Honda forced to up their F1 budget


The days in Formula One are long gone when a Colin Chapman designed budget Lotus 25 could be rolled out of the garage and be immediately competitive at the front of the field. Renault are a living testimony to this, and despite their pedigree as one of the greatest F1 engine manufacturers in history, the French company has demonstrated how difficult it can be to get up to speed having fallen off the pace.

Yasuhisa Arai, head of motor sports at Honda, admits his company’s 7 year absence from Formula One was underestimated and that Honda was suffering from what athletes call a “lack of match sharpness.”

McLaren fans may think this is the understatement of the year, and Arai accepts there were a number of mistakes made by Honda though defends returning to Formula One with half the engineering team “new to the field.” Arai admits to ‘Nikkei Asian Review’ that McLaren questioned him about Honda’s approach and “also asked us to use outside personnel, which from their perspective is natural given the high job mobility in Europe. But we explained that Honda has a different philosophy. It’s important to nurture manpower. It isn’t acceptable to us to have an outside engineer stay for just three months or half a year”.

The writing appeared to be on the wall for the Japanese company back at their first test in Abu Dhabi immediately after the 2014 season. Across the two days the McLaren Honda completed just 5 laps as it became clear there were design problems with the Control Electronics (CE) – one of the 6 components of the modern Formula One power unit. The CE flaws were mostly ironed out prior to the subsequent winter testing in Jerez, but Honda were then hit with a whole new set of problems to tackle.

Temperatures inside the PU soared to 1000 degrees Celsius at times and Arai reveals the test in Jerez and the two which followed in Barcelona were in fact “useless”. In fact Honda were in complete disarray until the end of the opening flyaway races. “Up until the Spanish Grand Prix in May, it was like playing whack-a-mole: As soon as we resolved one problem, another popped up,” Arai observes.

Much has been made of the fact that Honda were forced to deal with McLaren’s ‘size zero’ chassis and aerodynamic design philosophy, yet this was no imposition. In fact, Honda independently had a ‘size zero’ concept at the heart of their power unit design.

By the time summer came, Honda were on top of the myriad of peripheral difficulties and had realised their power unit’s chief weakness was the MGU-H element. The MGU-H is the recovery unit which collects heat from the exhaust gases and transforms it into energy to drive the turbocharger. The problem was that Honda’s ‘size zero’ design meant the compressor and the turbine were too small and were unable to recover the energy other F1 hybrid PU designs were delivering.

For 2016 Honda has reengineered both components to be more powerful whilst not compromising the McLaren chassis design one jot. “We had had to make the effort to design it inside the V-angle, but it was a little bit too small,” explains Arai. “So we have changed the compressor and turbine for 2016. They will be a little bit bigger – but will still be inside the V-bank – with almost the same packaging.”

Honda believes they are on a par with Mercedes and Ferrari in terms of power coming from the internal combustion engine, so if the new MGU-H delivers what it should, then Fernando Alonso won’t be comparing his Honda power unit to a GP2 engine any more.

Yasuhisa Arai has been candid about the mistakes Honda made and has even suggested that there may have been some complacency in the approach adopted when they began their return to F1. Clearly, the budget and amount of personnel resources deployed has been a hot topic of conversation back in Sakura and Arai confirms, “We have been considering the budget and team size since last summer. I’ve talked with [Honda] President Takahiro Hachigo and received his pledge for full support; we are ready for the 2016 season”.

With the first winter test scheduled in Barcelona just three weeks away, McLaren Honda fans can be content that their team is starting the year on a much better footing than it did last year, which saw Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso complete just 79 laps over the four days in Jerez.

15 responses to “Honda forced to up their F1 budget

  1. I really do hope Honda sort out their reliability and their harvesting. I thought the unit to recover energy from the turbo was the MGU-H (i.e. heat recovery)? I thought the MGU-K was the unit to harvest energy from the kenetic energy of the car?
    I would be very happy if Honda’s PU was more powerful than Merc but unreliable. That way they can fix the unreliability with zero tokens and still have a powerful PU. OK so it might take a few races to build reliability but we would have hope 🙂

  2. I thought it was the MGU-H that recovered energy from the turbo, whilst the MGU-K recovers energy from the braking?
    Either way let’s hope they can recover like Ferrari did last year.
    I’d be happy with McLaren getting in the top 10 at Australia to be honest. But there was too many times last year Honda were claiming to be on top of things and they turned out to be worse so I’m not going to hold my breath!!

  3. “The MGU-H is the recovery unit which collects heat from the exhaust gases and transforms it into energy to drive the turbocharger.”
    I’m confused. And it seems I’m not the only one. Turbochargers are driven by the kinetic energy of the escaping exhaust gases and use this to drive an inlet air compressor. Now I understand that the turbochargers in these systems are also able to be powered by electric motors in situations where the exhaust gas velocity is insufficient to maintain adequate boost pressure – with the whole regime controlled by the ECU. What I’ve never understood is how the heat energy in the exhaust system is (a) collected and (b) converted to electrical current – which is a process implicit in the name of the sub-system (ie MGU-H).

    • It’s quite simple – The Motor Generator Unit Heat is connected to a shaft which the turbocharger spins. This is how the MGU-H recovers energy from the exhaust gasses. You store that recovered energy in the energy store/batteries. Using the control electronics you can then redeploy that energy into the MGU-H so that it spins the turbocharger via the shaft to maintain the turbochargers speed to prevent lag and the MGU-H also acts like a wastegate aka slows the turbocharger down when required. There is no limit to the amount of energy the MGU-H can collect, so some of it is deployed into the MGU-K and drive train. The control electronics and ECU via software control the process. The driver can change the harvesting levels and engine maps from the steering wheel.

