Its been 8 years since McLaren ended their 20 year Formula One relationship with Mercedes-Benz. McLaren had for almost two decades been the de facto Mercedes F1 works team entry but all that changed when Stuttgart decided to buy the Brawn team back in November 2009.
Ron Dennis who at the time was the McLaren team principal and part owner then set the course for the Woking team to once again become an engine supplied works F1 team. This was finalised in 2015 when Honda rejoined Formula One a year after the new V6 power units were introduced.
Honda steep learning curve on rejoining F1
It was a steep learning curve for Honda given the other power unit manufacturers already had a year of data under their belts, so it was no big surprise when McLaren finished the season P9 in the constructors’ championship ahead only of the failing Marussia outfit.
That year F1 fans were treated to the now iconic image of Fernando Alonso at the Brazilian GP. After his McLaren ground to a halt in Q1, Alonso took to a deck chair to watch the remaining part of the session, and catch a bit of sun.
Fans quickly captured images of the Spaniard sunning himself and doctored them for a trending theme on twitter – #placesalonsowouldratherbe.
McLaren F1 claim to have set chassis
While Honda were taking a huge amount of flack for McLaren’s poor results behind the scenes there was a different tale unfolding. The McLaren Honda years were short from 2015-17 and the team from Woking made at times ridiculous claims.
One assertion made repeatedly during these years was that the McLaren ‘size zero’ chassis design was one of the best on the grid. In other words all the team’s woes were down to Honda.
Yet a number of tech F1 overseers believe the failure of the McLaren-Honda package was due to the insistence that Honda shoe horn their power unit into the size zero design chassis.
Red Bull swoop for Honda F1 power unit
Around the same time, Red Bull Racing were having their own power unit supply nightmares from Renault which finally ended in 2018.
For the 2019 season Red Bull fully adopted the Honda power unit for the RB15 but they had a years experience already with Honda since the sister team Toro Rosso had their power unit the previous season.
Having won two drivers’ titles and one constructors’ championship with Honda in the first four years of their partnership its not unreasonable to question why things were so different in the McLaren Honda relationship.
In an interview with RacingNews365 Christian Horner was asked whether Red Bull had been forced to accept compromises with their new power unit supplier.
Compromise required from Red Bull
“Absolutely,” replied Horner, ”I think the team felt that after the years of difficulties we’d been through, we suddenly had a very willing partner that was prepared to do whatever they could to extract the most performance they could – and everything was focused on performance.
“We could see that commitment, that desire and the fact that it meant so much to every member of the Honda team.
“Honda is very much a passion driven company within the racing department and you could see that through Sakura and their design and operational team.”
Honda withdrew form Formula One for the 2021 season, though the entry from Milton Keynes was listed by the FIA as “Red Bull Racing Honda” and the power unit was designated as the “Honda RA621H”
Honda sign up for F1 2026 regulations
For 2022 the team name registered was changed to Oracle Red Bull Racing and the power unit listed as the Red Bull RBPTH001.
In reality the latest power unit is merely badged as a Red Bull Powertrains (RBT) unit and behind the label sits the Honda intellectual property and design.
In an apparent U-turn Honda signed up during 2022 to the new power unit regulations due for 2026. Further the Honda badge reappeared on the Red Bull cars in the latter part of the season as the pair announced an extended “support” agreement through to the end of 2025.
Red Bull/Honda F1 partnership expected to continue
Having experienced the trauma of the unsuccessful relationship with Renault during the V6 turbo era, it is most likely Red Bull wish to retain the expertise of Honda going forward.
The expectation is that with the new power unit regulations increasing the total electrical power of the F1 cars to around 50% of the total, Honda will bring their expertise in this area and battery storage devices to the Red Bull Powertrains design for the internal combustion engine and gearbox.
As Mercedes before them demonstrated for years, Red Bull chose a different path to McLaren where neither the power unit or the chassis can dictate to the other, both have to be developed in harmony to produce a championship winning car.
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Green suits you, @svandoorne. 😮💨
The new AMF1 test and reserve driver got down to business on his first day at our Silverstone HQ, meeting the team and getting some laps in on the simulator! pic.twitter.com/e0kCVBRQID
— Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team (@AstonMartinF1) January 11, 2023