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Honda-Honda aiming for 1998

THERE is little doubt in F1 circles that the Honda Motor Company is planning to return to Formula 1 racing within the next few years. Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of 1992 but has kept an eye on activities through the Mugen-Honda engine program which uses a lot of young Honda R&D engineers. At the same time the company has been quietly testing and developing its own F1 chassis - built by Honda engineers a couple of years ago and tested by Satoru Nakajima.

Well-placed sources within Honda say that president Nobuhiko Kawamoto's ultimate aim is to enter F1 with a complete team - and not merely as an engine supplier as was the case in the mid-1980s and early 1990s when Honda dominated F1, winning the Drivers' Championship every season between 1987 and 1991. Its relationship with McLaren formed the backbone of one of the most remarkable packages in racing history, which won 41 victories in 74 races.

Ultimately, however, there was friction because McLaren was planning to build its own road car and the Williams-Renault combination demolished the McLaren-Honda in 1992. At the same time Honda had to react to outside pressures as the worldwide economic depression hit car manufacturers. The F1 program, which was rumored to cost US$80 million at the time, was chopped and Honda turned its attention to the much cheaper world of Indycars, in an effort to support its push into the North America car markets through American Honda Motor and Acura. Honda's ultimate aim in the US is to win the Indianapolis 500 and the company came close to doing that this year with Scott Goodyear.

Current speculation in Japan suggests that the Honda-Honda F1 program will be ready to enter F1 in 1998 by which time it is likely that the Bridgestone tire company will be involved.

In the meantime, the Dome Company is going to be running Mugen Honda engines in testing in 1996 and racing in 1997, thus training up a selection of experienced Japanese engineers. Dome, incidentally, has just signed a deal with Minardi which will see the Italian team providing the Japanese with the design of its semi-automatic gearbox hydraulic system. The deal has been organized by Tadashi Sasaki, the team boss of Dome, who was previously team manager at Minardi.

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