B.A.R Honda F1
|Based in: Long Reach, Ockham, Woking, Surrey GU23 6PE, UK|
Founded: 1998 (active 1999-2005)
Chief executive officer: Craig Pollock (1998-2002), David Richards (2002-2004), Nick Fry (2005-...)
Technical Director: Adrian Reynard (1998-2002), Geoff Willis (2003-...)
Sporting Director: Gil De Ferran (2005-...)
Chief Designer Malcolm Oastler (1998-2002)
Chief Race Engineer: Craig Wilson (2004)
Managing Director: Nick Fry (2002-2004)
Much was expected of the new British American Racing team in their 1999 debut season. With financial backing from the multi-national conglomerate British American Tobacco running to £250 million over a five year programme.
The new organisation was headed by Jacques Villeneuve's former school-teacher and manager Craig Pollock who negotiated the purchase of the Tyrrell team in late 1997. Villeneuve later confirmed to Le Journal de Montreal that he payed every penny for that purchase himself.
Once things got started, the team announced they would be using Mecachrome V10 engines for the 1999 season, in a car designed by Reynard. The British manufacturer had thus far won debut races in each single seater category it had entered until arriving in F1. Despite extremely positive press, the final really positive comment about the team's debut car came at its launch, where designer Malcolm Oastler claimed to be delighted with his creation.
But when the car hit the track, it became clear it wasn't able to fulfill the expectations. The BAR 001's performance was close to the sub-top with several good qualifying sessions but reliability was worse than any other team in F1. This eventually resulting in zero points, a sharp contrast from the victory that the team promised to achieve in its debut season. Behind the scenes however, money moved quickly, with their considerable budget reportedly getting overspent halfway into the season.
Halfway their debut season, BAR announced that Honda would be providing the engines in 2000. The deal also included the continued presence of Honda staff at the team's UK factory in Brackley.
The second season proved better indeed, and in 2001, Villeneuve managed to reach the podium twice.
Still, it were disappointing years for a team that had promised so much. Things were set to change soon after when team principal Craig Pollock resigned under pressure of British American Tobacco. He was swiftly replaced by David Richards whose ProDrive company was awared a five-year management contract to run the team. The change also saw a significant portion of the workforce to leave, including Malcolm Oastler and designer Andy Green.
Such large change was inevitably having its impact, leading into 2002 being another difficult year for the team.
It was only in 2003 when things started to improve. After securing exclusive use of the Honda engine for 2003, Richards signed Williams' technical director Geoff Willis to design the new BAR. He also packed off veteran Panis to Toyota when given the chance to sign Jenson Button to a long-term contract, while also stating that the team could no longer afford to pay such a high salary to Villeneuve (at the time the second highest paid driver in F1). Negotiations with Villeneuve dragged on through the season but without resolution and the team announced before the end of the season that test driver (and Honda protégé) Takuma Sato would partner Button in 2004. Villeneuve then pulled out of the season ending Japanese GP saying he did not have the motivation to drive, leaving Sato to make an early debut.
2004 became the best season for BAR, with drivers Button and Sato scoring 10 podium finishes shared among them. This resulted in the team finishing second in the constructors' championship. Ferrari's utter domination that season however had still prevented BAR from scoring their first win. The BAR006 was overall a very agile contender, boosted by a highly powerful Honda RA004E V10 engine paired to the team's revolutionary carbon fibre cased gearbox - for which the team received several awards.
On the back of these clear improvements, Honda wanted more and took a 45% stake in the team to have more influence in the design of the complete car. As the Japanese firm wanted a team chief solely devoted to F1, Dave Richards was moved aside in favour of Nick Fry. 2005 saw a hard start for the team as reliability problems chased the car, but Jenson Button was able to score a long series of points during the second half of the season.
Because Honda had purchased the remaining 55% stake of British American Tobacco at the end of 2005, the team was re-branded and continued to live on as Honda's official works team.
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