Honda’s last stint in F1, from 2006-08, had more lows than highs

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The last three years Honda was in F1 came as both a constructor and engine partner. Some highlights were sprinkled in during an otherwise troublesome period.

The RA106 was among the most powerful of the new V8 engines that came into play starting in 2006, the technical period that ends at the final round of this year. But unreliability punctuated the year for Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello; technical management shakeups included Geoff Willis being reassigned to the factory and Shuhei Nakamoto being named new technical director. Barrichello had moved to Honda after his six-year stint as Ferrari number 2 to Michael Schumacher ended.

Things came right in the second half of the year with Button’s fortuitous if well-judged first career win in the rain of Hungary in 2006, and Barrichello with one of several fourth place finishes.

Come 2007, the withdrawal of sponsor British American Tobacco left Honda with a car basically devoid of primary sponsors. The “myearthdream” campaign, with an “Earth”-liveried though, was a nightmare for the team.

Aerodynamic issues plagued the car all year. Button scored only six points – four of them in the another rain-affected race in China with fifth place – while Barrichello went scoreless.

Things were little better in 2008, although this time Barrichello maximized the performance in a rain-affected race. He finished third in the 2008 British Grand Prix, in what was Honda’s last F1 podium.

Honda pulled the plug on its satellite team, Super Aguri F1, after four races in 2008. The plucky underdogs had grown a following thanks to some of the more amateurish pay-drivers in its first year (Yuji Ide and Sakon Yamamoto), but Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson had punched above their weight on occasion. Sato’s 2007 Canadian Grand Prix stood out in particular, when he finished sixth after a pass of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.

The factory team met the same fate at the end of 2008. The Brawn GP grew from Honda’s ashes, with developmental work done on Brawn’s 2009 car thanks to ex-Super Aguri staff members among others. It was a case of “what might have been” for Honda, but it did allow the team to continue with both Button and Barrichello resurrecting their careers.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.