INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2000 - Time and reliability are on British American Racing's side this season. Both were missing in the team's rookie season last year, causing BAR to struggle and finish last in the Constructors...
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2000 - Time and reliability are on British American Racing's side this season. Both were missing in the team's rookie season last year, causing BAR to struggle and finish last in the Constructors Championship.
Last year Jacques Villeneuve and his BAR teammates failed to score a single point. It wasn't until nearly midway through last season that the BAR F1 cars even started to occasionally finish races. This year the new Lucky Strike BAR-Honda has already completed a Grand Prix distance in winter testing.
"There is some nervousness in the team because the testing has gone well," said BAR chairman Craig Pollock. "The team knows it has to keep its eye on the ball, and the focus has to be there 100 percent of the time. Last year we thought we had a fast car but not a reliable car, while this year we feel that maybe the reliability is there but the performance is not 100 percent there. But we can work on that."
That reliability, Pollock said, might net the team valuable points in the early races of the season. "If we have the reliability that we appear to have," Pollock said, "and certain of the top teams may not have that reliability yet, that is where we have the best chance of actually getting a fast result."
That reliability comes from having time to design and develop the new car. "We had so little time last year," said BAR's technical development director Adrian Reynard. "Now we have more time, and we can be more careful to check, to get better quality control and to test before the parts on the car are raced.
"We didn't really start building the 1999 car until February 1998, and we finished the car six months later. And all during that time there were problems we had to solve. And then came the testing and racing, and that's when we found out all the mistakes we made. Lots of mistakes.
"There are about 3,000 parts on the car, and just about every part that we designed had to undergo some sort of modification. When you have a car you have to go to every race, so developing it in terms of fixing all the problems is defensive, and it means that if you have all your resources on that, then there is only a limited amount you can put on the offensive, which is improving performance."
Despite the poor performances from the car last year, Villeneuve never gave up. Pollock, also Villeneuve's long-time friend and manager, said he wasn't surprised by the resilience and determination that Villeneuve showed last year.
"It didn't surprise me," Pollock said, "because the previous year, the year after he won the championship in 1997, Williams did not give him a car that he could win with. I saw him digging in there. I saw him digging in his Formula Atlantic days and even in his Indy-car days. So I would expect him to dig in, and that is exactly what he did.
"He decided, 'I'm going to get the best out of this package that I can. In a way I don't care if I finish a race or not, but I'm just going to get everything out of the car that I possibly can and also try to help the team build up the 2000 car.' And he did a good job."
Villeneuve is in the second year of his two-year contract with BAR. Should the team's reliability and performance not improve this year, Pollock expects the talented Canadian will leave the team.
"Jacques is one of three World Champions in F1 right now," Pollock said. "He deserves a package that gives him race wins, and I am sure that if he doesn't get race wins or regular podiums and points, then he'd look towards other teams. He would be right to do it. He would not be held back by us. His contract is to the end of this year."
Vibrations from the Supertec V10 engine caused some of the problems last year. This year BAR is the official Honda team as that manufacturer returns to F1 after an absence of eight years.
The car's new reliability is due partly to the new Honda V10, Villeneuve said. "That is definitely a factor," he said. "How much I don't know because the car is also a lot stronger. The car is not quick enough yet, but the good thing is that we can do a lot of laps. We go around and around, and it doesn't break down and that is very positive."
In addition to building engines, Honda also is getting involved in the chassis side of the car. Honda engineers are working in the BAR factory. "It is very important to me to make sure that Honda were very comfortable and happy with their relationship with BAR," Reynard said. "So I opened all the doors, and we have Honda staff integrated into the factory right next to BAR staff. That produces a unique solution for Honda that nobody else was able to offer."
Pollock wants BAR to improve all through the 2000 season. "What would make us happy?" Pollock said. "Fifth place in the championship would make us ecstatic. At the moment we are 11th, and we don't want to remain there. What would also make me happy is a clear progression in each and every race where we see that our performance is progressing."
Villeneuve is looking forward to the new season in the new BAR-Honda. "After last year, we want to start this one on a good leg and get great things out of it," Villeneuve said. "I did all I could last year, so I can't do anything differently this season. All I can do is keep trying hard. The team has learned a lot also. All the internal problems seem to have been fixed and that should remain through out the whole season, which is great."