Honda Motor Co. is back in Formula One in 2006 as a constructor for the first time since November 3rd, 1968, when Honda ran its last Grand Prix as a constructor in Mexico City, with John Surtees as the principal Honda entry, driving the Honda RA301 with a 3.0 litre V12 engine.
Although John Surtees was Honda's most successful Grand Prix driver, in the course of its last season in 1968, Honda retained other drivers on occasion to join Surtees for one-off performances, including Jo Bonnier for the Mexican Grand Prix and David Hobbs for the Italian Grand Prix.
But it was Honda's engagement of a 40 year-old Frenchman, Jo Schlesser, for the French Grand Prix that was to play a significant role in bringing the curtain down on Honda's first foray into Grand Prix racing, an event so traumatic to the company that in some ways it has taken Honda 37 years to recover from it.
Who was Jo Schlesser, and how did this relative novice become a Honda Grand Prix driver? Born in the former French colony of Madagascar, Schlesser had been in and about Grand Prix circles for years and had a solid background in French National racing, both as a sportscar driver and in open-wheel racing. Indeed, in 1962 and 1963, Schlesser had been the French Formula Junior Champion. He had also driven a Cobra Daytona Coupe to victory in the 1965 Sebring 12-hour and won the 1967 Rheims 12-hour race in a GT40 entered by Ford of France with Guy Ligier as his co-driver.