and because of that stopping and starting it has broken up the continuity - it learned and has forgotten, learned and has forgotten. If you keep going, then you have momentum, but when you stop you lose that momentum and to get it back takes probably another year. But I am sure that with the 100 percent backing of Honda we can manage the challenge.