The Boys Next Door
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The Boys Next Door

By:
, Thomas O'Keefe


Location, Location, Location. The first rule of real estate also has its counterpart in Formula One. It will not become apparent to Formula One TV viewers until the garage doors open up at Melbourne, but BAR-Honda, by virtue of the teams astonishing second place finish in the 2004 Constructors' Championship, finds itself in the privileged position of occupying the garage in the pit lane next door to Ferrari for the 2005 season, tangible proof that Honda power has finally boosted the formerly hapless BAR team to the front ranks, poised now to take on the Champions from Maranello.

But which BAR-Honda driver has the goods to put the Honda-team-in-waiting over the top and into the first garage? Conventional wisdom says that it is Jenson Button, matinee idol of the pitlane, uncrowned British Formula One Champion, the driver who at Imola in 2004 took Honda's first pole position as quasi-constructor since John Surtees at Monza in 1968, the driver who thrillingly chased down Jarno Trulli's Renault in the closing laps of the Monaco Grand Prix in 2004, the driver who fair-and-square won an overtaking battle with no less a charger than Fernando Alonso at Hockenheim in 2004 and the driver who with his 10 podiums in 2004 put the team where it now finds itself, next door to Ferrari. The only knock on Jenson - though a significant one - is that he can't win, that he cannot or will not summon up what it takes to get around the red car.

And yet, notwithstanding Button's off track errors of judgment so fully on display in the Buttongate imbroglio in 2004 and the inevitable knock-on effect such an attempted exodus must have on the team in 2005, no one is picking Jenson's less celebrated and less experienced teammate, Takuma Sato, to be the man who will take Honda to the Promised Land. But in my view, Sato has all the right skills, is at the optimal point in his career to take the kind of stride forward that will take Honda to the top and most importantly, has demonstrated already that he has that indefinable quality that every champion has - true grit, fire in the belly, the will to win - choose your bromide, but Sato has it in his bones and in every sinew of his being.

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