BAR interview with Willis

Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's technical director Geoffry Willis on 2003, 2004, the B.A.R Concept car, the switch to Michelin and more Q: You must have been encouraged by Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's strong finish to the 2003 season? Geoffry Willis:...

Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's technical director Geoffry Willis on 2003, 2004, the B.A.R Concept car, the switch to Michelin and more

Q: You must have been encouraged by Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's strong finish to the 2003 season?

Geoffry Willis: "We certainly had a more difficult mid-season than we expected for a number of reasons. We struggled to get the best out of the tyres during the summer and it's fair to say the tyre war seemed to be going against us during that period before it balanced up again towards the end of the season. However, I think the final result of fifth place in the Constructors' Championship is a good reflection of where we were in overall terms of engine, chassis and tyre performance."

Geoff Willis, Jenson Button and David Richards.
Photo by Honda F1 Press Office.
"The final race at Suzuka was one of the rounds that went to plan with two cars in the points and shows what we should have been doing more often. To be honest it probably wouldn't have changed our final place in the championship but we'd have been a lot happier had we finished fifth with 60 points rather than with the 26 we actually scored."

Q: It was the team's stated 2003 ambition to start challenging F1's 'big three', how close have you come to meeting this objective?

GW: "We're on the edge of it. When everything went well we were getting into the top eight on merit. But we weren't consistent enough. It was always going to be a building year for us and overall the chassis and engine worked pretty well. We didn't have any fundamental problems, however we did have a number of reliability issues. Strangely enough we were one of the most reliable teams on Friday and Saturday but then we'd get problems on Sunday. As a result we've really concentrated on procedures and getting on top of any faults much earlier in the process - we don't have an intrinsic problem in core design but we need to focus a bit more on the last five per cent of the task."

Q: Clearly you have learned from 2003; what are the current strengths and weaknesses of Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda?

GW: "I think we now have got a good technical foundation on which to build. I'm happy with the technology we have in the car and with the manufacturing and the design resource that's now in place - we are going into next season with a group of people who've worked together for at least a year, some of them longer than that. So I'm very confident we can be braver still on design and technology. We understand where we had problems last year. The big focus for the team is on reliability and making sure all the proper procedures are followed and that we have real control. As I said earlier, we are already doing 95 per cent of the job properly, now we've got to make sure we get the benefit of that solid ground-work."

Q: You've introduced an interim Concept car for the current winter test programme, what are the reasons behind this move?

GW: "With recent developments, the reasons are three-fold. Reliability is the top priority for us next year and the Concept car gives us the opportunity to run the 2004 engine, the 2004 gearbox and essentially all of the other complicated mechanical systems much earlier than would be the case if we waited for the 2004 chassis. It also allows us to evaluate a few other parts of the car such as the new hydraulics system in advance of waiting for the new car."

"Secondly, by running these reliability critical parts early it gives us the ability to release the 2004 car later. We can therefore spend more time on the performance development of the new car before setting anything in stone, so to speak. The third reason is that we now have a new tyre partner and tyres do have different characteristics, so it's important we get as much mileage on Michelin as possible."

Q: Six months ago there was talk of racing the Concept car in the first few flyaway Grands Prix in 2004, is this still the plan?

GW: "We will now be able to race the new car but we will also have a certain amount of flexibility in our planning. As the 2004 car is only being launched in early February, there will be only three tests in the run-up to Australia and we will need full confidence in its reliability before we go to the race. The probability is that we'll take the new car but we will review the situation nearer the time."

Q: There are some new technical regulations for next year, what effect have they had on the new car?

GW: "The main changes are some reductions in aerodynamic performance - we've got a different rear wing ruling which essentially gets rid of the upper forward element plus a bigger engine cover and rear wing end plates to provide sponsors with more space. Overall they will reduce the efficiency of the car and the amount of downforce by a bit - not by a huge amount. The other big change, of course, is that we now have to use the same engine for the whole weekend or incur a severe penalty. That comes down to making an engine last for 750 to 800kms for the whole weekend."

Q: Will lap times therefore be slower than they were in 2003?

GW: "The rate of development is such that this will reduce the amount by which we get faster. Next year's cars will still be faster but maybe by a few tenths of a second less than they would have been without these changes."

