It seems that the Japanese engine manufacturer has prioritised resources at F1 in a last-ditch attempt to save face since the return Honda to Formula One.
As evidence of this, the role of motorsport racing director Masashi Yamamoto will be redefined in order to work even more efficiently for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Honda made a very good first impression during the Formula 1 test winter. The engine supplier of Red Bull Racing and the Scuderia Toro Rosso enabled the two racing teams from Milton Keynes and Faenza to do plenty of laps with very little unreliability. Indeed, when one of the two cars stopped, it rarely had anything to do with the Japanese 1.6-litre V6 engine.
Now Honda is rebuilding it’s operating structure in order to be able to work even more efficiently.
Masahi Yamamoto, the previous head of motorsport, is taking on a newly created role in order to be able to concentrate full-time on Formula 1. Yamamoto was one of the key players behind the contract between Red Bull and Honda to equip the four-time world champions Red Bull Racing 2019 with engines, the cooperation with Toro Rosso has been running since 2018.
Yamamoto has so far taken care of all the racing series in which Honda competes, not just F1. From 1 April 2019, he will focus exclusively on Japanese involvement in Formula 1. A company statement states that this should “underline how important the Formula 1 project is for Honda, especially as we are supporting two racing teams for the first time”.
Hiroshi Shimizu will succeed Yamamoto as head of racing for the entire motorsport programme.
A lot has gone wrong since Honda’s return to Formula 1 in the 2015 season. McLaren asked Honda to build as small an engine as possible (the infamous size zero) in order to be able to build a very narrow racing car rear. Result: The Japanese engine proved to be too unstable and too inefficient. After three years McLaren director Zak Brown pulled the plug and fled into the arms of Renault, claiming that if Red Bull can win races with Renault, then so should they (best chassis anyone?).
Certainly, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is saying lots of positive things since testing two weeks ago.
“Working together with the Honda engineers was really nice and pleasant because they knew exactly what I was talking about,” said the Dutchman, speaking in Tokyo last weekend.
“We really understood each other, the communication felt very easy going.
“That is very important for the season ahead, especially in critical conditions in the race when you don’t have a lot of time to decide,”
“I think we already understand each other very well.
“That’s why I think also those first few weeks they are very important to get to know each other a lot more and feel and understand each other and the way you are working. So a very positive two weeks.”
“I was surprised with the reliability because we did a lot of laps and we basically never really got stopped by any issues. That’s of course what you want in testing.”
“I think for me what was the most important is to just feel the new engine,” added Verstappen.
“It’s a completely different power unit so I just wanted to get used to driveability, I wanted to understand down-shifting, all these kind of things.
“And I was very positively surprised, it was all feeling very good. We didn’t really have to change a lot around it to make it really driveable and nice. So that was a big positive.”
In Australia this weekend, we will see whether this positive rhetoric continues from the young Dutchman.
As I understood it, the problem with the first Honda engine was that Honda fundamentally misunderstood the function of the turbo in modern F1. Traditionally, the problem was turbo lag which you reduced by minimising turbo size and hence the rotational energy needed to accelerate it (and which reduction in size also helps a size 0 concept). However what Mercedes and Ferrari had understood was that there is no legal limit on the energy/lap that can be drawn *from* the turbo unit and that its role as an energy store was far more important to lap time than its contribution to acceleration. That actually you wanted the turbo to be large and have high rotational inertia to maximise how much energy you can store there for a given rpm. The inevitable result of which misunderstanding was the McLaren perpetually running out of electrical power partway down the long straights simply because their turbo had been essentially designed to be as bad at storing energy as possible!
There were other major issues with the Honda engine in 2015. It apparently suffered from oil starvation in high G corners which resulted in many engine failures. And it had a significant vibration problem which shook a lot of the electrical components / sensors in the engine to the point of failure.