This season has not always been easy viewing for B.A.R fans yet it could prove to be one of the most crucial years in the team's history. David Richards' first year in charge certainly had its ups and downs -- from the frustrations of the early...
This season has not always been easy viewing for B.A.R fans yet it could prove to be one of the most crucial years in the team's history.
David Richards' first year in charge certainly had its ups and downs -- from the frustrations of the early season to the euphoria of Silverstone and a string of strong performances towards the end of the year. Most important of all, though, the team has moved forward and the groundwork been laid for a more successful 2003.
Hopefully, JV and new team-mate Jenson Button will now be able to reap the rewards of that progress.
Richards took control of the helm on the very day that the BAR 004 was launched at the team's Brackley base in December 2001.
The new supremo's first act was to embark on a wide-ranging three-month review into the innermost workings of the team.
Richards was still taking stock when the season kicked off at Melbourne. Olivier Panis' year got off to the worst possible start when he was the innocent victim of the first-corner pile-up set in motion by Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher.
Jacques took advantage of the carnage and was running strongly, within sight of the points, when he suffered a rear wing failure on lap 27. "A real missed opportunity," was Richards' succinct judgement of proceedings.
Four days later and Richards announced a major restructuring of the team. Having completed his three-month survey, he trimmed the workforce by some 15 per cent, with engineering director Malcolm Oastler and chief designer Andy Green the biggest names to depart.
Richards explained: "We need to build a team with a very clear structure, with the very best people and give them the responsibility to deliver against precisely determined goals. As I have said from the beginning, B.A.R has many extremely talented people, and what we are now doing is giving them the framework within which they can fulfil their true potential."
As expected the changes did not produce instant results. Both Olivier and Jacques failed to finish in Brazil, the latter retiring just one lap from the finish.
The first European race of the season at Imola saw a new face in the garage, with Geoffrey Willis (former chief aerodynamicist at Williams) attending his first race as technical director.
JV was in fighting form all weekend and was unlucky not to be rewarded for his efforts with a point. He eventually brought his B.A.R 004 home in seventh. A luckless Olivier again failed to reach the finish, this time thanks to a throttle linkage problem.
"I feel like saying "d?j? vu," admitted Richards. "A lot of hard work, another seventh place and still no points."
Olivier qualified ninth in Austria, the team's best grid slot of the season so far, but sadly the Frenchman's luck did not hold into the race and he recorded his sixth successive retirement when his engine seized on lap 22. Jacques again suffered the agony of a last-lap exit.
The weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix saw an intensification of the team's already busy testing schedule. JV, Olivier and Anthony Davidson were all on duty as simultaneous tests were run at Jerez and Valencia.
Unfortunately, there was another double DNF to follow at Monaco. Olivier tangled with Jenson Button's Renault as the Englishman tried an ambitious overtaking move into Ste Devote.
The team arrived in Canada for JV's home race with a revised version of the B.A.R 004 chassis. Geoffrey Willis had made changes to the aerodynamics, gearbox and rear suspension and both drivers were immediately impressed.
"The car definitely feels better than it did previously and the new aero package gives us more stability," said Jacques after his first run in the car.
Come race day, Olivier finally got his car to the finish in eighth while Jacques' Montreal jinx struck again when he retired with an engine problem, much to the disappointment of his home crowd.
Another step forward was made when the team got both cars to the finish for the first time that season at the Nurburgring.
Olivier said: "We demonstrated a strong team performance and we have to take some encouragement from that. As always, we have to keep working hard and see what Silverstone will bring."
Little did Olivier know, the team's home race was going to provide the highlight of the season...