APRIL 27, 2006
Aguri and Yuji Ide
Yuji Ide has not had a great Formula 1 season to date. He did not get much time in the Super Aguri before the season began and he does not know the race tracks and in Imola he blotted his copybook by tipping Christijan Albers into a fairly nasty crash on the first lap of the San Marino Grand Prix.
Having said that Ide is no fool, because finishing second in the 2005 Formula Nippon championship was no mean achievement particularly when one considers that the opposition was fairly useful and included the likes of Satoshi Motoyama, Richard Lyons, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer. Ide is a big star in Japan.
For the moment, Super Aguri seems to be sticking with Ide but there is a message in the appointment of Franck Montagny as the team's third driver for the European Grand Prix. Montagny took the role in the first two races of the year but did not have a car to drive but now Super Aguri has three chassis available, Montagny will return but only for a one-off. Officially the team says that "discussions continue regarding further opportunities within the team". This clearly means that Montagny wants a race drive and is not willing to commit himself as a tester.
The big question is whether the team wants to have a non-Japanese driver. Our understanding of the situation is that the team was established to have a very definite Japanese flavour, in an attempt to get more interest in F1 in Japan. Despite the efforts of Honda and Toyota, the number of people in Japan who are interested in F1 is much smaller than was the case in the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s when Ayrton Senna had god-like status in Japan.
One question that has been asked a lot this year is where Aguri's money is coming from. Our understanding is that the team is fully-funded this year with the finance coming from the vast advertising agency Dentsu. This is Japan's biggest advertising company, controlling more than 30% of the total market and around half the TV advertising in Japan. It operates in 27 countries and owns around 15% of Publicis, one of Europe's biggest advertising groups. The logic behind the deal appears to be that Dentsu has paid Super Aguri and is now looking for sponsors to pay off the investment and to make a profit. We believe that maintaining a very Japanese image is part of the plan and so it will probably be wiser to stick with Ide rather than trying to start the educational process with another Japanese driver or to switch to a foreign driver, who might not get any more out of the car than Ide has been managing.
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