Features - Year in Review
NOVEMBER 28, 2001
To a large degree British American Racing remained throughout 2001 a hostage to the philosophy behind its own foundation. Back in 1999 it seemed a novel concept to found an F1 primarily driven by promotional requirements rather than underlying engineering capability. But the sun has long since gone in on that approach and BAR has singularly failed to establish itself as anything more than a struggling midfield also-ran.
To be fair, team principal Craig Pollock is no more satisfied with the situation than his two drivers Jacques Villeneuve and the incoming Olivier Panis, both of whom had to make do with the occasional crumbs of reward in terms of top six placings. In retrospect, when the much-trumpeted new car launch of the BAR-Honda 003 turned out in reality to be an old 2000 car with a slightly modified paint job, we should have seen the writing on the wall.
Not that BAR sat back and put their feet up, so to speak. With a workforce expanded over the course of the season by an additional 150 staff, most of whom have been recruited on the technical side, the Brackley-based team is clearly building for the future. Add to that the fact that they had test drivers coming out of their ears in the form of Patrick Lemarie, Darren Manning, Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato and they should have been well placed to get through plenty of productive testing mileage.
Pollock described the BAR 003 as "a badly born car." Whatever the team seemed to do to it in terms of development components, nothing seemed to make a significant difference. Establishing precisely where the problem lay was difficult; there were no obvious suspension or torsional stiffness issues. The car was perhaps short on aero downforce and lacked grip during practice and qualifying, but it raced promisingly on several occasions.
For the second year BAR was using the latest works Honda V10 engine which had more power, operated at higher revs and was claimed as significantly lighter. Yet even the normally tactiturn and defensive Japanese company conceded that perhaps the development program had not quite yielded the results they had been hoping for.
Put simply, there are those in the F1 business who believe that Honda has been too timid in terms of development and until it returns to the sort of technically audacious approach which prevailed under former Honda president Nobuhiko Kawamoto's regime their teams will remain bogged down in a midfield rut.
None of this did anything for the confidence or optimism of Villeneuve and Panis, both of who tried hard to little effect throughout the year. Long-term plans for the future include the imminent arrival of former Williams aerodynamicist Geoffrey Willis as technical director, but as far as 2002 is concerned it's difficult to see BAR achieving much more than it did over the past 17 races.