Richards raises the BAR and closes gap on Ferrari

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Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya won Sunday's Brazilian grand prix, bringing to an end a season totally dominated by Ferrari. But perhaps the most significant result was BAR Honda finishing second in the constructors' table despite Jenson Button's early retirement at Interlagos.

For a team that was founded in 1999 and whose performances just three years ago were little short of an embarrassment, it is a huge achievement to have this season outperformed established teams such as Williams and McLaren.

But where do BAR go from here? Sport is littered with examples of teams that expanded too quickly following a good period and ended up in trouble. But there is a feeling that that won't happen at BAR. Team boss David Richards and technical chief Geoff Willis believe that there is no need for BAR to take risks now and they are sticking to a long-term plan.

"People tend to think that it is some sort of magic thing that has happened this year," says Richards. "But they don't look back to see how the building blocks were put in place three years ago. We have applied business techniques to Formula One and I think we have the most efficient team in F1 today.

"There is some investment required. We are building a full-scale wind tunnel which will be ready in spring 2006, but I'm determined to keep [spending] at a modest level so that if times are more difficult in future we will be in a position to survive. We will not be lumbered with huge overheads."

BAR's steady progress began when Richards took over in 2002 from Craig Pollock, the team's founder. BAR had previously had a reputation for squandering money. Richards restructured the management team and Willis restructured the technical office, both setting targets for growth. Last year's target was to build reliable cars and use Honda's considerable resources more efficiently. The team finished fifth. This year's target has been performance. "I'll be honest, my milestone was third in the world championship this year," says Richards. "Next year my milestone is financial. We have hit our budgets for three years but we are still not making a profit."

Pollock still has a shareholding in the team and is agitating within the boardroom, high-lighting the fact that the team has not attracted any big new sponsors. But Richards dismisses such concerns: "A year ago would you have sponsored BAR?" he says. "Of course not. But now we are top of most people's shopping lists, regularly in straight head-to-head pitches with McLaren, Williams and Ferrari."

In terms of next season's performance on the track, Richards is not getting carried away. "On the track, logic would suggest that next year we have to now beat Ferrari, but you have to be realistic. Next year's goal has to be to maintain a top-three position and improve all areas of the business so we are in a position to take on Ferrari when we have all the elements in place. Anyone who thinks that they can take on Ferrari next year is deluding themselves."

Willis agrees that Ferrari will be impossible to beat next year. "We are in F1 to win the championship," he says. "We are not going to do it in one year. But we can work on being more efficient, more reliable. If we are half a second behind Ferrari this year, we need to be two-tenths closer to them next year. I would like to be close enough to win races on merit and to show that we are strong enough to stand up against a rejuvenated McLaren and Williams. Technically I have no worries about that."

With Button now committed to the team for a third season and a 2005 specification Honda engine believed to generate an impressive 1,000 horsepower, the future looks bright for BAR. The writer is ITV Sport's lead F1 commentator

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