Formula 1 Insight

Hopes for the Honda

Honda have revealed their new livery for 2008 and, to be kind, it is not quite as bad as last year's. The Earth Dream concept is retained but now the globe has shrunk to become just a blue and green circle over the engine cover. The rest of the car is white with red trimming.

Honda RA108
Honda RA108

It is always a matter of taste, of course, but I think the car still looks a bit nondescript in these colors. What really matters is how it performs on the track and its poor showing in Valencia is probably explained by Barrichello's insistence that they were merely shaking down the car, making sure that everything worked. Later tests will give us a better idea of how much improvement there has been.

And there has to be some improvement, even if the car is not going to be a world beater from the start. Too many hopes ride on this after the disaster of the RA107. Reputations too could be made or broken by the RA108, most notably Ross Brawn's; even though we join in the consensus that it will be a while before his influence is felt, there remains an expectation that he be the miracle worker, the man who can turn the team into winners in very short order.

He is being cautiously optimistic and his explanation of the RA107's problems seems to make a great deal of sense. The car's aerodynamics produced a lot of downforce but in an aggressive, unmanageable way, apparently. The new Honda has been designed to be much more driveable, with downforce that is delivered smoothly.

This reminds me immediately of the Arrows A2 of 1979 and confirms me in my opinion that the Honda's problem was the same as that long-forgotten experiment's. I can do no better than to quote an article of mine from the period when the RA107 was introduced:

Theoretically, the A2 should have blown away the competition. The front wings had disappeared and stubby winglets appeared above the front suspension instead. The bodywork was basically a box extending right to the back of the car and incorporating the rear wing, thereby maximizing the area of low pressure under the car. Intakes and protuberances were kept to a minimum. It really ought to have stuck to the road like a giant sucker.

Arrows A2
Arrows A2

In practice, it scared the drivers silly. Yes, it had plenty of downforce but this varied according to the ground clearance under the car, so that every bump in the road altered the car’s handling. The area of maximum downforce wandered around too and the car would porpoise down the straights, alternately sucked on to the track and then released.

It became clear that positioning and control of downforce was more important than masses of suction. The designers went back to the drawing board while the drivers, Riccardo Patrese and Jochen Mass, struggled on with the A2, finishing the year with only 5 points between them.

Sounds very familiar, doesn't it, those meager five points? Honda may have bettered it with their six in 2007 but I suspect the whole saga was a repeat of history. Let us hope that Honda do not continue to follow in Arrows' footsteps, that long descent from the midfield to the rear of the grid and eventual surrender.

Next week the testing of the RA108 begins in earnest and I'm sure that the best wishes of most F1 fans will be with Honda. It was not pleasant to watch the embarrassment of the team last year.


Number 38
"TOO MUCH DOWNFORCE"? Does anyone remember the Chaparrel J2? A Can-Am (Group 7) car of the late 1960s.
It had plastic skirts that hung from either side to the ground to "seal" the body to the road and a pair of fans in the rear driven by a small engine to "suck" the air from under the car.
and here's a footnote for our F1 following: "Reigning F1 World Driving Champion Jackie Stewart qualified the 2J third at Watkins Glen.........." (
Date Added: 29/01/2008

I think the point wasn't that there was too much downforce, but that it was too harsh and / or affected too much by the ride height and, consequently, road surface.
Like your stiff springed, lowered Southend shit box - probably handles better than a standard Nova on smooooth asphelt, but the slightest bump and it's all over the place.

Did I just compare an F1's aerodynamics to a chav-rocket with shaved springs?

But you know what I meant!

My main point was about Ross Brawn - I don't think this will make or break him. He'll always be remembered and revered for what he's done in Formula 1 thus far.
If the FA108 is a goodun then Ross Brawn is just keeping up appearences and is the legendary genius we all knew he was anyway.
If it's pants then it's because just look at what he had to work with. As different in concept as he may claim it is to the FA107 it's still a shit starting point and he's still got the same team that designed that old jallopy anyway so HOW can even HE get them regularly in the points (on the podium, you say!)

I, for one, hope Brawn and the FA108 do well.
I like Honda - they seem so nice and cuddly for a huge evil global corporation, don't they! And I've previously owned some of their finest road cars and bikes and never found anything to better them.
And it'll be good to see a talented Brit and a nice, stylish, Brasilian in competitve cars!
Date Added: 29/01/2008

Yes, Number 38, too much downforce! The point is really that downforce needs to be consistent and both the Arrows A2 and Honda FA107 had plenty but it was unpredictable in the effects it had. Imagine trying to drive a car that glues itself to a corner on one lap but then lets go on the next. We begin to understand the trials of Button and Barrichello last year...

I remember the Chaparral 2J and gave it due credit in my recent article on Gordon Murray. That would have been very consistent downforce, since it was created by sucking the air out from underneath the car - ground effect cars had to rely on the ground clearance remaining fairly consistent throughout a lap, the suction being created by air flowing beneath the car.
Date Added: 29/01/2008

I think you make the a fair comparison with the chav rocket, DBT. Those annoying little bumps on the road don't have mess up all the ground effect theory - as Arrows found out and Honda re-discovered.

But in Arrows' case, at least, it was a case of too much downforce - sometimes! If they had managed to get the downforce delivered consistently throughout a lap, it might have been a different story but, as it was, the car was hair-raising to drive, grabbing on, then letting go, completely unpredictably.

As for Ross, I agree that his reputation is pretty secure already - yet it would be sad to see it dimmed should the Honda cars never get it right. We can forgive him this year, since he has had virtually no input into the design of the FA108, but next year it is inevitable that we will expect great improvement. Note that Adrian Newey is no longer spoken of in quite the glowing terms that were uttered when he first went to Red Bull. It's a hard world, F1.
Date Added: 29/01/2008

Oops, typo! I meant "don't half mess up all the ground effect...", not "don't have mess up..." Must edit before posting, must edit before posting, must edit before posting...
Date Added: 29/01/2008
out of interest, and i know there's bound to be a logical explanation, but why are you not calling it the RA108?
Date Added: 29/01/2008

Sheer brain fade and writing before properly woken up, F1 Minute! Thanks for pointing it out - will fix.
Date Added: 29/01/2008
"Sheer brain fade and writing before properly woken up"

ahh cool, i thought for a second there might have been some historical naming thing i'd missed.

watching the launch, there were a lot of smiles all round. and the interviews were much less awkward than last year. i'm optimistic there's more performance hiding in there than they're letting on.

rb was the master 'sandbagger' at ferrari, methinks he's playing us some.
Date Added: 29/01/2008

Good point about Brawn - he was always the clever one. And I hope you're right about the performance of the Honda. It's about time Jenson had a decent car to drive.
Date Added: 29/01/2008

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