OCTOBER 7, 2005
The Great Honda Mystery
The Mafia has a code of silence, known as omerta, which forbids its members, on pain of death, to reveal secrets of the organisation. Secrets are kept because of fear of retribution if the information comes out. The extraordinary thing about the supposed 11th Formula 1 team is that a large number of people seem to know the identity of the planned new team and yet are sworn to secrecy. This is almost unprecedented in modern Formula 1 and one is left asking why it is that there is so much need for secrecy.
The result of this refusal by Honda people to talk has been that speculation has been intense and there are many theories flying around. The problem is that few of these have any obvious foundation. We know that the team is nothing to do with the Direxiv F1 plans. We know also that it is not Dome. It does not appear to be a graduating GP2 operation.
"It's an independent team already involved in racing and hoping to enter Formula 1," Honda Racing's president Yasuhiro Wada said yesterday in Suzuka. "I wish I could tell you more. They are finalising details and I don't expect an announcement is too far away. I expect it will be made soon. We will have a contract to supply engines and also technical assistance."
That technical assistance will, by necessity, be considerable, given the late nature of the planning if the team is to be ready in time. It is way too late to start designing and building new cars for next year and thus any new team must already have access to F1-standard facilities. These are few and far between. There is a full F1 factory at Leafield, left over from the old Arrows team, but this is now owned by an American firm called Menard Engineering, which uses the 160,000 sq.ft facility for road car development work. It is more likely that Honda, as part of the deal, would lease some of its facilities at Brackley - where BAR has all the necessary equipment for second composite department - left over from the old Reynard days. The new team would have to buy the intellectual property rights to the current BAR chassis, and will modify that design to house the new V8 engine. This will be possible as the current team owner, British American Tobacco, will be selling the team to Honda on December 31 2005. This will mean that, as long as the new team, fabricates the cars itself, the new versions of the old cars will be acceptable under the terms of the Concorde Agreement. The team will, however, still have to pay the $48m bond to the FIA unless this is cancelled by the federation at the next World Council meeting at the end of the month. This will probably happen because the FIA has publicly stated that it wants new teams in the sport.
The major problem at this late stage would be staff but this can be sorted out relatively quickly because of the readily-available supply of composite people in the area and the fact that Jordan does not seem to be moving in the right direction at the right direction. Morale is low and many of the Silverstone team's staff may decide to head down the road to new jobs in Brackley.
Speculation would seem to suggest that there is a strong Japanese element to the new team and this has brought the names of Satoru Nakajima and Aguri Suzuki into the limelight. Both are former F1 drivers with strong Honda connections. Both run well-funded and successful racing operations: Nakajima Planning in Formula Nippon and the Japanese GT Championship (with PIAA and Epson sponsorship) and Suzuki with his ARTA Project in the Indy Racing League, the Japanese GT Championship and Formula Dream with support from Autobacs, a fast-expanding Japanese auto parts business. There are several other possibilities in Formula Nippon, including Kazuyoshi Hoshino's Mobilecast Team Impul or Team Cerumo, which has strong links with Eddie Irvine, who has been trying to put together a team for a while and was recently reported to have bought a house in the Brackley area. Coincidentally Cerumo's longtime sponsor Cosmo Oils recently raised a huge sum of money in Japan in order to continue its international expansion, notably in the Middle East.
The possibilities are endless at the moment.
Honda says that all will be revealed as soon as possible but that the full details cannot be released until more of the plans have been formalised.
The level of secrecy has led some conspiracy theorists in F1 to suggest that the entire story has been designed to get Honda through the Japanese GP without too much negative publicity following its decision to drop Takuma Sato. Such things are always possible but are very unlikely as Honda's reputation in F1 circles, particualrly with the media, would be seriously compromised by such a cynical tactic.
The reality is probably that Honda feels the need to react to the fact that by 2007 rival Toyota is going to be running two strong F1 teams with Panasonic Toyota being joined in the attack by Williams.
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