With the exception of busy parents most people have the chance to relax over Christmas. However in Formula One there is no such luxury because the winter break is just as busy as it is any other time. All of the teams will be working around the clock in order to develop and construct their new machinery for the year ahead.
It is an anxious period for engineers and designers because they will be spending hundreds of hours on something that might not produce the desired result. Everyone waits excitedly over Christmas in anticipation of the new cars hitting the track in January.
This winter break, one team in particular will have a more anxious wait than most.
Super Aguri currently face an uncertain future and are entering the new season without any solid plan of attack. They had a stellar year in 2007 but there is every reason to suggest they are going to struggle woefully throughout 2008.
Super Aguri have been unable to map their immediate future due to legal action bought against them by Spyker. The Dutch team, now Force India, launched an arbitration case against Super Aguri for entering the World Championship with a car they did not design or construct themselves. Spyker started legal proceedings at the very first race in Melbourne but the saga has dragged on for almost twelve months. The teams have met on numerous occasions to discuss the matter but have been unable to reach a solution. Spyker are adamant that Super Aguri should not have been allowed to score points in 2007, and will have to build their own car in 2008.
It all revolves around the ‘Concorde Agreement’ that determines how the sport is organised from a commercial perspective. It strictly prohibits teams from running customer chassis and this is a problem for Super Aguri because they would like to use the same machinery as Honda. If the arbitration case brought against them is successful they may be left without a car in 2008.
The team are in this position because of a delay with the new Concorde Agreement. The current Agreement expires in just over a week and the new version will allow for chassis sharing. However, since the new document has not been formalised yet the current rules will remain in place for the 2008.
Super Aguri remain confident that there will not be any problems and that all of the legal and political issues will be sorted before the new season. Team Manager, Daniel Audetto, said “We had assurances that we can race customer cars next year and we are not the only ones. I am confident that the people who gave us this word will honour it. Important people assured us we could race with customer cars”.
With the possibility of the team being left out in the cold they have found it very hard to attract new sponsors, which they desperately need at the moment.
One of their key partners, SS United, defaulted on payments this year and left the team thirty million dollars out of pocket. That is no small sum. Unfortunately the cloud hanging over Super Aguri has meant the team is currently unable to fill the gap and all of their rivals are snapping up the available sponsorship dollars.
Audetto explains that “Aguri is in negotiation with different sponsors, but the problem with the ongoing situation in F1 is not helping very much. I hope we can finalise the arbitration in our favour very soon. This is all just politics going on, and if I was a sponsor I would want to have the arbitration action resolved before I committed.”
The team is now seeking legal action against SS United but is also going to court with their old test driver, Giedo van der Garde. He was scheduled to drive for the team in 2007 but joined Spyker at the last minute instead. Van der Garde made the switch despite being contracted to Super Aguri and the team lost millions as a result. Both of these court cases, along with the Spyker arbitration battle, will be costly and distracting for Super Aguri are doing little to help them prepare for 2008.
Another potentially bigger problem for the team is just around the corner in the shape of Kazuki Nakajima.
The new Japanese driver made his debut for Williams in Brazil and although he had a rough performance he was very quick. His set times during the race that were faster than Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso so he might be a potential future star.
This is bad news for Super Aguri because Takuma Sato might no longer be Japan’s favourite son.
Super Aguri was created for the very purpose of saving Takuma Sato’s career. The team was founded with Honda money because the Japanese constructer faced a backlash in their home country for dumping Sato at the end of 2005. If it was not for Sato’s popularity in Japan the Super Aguri F1 team would not even exist.
If Nakajima rolls in and steals Takuma Sato’s thunder, Honda may find themselves in a position where they no longer feel obliged to support Super Aguri. If Sato’s popularity wanes, so might Honda’s assistance.
The team’s reliance on Takuma Sato is a dangerous one anyway because he was outperformed in the second half of 2007 by Anthony Davidson. He may be number one in the team’s heart but he is not number one on the track. There are a number of quick drivers on the market at the moment such as Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi but Super Aguri will miss out on them due to their patriotism.
The current aguish within Super Aguri is a great shame because they are a very good team and had a deservedly successful season. They were given a bunch of spare parts from 2006 and developed them into a car that was quicker than Honda’s current design. That is something the team can be very proud of. They would have outscored Honda this year if not for changeable conditions in China. In fact, they were such a threat to the parent team that Honda intentionally restrained their development. Super Aguri tested some new aerodynamic components leading up to the Belgian Grand Prix but were not allowed to use them during the race weekend.
This year Super Aguri finished in the points twice and both drivers could have scored a podium in Canada if not for problems. Sato even made it through to the final stage of qualifying in the Australian Grand Prix which was unthinkable after the team’s debut year. Their performance was fantastic and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of their employees.
It is highly likely the next twelve months will not be so successful.
Most teams will be nervous over winter as they wait to find out if the many hours of hard have been worthwhile. Super Aguri will be nervous to find out if they simply survive.