Q: With the top four teams not permitted to run a third car during Friday's first free practice session, will you be at an advantage over them in 2004?

GW: "Certainly, given the opportunity, we'll do everything we can to make it an advantage. We are looking at exactly what we can do and how we can best use those extra two hours on a Friday. There should be some tyre evaluation benefits, too."

Q: How will the new driver pairing of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato work and what are your thoughts on Jenson leading the Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda attack in 2004?

GW: "Obviously Jenson does have the greater experience and he will have to take a leadership role. We are expecting him to step up to that position but it's equally important that both drivers have a strong input into the team. I'm a believer that both the drivers should have quite a big influence on the team by placing a consistently high demand on everybody around them. In terms of car and engine, however, we will always ensure Jenson and Takuma have the same car, the same specifications and therefore the same opportunities."

Q: You must have been impressed with the way Jenson settled into the team last year and also with Taku's showing in Japan?

GW: "Yes, Jenson did a very consistent job for us. Taku, at very short notice, responded very well at Suzuka. He had virtually no time to get himself focused and he turned up and worked extremely well with the team. On that performance, I'm looking forward to next year."

Q: Does Taku's position as a Japanese driver strengthen B.A.R's ties with your engine supplier Honda?

GW: "It's got to have some benefits. Takuma's spoken English is very good and it's helpful in bringing the Honda and B.A.R sides together. Moreover, there's obviously going to be a cultural comfort in having a driver who speaks the same language as those at Honda."

Q: Taking a slighter wider perspective, how is the multi-dimensional relationship with Honda functioning?

GW: "We've further refined the involvement of Honda engineers on the chassis programme. There are now 25 Honda engineers working as part of the B.A.R design structure in Brackley and there is also a separate group of Honda engineers working on transmission research and development. That said, the design of the car remains 100 per cent B.A.R. However the Honda engineers are used as an integral part of our design process so there are aerodynamists, mechanical engineers, transmission engineers, vehicle dynamicists, control system engineers. We hold regular meetings every two weeks between us and the senior staff from Honda and we've certainly made big progress on co-ordinating our programmes."

Q: Are you happy with the progress Honda is making on the engine front?

GW: "In 2003, Honda started with a completely new engine and then made a considerable number of performance steps throughout the year. And now next year's engine is completely new yet again. It's a lot smaller in terms of packaging and weight reduction with a number of the concepts carried over from the end of last season. We had a pretty competitive engine at the end of last year - this year's will certainly be lighter and have virtually the same power although it's got to have almost twice the life. So we are certainly expecting engine performance to be good and also to enjoy the benefits gained from reduced weight."

"Under the current regulations one of the biggest challenges in Formula One design is to package the car in a very, very tight space in order to get the best out of the aerodynamics. The longer the relationship with Honda continues, the more we have the opportunity to integrate the design of engine with the car."

Q: Why the switch to Michelin tyres in 2004?

"On a regular basis we review all of the factors that affect the performance of the team - drivers, design, key staff, tyres and so forth. As part of that overall assessment, we felt our longer term strategic interests would be best served by switching to Michelin tyres from 2004 onwards."

Q: With all of the top F1 teams aside from Ferrari now racing on Michelin tyres, won't this make life tougher for B.A.R?

"If the track conditions at a given race are biased towards Bridgestone then it will give Ferrari a very good advantage. However, considering all the information we've been assembling over the past 18 months, we are confident we have made the best long-term decision for the team."

Q: There's definitely one additional Grand Prix in 2004 and perhaps two more; are you happy with the increased number of races?

GW: "I believe the final figure will be 17 not 18; even so it's certainly going to be quite tough. We are going to have a considerably increased testing programme pre-season on top of a similar amount of testing during the season as we had in 2003. There's no getting away from it, 17 or 18 working weekends plus 48 days of testing is a high workload on those in the factory and it's pretty tough on the race and test team personnel, too. But they are all well motivated so we'll have to work around it."

Q: Come 2004, will you be looking over your shoulder for a challenge from those behind you or will you be solely focusing on those four teams currently in front of you?

GW: "The answer is we'll be firmly focused on those in front. Realistically next year we see our competition to be Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and we'll see what happens with Renault. Certainly, we're looking that way rather than over our shoulders."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Takuma Sato , Jenson Button , Geoff Willis , David Richards
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams