Since the Honda Racing F1 Team purchased the remaining 55% share of BAR to become the sole owner in September 2005, things have been going in the wrong direction. In 2006 the team was getting podium finishes and even won the Hungarian Grand Prix with Jenson Button driving.
In 2007 the cars were relatively reliable but just not quick enough over the race distance. Honda slid from being 4th in the constructor's championship in 2006 to 8th in 2007, a disastrous result for the team.
Even the usually perky race drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button had a hard time putting the happy face for interviews. The car was inherently unstable in corners, a rough diamond that just needed polishing it was not.
Ross Brawn, Team Principal, explained that "the focus has been on attaining a high level of aerodynamic efficiency with stability and this is reflected in the way that the chassis has been revised to interact with the different aerodynamic features and the suspension. "
Honda's relationship with F1 dates back to 1963, a mere three years after the company started making road cars. The pedigree of this team speaks for itself, as Honda has supplied its engines to six constructor champions. Fighting at the tail end of the field in 2007 was not part of the game plan.
Something has to change and that's what Honda is trying to do. The most fundamental change is a directional step change in the whole car design philosophy.
The entire process from concept to launch has been re-evaluated. The new car is a considered response to the challenges of 2007, benefiting from the combined resources of the Honda Racing F1 Team's three bases, Brackley and Bracknell in the UK and Tochigi in Japan.
Nick Fry, Chief Executive Officer, said, "Following a year where we failed to live up to our own expectations, the team has made a number of key appointments in the second half of 2007 to strengthen our existing resource as well as bringing on board new knowledge and different experience.
"In particular, the arrival of Ross in the position of Team Principal has brought new impetus and confidence to the whole organisation"
Bringing Brawn on board is indeed a real boost for the outfit. The RA108 benefits from a strengthened engineering team, combining the depth of experience of the existing resource with a wide-ranging expertise in key areas provided by Brawns leadership.
"The RA108 car is a wholly different concept to its predecessors, in terms of its aerodynamic layout and mechanical structure. "The design philosophy has been developed to allow greater scope for aerodynamic packaging and exploitation, particularly to facilitate the introduction of performance upgrades through the season. " commented Brawn at the launch.
The team will benefit from the continuity of its race driver pairing, as Button and Barrichello enter a third successive season for the team.
This combined with the development talents of test/reserve driver Alex Wurz means Honda will field the most experienced driver line-up on the grid for 2008. Barrichello alone is entering his 16th season in F1.
Button said, "My motivation is to be with a team that is setting its sights on performing at the highest level and in a car that is competitive and I have faith in Honda for the period that lies ahead.
"I want to win races and I want to be in contention to be world champion. The past five years have been challenging and last year was disappointing, but the team has recognized this and set about tackling the areas that have prevented us from achieving best performance. "
Barrichello added "I had the opportunity to drive the RA108 for the first time in Valencia last week and although I ran for just a few laps in the new car,
"It is too soon to reach any conclusions about the car's handling and performance, but I am looking forward to the Barcelona test this coming weekend and really getting to grips with the development of the RA108. "
The team's earthdreams program still continues to be a major part of the teams profile. This represents the next stage of Honda's long term commitment to harnessing the passion of F1 to provide support and investment for good causes.
The focus has shifted from raising environmental awareness to action. Gone is the full world map that adorned the 2007 car. The design still appears on the car but is confined to the side pod and airbox area, the car is now predominantly white, a return to Honda's historical racing color.
The design itself is distinctive, as it features a huge front wing, not dissimilar to the BMW F1.08 but here there are unusual jagged cutaways on the trailing edge. The jaggedness is also a feature of the barge boards which have a surprisingly stepped look. The side pods have also been reshaped and cutaway sharply as they go down to the floor pan. The car will have a substantially revised aerodynamic package for the first race in Melbourne so how much of this will remain is questionable.
Will it be more successful than its predecessor? How could it not be ...