After a close win for Honda in 1967 Italian Grand Prix , in 1968 F1 season, the Japanese manufacturer entered 2 cars for grand prix racing. The first one was the Honda RA301, it feature a RA273E V12 engine which used in the previous season. It competed 11 races with the result of 1 pole, 1 fastest lap and 2 podium.
But that’s not the car we talk about today, so now lets move on. The Honda RA302, and this car is the reason why Honda didn’t give development to the RA301 as they focus on the RA302. What made the RA302 was so innovative is it features an air-cooled V8 engine with a magnesium-skinned chassis, even though it was air-cooled, but still managed to gain up to 430hp, which was equal to the water cooled engines of that time. The engine was completely cooled by a funnel draft system, which is basically a conic shape that makes use of the venturi effect. Two wide air intakes at each side of the cockpit catch air, and is lead to a smaller pipe where the molecules flow faster. This way the engine could be ‘sufficiently’ cooled, even without the need of any fan. Apart from this system, the engine also sported cooling fins on the underside to additionally use regular airflow as coolant.
Also, the Japanese manufacturer had been suffering with its previous cars to keep the weight under control, and they managed to lower that by producing a magnesium-skinned monocoque. So to summed up the car, the theory was great, so Honda decided to tested this car at Silverstone, and this is what John Surtees said after he had a go with the car……
"You'd drive out of the pits and it would feel quite sharp, but it was impossible to drive any distance with it performing as it should. Mr Nakamura told Japan we could not take this to a race."
Mean while, Soichiro Honda——the founder of Honda, was in France on a trade mission that week and, perhaps influenced by his local representatives, he decided to enter the RA302 under the Honda France banner, with a French driver. Surtees, and even team boss Nakamura, didn’t know of the plan until 7.30am on the first day of practice.
While normal Honda driver John Surtees refused to drove the car, and described that the car as unsafe and labelled it as a “potential deathtrap”. So Jo Schlesser, who competed 2 F1 Grand Prix with Formula 2 car, had finally got himself first try in F1 car at The Rouen Les Essarts circuit. In qualifying John Surtees at the old RA301 scored a 7th place, bad luck came to Jo Schlesser and the Honda RA302 as he only managed to qualified 16th with 18th cars on the grid.
7th July 1968, the race day of the 1968 French Grand Prix, and also the debuted race of the Honda RA302. As the flag drop, the Grand Prix was start, and on the lap two, some terrify accident happened with the RA302, the car lost control and crashed at the Six Frères corner, the magnesium-bodied Honda and 58 laps worth of fuel ignited instantly, just a few second, the car and the driver was cover by fire, left Schlesser had no chance of survival.
Even though Honda scored their best result of the season with a 2nd place finished for John Surtees, but the dealth of Jo Schlesser and the end of the Honda RA302 program, made Honda lost interested in F1 racing. When the second RA302 was built and set to competed at the Italian Grand Prix, John Surtees again refused to drive it, and Honda pull out of the sport at the end of the season. And the second RA302 which supposed to be driven by John Surtees at the Italian Grand Prix is on display at the Honda Collection Hall. So as the result, the Honda RA302 competed only 1 race and being destroyed in an fatal accident, what an disaster…….