One of the most critical new cars was rolled out for the first time today at Valencia. The new Honda RA108 is a new start for the team, after a dismal season in 2007 with a car that was unpredictable to drive.
Initially running in a white livery, the car is a major shift in design philosophy for the team. It sports conventional bargeboards and new sidepods and engine cover, while the wings are derived from developments made late last year.
Last year the car's problems were aerodynamic related, with the ca'rs balance shifting under braking and cornering. To rectify the problems Honda recruited several key new people to the team.
Firstly Loic Bigois, the French aerodynamicist who came from Williams, then Jorg Zander the ex-Toyota and BMW designer, and lastly and most importantly Ross Brawn from Ferrari. These signings will all shape Honda's new direction, but it's the first two engineers that have had time to influence the new car.
Jorg Zander's influence can be seen in the BMW Sauber-like detail around the engine cover. While Bigois was already at work earlier last year, his influence is most likely to be in detail and the way the actual car correlates to the wind tunnel data.
Although the car exhibits some BMW influence, it is still recognisably a Honda. Despite the team's dreadful 2007 car, there are elements that did not need a completely new approach. Perhaps the most important change in aero philosophy is the bargeboard set-up.
Honda have persevered with the forward bargeboard philosophy dating back to the first cars designed by Geoff Willis. While the advantages of large or small boards used to be considered marginal, it's now believed that the larger rear bargeboards are better at managing a consistent flow under the floor.
Thus the new car refers to the late season test car, which also sported large bargeboards. The new set-up uses a large rear board, with a stepped upper edge, ala Ferrari, plus a smaller simpler vane under the front suspension. In advance of the boards is the front wing derived from the late 2007 version, sporting three elements and hung from its middle flap.
The new wing is slightly different in its trailing edge shape and the tips being raised slightly. Unlike many 2008 designs. Honda have kept the nose tip very high, this makes packaging a bridge wing difficult, so it will be interesting to see Honda now take on the extra upper wing element.
Although the underside of the nose cone appears drooped, it is actually near horizontal. This is confused by the black paint on the noses underside.
The front suspension appears to be heavily revised, with the lower wishbone attached nearer the sides of the monocoque than underneath and the upper wishbone apparently spaced out from the side of the tub, both aiming to improve the geometry.
Around the middle, the sidepods bear little resemblance to the outgoing RA108, the fronts are deeply under cut and the pod wings are much smaller. Unlike last year the pod winsg are no longer connected to the chimneys and sport a slot in the endplate.
The chimney itself is smaller and carries a simple T-wing. It's cooling function is supplemented by a row of louvers, over what appears to be repositioned radiators, now angled facing up rather than sideways.
Along the sidepos the flip-up is in a higher, more conventional position and the exhausts have been re-sited backwards to exit over the gearbox as BMW have adopted for several years.
Also apeing BMW-Sauber design is the engine cover fin, which is taller than the rules demand, nearly reaching the rear wing at its rear edge.
The new car is a logical direction change for the team. At this stage the car will be underdeveloped compared to other teams, who have years to optimise the flow structures created by this format of aerodynamics.