Today, Rubens Barrichello took Honda Racing's new Formula One challenger out for a shakedown ahead of tomorrow's test with number one Jenson Button. Rubens completed 36 laps total compared to numbers in or near the hundreds from the likes of BMW and Ferrari. Reports indicate that at least for some of the day, the RA108 was inside the garage, the door closed, having its engine revved.
It certainly sounds like a simple setup day. Further reports, relayed via the forum of Real Honda F1, suggest that new parts are arriving as soon as tomorrow. The car is not set to officially launch until next week, when it will be bathed in it's revised Honda Earth livery (The concept is staying, but Honda is set to unveil a new design).
As such, it's entirely possible that times today, and even tomorrow's, are completely irrelevant. Honda could easily be using these days to evaluate things other than pace - the new ECU, cooling (Which is revised) and the engine/transmission combo.
The car, currently running in plain white - which makes detail spotting difficult though not impossible - sports a higher nose, resculpted sidepods with tighter air intake holes, a massive engine cover fin, somewhat simplified air fins in front of the rear wheels, a newer and slightly angular take on the thin nose and significantly fewer winglets.
The RA107's nose, to the right, is clearly different to the RA108's (Below). The new nose is visibly hooked and comes to more of a point. Meanwhile, the entire length of the snout is significantly thinner and it has more sever angles than the 107, which is fairly rounded.
Also noticeable are new, and big, barge boards. RA107 had no barge boards, relying instead on big - and I mean huge - winglets at the top outer edges of the sidepods. RA108's equivalent elements are significantly smaller.
Now, aside from the fact that this continues a trend many F1 fans have noticed - 2008 F1 cars sure are ugly - it's difficult to see where Honda is trying to make up speed.
The car's new, yes. But it seems like the same people designed with the same ideas. We can hope, I suppose, that the newly sorted out wind tunnel has simply allowed Honda to follow their design ideas though to their true conclusions.
Nevertheless, fans (Myself included) are worried by a distinct impression that the car looks like something of a step back, even from the still laughably poor end of year RA107. Oh, how it was bad...Better than godawful is still bad my friends.
The news that new parts are due tomorrow, and the fact that the real launch of the car is next week (This test serves mainly as the last component of the development testing. That said, only Honda seem to drive the car publicly before the launch.) provides the possibility that Honda is running without some final pieces.
Notably, fans are worried by the highly conventional front wing. It has been likened to a 2003-era car. This is one place Honda may be choosing to run an interim part ahead of some final revisions to a more radical design.
There is some good news. There is evidence that the Honda is on a similar design mentality to the McLaren (Though with noticeably fewer irregular and ugly kinks and corners), which is extremely quick.
If Honda is set to replace certain elements, we can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief. If not, we have some concerns. Rubens was the last of the 2008 runners, 2.5s off the slowest pace of the big 4 teams. We can hope this was more related to the development work than lack of pace, but it's not exactly morale-lifting.
After all, last season's dismal performance was preceded by equally disappointing times.
Jenson will be on track tomorrow and we'll see what times he does. If he's slow too, we can only hope that there's a better reason than "it's another piece of crap from Honda". The car doesn't look quick, nor is it as pretty as the Ferrari or last year's Honda.
I'm worried that the RA108's a dud, built on the platform of a dud as the platform for another dud (The RA109). And how much longer can we endure crap to get back to good stuff. 2007 was a terrible time to follow Honda Racing F1. We endured it for the promise of 2008.
Now if 2008 sucks, there's only so much will to follow through to 2009. And Honda needs to worry that Jenson Button might be thinking along similar lines. He wants to be fighting for the championship in 2009. Can Ross Brawn really do it? He's great, but if Honda continue to show no sign of technical ability, what can he do?
Incidentally, what made Honda move away from the solid platform of the classic 006-RA106 series (Right, in it's final incarnation)?
Here's hoping for a change.
Jens with a J, signing off.