San Marino Grand Prix Preview

April 21, 2004 San Marino Grand Prix Preview

After consecutive podiums in Malaysia and Bahrain, Lucky Strike B·A·R Honda embarks on the European tour of the Formula One season bidding for a hat-trick of top three finishes at the San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, on 25 April. The Honda-powered team, aiming to capitalise on its best ever start to a Formula One campaign, will be boosted by the introduction of the first evolution of Honda⿿s new RA004E power plant at the San Marino Grand Prix this weekend. The new unit will provide a step up in power for Jenson Button and Takuma Sato as the team bids to maintain the form that has seen it emerge as the leading Michelin team and the closest challenger to Ferrari. Instead of the tight turnaround usually experienced between the season-opening long-haul races and the start of the European season, the teams have this year had an extra week between the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix and the arrival of the Formula One circus, complete with motorhomes and transporters, in Italy. B·A·R Honda used the extra time to full effect, heading to Spain for a two-pronged four-day test programme, where the focus was on aerodynamic evaluation and tyre compound selection for the start of the European season. Takuma Sato and Jenson Button clocked the fastest times of the day in Barcelona on Wednesday and Friday respectively. Helped by third driver Anthony Davidson, the team covered almost 2,000km at the Circuit de Catalunya, after which Davidson also completed a further 1,100 km just up the Spanish coast at Valencia. Underlining the gruelling schedule of the modern day F1 test team, B·A·R Honda enjoyed an additional three-day test in Paul Ricard, France this week and simultaneous track time at Vairano, Italy, where the squad was able to test the latest specification, Imola version RA004E. This year⿿s San Marino GP will inevitably take place under the shadow of the tenth anniversary of Ayrton Senna⿿s death. It will be particularly poignant for Honda as the company enjoyed such a fruitful relationship with the legendary Brazilian, in particular claiming victory at Imola on three occasions in 1988, 1989 and 1991. Honda in Italy Part of the Honda Motor Europe South division, Honda Italy is a key market within the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Honda increased its presence in Italy in 1976 when it started motorcycle production in the country, a product area that remains extremely important today. In addition to its motorcycle manufacturing facility, Honda has also established a research and development centre, in common with several of its other European operations. Shuhei Nakamoto, Engineering Director, Honda Racing Development "After the excellent results in Bahrain and Malaysia, we have had two weeks of testing at four European circuits, and this has been extremely useful. We have been able to resolve an engine problem experienced at Barcelona and all three of our drivers have put in a lot of work for aero and tyre developments. Everyone is working very hard to keep up our forward momentum and I am hopeful that we can continue this run in San Marino." Jenson Button "It's nice to start our European campaign following a couple of podiums and points finishes. We will be hoping to keep the momentum going in Imola. The team are feeling confident and we are making good progress in testing. Our car has shown good reliability at the tests in Barcelona and Paul Ricard which is important. This week in Ricard we achieved 150 laps in a single day, exceeding the total number of laps the team has ever completed in a day's testing. In addition, the speed we have shown is very positive, so I think that we should be quite competitive in Imola. I'm sure that the top teams have also made a good step forward as well. It will be an interesting race weekend. "Imola is a special place. It has a mix of different types of corners and a few chicanes, and the circuit is quite challenging. I always enjoy racing there and hopefully it should be another good weekend for us." Takuma Sato "My test plan for today was to complete the preparation for Imola, but I haven't been able to set any timed laps today because the weather hasn't been very good in Paul Ricard. It's disappointing for me as I have only raced in the San Marino Grand Prix once before, in 2002. Having said that, Jenson has had good conditions in which to conduct his testing here, and he has set some good lap times with the package we will be using next weekend, so it looks promising. In addition, from the testing that I conducted in Barcelona last week, I can see that we have taken a good step forward since Bahrain. "Imola is a unique circuit; a good challenge with lots of high kerbs. The track is quite narrow and there are some tricky corners. I'm looking forward to it." David Richards, Team Principal "The three-week break has given us an opportunity to regroup and evaluate the team's performance in the first three races. This year, we promised to take the fight to the top three teams and our current position in the drivers' and constructors' standings clearly demonstrates that we can deliver against that target. "Jenson is on a roll at the moment and the onus is on both team and driver in equal measure to maintain this momentum. Takuma's qualifying and race performances in Bahrain gave us a taste of what I'm sure will be some very exciting races ahead for him and the team. The challenge for us now is to maintain the fight with Williams and Renault, whilst finding a way of chipping away at Ferrari's dominance." Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director "The first three races have highlighted the competitiveness of our overall package, with the car performing well at each of those circuits. As we move into Europe, the challenge is to not only maintain our current level but to further strengthen our challenge, and to that end we will be introducing a revised aero and engine package for the forthcoming San Marino Grand Prix, together with a further step from Michelin. We have been evaluating these developments extensively in testing during the three-week break. "The Imola circuit presents its own challenges, as a result of its stop-start nature between chicanes, so there is a premium on traction and braking performance. We introduced a revised braking system in Bahrain, which we were very happy with, and the Michelin tyres are well-suited to circuits with high traction demands. Generally speaking, we have every confidence that we will be able sustain our challenge next weekend."