    • As long as Rockin Ronnie has a say in the McLaren – Honda engine manufacturer deal, RBR will not get a cracker out of Honda. Ron Dennis knows full well how good Newey is from his past experience in house. He is scared they will be beaten badly by Red Bull’s chassis if they both use the same PU.
      If they do decide to take on another customer, Honda is more likely to back a team like Force India because they have ties with India through their Asian motor industry links.

      Whispers are growing about RBR and Lamborghini for 2017. Maybe it’s another reason why RBR are branding the Renault PU as TAG Heuer, so they can distance themselves from having an entirely Renault PU while doing on-track R&D on their own electrical parts and systems so Lambo can be more ready for 2017.
      It’s only whispers but we all know what whispers can become in F1. That’s why the rumours about Mario Illien and RBR may also be true, even though he flatly denies it.
      Only time will tell.

        • Sorry … try as I may, I can’t find the story I read that stated the ‘rumour’, it was about a week or so ago. It also said the person who had provided the comment had quickly been gagged, which covered the writer’s rear end and meant it was unsubstantiated. That’s why I said it was ‘whispers’.
          I’m a grey-haired Formula 1 junkie who uses simple means to peruse many F1 and motorsport websites to get my fix. I’m certainly not a computer whiz. Maybe you will have better luck ‘googling it’ or whatever else it is you youngens do these days.

          BTW … before anyone poopoos my comment, don’t forget that things like Hamilton to Merc started with whispers … as did Honda returning … Honda teaming with McLaren … Alonso leaving Ferrari … Alonso going to McLaren … Renault buying Lotus … Maldonado leaving F1 and being replaced by Magnussen … Manor using Merc PUs … etc etc etc.
          All of these truths began as a paddock rumour or whisper from an insider who refused to back his comments for fear of reprisal!

          With the unbelievable amount of so-called news websites, commenters, blogs etc these days, we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of unscrupulous, voyeuristic people (professional or not) providing incredible amounts of opinion comments, ‘inside’ information and innuendo.
          It is remarkable how every website and blog goes to great lengths to let us know they were either the first, most accurate or provide a date when they released an ‘opinion’ or ‘insider’s comment’ regarding everything from Lewis Hamilton’s dog’s morning ablutions – to which toilet paper a driver uses – to his girlfriends brand of high heels!

        • kpcart – i suspect this is what QS was suggesting , although i’m not so convinced. i think with the engine race well underway, honda will want a competitive chassis to mate with their engine, and lamborghini will be less likely to enter into such an expensive tech concern. the likes of red bull, after the exclusivity of their contract with mclaren comes to a conclusion, will become too mouthwatering to resist for honda? that’s my thoughts anyway…

  4. Nice article, I read after the typo was corrected. The K was unreliable too, not under-powered.

    An added point regarding the Honda MGU-H

    …when you have a tiny (axial) turbo and a compressor that takes most of the power recovered by the turbo from the gasses, there’s just not much power to be recovered with the MGU-H. The general understanding was the design fault was with the tiny Turbo, not the MGU-H. The motor was just unreliable, but it came around quickly; however to redesign the turbo they practically needed to redesign the whole head/turbo/compressor/mgu, which (hopefully) has been dome for this year.

    It seems they addressed most of the glaring faults for 2016. Let’s see now if they’ll be a midfield competitor or they’ll play with the big guns. Let’s not forget there’s a chassis that must be good. Not even RedBull realised in 2015 how bad their RB12 really was because the ICE kept blowing up; once the PU worked(-ish), the chassis faults were obvious and were fixed. How it’s macca’s time to play.

    • I agree about Red Bull’s issues with their 2015 chassis. The improvements at Red Bull were noted by many pundits and other folks knowledgeable enough to offer qualified opinions.

      However the same impartial observers expressed doubt throughout last season, at McLaren’s repeated claims regarding that they had the best chassis of the field – but the ongoing power unit problems prevented them from fully exploiting it.

      I expected McLaren to produce a good chassis. Recruiting Pete Prodermou (sp?) quite literally from the Newy / Red Bull design school was a good move. McLaren hadn’t produced particularly impressive cars for several seasons, in hindsight something they seem slow to have addressed.

      Expecting a star designer to produce the goods in the first car they design in a new and completely different team culture, is perhaps a little optimistic. Such people need time to build an effective infrastructure, including a design team that allows them to fully deploy their potential.

      Hence I expect McLaren to have learned from understandable mistakes made, in their first attempt at rectifying what had been an ingrained and systemic issue. The fact that the “size zero” concept apparently can be retained despite Honda having to dramatically improve significant parts of the power unit, points to them being able to evolve this design philosophy effectively – indicating this year they’ll have a chassis capable of the performance claims made about last years car.

      Unfortunately I don’t think anyone outside of McHonda really knows yet whether the latter part of the package will be sufficiently improved, to address both the performance and reliability deficiencies suffered last year. Whilst Honda are saying all the right things to indicate they’re making the progress needed, the McHonda PR last year was continually optimistic – in terms of stating they were working well towards fixing the various problems, within unrealistically short time-frames!

      I sincerely hope McLaren Honda are racing at the front this year. I don’t think we’ll be able to gauge their progress until the car is run in testing. I’ve got a horrible feeling that whilst many of the PU deficiencies will be fixed, it will still not be improved enough to take the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari.

      I hope I’m wrong about that, but I suspect they’ll more likely start the season fighting in the midfield, unfortunately…

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