Here’s why Honda aren’t performing

In Autosport today, the Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa declared that their engine improvements on the dyno are simply not working on track and does not understand why they’re unable to transfer virtual results to actual results.

Sound familiar? Around 5 years ago, Ferrari were struggling with a similar situation with their aero and wind tunnel work. Upgrades simply wouldn’t work on track. Unfortunately for Honda and McLaren fans, it took the boys from Italy many years to strip out current working methodology and invest into new facilities before finally results came their way. It could be argued the fruits of this change have only just started to blossom in 2017.

This year, Honda have been working on significant tweaks to its V6 engine in a bid to improve reliability and performance and close the gap to rivals. In fact they’d hoped to roll out a major performance update for last weekend’s Grand Prix in Canada but decided to wait to allow for testing and development. Further, it seems that a good portion of the thinking behind the halt of that update was for reliability concerns. “We can’t create good conditions on the dyno,” admits Hasegawa.

“We need to create the same conditions from the track on the dyno.

“The operational conditions are different so we need to understand why that makes a difference to the reliability.

“Last year, we could prove engine reliability on the dyno so we need to understand why now there is some difference from dyno to the circuit running – it’s not easy.

“We need to improve the accuracy.”

This issue of performance translation to real world results is one well known by the big boys in F1. The top teams have invested heavily into VTT’s, or Virtual Test Tracks, over the years. With the new tyre and aero regulations for 2017, these tools are even more critical than before.

VTT’s are much more than simple Dyno’s as they mimic the conditions found on track by incorporating a wind tunnel, rolling road along with an engine dyno. VTT’s the team’s solution to the testing bans imposed by the FIA in an effort to cut costs. Ironically, VTT’s cost way more than the original banned solution but I digress.

The VTT’s also help harmonise the relationship between the car’s ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), ERS (Hybrid & energy store), suspension geometry and aerodynamics – critical for success with this highly complex engine formula. It’s obvious that in order to perform on the circuit, the engine and team are required to be geographically close and not with an 8hr time delay, half way across the globe – a la McHonda.

These realities are finally dawning on Zak Brown and McLaren, harmonised development a far more critical factor than being a dedicated ‘works’ team. Indeed even a non works team in the form of Red Bull Racing are believed to have invested in a VTT housed within their new Building 9 at Milton Keynes in an effort to co-develop their ‘Tag Heuer’ power unit variant of the Renault engine. No doubt the works Renault have benefitted from that investment also.

Success is unlikely unless Honda are willing to change their culture of work and change their thinking. Become F1 rather than keep to their own introverted processes that might work for building road cars and try to force that model onto the McLaren project.

The clock is ticking… or has it already tocked?

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7 responses to “Here’s why Honda aren’t performing

  1. Haas/Ferrari are located far apart and they still get things right. But Haas is culturally closer to Ferrari than McLaren to Honda.. It is clear (at least for me 😉 that the problem with the McLaren-Honda combo is multi-facetted.
    1) The first 2 years they lost time by betting on the wrong horse (size zero), failing and then unable to change because of regulations.
    2) By above mentioned debacle they came late in the game (having lost 3 years already compared to the others)
    3) Although I love Honda’s viewpoint “we can do this all alone”, the field is too competitive to make up for all problems in a single year. “We can do this all alone” would have been excellent, but unluckily it hasn’t produced a winner.
    4) the cultural problem: this is a biggy. No easy way to solve, but it can. They have done so before. However, regularly interchanging Honda team members isn’t helpful, while this is part of Honda’s philosophy.

    I don’t see McLaren breaking up from Honda in the near future. Financially McLaren depends too on Honda. The absence of a major sponsor would stop any breakup before it started.

    • “Haas/Ferrari are located far apart and they still get things right.”

      Haas aren’t exactly at the sharp end though. Also, Ferrari know their PU works on their car. McLaren are the sole runner of Honda PU’s.

  2. The VTT technology is certainly crucial in the development of the engine with the chassis and may have given Honda some insight into the vibration issue which was causing some / all of the electrical failures. However, you don’t need a VTT to get absolute HP or fuel consumption numbers, a dyno will do on its own and Honda would have know long before testing began in late February that those numbers were way off what they had been telling McLaren or McLaren said they were told.

    Either Honda were at worst out and out lying about those numbers or at best fudging them. And I find it strange that McLaren, with all their engineering resources, wouldn’t have asked to see multiple real dyno tests, from which it would have been relatively straight forward to know what kind of HP / consumption the engine had, which is a failing of McLaren management. But then Mclaren is now run by a marketing guy who if you cut him “bleeds McLaren”.

    • I agree. You don’t lose hp just because the suspension moves. Honda should have known YEARS AGO that they were deficient in hp (well they probably knew after their first few races). Aside from the reliability of parts, such as the MGU-H, Honda should be able to produce a simple dyno plot and realize their design is massively deficient.

      Several years ago I heard rumors that the F1 engineers were spending a lot of time on Brayton cycle thermodynamics. I have to wonder if Honda hasn’t figured this out yet.

  3. A dyno is all you really need for an engine. VTT can help with other dynamics about the behavior of the whole car. Honda definitely sound lost. It almost sounds like they have started from absolute zero, which makes no sense at all. They are involved with MotoGP, IndyCar and they have tons of F1 data from the past to work from. Just build an engine with power, don’t lose your way with theoretical stuff. Go with what you know, steal ideas from HPD, from the MotoGP engine, from turbos from 1988, from ex-engineers from rival manufacturers. Internal combustion isn’t that complex. Have a core team of engineers and just get on with it!

  4. Reading the Autosport article, it sounds like the dyno numbers are fine. The problem is with the reliability on track being worse than on the dyno. Honda videos show they have engines running on track simulation dyno. But their simulator is matching real world reliability. No different from the aero problems teams have between CFD, wind tunnel and real world. They will be able to fix it.

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