Honda Becoming More Powerful
January 14, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
True, Jordan and British American Racing have been better than teams such as Jaguar, Arrows, Prost, and Benetton put together, but compared to Ferrari and Mercedes’ dominance over the past two years, Honda must be thinking one thing – there’s a lot of room for improvement, and not much time to do it.
That goal of improvement that has led to a handful of driver and engineer changes in the past few years has led to an impressive start to the 2002 testing season.
The BAR Honda 004 was the first 2002-spec car to test this season, running laps everyday this past week at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona, with Olivier Panis recording a fastest time on the first day of 1 minute, 21.909 seconds. On the final day of testing Friday, he completed a race-distance test session in the BAR Honda 004, just four days after he first sat in the car.
“I still feel really positive,” Panis said Friday. “Today we managed 84 laps with one long race-distance run and there were no problems. The car felt really stable. The team has done an excellent job this winter and I feel confident. We've been quite conservative with the engine this test, but the reliability is there and that's important.”
On Day 3 of the test, Jacques Villeneuve made his first run in the BAR Honda 004 and the prickly Canadian had some ecstatic reviews about the new Honda engine and BAR chassis.
“The car has definitely improved and there's a lot more still to come,” Villeneuve said. “Also, the engine is still in its infancy so there's a lot more to come from that, as well. This year, the mechanical side of the car feels much better. The rear is a lot more stable, and in high speeds the cars seems to be more stable as well. As this is just a preliminary test there will be some more changes for the next test so I'll be back in the car then.
“We knew there was going to be a big difference in the car this year and so it's nice to get in it and see those improvements.”
For Jordan drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Takuma Sato, the learning curve has been skewed considering that their new car is not ready yet and they are both new to the yellow-colored cars.
Regardless, former Benetton driver Fisichella posted the fastest lap time of the week Friday, hitting 1:18.483 on a dry track. Rookie Sato was second fastest on Friday.
“These next few weeks of testing are very important to me and I'm excited to be at Jordan and working alongside Giancarlo, and very much looking forward to my debut grand prix in Australia,” Sato said.
Despite the overcast and rainy conditions that left a damp track for much of the test and limited the useful dry-weather running time, both Honda-powered teams and the Honda engineers were able to start collecting valuable engine and chassis data and, equally as important, feedback from the drivers.
“We didn't do as much running as we'd planned because the track conditions weren't great,” said Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Racing Development race and test team manager. “But we nevertheless ran a considerable number of laps, and got some valuable data and a good idea of areas we have to work on. As it's been the shakedown test for our new engine, and we have a few problems with it, we have not been running on full revs. We're concentrating on getting to our target performance level for the first race.
“We'll keep going with our preparations, working hard at the tests that are scheduled almost every day now, so that we are ready to start the 2002 season with the best overall structure possible. This first test has finished without any major problems, and it's fair to say it's gone quite well.”
To call this week’s testing as “quite well” is an understatement coming off the seasons Honda has produced lately.