Inexperienced F1 staff contributing to Honda’s struggles


Otmar Szafnauer (Force India) and Yusuke Hasegawa (Honda). Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Sahara Force India F1 Team Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szafnauer, believes Honda’s current nightmares stem from the fact that they have very few staff on their books with long-time F1 experience.

Szafnauer was Vice President of the Honda F1 Team when they were last in the sport as a constructor under that moniker, between 2006 and 2008, where they enjoyed some success initially before being bought out by Brawn F1, which then morphed into the current Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.

Back in those days, Szafnauer says the Japanese squad enjoyed a wealth of experienced and talented personnel, where as today he believes they do not have that backbone to their set up and that is hurting them, as he explained to Autosport.com recently.

“What I found was that the guys who had worked in the third generation project [from the late 1990s] who had come from the second generation [1980s] had very good knowledge of F1 and what it takes. They were able to put the programme together in order to compete at the highest level.

“I remember when Takeo Kiuchi, who was [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost’s race engineer came in, within two or three years we had the lightest and most powerful V10 engine.

“He knew what it took it and he did it. We ended up with 968bhp and 88kg, which was just a little bit lighter than the BMW and a little bit more powerful. What they are lacking this time around is that experience of what it takes.

“[F1 project chief Yusuke] Hasegawa was there [previously], but he was a controls engineer, and I am not sure they have the strength in depth of experienced F1 engineers working on the project.

“Back then they had loads of them and they knew what it took. If you don’t have that at the beginning, it takes time to get that.

“But they are on their way of getting that experience of what it takes, and it would be a shame for them to part company with McLaren as opposed to sticking it out and making it good.”

Another factor that many believe has stunted McLaren Honda’s progress is the Japanese manufacturer’s decision to base their Headquarters in Japan, whilst McLaren remain at their long-time home in Woking. Scuderia Ferrari used to work in a similar way, until Ross Brawn came in and revolutionised their way of working back in 1997, just prior to their dominating Michael Schumacher years. However, Szafnauer believes that logistics should not really make any difference.

“It wasn’t a problem before, all we did in the UK was assemble the engines.

“All the design, development and manufacturing happened in Japan and it didn’t have an impact.

“You need to understand the task and how difficult it is.”

The Romanian born American believes that McLaren should not be too hasty in making a decision on whether or not to ditch Honda next season for Mercedes power, although perhaps that has something to do with the fact that he knows just what a bonus the German power unit brings as a customer or Mercedes!

“I was saying to someone recently that maybe in two years time when Honda, who are very capable, get it all together, we will wish they [McLaren] had switched to Mercedes!.

“You cannot be too quick to judge and make a knee jerk reaction.

“They could be just on the cusp of getting it right.”