APRIL 19, 1999

What happens now with Honda?

THE sudden death of Harvey Postlethwaite could have a dramatic effect on Honda's Formula 1 plans.

THE sudden death of Harvey Postlethwaite could have a dramatic effect on Honda's Formula 1 plans. The British engineer had been at the center of the Japanese car company's F1 operation - called Honda Racing Developments Ltd. - for the last 12 months, although he was still running the Tyrrell team (for British American Racing) until November.

Postlethwaite was testing with the HRD team in Barcelona on Tuesday last week when he complained of chest pains. He went back to his hotel and was then taken to the hospital where he died that evening.

HRD had been waiting for the final decision from Japan to go ahead with its planned F1 operation for next season. That decision had been delayed as Jordan Grand Prix and British American Racing both tried to convince Honda management - some of whom were keen on the idea - to give up the idea of an all-Honda team and instead return to F1 as an engine supplier. There have already been reports that the Japanese car company is scrapping the HRD plan, but these should be treated with circumspection.

Postlethwaite was the pivotal figure in HRD but ultimately the team is designed to be run by Japanese staff once they have learned some of the intricacies of Grand Prix racing. Postlethwaite was always going to take a back seat role when the team was launched in F1.

It is, therefore, quite likely that Honda will push ahead with the original plan. It has already been announced that the company would build its own F1 chassis and the management in Japan is unlikely to back away from that commitment. The F1 program is also intended to be used to market the new Honda S2000 roadster, which aims to take customers away from Mercedes.

Finding a replacement for Postlethwaite will not be easy but HRD can continue to operate on a day-to-day basis under the control of Rupert Manwaring and Steve Nielsen. The design team is being run by Tim Densham. What is needed now is someone to deal with the political issues which Postlethwaite had been looking after. The man thought most likely to fill that role is former Honda president Nobuhiko Kawamoto, who has always been expected to be a key member of the team.

HRD will also need a technical director and the man who is most likely to fit the bill - and is available - is Alan Jenkins. He was the scapegoat for the poor performance at Stewart Grand Prix last year but the SF3 - which was largely designed under his leadership - is a highly-competitive car this season. He is well-placed to help HRD as it aims to establish an all-new factory, as he oversaw the creation of the new Stewart facility in Milton Keynes. He is also known to Honda management, having been with the Footwork team when it ran Mugen Honda engines in 1992 and 1993.

Until there is an official announcement, Jordan and BAR are hoping to convince Honda to change its policy. Jordan is better placed for success - and is pitching for an engine supply in addition to HRD rather than in place of it. The argument is that this would give the Honda bosses a yardstick against which to measure their own chassis. There is some logic in this, but at the same time, having a yardstick can create embarrassment if the factory team underperforms...