Sato hot on Button's heels in race for BAR's first victory

Sooner or later this year the Brackley-based Lucky Strike BAR-Honda team are going to win a race. Their technical department, run by Geoffrey Willis, has produced a great car, and their Honda engine is at the sort of peak that won the Japanese manufacturer world championships with Williams and McLaren.

Sooner or later this year the Brackley-based Lucky Strike BAR-Honda team are going to win a race. Their technical department, run by Geoffrey Willis, has produced a great car, and their Honda engine is at the sort of peak that won the Japanese manufacturer world championships with Williams and McLaren.

Jenson Button is the favourite to achieve the breakthrough, but when it happens his Japanese team-mate, Takuma Sato, could beat him to it. Sunday's European Grand Prix gave Sato yet another opportunity to show his burgeoning form, although his aggressive style has recently upset both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari, Ralf Schumacher and the winner in Monaco, Jarno Trulli.

"We have a board at the factory that shows which drivers' cards Taku has marked," the BAR team principal, David Richards, joked at the Nürburgring. "We ticked off Ralf in Bahrain, Michael in Monaco, and now Rubens and Jarno in Germany. You can bet that Rubens will have a good look before turning into a corner, just to make sure Taku isn't there. You can ask whether it was an overambitious move or not, but there was plenty of room and he was braking in a straight line. Rubens had the choice whether to turn in, at the end of the day."

"The sport needs heroes," Richards said. "People don't want to see it won by calculations done before a race on a computer. They want people to take up every opportunity and challenge. People say Taku needs to calm down, but we believe that he already has since last year. He measures his pace on a Friday, lapping around 90 per cent, and steps up to 95 per cent for qualifying. I guess that's what he was operating at in pre-qualifying on Saturday when he was six-tenths faster than Michael."

Richards is not the only man who has been impressed by Sato. The head of Carlin Motorsport, Trevor Carlin, who ran Sato in Formula Three when they dominated the British championship in 2001, said before the season began: "The bloke is mega, and if he gets the right opportunity he will fly."

Peter Collins, the talent spotter responsible for materially assisting the careers of Nigel Mansell, Johnny Herbert, Mika Hakkinen, Alex Zanardi, Kimi Raikkonen and the rising star Vitantonio Liuzzi, said: "Sato is the perfect example of how important it is to give a proven racer a chance. He is getting the upper hand on Jenson, and is now less erratic and more consistent.

"His move on Trulli in the first corner on Sunday was superb," Collins added. "Real class: deep, hard, no locked brakes. Perfect judgement."

Sato is already the first Japanese driver to lead a Formula One race, and to start from the front row. Pretty soon he will be the first to reach the podium, andmay well become the first to win a grand prix. It's hardly surprising that this compact, muscular character is putting some noses out of joint. Back in 1973 a young South African racer called Jody Scheckter occasionally made himself unpopular with his peers, before going on to win the world championship for Ferrari in 1979. Sato's style is reminiscent of Scheckter's.

Change is in the air at Ferrari. The longtime president, Luca Di Montezemolo, has been appointed as the new chairman of Fiat, replacing Umberto Agnelli who died last Friday. Ferrari's sporting director, Jean Todt, is expected to step into Di Montezemolo's shoes, with Ross Brawn taking over Todt's role while continuing as the technical director.

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