The future of Super Aguri

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Anthony Davidson, Super Aguri, Barcelona, 2007 | GEPA / Franz PammerPlucky underdogs Super Aguri had a reasonable year in 2007, scoring their first ever points and worrying the factory Honda team on several occasions.

But I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this team that basically exists just to give one driver – Takuma Sato – a seat in Formula 1. Are they in it for the long term?

Super Aguri was formed in time for the 2006 season because Honda were dropping Sato but, owing to public pressure in Japan where Sato is very popular – needed to keep him in F1 somehow. The solution was to set up a new team run by Aguri Suzuki to run Sato.

The team is deeply Japanese, has lots of Japanese support and all its major sponsors are Japanese. For much of 2006 it ran an all-Japanese squad, except after the FIA forced the expulsion of Yuji Ide and Franck Montagny stepped in as a replacement (before being dropped for Sakon Yamamoto).

This year Briton Anthony Davidson took the second seat alongside Sato. But the team remained focused on its Japanese lead driver as James Roberts described in a recent article for F1 Racing:

On some race weekends, so obvious was the Super Aguri management’s desire to see Taku succeed that Ant was more or less left to get on with it on his own. It would be wrong to describe him as a spare part, but, even when he was spearheading the team’s race efforts from a performance point of view, he was always viewed as their number-two son.

Takuma Sato, Super Aguri, Indianapolis, 2007 | GEPA / Bildagentaur KraelingSato is expected to remain their lead driver next year, but Davidson’s future is unclear. At any rate, how long can a team built around the career and popularity of Takuma Sato last?

Sato has seldom had a rival for his affections in Japan – Yamamoto has only raced for two half-seasons – but that will change in 2008 as Kazuki Nakajima joins Williams. The Toyota-backed team are likely to be more competitive than Super Aguri, and although the jury’s still out on Nakajima he was the top rookie in GP2 this year.

Plus, it’s one thing to build the long-term future of a team around a Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso – or even a Lewis Hamilton. But it’s quite another to do so with Takuma Sato, who at best has only occasionally shown flashes of speed.

Formula 1 teams are not cheap to run and it’s doubtful that the popularity of Sato alone can keep Super Aguri going. It has already had to shed 30 jobs from its Leafield site this year and one sponsor failed to pay up during 2007. It will not be able to use a customer chassis in 2008 unless it is allowed to repeat the same legal trick that allowed it to run old Honda RA106s this year.

It seems Super Aguri has a future as long as Sato’s popularity can sustain it. But can even that last for very long?

Photos: GEPA / Franz Pammer | GEPA / Bildagentaur Kraeling

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