MOTOR RACING: Honda make rivals see red over white car

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THE WORLD of Formula One likes nothing more than a bit of intrigue to spice up the long months of the close season, and the latest imbroglio concerns a plain white car that could be seen circulating at Silverstone yesterday, in between the bright sunshine, gale-force winds, gusts of hail and occasional snowflakes. The problem with the new Honda grand prix car, according to its rivals, is that it goes too fast - even though its first appearance in an actual race is still 12 months away.

Honda's initial entry into F1 came in 1964, also with a plain white car. Four years later, with only two wins to their name, they withdrew. But in 1983 they returned as engine suppliers to the Williams and McLaren teams, with whom they won several world championships. In 1991 a recession threatened Japanese industry and prompted a second withdrawal. But now the commercial climate is judged appropriate for a full-scale return.

Their strategy is to spend an entire year testing their prototype, under the direction of Harvey Postlethwaite, the English designer formerly associated with Hesketh, Tyrrell and Ferrari, before making a competitive debut. Driven by Jos Verstappen, the talented young Dutchman, the car shocked its putative competitors by posting the fastest times throughout a three- day open test session at Jerez in late January. Suspecting that the Honda was being run beneath the permitted minimum weight limit, or otherwise infringing regulations, other teams demanded a rule to prevent such demoralising - and, more importantly, publicity-hogging - behaviour. Postlethwaite refused to comment on those accusations yesterday. "We're just getting on with doing what we want to do," he said.

Of this season's contenders, only Benetton ran their cars yesterday. The remainder of the British-based teams - McLaren, Williams, Jordan, Arrows, Stewart and the new BAR outfit - are expected today and tomorrow for final tests before crating up their brand-new cars and shipping them to Melbourne for the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix, a week on Sunday.