But close inspection of the lap times revealed the car lagged behind the top teams on long runs – which became painfully clear when the season began. Then, with development problems and race strategy mistakes, the team went backwards.
Team boss Nick Fry was accused of the PR sin of over-promising and under-delivering. If the target for 2007 was to avoid that, they’re doing exceptionally well so far – the new car hasn’t looked reliable or fast. Yet.
By the latter stages of 2006 Honda looked strong, Within the fin half-dozen races Jenson Button scored his – and the team’s – first win, and pushed (an admittedly conservative) Fernando Alonso all the was at Interlagos.
In that same race the Honda-powered Super Aguri of Takuma Sato finished an excellent tenth on merit. It indicated that Honda’s policy of aggressive engine development ahead of the engine freeze had paid off.
When the wraps came off the as-yet-unliveried RA107 they uncovered one of the boldest new cars along with Ferrari’s F2007.
The packaging at the rear of the car is so tight one rival joked that they must have switched to a V6 engine. Like the F2007 Honda’s car is slightly longer, and the tapered front nose recalls the aerodynamically aggressive McLaren MP4/18 that was dubbed ‘anteater’.
It is possible that the early malfunctions the car suffered in testing have created a stronger impression of the car’s troubles than is realistic. But nor have the cars laptimes been all that impressive thus far.
It is still early days, however, and Honda are giving persuasive hints that the enforced departure of aerodynamicist Geoff Willis has allowed them to be more daring. We shall see.
Honda’s driver line-up remains peculiar. After much public prevarication Button finally threw his lot in with the team in 2005, but then they brought Rubens Barrichello, of all people, alongside him. The two have contrasting styles and Barrichello took a while to bed in last year, and never really got on terms with Button.
If either should falter Honda has the exciting Marco Andretti waiting in the wings – a tantalising prospect for those who want to see F1 success in the United States.
With a B-team to fall back on in Super Aguri Honda, may be able to accelerate their development programmes and haul in their rivals. But with the RA107′s troubled gestation, are they starting from too far back in 2007 to be in a position to win races?