The announcement last week that Honda Racing will become Brawn GP was no surprise. The decision to go for a management buy-out rather than an outsider sale makes total sense for the Japanese car company as the new outfit keeps Honda's F1 dream alive, potentially ticking over as a ready-made team to 'buy back' when the financial time is right.
But while this agreement ensures the car designed initially by Honda's engineers will live on, it also sets up the possibility that the arrival of a different manufacturer's engine could move the team forward further than anything the millions of pounds Honda plunged into the Brackley design office managed to achieve.
Indeed, while the need for a new engine meant the design of the new BGP001 had to be hastily modified from Honda's initial plans, it could make a major difference in the team's performance this year.
The F1 design process these days begins, conceptually at least, more than a year before the car takes to the track. So when Honda took the decision to pull out of F1 (little more than three months ago) the design of what was to become the new BGP001 car was already well developed around the Honda engine and drivetrain.
Talk of Ferrari being a potential supplier, due to Brawn's connections, bubbled initially but Mercedes soon became the engine of choice, and since that agreement was concluded the technical team have had to work at altering their chassis and gearbox to fit the new powerplant into the original design.
The Honda and Mercedes units, of course, were developed to meet the same strict technical specifications laid down in the F1 rulebook, but in the tight confines of a modern Grand Prix car — particularly the highly-sculpted 2009 machines — even the odd millimetre here and there can make a significant difference.
The big question is by how much do the two differ in terms of both packaging and performance?
It is not only basic things like engine mounting points that require design modifications: a different engine design will need to marry with a specific gearbox and clutch; different fuel consumption will affect the fuel tank size; a different shape block will affect the bodywork design; a change in weight will affect distribution and balance; and different heat rejection and optimum operating temperatures will affect the cooling design which, in turn, affects the internal and external aerodynamics.
The Brawn GP team will have had to cope with all of these changes, to differing levels depending on the similarity between the two units. Which is why, when they hit the track for testing, Brawn is expecting to experience a certain amount of technical troubles.
But once all is ironed out, there is likely to be significant benefit. By all accounts, the engine developed by Honda for F1 appeared to be the team's Achilles heel. So, with a Mercedes engine in the back of a car that has been carefully developed by a talented group of engineers, "the team formerly known as Honda" could just be looking at its best results in years...
DATE PUBLISHED ON: 11 MARCH 2009
- Honda Racing