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Monday, November 22, 2004

BAR and Honda's Decision Is Premature

Honda has announced that it will buy out 45% of the BAR team in a move signifying long term commitment to Formula 1. You can read the story on F1Racing here. A new joint venture company will be formed with British American Tobacco owning 55% of said company and Honda taking the remaining shares.

Commitments of this nature is nothing new. Mercedes already has a substantial shareholding in McLaren with talk of taking control of the team in the future. No doubt this will depend on future race and championship results. BMW also, is continuing to speak with Frank Williams on the possibility of taking control of Williams. Both Patrick Head and Frank Williams are getting on and one naturally assumes wants to sell out in the future prior to retirement. A process of "fattening up" of the team continues in anticipation of such a takeover. Manufacturer involvement in the team has its benefits of course, with the manufacturer making available facilities and resources that are otherwise unavailable to the teams. Such moves are inevitable in this sport and really there can be no complaints there.

What is interesting about the Honda deal however, is the dismissal of David Richards from the team. According to the article BAT had brought in David Richards and Prodrive to "restructure the management of the team and put BAR Honda into a position to challenge for the World Championship." Everyone knows of course that David Richards has done a sterling job with the BAR team. Getting rid of irritating annoyances in the team like Pollock and friend Villeneuve and then building a team around Messrs Button and Sato proved to be an inspired move. I have a feeling that of all the teams in the paddock, BAR and Ferrari are perhaps the only teams that currently maximizes all the available resources and are operating at peak efficiency. McLaren and Williams, the way I look at it, indulge in many frivolous exercises and should really look at the way BAR are getting on. Of course, having Geoff Willis as your technical director helps a whole lot. This guy is still popping up with new ideas unlike a burnt out Adrian Newey at McLaren.

However, given the brief of putting BAR Honda as a major championship challenger, David Richards has not yet completed his task. BAR's performance has been stunning no doubt and they will use numbers 3 and 4 next year but they are in no shape to challenge for the championship as yet. Next year they will probably be even closer to the top but I somehow doubt they will be able to stop the scarlet juggernaut just yet. Despite Button's third place in the driver's championship and BAR's second place in the constructors race this year, one must not forget that they have yet to score a win. Despite dismal performances by Williams and McLaren, they have scored wins. So to have Renault. This is important, as it demonstrates at least the potential of a team. Ok, so the BAR team came close in Germany but still it was a missed affair. Despite a brilliant performance at Monza, the Ferraris were able to catch up and after a stunning drive by both Schumacher and Barrichello, were still able to beat BAR. There is still a lot of work left for David Richards and the BAR team before they can be considered as championship challengers able to consistently battle with the Ferraris.

So why dismiss David Richards and Prodrive now when clearly they are needed more than ever? I might have an answer which was given to me by a BAR employee himself but I shan't be revealing it. It's probably something to do with the flow of money. Still, you must admit that David Richards is still the best chance that BAR have got. I mean, look back in years past when Ferrari were being trashed every weekend. Did they dismiss Jean Todt at the first opportunity? Of course not. It was probably the smartest move Luca di Montezemolo ever did keeping that little Frenchman in the team. Now look at them. They are nigh invincible. Strong teams and personnel that are performing should be kept and not dismissed.

I'm sure Honda and BAT are doing their sums and they've probably thought it out. Ummm.... yeah just like having Craig Pollock as team principal was a "brilliant" BAT plan. David Richards remains magnanimous about the whole affair. Read his comments here on Yes, David, much as I think you are a shrewd sort of person one cannot deny that he has done a superb job. Honda and BAR would do well to keep him but the die is cast. It remains to be seen but I fear his dismissal is a grave error and BAR will feel the effects next season.

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