A Japanese publication called sportiva.shueisha.co.jp yesterday wrote an article that included an interview with the Honda boss Masashi Yamamoto, head of Honda’s motorsport division.
Below is a roughly translated transcript written and translated by a Reddit F1 user called u/FCIUS.
Yamamoto outlines organizational changes at HRD Sakura, wants to win by “Monaco at the latest”
Something at Honda has clearly changed.
Both camps, Red Bull and Honda, are now openly talking about their “first win” as Red Bull Honda. Masashi Yamamoto, head of Honda’s motorsport, has even gone on to say that he wants their first win by Monaco, at the latest.
“We definitely want to win by Monaco. As long as testing at Barcelona goes well, and the matching with the Red Bull chassis works properly, along with reliability and power, they’ll be hunting from the win from Australia.
“We want them to be fighting for wins too.
“Disregarding luck, and other things, Australia, Bahrain, Barcelona, and Monaco are all circuits where Red Bull shines, and I personally want to see us EDIT: at least win somewhere in these 4 races.”
He says that Honda will wait until the Barcelona tests are complete, to decide what balance of power and durability to take. Given their large deficit against Mercedes and Ferrari last season, Honda has focused on improving both power and durability. They can’t afford to take their conservative approach like last year, where they focused on reliability, rather than power.
“Of course, we can’t possibly compete at last year’s performance levels, so we need to increase our power to catch the top 2. But how can we also improve reliability at the same time? The combination is crucial.
“We were able to see where we need to take our PU development last year, but while the MGU-H performance has stabilized, other issues like the ICE popped up. Even if we recover from those over the winter, if the 2019 PU increases in power, the stress on the components will also increase, which could lead to unexpected failures.
“So HRD Sakura’s working tirelessly to try to ensure reliability despite the increase in power.”
Red Bull has one of the best chassis on the field. They had struggled on the second half of last season, from a lack of a quali mode with their PU, they were able to recover from their qualifying deficit on Sundays, fighting alongside the top 2 many times.
From their analysis of running data and GPS data (which give them precise data on their acceleration and cornering performance), it appears that Red Bull consider their chassis to have a 0.5 second advantage per lap, on average.
IF that margin remains the same, they could theoretically tolerate up to a 0.5 second deficit from the PU, and still be on par with the other teams. Red Bull’s aiming to close that deficit from the PU, and come out on top in terms of absolute performance. If they succeed, then they can put the championship firmly in their sights, as they have said elsewhere.
Half a second, even at the most power-intensive circuits, translates into roughly 20kW. If Honda can close their output gap into that range, then Red Bull would have a real fighting chance.
“It makes sense in a theoretical sense. [The Red Bull chassis] isn’t quite a second ahead of the top teams, but their performance during the second half of 2018 suggest they’re ahead by roughly 0.5 seconds.
“Last year, our race mode PU had roughly a one second deficit against Mercedes and Ferrari. So we’re trying to close that gap, and meet the chassis’s improvement half-way.”
Of course, their final goal is to be on the top on the basis of their PU performance alone, but catching up to other manufacturers, who all had a head start, having started development years before the current regulations were even confirmed, is still a tall order. Indeed, it took Honda 5 years to finally be remotely in contention with the top teams.
Before the improvements materialized in an improved PU, the atmosphere and structure at both HRD Sakura (base of development) and HRD MK (Milton Keynes, base of European operations) has changed drastically.
Last year, Yasuaki Asaki, an operating officer at Honda, was given the post of F1 development manager, and he has worked to revamp the organization. He had been a key figure in Honda’s second term of F1 involvement (engine supplier in the ‘80s-‘90s) from the start, and then moved to consumer cars, where he oversaw the development of many successful products.
Yamamoto says that HRD Sakura changed massively in the first year under Asaki.
“Asaki’s reign started in earnest last year, and they were able to set a clear direction for their PU development. Of course, all of that is based on work put in from the previous year, but Asaki continued those efforts, and produced clear results. He laid down a firm foundation for this season.”
People around Asaki often point out his keen instincts and sensibilities as an engineer. It was those traits that had allowed him to tap into new markets with products like the Odyssey and the N-BOX, and produced many popular cars.
“He can make the call to abandon approaches with little promise quickly and decisively. Normally, people tend to vacillate between different approaches, afraid to make up their mind, but there’s no time for that in F1.
“There are firm deadlines in the form of race weekends, and it can’t be delayed just because our development is lagging behind. So in that sense, I think Asaki has shown prudent judgement so far.”
The largest source of optimism, is that Honda is starting to become “Honda” again. Yamamoto explains it like this:
“When I went to HRD Sakura last week for the first time in the while, I couldn’t find Asaki in his seat–which is a good thing). I do this too, but he’s in the field, talking to a bunch of different people.
“Because people can engage him in such an open and candid way, it promotes new ideas. I think that has historically been what made Honda great, and I think that’s a great advantage of having Asaki.”
Asaki believes that good engineers can only emerge when they are given freedom and unshackled from existing concepts and beliefs; only then can they perform at their full potential. His philosophy has even been described as “getting rid of the cages in a zoo.”
“The atmosphere’s so much brighter now. We changed the floor layout. Before, HRD Sakura was divided by the entrance lobby, engine assembly, and other machinery in the first floor, and the test bench in another building. Meanwhile, the designers were all cooped up on the 4th floor.”
“We’ve since decided to consolidate everything in the first floor. Design and assembly are both done next to each other, and people can move easily between the two. Before, the fourth floor was too large, and people were spread out, but now everyone’s closer together—things are more “dense” now. This is what Honda’s supposed to look like.”
Yamamoto then goes on to say, that Red Bull’s HQ had similar characteristics.
“Christian [Horner] was showing me around last year, but the desks were all near one another, and things were really dense. Even as he was giving me the tour, he’d ask engineers about different things, they’d answer, and there’s laughter in the air.
“The atmosphere was really great. Where they need the space, things are sparsely laid out, but they’ve also consolidated space where they need to. There’s little waste. It’s a perfect environment for a race team.”
First, they need to make sure that they start winter testing strongly. How will they run, what programs will they complete, and how much data can they collect? Now that Honda have partnered with Red Bull, they can’t afford a poor showing, even during testing.
“We need to be completing many tests, and be near the top of the timing sheets. Obviously, it’s still testing and times don’t really matter as much, but the results at the end of the day still set the mood for the season ahead, doesn’t it? So we have to give it our all from pre-season, and reach that aforementioned 20kW interval.”
Red Bull’s motorhome at Monaco is too big for the paddock, and is moored to the harbor like a cruise ship, where there’s a wooden deck and even a pool. And if they win at Monaco, it’s tradition that the driver and team personnel dive into that pool.
This year, Yamamoto and other Honda personnel could be celebrating with them at that pool.
“I definitely want to dive into that pool. I really want our staff to know what it’s like to win in F1. If they gain that experience, learn the process, and accumulate know-how, the PU will be able to work even better with the chassis.
“But for now, we need to do everything we need to do at Barcelona. How we fight from Australia and onwards depend on how well pre-season testing goes.”