Second Stumble - 2006 Super Aguri SA06 Honda

17w ago


In late 2005, Super Aguri F1 was hastily cobbled together in order to take a role as the returning Honda F1's de facto B-Team. Lead by former F1-driver Aguri Suzuki, and built around popular Honda protege Takuma Sato, the team attempted to realize the dream of an all-Japanese Grand Prix effort.

A chronic shortage of time and money meant the car didn't hold up to this standard however, as Super Aguri acquired disused Arrows A23 chassis from former Minardi owner Paul Stoddart, who had in turn bought them when Arrows went under during 2002. The car was quickly modified to accept the new Honda RA806E 2.4L V8, and fitted with a 2006-spec aerodynamics package to become the Super Aguri SA05.

On the driving front Super Aguri was unable to prevent foreign meddling as well, as Japanese rookie Yuji Ide proved to be entirely out of place in F1. A severe lack of pace and questionable actions on track, including a particularly brutal clash with Midland's Christijan Albers at Imola saw his super licence revoked by the FIA.

This forced Super Aguri to transfer third driver Franck Montagny to a race seat from the European Grand Prix forward. The Frenchman was much more experienced than Ide, and was able to hang with Sato for outright pace.

Frank Montagny deputized for Yuji Ide during 2006.

However, the desire to run an all-Japanese squad remained, so one-time Jordan third driver Sakon Yamamoto was signed to the team ahead of the French Grand Prix. Yamamoto was able to test the old SA05 chassis during the weekend, but his arrival would soon coincide with the debut of a new car.

The promise of an in-house design had been made impossible by continuing budget and time constraints, necessitating a further update of the 2002 Arrows. Super Aguri Technical Director Mark Preston, who had spent six years at Arrows leading up to its bankruptcy, oversaw the revisions to the car.

Sakon Yamamoto, Aguri Suzuki and Takuma Sato presenting the SA06.

The alterations focused on dragging the old car into the future, including a total overhaul of the rear suspension system to better work with 2006 tire compounds. Aerodynamically the car was reworked substantially as well. New sidepods, a revised floor, barge boards, front and rear wing all contributed to increasing downforce while decreasing drag. Interestingly though, the distinctive twin keel front suspension layout remained unchanged from the A23.

Another big change was the adoption of a "seamless shift" sequential gearbox developed by Honda. This new type of transmission employed two selector forks instead of one, with one selector being assigned to gears 1, 3, 5 and 7, while the other controlled 2, 4 and 6.

The gearbox with first gear engaged.

While in first gear, the second selector would already have second gear pre-engaged to make the upcoming gear change as smoothly and quickly as possible. In essence, the seamless shift system fulfilled the same role as a dual clutch transmission.

Second gear engaged.

However, packaging issues and an eventual ban on extra clutches due to fears it would emulate a CVT had eliminated the use for such a system. Though the technology was supplied by parent team Honda, Super Aguri designed their own gearbox casing, using aluminium instead of carbon fiber.

Takuma Sato during Friday practice, Hockenheim 2006.

The SA06 made its debut at the twelfth round of the 2006 season, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Along with it, Sakon Yamamoto made his first appearance as a genuine Grand Prix driver. Super Aguri's time spent re-engineering the ancient Arrows a second time duly paid off, as the SA06 brought the team level with main rivals Midland MF1 Racing.

Takuma Sato led the dance for the team, qualifying 19th. This put him .651 of a second ahead of MF1's Tiago Monteiro, and just .092 behind Christijan Albers. Yamamoto struggled in his first F1 qualifying sessions, clocking a 1:20.444, some 3.259 seconds slower than his teammate.

Adding insult to injury, he had to start from pit lane after his car developed an incurable fault and he had to switch chassis. He wouldn't make it very far regardless, as the other chassis snapped one of its driveshafts on the opening lap. Sato wasn't any better off, with his new gearbox giving up after 38 laps.

Sakon Yamamoto struggling to make turn 1, Hungaroring 2006.

