Jock Clear joined B.A.R right from the start as Jacques Villeneuve's race engineer. He is now building an exciting new relationship with Takuma Sato -- a partnership that's starting to blossom. Q: As someone who's been at Lucky Strike B.A.R...
Jock Clear joined B.A.R right from the start as Jacques Villeneuve's race engineer. He is now building an exciting new relationship with Takuma Sato -- a partnership that's starting to blossom.
Q: As someone who's been at Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda since the start, you must be delighted with the way the team has flourished into a major force this season?
Jock Clear: Absolutely. I think it's fair to say we certainly never expected to be quite this competitive. We knew we were going to make progress but I don't think we expected to overtake Williams and McLaren. However there's still the frustration of Ferrari - they're still out there to be caught but we're slowly clawing back the gap.
Q: Has it been worth all the hard work and the five-year wait?
JC: Once again, absolutely. There are quite a few people who've been here at B.A.R right from the start and it did hurt to be criticised in the way we were during the first couple of years. Nobody with realistic Formula 1 experience had any expectation of winning in the first year; we were very realistic about how long it was going to take and five years is about where you'd want to pitch your success. After all that criticism, it makes it all the sweeter now when you see Jenson up there on the podium or a B.A.R on the front row of the grid.
Q: Can you realistically close the gap on Ferrari or does that depend on the comparative competitiveness of your respective Michelin and Bridgestone tyres?
JC: It's one and the same really. Yes, it strongly depends on Michelin but Michelin also strongly depends on us. It's up to us to carry the responsibility of developing the tyres with our car. If we find we're not doing that or, for that matter, we're losing any battle - whether it's power, aerodynamics or tyre grip - it's down to us to respond.
Q: On a more personal front you must be pleased with the way Takuma Sato has progressed in recent Grands Prix.
JC: Yes, I'm enjoying that. Obviously it's a very different challenge to when I was working with Jacques as Jacques and I grew up together in the sport. This is a totally different situation. I now have a lot more direct experience of race engineering in Formula 1 and Taku is new blood with fresh enthusiasm and a different set of skills to Jacques' - not necessarily better or worse, just different. It's up to us to make the most of these skills and to get the best out of Taku in every situation. We started in Suzuka last year where he had a very good race and that momentum has carried on into this year and, in the last couple of races, you've seen it start to come together.
Q: Was it always a plan for Taku to start slowly, building up his confidence in the first few races before trying to match Jenson's proven pace?
JC: There wasn't a plan. In our wildest dreams we hoped to go to Melbourne, blow Jenson away and to win the race. However, as we all know, Jenson is operating at a very high level; he's improved dramatically over the last year and, Michael (Schumacher) aside, there's no one out there more on top of his game. So it's a tall order to ask Taku to arrive at a new team as a recognised driver and to really fight side-by-side from the outset.
So we expected there to be a gap and we expected Taku to respond to that. And that's exactly what he's done. He hasn't been rattled and he's responded to Jenson's lead. Obviously Jenson is still getting the results and the next step for us is to get Taku standing on the podium - that's got to be the next feather in his cap.
Q: The next two races in North America would seem to present both Taku and the team with good chances of further success as both tracks should be well suited to the B.A.R Honda 006.
JC: If you look at the season so far, our strongest result has been at Imola and Montreal is a very similar track in terms of tyre grip level, corner type, heavy braking and long straights; therefore we will go there expecting to be at least as competitive as we were at Imola. Obviously, as San Marino was only the fourth race of the season, Taku wasn't fully up to speed and Jenson was out on his own. We would strongly expect to go to Montreal with both Jenson and Taku taking the fight to Ferrari.
Q: You've worked with a World Champion in the past, has Taku got the right skills to go all the way to the top?
JC: It's very difficult to say. It's a question I'm asked all the time but the one thing I learned from Jacques is that the ability to a win championship only really manifests itself when you actually have the chance to win a championship. Who would have ever expected Damon Hill had the ability to take the title until 1996 but, when he was in just such a position, he was awesome. No one was going to beat him that year; he was a completely different character than he'd been the previous season. Obviously only time will tell whether Taku has that ability to close the deal.
Q: Hopefully B.A.R is now getting to a position where Taku might have to start answering that question.
JC: Absolutely. Taku has got to believe in himself, we've got to believe in him and, as such, we've got to put him into the situation when he can fight for a championship - then we'll see whether he can close out the deal, but I can't see Taku being unduly worried about such a situation. He sees the development, he sees the progress we are making and I'm sure when he sits at home reflecting on what's going on, he can see in the very near future Takuma Sato fighting for a World Championship title in a B.A.R.