Honda’s name is synonymous with Formula One since the manufacturer first joined the sport in 1964 and went on to win the Mexican GP the following year. Yet their recent history has been one where the leadership has chopped and changed on what is the Japanese company’s focus with the result that Honda has been in and out of F1 repeatedly over the past two decades.
Honda decided to go full works outfit and bought out BAR to compete in the 2006 season, yet in 2008 the global recession and leadership struggles within the Japanese company saw them famously sell to Ross Brawn for £1.
Honda in\out history in Formula One
Brawn famously won the 2009 Formula One titles and sold on to Mercedes who went on to dominate the sport for almost a decade.
Honda decided to rejoin F1 as a V6 turbo hybrid power unit supplier but did so a year later than the others. The lost time affected their technical development badly such that their relationship to supply McLaren lasted just three seasons.
Fortunately for Honda, Red Bull had huge issues with Renault and this gave Honda the opportunity to continue with their V6 power unit by supplying the Red Bull family.
Then in 2020 Honda decided they were pulling out of Formula One again at the end of 2021. This was in line with the time frame the FIA had set to introduce the successors to the V6 turbo hybrids.
Red Bull fear having to return to Renault
Having suffered the fate of being rejected as a power unit customer team by Mercedes and Ferrari, Red Bull faced nightmare scenario of having to go cap in hand to Renault for a power unit from 2022 onwards.
So behind the scenes Red Bull pulled the strings and persuaded the FIA and others that an engine freeze should be implemented from 2022 until the arrival of the new power units.
This enabled the Milton Keynes squad to come to an arrangement with Honda whereby they continued to manufacture the power unit though now it was Red Bull Racing paying for the supply, rather than Honda gaining F1 marketing exposure.
Honda finally get F1 rewards
Of course Red Bull Racing powered by Honda swept the F1 board in 2022 and a new deal with the Japanese manufacturer saw their logo in a prominent position on the nose cone of the car for the last third of the season.
Honda duly registered to become a power unit supplier from 2026 onwards and the Oracle Red Bull Racing entry for 2023 is listed by the FIA as powered by Honda again, not Red Bull Powertrains as was the case in 2022.
However with a new deal now brokered with Ford for 2026, Christian Horner reveals the process to integrate Ford engineers into Red Bull Powertrains is underway. The power units will be known as Red Bull-Ford’s and the project will operate in tandem with the current supply of nits from Honda.
The Red Bull-Ford power unit is coming
The Red Bull boss was keen to reiterate at the launch, “There is no transfer of IP or knowledge or even exchange,” he stressed. “The Red Bull Powertrains business will be focussed – and has been, even for the last 18 months – totally focussed on the 2026 regulations. Of course now with an [original equipment manufacturer] partner like Ford for the 2026 projects, our paths are different for the 2026 season.”
This is to ensure the Red Bull-Ford units are treated as a new manufacturer and therefore gain concessions the exiting manufacturers will not receive.
Honda now out in the cold
As for Honda they appear to be out in the cold. The ‘new’ deal agreed at last seasons Japanese GP appeared to be the foundation of Honda continuing to supply Red Bull in some capacity into the new era of F1 engines from 2026.
There was talk that Honda’s expertise could be utilised on the electrical side of the new PU;s with Red Bull producing the internal combustion engine. Yet at the launch, Ford’s big boss made it clear there would be exchanges in this technology now between Ford and Red Bull.
In what almost appears as dismissive, Christian Horner concluded
“We wish Honda the very best of luck for 2026 as their plans look to crystallise. But between now and then we’ll be working very closely and pushing as hard as we can to build on the success that we’ve achieved so far.”
Honda return to McLaren?
It may have been there was a deal to be done between Honda and Red Bull though the persistent ‘in/out’ decisions the company has made over the past 15 years may not have inspired confidence in Milton Keynes.
Further as an energy drinks brand, Red Bull have a strong platform with Ford to improve their position in the US market. Whilst Red Bull is the number one energy drink in Europe, it lags behind offerings from both Coco-Cola and PepsiCola in the US of A.
For now Honda are out in the cold. A deal could be possible with McLaren given Zak Brown’s pragmatic approach to partnerships and despite the disaster that relationship became between 2015-17.
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