The RA109: the most important car ever to come out of Brackley

This week saw renewed speculation about the future of the ex-Honda F1 team, with the result the almost-universal perception that some sort of rescue will come in the form of Richard Branson and Virgin. Whether this materialises or not, other bidders reportedly wait in the wings, and the general consensus is that what remains of Honda Racing F1 will fight another day.

Jenson Button, the long-suffering talisman of the team, will most likely be partnered by Bruno Senna. For argument s sake fans can assume the young Senna has some talent which will flower in F1 (although disbelievers would point to Ralf Schumacher as an example of a famous name with not so famous drives). So if we all accept as a given that Senna is good, and the acknowledged fact of Button s skill and speed, and Ross Brawn s technical genius and the supposition that 2009 was all set to be the coming of Honda any old fan could throw in his €1 and buy the finished product. A race-winning, glorious team, with your name on it. That s what s being sold, ain t it?

Alas, if this turns out to be the case, many people will have to eat their hats. Firstly, there is no guarantee that this year s stillborn Honda RA109 is as good as it was made out to be. At the time of Honda Motor Company s exit, Nick Fry made a statement which included the line I am sure that we can still have a very successful 2009 season if a new owner can be found. Sure is a strong word. Teams often tell the world prior to season s start that they ve cracked all the problems (which for Honda were manifest). Next year will be their year. Sorry, Brackley, but that sounds like all the other guff you and Toyota in Cologne have been feeding Japanese bosses in the last few years to keep the money flowing despite mediocre results.

Secondly, there have been a few rule changes. Technical boffins assure us all that the reg changes are pretty comprehensive, and need a special brain to understand properly. Tangibly, the rule changes have meant that there was a lot of work needed to be done during pre-season testing, on KERS and in the aero department, principally. Teams have done this with varying degrees of success, but the poor fishes at Honda have been able to do next to nothing, because there has been no cash.

Thirdly, motivation at the team is probably at knee level. Everyone in a precarious financial or employment situation at present can sympathise with the boys and girls on the factory floor who were told just before Christmas that their jobs could disappear. Despite protestations to the contrary, that doesn t tend to incentivise people.

However, there are signs that some feet are still on the ground. Ross Brawn acknowledged recently that 2009 was now going to be transitional for the team, and that must be the best way to describe it. It is tremendously unlikely that the RA109 is a world-beater, having just sat in the garage all winter. The car needs to be tested, which can only happen when the money arrives. Meanwhile all the employees including Button are twiddling their thumbs in comparison to the other teams. They need foundations – security, and confidence. None of that means that 2009 will probably be a disaster for all concerned.

But few F1 fans should doubt that the team will eventually come good, with this much talent behind it. When the foundations for success are put in place, the team will prosper. But in whatever form they emerge for next season, their first task will be to prove the doubters wrong, and do well in 2009. Most of all, they have to convince their new money source that they can deliver on the track. The RA109 needs to give the impression that concrete results are just around the corner.

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