Honda have been synonymous with Formula One on and off since they first joined the sport in 1964. The first Honda powered victory came a year later at the 1965 Mexican GP. Following the death of Jose Schlesser in 1968 Honda withdrew returning only in 1983 as an engine supplier only.
The Honda powered engine won the constructors’ title each year from 1986-91 before the Japanese economic asset bubble burst and cash was tight.
Honda returned in 2000 supplying British American Racing (BAR) and in 2006 bought the team outright before selling to Ross Brawn for 2007 due to another global financial crash.
In 2015 Honda returned to Formula One as the sole supplier of power units to McLaren F1, though were unsuccessful suffering huge reliability and lack of power issues. Fernando Alonso famously described the new hybrid Honda power unit as a “GP2 engine”.
Once again Honda rested from the sport at the end of 2020 and Red Bull Racing have taken over their UK performance engine department rebranding the engines as Red Bull Powertrains. Just as with the Brawn team, following Honda’s withdrawal their technology the following year won a world championship.
The current engines are effectively frozen until the end of 2025 when the V6 hybrids will be replaced. The process of specifying a new breed of Formula One engines takes years to formulate with a host of interested parties to involve.
Persistent meetings have taken place between F1 bosses and representatives of the VAG group as rumours that either or both Audi/Porsche will be joining the sport. There will be concessions for new power unit manufacturers joining F1 to ‘catch up’ with the knowledge the current engine suppliers already have.
How these concessions will work is yet to be decided, but for example a team running a power unit from a new manufacturer could for example be given an extra engine allowance for the season before receiving grid drop penalties.
For now Red Bull Racing hold the Intellectual Property rights to the Honda engine, though Honda are in fact supplying the power units under a ‘white label’ arrangement, so the engines are still branded as Red Bull Powertrains.
F1 writer Dieter Renken believes “Red Bull will relinquish the IP rights, with Honda returning as low-key supplier with on-car branding.”
This needs to happen well before the 2026 season, because Red Bull Powertrains will then presumably apply for ‘new power unit supplier concessions’ for the new era of F1 powertrains.
So Honda could be back as soon as 2023 with their name on the engine cover of the Red Bull Alpha Tour cars.