Willis to stay at factory as Honda regroup
|By Jonathan Noble||Wednesday, June 14th 2006, 09:53 GMT|
Honda Racing technical director Geoff Willis is being freed from his duties at Grands Prix so he can focus on car improvements, autosport.com can reveal.
This comes as part of a team overhaul of staff and tactics, designed to turn around the Japanese squad's disappointing season.
Willis's current role at the track will be taken by Jacky Eeckelaert, who joined the team from Sauber last year.
Amid mounting pressure from the team's Japanese bosses, Honda Racing are restructuring their operation - and they also now plan to revert to the controversial tactic of going their own way on tyre choice from the Canadian Grand Prix.
Willis will skip the upcoming Canadian and United States Grands Prix to focus on driving development at the team's new £25 million full-scale wind tunnel in Brackley. The team have not decided what will happen after those events.
It comes amid the realisation that development of the RA106 was being hampered by Willis having too many responsibilities at a race weekend - where he was involved in engineering operations and strategy decisions.
Honda Racing's engineering director Shuhei Nakamoto told autosport.com: "Geoff did not have enough time to concentrate on the development areas, so we have to make time for him.
"Everyone has to help each other with this because we are one team. Before it was too much work for Geoff. He had to do everything and it was too much."
Team boss Nick Fry said it was a no-brainer for the team to free up Willis from his track duties so he could concentrate on making much-needed aerodynamic improvements to their car.
"The car itself we believe to be very good in lots of ways but there are specific areas that we think need improvement," explained Fry. "And asking Geoff to focus on one of those that happens to be a specialist subject if you like, his Mastermind Specialist subject, is the best thing to do."
Eeckelaert, who will be taking Willis's place at Grands Prix, attended his first race for Honda at Silverstone last weekend in an onlooker role, but it is understood that the qualifying blunder that led to Jenson Button missing the cut in Q1 has delivered a clear message about how much his input is needed.
Further reshuffling and recruitment of staff is not being ruled out, and Fry has also revealed that the team will now once again go their own way on tyre choice - having fallen in line with McLaren and Renault since the start of the European season.
The team were heavily criticised at the first three races of the year when they chose different tyres to those of the other leading Michelin teams.
Fry told autosport.com: "We took our fair share of criticism for our tyre choices at the start of the season, but we now feel that we were better off with that strategy.
"Michelin has indicated it is still willing to accommodate a different development direction if that's what we want to pursue and that's what we now intend to do. Doing what's best for us has to be the right thing."