British American Racing was a Formula One constructor that competed in the sport from 1999 to 2005. BAR began by acquiring Tyrrell, and by using Supertec engines, but eventually partnered with Honda for the next six years.
The team was named after the British American Tobacco Company (BAT), which owned and sponsored it in order to display its Lucky Strike brand. In mid-November 2004 Honda purchased 45% of the team and in September 2005 purchased the remaining 55% share to become the sole owner and consequently BAR Honda became the Honda team for 2006. BAT will continue as title sponsor with the Lucky Strike brand in 2006, but will withdraw entirely from Formula One after that
BAT had been involved in Formula One for many years, with several of its brands being displayed on F1 cars run by various teams. In 1997, the corporation was convinced by Craig Pollock to purchase a Formula One team. This team would be Tyrrell, and BAT and Pollock would use Â£30,000,000 (approximately $47 million U.S.) to acquire the team during the offseason of that year. The team officially was still Tyrrell in 1998 before it became BAR the following year.
A poor start
Pollock was the team's principal and was able to lure World Champion Jacques Villeneuve away from Williams for the 1999 season with a lucrative contract. Pollock had managed him throughout his racing career so perhaps it was only natural that he signed on. Villeneuve was joined by F1 rookie Ricardo Zonta. The car's chassis was built with the help of Reynard Motorsport and the car ran on Supertec (rebadged Renault) engines. Pollock bragged about how successful the team would be in its maiden year.
However, the team was an outright disaster and failed to score a point in the Constructors' Championship. Perennial minnows Minardi were even able to finish above BAR in the Constructors' Championship. Villeneuve started the year with 11 straight retirements, and failed to finish a race until the Belgian Grand Prix that August, while Zonta missed three races due to an injury and managed only a best finish of 8th himself. Adding insult to injury, figuratively speaking, Mika Salo, who filled in for Zonta while he was hurt, provided the team with its best finish of 7th.
Even off the track, BAR had a terrible year. The team's plan to run its cars with two separate liveries (to enable BAR to advertise two different cigarette brands) was highly controversial, and the FIA deemed the plan to be illegal. To get around this, BAR ran "dual livery" cars, with one side of the car painted the white and red of BAT's Lucky Strike brand, and the other side of the car painted in blue and yellow to advertise 555. Critics derided the cars for being ugly, and the scheme was a failure, with BAR reverting to a more traditional style of livery for 2000 onwards.
Honda's return to F1
Despite the disastrous season in 1999, BAR still managed to persuade Honda to supply them with engines in 2000. It was the first time Honda had been directly involved in Formula One since 1992. BAR did not have exclusive use of Honda engines, though, as Jordan Grand Prix were using Mugen Hondas. The following year Jordan were given factory Honda engines, but the engine manufacturers could not supply two teams forever. This prompted a battle between BAR and Jordan for the use of Honda engines in the long term.
In 2000 the new Honda driven BAR did show improvement, proving to be more reliable and slightly more competitive, but the team still only had a best finish of 4th. While it was a marked improvement on its first year, with the team finishing tied for 4th in the points, it was still not the kind of year envisioned by team owners. Villeneuve reached the podium twice in 2001 for BAR, but neither he nor new teammate Olivier Panis did enough for the team, and it led to the sacking of Craig Pollock.
Upswing under Richards
David Richards took over as principal of the team but the story line continued for BAR, with Villeneuve still struggling to score points and Panis also failing to reach expectations. However, BAR had won the battle against Jordan, whose performances had become even worse. From 2003 BAR had exclusive use of the Honda engines, and were able to work more closely with its engine partners.
BAR had brought in Jenson Button to replace Panis for the 2003 Formula One season. Villeneuve's failure to produce eventually led to him being replaced before the end of the season by Japanese driver Takuma Sato. (Honda has traditionally liked its teams to field Japanese drivers as it leads to publicity in the car manufacturer's home country.) Despite Villeneuve's lack of performance, BAR as a whole was on the upswing, with Jenson Button leading a Grand Prix for the first time (albeit briefly) at the 2003 United States Grand Prix. The 2003 chassis was considered to be one of the best in the field, but the team struggled due to being on Bridgestone tires. In the off-season, they changed to rival tire company Michelin, in the hope of releasing the potential of their car.
