Despite all their success in Formula One, Honda remain an enigma within the sport. Honda’s debut was back in 1964 and they won their first race with the legendary John Surtees at the Mexican Grand Prix the following year.
A combination of failed car sales in the USA and the death of their F1 driver Joe Schlesser caused Honda to rethink and withdraw from F1 in 1968.
Honda’s yo-yo F1 history
The Japanese manufacturer returned as an engine supplier in 1983 winning races in 1984/85 before hitting a winning streak of constructor titles fro 1986 to 1991 with Williams and McLaren.
Honda again withdrew from F1 in 1992 having achieved their goals. The Honda narrative includes driver champions such as Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost when Honda was the go to engine supplier if a team wanted to win championships.
In the year 2000 Honda returned again as an engine supplier before buying BAR for the 2006 season. The team were successful in winning races though once again made a last minute decision to exit the sport weeks before the start of the 2009 season.
Ross Brawn acquired the team for £1 and promptly won runaway driver and constructor titles with the team renamed “Brawn”.
Honda withdrawal forces power unit freeze
The team was sold the next year and became the current Mercedes outfit still operating from the Honda base in Brackley.
Of course Honda returned in 2015 with an unsuccessful partnership with McLaren and when both parties agreed to go their separate ways the Japanese manufacturer hoked up with Red Bull.
This time Honda hung in there long enough to see another world championship come their way with Max Verstappen’s victory over Lewis Hamilton in 2021 before again announcing they would be withdrawing from the sport.
The Honda announcement was the reason the FIA decided to freeze all engine development from 2022 to the end of the 2025 season when the new power units would appear. Quite simply Red Bull Racing would have been left with no supplier following the end to their disastrous relationship with Renault and Ferrari and Mercedes refusing to supply the Milton Keynes based team.
Ferrari sink to an all time low
Honda to partner with Aston Martin
By freezing the power units this allowed Honda to continue to supply Red Bull with engines without the need to spend fortunes on research and development.
This week Honda have now announced they will be staying on in Formula One as a manufacturer and supplying there Aston Martin team in a works power unit arrangement.
By acquiring a ‘works’ power unit arrangement with Honda, Aston Martin have demonstrated they are prepared to do whatever it takes to win F1 championships.
Ron Dennis who built the McLaren team explains why this is a necessary component in modern Formula One.
“Works” engine required to win titles
“My opinion, and it is an opinion held by many people within our organisation, is that you have no chance of winning the world championship if you are not receiving the best engines from whoever is manufacturing your engines.
“And a modern grand prix engine at this moment in time is not about sheer power, it is about how you harvest the energy, it is about how you store the energy.”
He added: “Effectively, if you don’t have the control of that process, meaning access to source code, then you are not going to be able to stabilise your car in the entry to corners etc., and you lose lots of lap time.
“Even though you have the same brand of engine that does not mean you have the ability to optimise the engine.”
Red Bull unaffected by Honda decision
This is why McLaren persuaded Honda to return to F1 in 2015 and Dennis secured a number one status for McLaren should Honda decide to supply other customer teams.
Despite all their success in Formula One, partnering with Honda has proven to be challenge over the years and Helmut Marko today lifts the lid on the problems Red Bull have faced.
When asked about the Aston Martin announcement, the Austrian said, ”It doesn’t change anything for us.
“We made the decision to build our own engine after Honda said they were going to quit altogether. In fact, they wanted to do that by 2022. In order not to become dependent again we made that decision then.
Honda “very restrictive”
“A courageous decision on our part, and also an expensive one. Right now, however, Red Bull Powertrains is doing very well. We are on schedule. All the engines already built are more or less at the level expected.
“For us, it works fine like this, so there is no possibility [for Honda] to return. There were talks about possible cooperation, but we couldn’t reach an agreement with Honda about who would do what. So this situation arose and we now have Ford as a partner. They obviously have no experience in current Formula 1, but they can contribute a lot to the battery.”
Marko reveals how secretive Honda can be over the details surrounding its power unit.
“Honda is very restrictive with communication about the engine.
Red Bull powertrains unknown potential
“The intellectual property and everything involved lies with Honda. We don’t get detailed information.
“The departure came suddenly, forcing us to react. When the Japanese decided to continue in F1 last year anyway, there was no common path that would have been satisfactory for Red Bull as well.”
Having been burned by Renault and Honda’s decision to quit F1 yet again, its understandable why Red Bull want to command their own destiny from a power unit perspective.
What will be fascinating to see is how well their power unit stacks up to Ferrari’s and Mercedes who of course have specialised for years in manufacturing engines for racing.
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