OCTOBER 10, 2001
The signing of Takuma Sato
THE news that Takuma Sato has signed a two-year deal to drive for Benson and Hedges Jordan Honda is not really a big surprise. Sato is a Honda man and thus the two Formula 1 teams quibbling over Honda engines were both keen to get him. British American Racing had him on a testing contract but we understand that the contract had a get-out clause so that Sato could take up an offer to race for a different team.
This is not a similar kind of deal to the days when Satoru Nakajima was picked to be Ayrton Senna's team-mate at Team Lotus. Sato has proved his worth in the most competitive of all arenas by winning the British Formula 3 Championship. Not only has he won but he has also won in style and that hints at a talent far in excess of those we have seen to date from Japan. This is great news for the sport as in recent years Japan has been languishing without a driver in F1. It is too early yet to say whether or not Sato will develop into a Grand Prix winner but his potential would seem to suggest that this should not be ruled out. It remains to bee seen whether he can achieve that goal with Jordan. Certainly if Jordan is going to win races in the near future it is going to need a better engine from Honda. That is being taken care of at the moment with Honda engineers in Japan developing the 2002 V10 which rumors suggest will be a fairly radical piece of machinery.
From a political point of view the signing of Sato is a good move for Jordan but at the same time the team must face up to the reality that Honda wants results and Jordan is still a tiny team in comparison to many others, not least its Honda rival British American Racing. Jordan does not have the same level of equipment and plans for a new factory are still months, if not years away from completion. As other teams build up their industrial infrastructure Jordan will need to invest as well if it wants to be taken seriously by Honda.
It is not a foregone conclusion therefore that Jordan will keep the Honda factory engine supply in 2003. Nor for that matter is it a foregone conclusion that there will be only one engine supply after the end of this year. It makes sense for Honda to concentrate on one team but the company often does the unexpected and emerges successful.
The decision last week by CART to switch the rules of the series to normally-aspirated engines in 2003 has caused considerable annoyance at American Honda and so it is possible that the company will put all of its efforts into F1. Having said that Honda knows the importance of the US markets and so it is hard to imagine that it will withdraw completely. However, it might prove to be a good opportunity for Honda to go after the biggest prize in US racing - victory in the Indianapolis 500 or in other words an IRL program.
It is doubtful that any of these have yet been made and in the background there is still an ambition - highlighted by the amount of chassis work being done for BAR and Jordan by Honda engineers - for Honda to one day build it own chassis in F1 - just as rival Toyota is doing.
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