The Japanese GP at Suzuka next weekend is the finale to the 2003 Formula One World Championship, and the conclusion of the most exciting and open title race for years. Lucky Strike BAR Honda's focus for the race maybe slightly more modest, but it is of no less importance to team boss David Richards as his team bid to secure fifth place in the constructor's championship. Here prior to leaving for Japan, Richards reviews the year, and assesses the progress made after two years in charge...

Q:
Looking back throughout the year, what is your overall assessment?

David Richards
We've shown a lot of promise and all the underlying fundamental issues have been addressed, but we still haven't turned those elements into the kind of results we're looking for. When you measure us against our benchmark teams we've made significant progress - for instance, we've halved the difference between ourselves and Ferrari. We've also made the progress we expected in restructuring of the team, which stands us in good stead for the future. Everyone acknowledges the results and the progress, but we're obviously all very impatient and we'd like to move things forward faster.

Q:
What would make things move forward faster? Is there a missing ingredient you can identify?

DR:
There is no one individual missing ingredient it is a wide range of issues that all need to be addressed. Individually they do not seem significant but when considered collectively they are. It's a long and difficult challenge to establish a top team in Formula 1 as has been proven by the likes of Ferrari who took so long to return to their current form. We are however putting all the ingredients in place and we can expect to reap the results of this over the coming years with solid progress towards the front of the grid.

Q:
On a more general point, do you think you've been successful in putting your own identity on the team?

DR:
I never set out to achieve that. I wanted a team that had its own identity, its own clear position and it's certainly starting to achieve that. Lucky Strike BAR Honda has assumed a more professional image within the paddock, the press coverage that we're getting is a lot better, we've moved up to fifth place in the TV ratings giving a strong awareness of the team. All these things are positive measures.

Q:
So you consciously stood back and looked at BAR and thought this team needs a new image?

DR:
When I took over, BAR was a team that lacked an identity and if there was one it revolved around Jacques [Villeneuve], an individual, which isn't correct. It needed its own identity and didn't have one, so that's been one of our main objectives.

Q:
You seemed to have developed a pretty good relationship with Jacques Villeneuve after some initial difficulties, but recently it's come under the spotlight again as you decide on who will driving for you in 2004.

DR:
Well, it has been difficult. Jacques will readily admit that he's not the easiest of people to get close to and coupled with the way in which I came to the team, it was a difficult start. Now I would say that we are more understanding of each other and of each other's position. I most certainly am most respectful of his talents and I trust that he's respectful of the role that I'm starting to play in the team, and we've moved forward together. We are still deciding who will drive for us in 2004, but we will make that choice in the best interests of the team.

Q:
Looking ahead, how do you see the future of the team once Lucky Strike's sponsorship ends?

DR:
That is a process that we're looking at very carefully now. We've got a whole raft of ideas that we're exploring to put in place to insure the stability of the team. We're having a big drive to reduce the costs of the team wherever possible, we're building our relationship with Honda and we're developing alternative commercial streams for the company as well. So all those things add up to recognition that we won't be able to rely on one individual sponsor or benefactor in the long term.

Q:
It's no easy task finding somebody that wants to invest in the team though?

DR:
It's a very difficult time commercially for all sport, let alone Formula One. You've only got to look up and down the pit-lane to understand how difficult that is.

Q:
Finally, how are you dividing your time between BAR, Prodrive and your World Rally Championship commitments with ISC?

DR:
BAR is my primary focus and has been since I took it on. I have very good people in each area of the organisations I rely upon to do their share. I wouldn't have taken on this role if I wasn't comfortable that Prodrive was in good hands and that ISC was being well run. But BAR now takes the bulk of my time and when you see the focus here, it's very rewarding. The other companies are somewhat more mature and have had my involvement for some time, whereas this one has got a lot to offer over the next few years.

 

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