The running order was largely the same in Hungary, as Takuma Sato qualified 20th ahead of Sakon Yamamoto in 22nd. The gap between the two had however decreased to 1.049 seconds, showing early improvement from Yamamoto. Sadly he was to suffer a very early retirement once again, as his engine expired almost instantly.

Sato coming together with Ralf Schumacher as Felipe Massa watches on, Hungaroring 2006.

Meanwhile, Sato kept his car running, but he was dramatically off the pace in the wet conditions. Five laps separated him and surprise winner Jenson Button, who took a historic victory for Honda. Sato was classified as 13th and last behind the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, which had actually suffered an engine failure.

The Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul Park finally saw Super Aguri back in a position they were all to familiar with: dead last on the grid. Neither driver was able jump into the top twenty during qualifying, but Sakon Yamamoto surprised by out-qualifying Takuma Sato by .243 of a second.

Sakon Yamamoto on the long lonely walk back to the pits following his race-ending spin, Istanbul Park, 2006.

Once again race day was a complete disaster for Super Aguri, despite yet another 10-place engine change grid penalty for Christijan Albers. Sakon Yamamoto evened out his qualifying performance by spinning out on lap 23, while a stricken Sato was eventually unclassified, 17 laps down on first-time winner Felipe Massa.

Yamamoto mixing it up with the Midlands, Monza 2006.

Super Aguri's prayers weren't answered at Italy's Temple of Speed either, with both cars once again bringing up the rear. Takuma Sato had reasserted his dominance by 1.712 seconds, relegating Yamamoto to 22nd on the grid.

Sakon would once again be one of the first to retire, as hydraulics failure sidelined him on lap 18. Sato would complete the race however, finishing 16th with 2 laps down on Michael Schumacher.

The Super Aguri pits, Shanghai 2006.

Both SA06s were set to start from the very back at the Chinese Grand Prix as well, but Christijan Albers failure to report to the FIA weigh bridge saw the Dutchman's times deleted. However, Takuma Sato was unable to profit from this, as an engine change netted him a 10-place grid penalty. As result of his and Felipe Massa's penalty, Sakon Yamamoto started 19th despite being 5.23 seconds slower than his teammate.

Yamamoto following Jarno Trulli, Shanghai 2006.

His run of good fortunes would continue on race day. While Sato ran 14th, he was disqualified for repeatedly ignoring blue flags. Yamamoto on the other hand would see the checkered flag for the first time. A 16th and last placed finish four laps down on Michael Schumacher was the result.

The team's home race at Suzuka didn't start well, as Sakon Yamamoto was unable to set a time in qualifying. Takum Sato was able to slay one of the Midlands however, as he bested Tiago Monteiro by a minuscule .043 of a second.

For the first time in their careers, both SA06s made it to the end of the race. Sato clinched 15th place one lap down on Fernando Alonso, while Yamamoto trailed in 17th, two further laps down.

Sakon Yamamoto, Interlagos 2006.

The season finale at Brazil's Interlagos circuit saw Super Aguri stay clear of last place in qualifying. Tiago Monteiro had been unable to set a time in Q1, allowing Takuma Sato to start 20th ahead of Sakon Yamamoto in 21st. Just .088 of a second separated the two.

The race itself proved extremely chaotic, as battles throughout the field dropped cars left and right. Luckily, both Super Aguris kept their noses clean, enabling them to move up the order. As Michael Schumacher lost his last credible shot at a World Championship title, a minor miracle occurred in the Super Aguri camp.

Takuma Sato had somehow been able to work his way up to 10th place, and never looked back. he finished the race a lap down on race winner Felipe Massa, and was still two places removed from scoring points under the 2006 system, but the result felt like a glorious victory for the beleaguered team. His teammate also made it to the finish line, coming home 16th and last, 2 laps down.

With a difficult, stressful and tumultuous first season finally over, and ending on a high note, Super Aguri was confident they would be able to keep their upward momentum going. Contributing to this positivity was the knowledge they would finally able to abandon the 2002 Arrows A23, as their 2007 campaign would be centered around a decidedly more modern machine. However, this positive step would not come without its fair share of controversy.

Next Week: 2007 Super Aguri SA07.

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