Peak in 2004
Early in 2004, the team saw a further upswing in its fortunes, with Button scoring many podium finishes as well as their first pole position at San Marino. The Honda RA004E engine was reputed to produce slightly over 960bhp in Suzuka Special form to close the year, and was certainly one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful engine in pitlane. In the end, BAR finished the season in 2nd place in the Constructors' Championship, beating every team except for Ferrari. Despite this, BAR's first win still eluded them.
During the course of the 2004 season a dispute with WilliamsF1, in which both teams believed they had a valid contract for Jenson Button in 2005, threatened to overshadow BAR's startling on-track performance. However both the team and Button showed professionalism by putting these matters behind them when they were racing. The matter with Button went to the Contract Recognition Board, which found in favour of BAR. Button was to drive for BAR in 2005, but signed a contract to join Williams in 2006.
With increasing restrictions being placed upon tobacco companies' opportunities to advertise in Formula One, rumours have suggested that BAT would try to sell the team. In mid-November 2004, BAR announced that Honda had purchased 45% of the team. As a part of the deal, David Richards left his job as team principal to be replaced with Nick Fry.
2005: Poor start and controversy
The start of the season didn't go according to plan for BAR, as they struggled at the "flyaway" races at the start of the season. Just as they had become competitive, at San Marino, BAR Honda was disqualified for running with illegal cars. The allegation was that the cars have been able to go with a weight below 605 kg (1323 lb), the minimum weight required for a Formula 1 car. BAR disputed this saying that the engine requires a minimum of 6 kg of fuel to work, keeping them above the minimum weight. Their interpretation of the rules was that this limit applies only during the race, not during the post-race scrutineering. The FIA, and later the court, disagreed. In addition to the disqualification, the team was banned for two races, a period which included the lucrative Monaco Grand Prix. The team initially indicated that they planned to fight the decision before a regular civil court but later decided to accept the verdict. Max Mosley, the president of the FIA, saw the result as very lenient as they had wanted the team to be banned for the remainder of the season. They were, however, unable to prove deliberate intent to cheat (Official Court of Appeal Decision (PDF)).
When BAR returned at the European Grand Prix the team struggled to find its feet. In stark contrast to the previous season, BAR failed to score a single point until the midway point of the season, at the 2005 French Grand Prix. Takuma Sato had a particularly poor season, scoring just one point, and was consequently sacked from the team at the end of the season. Sato was replaced in the new Honda team by former Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. Still, the team showed its grit by developing the car steadily to allow Button to score in each of the last 10 races of the season, culminating in 2 podium positions, and an awesome pass by Jenson on Jacques Villeneuve in the rain at the fast Pouhon corner at SPA around the outside.
At the end of 2005 Honda obtained 100% ownership of BAR from BAT completing their ambition to become a full F1 manufacturer team, known as Honda Racing F1 Team In addition, Jenson Button's Williams contract was bought out for 30 million; putting Button on a multi-year contract with Honda.
Speed Record Attempt
BAR tested a modified BAR-Honda 007 car which they intended to use in an attempt to set the land speed record for a Formula One car meeting FIA regulations. The team aimed for 400 km/h (249 mph), and were planning the record attempt at Bonneville Salt Flats. (See ) The driver for this project is Alan Van Der Merwe. The modified chassis performed a shakedown test on the ten thousand foot long runway at Mojave Airport in California on 5th November 2005. The four published times recorded in this test were 393, 405, 410 and 413km/h, however these tests did not constitute the record attempt itself. After initially planning to make the record attempt, waterlogging at the salt flats resulted in the attempt being postponed. Honda have not indicated whether they intend to follow through with the attempt now that they have full ownership of the team.