Honda "does a Toyota" as Willis leaves
In a first step to ensuring that they will never win a Formula 1 World Championship, Honda have performed a knee-jerk restructuring, resulting in Technical Chief Geoff Willis leaving the team, Autosport.com reports.
Since the very poor British Grand Prix performance of the team - not only in terms of pace, but also the poor co-ordination and planning resulting in Jenson Button being eliminated in the first qualifying segement - there has been a lot of talk about how Honda would reorganise itself. Honda announced on Tuesday that Shuhei Nakamoto had been promoted from Director of Engineering Development at Honda Racing Developments to be the new Senior Technical Director of the team. Previously it had been declared that Geoff Willis would be relieve of his race weekend duties to spend more time at the factory concentrating on aerodynamic improvements to the car.
That sounds like a demotion to me - you get assigned a lesser role and even though they let you keep your Technical Director title, they create a new Senior Technical Director position and promote someone over your head to that position. Japanese corporations are famous for not wanting to fire people, they just relocate you and if you want to quit, that's up to you. That's seemingly what happened with Mike Gascoyne at Toyota and what's happening here with Geoff Willis.
Willis has Chief Aerodynamicist at Williams before being hired by BAR. He brought a lot of overall car design knowlege as well as aerodynamics and Jacques Villeneuve remarked that the first car produced under Willis as Technical Director was "the first proper Formula 1 car I've driven at BAR". Attending races and apparently calling strategy for Honda as well in a Ross Brawn type role, it's possble that Honda top brass think he's overstretched or they just don't think he's good enough at that latter part. They might think that he can still do a good job as aerodynamicist and that's what's behind the earlier announcement, but I don't think anyone is going to be happy about being demoted like that. If Willis has left Honda as the report states, there will be no shortage of teams wanting his services. He'll likely have to serve some gardening leave first though.
To me this raises a question of whether Honda can ever win. Maybe Willis wasn't up to calling strategy on race weekends and it's possible that someone else will do better, but they will struggle to find anyone better on the design side. I don't want to seem too cynical, but it seems to me Shuhei Nakamoto has been put in this Senior Technical Director position because the Honda board wanted a Japanese man in a more senior management position. There is plenty of talk on the forums that Nick Fry will be out of his job soon enough also. I wonder who they'll get to replace him - he's not the most popular guy in the paddock, but he did come highly recommended by Dave Richards and had a good record working on Prodrive's rally programme.
I also wonder how Jensen Button feels about having signed a long contract with BAR as part of his deal to get out of his Williams contract. If he had any sense it would have a "main man" clause in it that allowed him to get out of the contract if certain significant personnel left the team, but given his well-documented lack of finesse in contract negotiations, I doubt it...