FEBRUARY 5, 2007
Honda's wily ways
Marco Andretti will be back in an F1 Honda this week in Jerez and with grandfather, former F1 World Champion Mario Andretti, expected to attend the test to see his grandson in action, one has to ask what in the world is going on.
Honda has twice, very carefully, released news about Andretti on Friday evenings, a time when there is guaranteed to be much less coverage because journalists have gone home for the weekend and by the time they return on Monday the news will be old hat. The only possible explanation for this is that Honda is trying to minimise the coverage the tests get. And one must therefore ask why this is a good plan as most F1 teams spend their time trying to get maximum coverage for everything (positive) that they do.
The clandestine nature of the announcement suggests, therefore, that there is more to this than meets the eye - and the presence of Mario Andretti would seem to underline that.
Not many F1 test drivers bring their grandfathers to their tests.
The fact that this is a second test is also significant, as it proves the point that the first test was not just a one-off publicity stunt. Honda must therefore be seriously considering doing something with Marco in the future. Testing time these days is a very valuable commodity and you do not just give it away.
It is clear that Andretti is exactly what F1 and indeed Honda, needs in America. F1 will never strike it big in the United States without a local hero winning races to get the locals excited. One needs only to look at the effect that Fernando Alonso's success has had on F1 in Spain or think back to similar phenomena in Germany in the mid 1990s with Michael Schumacher and in Britain in the mid 1980s with Nigel Mansell.
Honda is a strong supporter of the US open-wheeler racing scene if only because it does not want to be associated with NASCAR, aiming for a higher tech image. Thus, with US single-seater racing so weak, it makes sense for the company to look at the bigger picture and try to use a young American in F1 to boost Honda's image in the US.
Rubens Barrichello's contract with Honda ends this year and while he is still doing fine, he is nonetheless one of the older drivers in the sport and cannot go on forever. In theory Marco Andretti is not available until 2009 and it is possible that Rubens could go on for another two seasons but at the same time things can always be accelerated if the desire is right and the money is right.
Much may also depend on what happens at Indianapolis in May. Marco has ambitions to win the Indianapolis 500 (it is a genetic thing) and if he achieves that this early in his racing career, there is really only one fence left to jump.
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