Preview Malaysian Grand Prix, 19-21 March 2004
Lucky Strike B·A·R Honda arrives at Sepang for next weeks Malaysian Grand Prix with high hopes of scoring more points in the FIA Formula One World Championship. The B·A·R Honda team enjoyed an encouraging start to the year in Melbourne where its two drivers, Jenson Button and Takuma Sato, underlined the potential of the B·A·R Honda 006 by completing the Australian Grand Prix in sixth and ninth positions respectively. Buttons best finish at the Albert Park circuit earned him and the team three valuable points and expectations are high leading into the second round. While the majority of the race team has remained in the Far East, other key personnel returned to Europe between Grands Prix to join the B·A·R Honda test team for an important four-day test in Valencia, Spain. Third driver Anthony Davidson was responsible for evaluating new developments on the 04 Concept car, as well as assessing the latest Michelin tyre technology. Davidson topped the time sheets on Wednesday, and showed consistently good pace throughout the week. The RA004E engine continued to show its reliability, with no problems encountered over the test. Momentum and confidence levels are good as the team heads off for the unique challenges presented in Malaysia. To date, the vast majority of the teams test programme has been carried out in the relative cool of southern Europe, where temperatures have been a lot lower than those expected in Sepang. However, Honda's R&D facility in Japan has been working around the clock to prepare the latest RA004E V10 engine for the searing heat and humidity expected in Kuala Lumpur. Honda technicians can replicate a multitude of weather and pressure conditions on state-of-the-art dynamometers and use the data obtained to adjust the engine's software programmes to best suit ambient conditions. The nature and layout of the Sepang circuit can also be replicated in a controlled laboratory environment. This years regulations, requiring an engine to last for the duration of the race weekend, add to the challenge. Malaysia has always formed an important part of Hondas global network and, back in 1969, the country was chosen as the base for the companys first automobile production facility in South East Asia. Adding to Hondas on-going expansion in this important Asia/Oceania region, the construction of a new car plant in Malaysia was completed last year. The 80-acre facility, located in the Melaka region, was officially opened in January 2003 at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Mahathir. The first cars to roll off the production line were Honda CRVs, but the factory also produces the Honda City, Honda Civic and Honda Accord models, plus component parts, with an initial capacity of 20,000 units per year. Shuhei Nakamoto Engineering Director, Honda Racing Development: "Australia was an encouraging start to the season, with our engine showing good reliability and performance. As a team we made some further progress at the test in Valencia, and we will be looking for a better result in the hot and humid conditions of Sepang." Jenson Button on the Malaysian Grand Prix "After the encouraging start we had in Melbourne last weekend, the Malaysian Grand Prix is looking good for us. It's great to be on the scoreboard already and we are going to Sepang with an even better package, so there is no reason to think we can't qualify and race well again. The Sepang circuit is really enjoyable and it has a lot of quick, flowing corners and some really fast straights. It's given me confidence that the B·A·R Honda 006 was so reliable in the first race and now we should be able to improve further on our race pace." Takuma Sato on the Malaysian Grand Prix "We are confident heading to Malaysia as the car has proved to be reliable. I was personally disappointed not to get a point in Australia, but I think it was a very good start to the season for the whole team. I genuinely think we will have a better package in Malaysia, as we have some aero revisions available. You might expect that it would be less challenging, but Sepang is so unique and the high-speed corners are always very demanding, as are the heat and humidity. Fitness is very important, and I am going to a physical training camp in Langkawi for five days to prepare before heading to Kuala Lumpur." Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director "We think Sepang should suit our car a little better than Albert Park as it tends to work well when the track is hotter. Sepang is not really a power circuit, you just need to be aerodynamically efficient and have good braking stability. Reliability in higher temperatures is also an issue. We are going there in a confident mood and looking to challenge the top three teams. We are happy with our qualifying pace and focusing very hard on race performance." David Richards, Team Principal "We've now had an opportunity to analyse fully our performance in Australia which, with two cars at the finish and some points on the board, was encouraging. We are certain, however, that there is far more performance to come from the car and the team. The Sepang track and the high temperatures in Malaysia should make for a very different set of circumstances to Melbourne and I'm confident that this will be to B·A·R's advantage."