The birth of Super-Aguri Honda is largely due to two men. The first of these is Aguri Suzuki, the first Japanese driver to stand on an F1 podium. The second is Takuma Sato, who is, at this point, the only other Japanese driver to have eclipsed Suzuki’s success. Aguri Suzuki has always enthused about Japanese motor sport and the Aguri Honda team would not have succeeded without his drive and determination.
As a driver, Aguri had limited F1 success and officially retired from F1, following a bad neck injury, after his Lieger crashed out in practice at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in 1995. After his retirement, Aguri has built a solid reputation for assisting in the development of Japanese motor-sport and driver development and seemed a natural choice to bring the Super-Aguri team into professional F1.
The other pivotal figure in the team’s foundation is their current lead driver Takuma Sato. Sato remains incredibly popular in his native Japan, but following a poor season at Honda BAR in 2005, the team were only prepared to offer him a place as their test driver, announcing Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as their drivers for 2006.
Sato’s F1 career appeared, much to the dismay of the Japanese populace, to be coming to an end and it was popular pressure upon the Honda team to keep Sato driving, that helped spawn the Super Aguri team. For this reason some see the Super-Aguri team as little more than a Honda ‘B’ team.
The patriotism inherent in the team’s creation is one of the key features of the Super-Aguri outfit. Aguri Suzuki, stresses the thoroughly Japanese nature of the team at some length – it is the first F1 team to be established in Japan: the team’s logo is made up of a Ninja’s “Shuriken” (throwing star), coupled with a racing circuit and the team looks to foster Japanese talent wherever possible.
The first Super-Aguri, powered by a Honda RA807E 2.4 V8 engine, debuted at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix with Sato and Yuji Ide the team’s lead drivers. Sato finished the race in 18th position, 4 laps behind the eventual winner Alonso, while Ide was forced to retire after mechanical failure. However, the Super-Aguri team had struggled to make it to Bahrain at all.
The debate started when the Federation Internationale De L’Automobile (FIA) published their official list of F1 teams for the 2006 season in December 2005. The Super-Aguri team were not present on the list due to their failure to pay the $48million bond, required to participate, to the FIA. This was not the first instance of this happening.
In 1993, Williams, despite being world champions, had failed to appear on the list following late submission of necessary paperwork. Williams had to petition the other competing teams to agree unanimously to allow their entry and after some dispute were successfully included in the championship. Super-Aguri had to follow the same plan and, following some initial objections over reduced TV revenue by competitor Midland, Super Aguri was officially allowed to enter the F1 as the 11th competitive team on the 26th January 2006.
After the Bahrain debut, the next race of the 2006 season was at Malaysia and both Ide and Sato managed to qualify in 21st and 22nd place with respective times of 1:39:011 (Sato) and 1:40.720 (Ide). On race day, only Sato, however, managed to finish, this time in 14th place out of the 14 drivers remaining. Ide again suffered a mechanical problem and had to retire in lap 34.
The following Grand Prix, in Australia, again saw Ide and Sato propping up the rest of the drivers, but with 12th and 13th place finishes it was the first time that both cars had finished.
The first real controversy in the team’s history came at Imola, where neither driver completed the race. Ide, who had been openly criticised by other drivers as a slow driver, in a very slow car, crashed into the MF1 of Dutchman Chritijan Albers, causing him to roll several times. There was much dispute over his calibre as a driver and on the 10th May 2006, the FIA decided to revoke Ide’s “SuperLicence” which allows drivers to compete in F1, demanding that he gain more experience before returning to F1.
The former Renault Test Driver, Frank Montagny, subsequently replaced Ide. Montagny raced for the team in the next 7 grand prixs before his position as second driver was given to the Japanese Sakon Yamamoto at Hockenheim. Yamamoto’s inclusion into the team coincided with the introduction of a new car, the SA06. The SA06 qualified well but the performance of the team remained firmly at the bottom of the F1 table.
It was not until the Italian Grand Prix, when Sato was able to achieve a 16th place finish in front of one other driver, that Super Aguri did not finish last of the classified finishers. Driving in Japan, both Yamamoto and Sato managed to finish for the first time. The Brazilian Grand Prix represented the first real success for the team with Sato managing a 10th place finish from all those classified (17 in total). While this did not win the team any points, as the last race of the season, it vindicated their position as a potentially competitive F1 outfit.
On the 15th November 2006, Super Aguri elected to replace Yamamoto with Anthony Davidson for the following season. The SA06 had been a definite improvement for the Super Aguri team but their new car, the SA07, failed to meet FIA crash regulations during trials. This meant a return to development and the new car was only unveiled 2 days before the first grand prix of the season in Australia.
Despite minimal testing, the SA07 came out to a flying start and for the first time both drivers qualified well into the mid-table with 10th and 11th positions on the grid. The race at Albert Park was proven to be no fluke. In both Malaysia and Bahrain, the Super Aguri again achieved mid table finishes from both drivers.
In the fourth race of the season at Montmelo in Spain, the Super Aguri team achieved their first points with Takuma Sato finishing 8th. Two races later at the Canadian Grand Prix, Sato achieved a 6th place finish, the team’s highest to date. The race in Canada even saw the Aguri overtake the then champion Alonso in the 67th lap and, had it not been for a poor pit stop, the finish could have been considerably higher.
While Super Aguri has not managed to beat this placing for the rest of the season, (their next best finish being 12th at the European and Brazilian Grand Prixs) the 2007 season has seen a definite improvement in the team’s standing with mid-table finishes becoming more the norm.
The team is based at the old Arrows headquarter in Witney in Oxfordshire. Super-Aguri has now competed in 35 races with their highest placing being a 6th. They have not succeeded in a podium finish so far and have only managed 11th in the constructor’s championship.
Key People (2007)
- Takuma Sato – Lead Driver
- Anthony Davidson – Second Driver
- James Rossiter – Test Driver
- Aguri Suzuki – Team Principal
- Daniel Audetto – Managing Director
- Mark Preston – Technical Director
- Graham Taylor – Sporting Director
- Peter McCool – Chief Designer
- Mark Ellis – Engineering Director
- Gerry Hughes – Head of Research and Development
- Michael Ainsley-Cowlishaw – Team Manager
- Richard Connell – Race Engineer, Car No. 22
- Antonio Cuquerella – Race Engineer, Car No. 23