JUNE 16, 2008

Another second Honda team?

There are stories doing the rounds in Europe that there might be a second Honda team again in F1 in 2009. This sounds rather unlikely given that Honda is still nursing the tips of its fingers, which were well heated by Super Aguri. Honda Racing F1 sources say the team knows nothing of another Honda team, and reports that American engineer Ken Anderson met with Honda's Ross Brawn and Nick Fry seem to be well wide of the mark.

However Anderson was in Montreal, although the visit seems to have been a reconnaissance mission rather than one for doing deals.

The fact that Honda F1 knows nothing of the idea is not necessarily a surprise. It is entirely possible that there have been dealings going on higher up in the company. There is a fair amount of logic in having one's engine in use by more than one team. It doubles the data available, which is useful, even with an engine freeze. And, of course, Toyota enjoys just such an arrangement with Williams. Ferrari too is gaining from having engine supply deals with Toro Rosso and Force India and Renault is doing the same with Red Bull.

There is a reason that McLaren was keen to have a secondary Mercedes-Benz team with Prodrive.

But is it possible to have a team up and running by next year, particularly one based in the United States?

The answer is probably yes. The design process for 2009 seems to be rather less complicated than has been the case in recent years given the ever-increasing restriction on what F1 designers are allowed to do. If there is a car designed within the next few months (and it is fair to assume that Honda owns the designs of the Super Aguri team, given the scale of the debt involved), all that is needed is a capacity to produce composite parts - and an ability to do windtunnel testing.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, there is plenty of potential for carbon composite work and access to some pretty impressive windtunnel technology.

Anderson started his career in shock absorber design. In 1984 he was hired by no less a figure than Roger Penske to work in CART and in the years that followed Penske shock absorbers were used in F1, while Anderson race engineered Rick Mears between 1985 and 1988. He was then headhunted by Ligier to be the French team's technical director. The resulting JS33 was a decent car and allowed Rene Arnoux to finish fifth in Canada. Anderson moved on to join the Onyx F1 team but after the team fell apart he went back to the United States and became technical director of Chip Ganassi Racing. He later set up Chip Ganassi Racing Ltd. in England, a company which later transformed itself into G Force Precision Engineering. Anderson worked in CART and IRL and in 1996 designed the first G Force IRL car, which won the Indianapolis 500 in the hands of Arie Luyendyk. In 2002 Anderson was recruited to head the Falcon company, which aimed to build a chassis to challenge the domination of Dallara in the IRL. That was not a success and in 2003 Anderson moved to NASCAR as technical director of Haas CNC Racing. Although team boss Gene Haas is currently in jail for tax evasion, his team continues and a couple of years ago, invested in Windshear Inc, which aimed to produce a 180-mph rolling-road windtunnel, the most advanced of its kind in the world. The windtunnel has technology that even F1 teams are interested in and Windshear recently announced that it had reached an agreement with an unnamed F1 team to use the tunnel. The programme is expected to begin this month. Several other F1 teams have expressed an interest in using the facility.

The entire idea of an American F1 team requires money but we hear that Anderson is confident that this can be found. Honda may decide that the team would be a good place to place Takuma Sato and the obvious thing for the second driver would be an American.

The idea makes sense from a karting point of view as Honda would love to be seen as the company that took F1 to America. Toyota is making waves in NASCAR and that leaves Honda with little to brag about. The company supplies the whole of the IRL field and runs cars in ALMS but this has little market penetration. An American F1 team might make a difference.

We remain to be convinced but the idea will work, but there is some logic to it and it should not be dismissed as a pipe dream - at least not yet.