Initial Thoughts on Aston Martin Honda Collaboration
Indeed, Aston Martin has made significant strides in the past few years and it’s refreshing to see this upward trajectory. In securing a works engine partnership with Honda, Aston Martin has established a solid foundation for potential success in the sport.
It’s now confirmed: Aston Martin is set to collaborate with Honda for their 2026 Formula 1 engine endeavor. This announcement further fuels Aston Martin’s F1 scheme, which is already gaining considerable attention this year.
However, the question remains: can this partnership achieve the same level of success as the Red Bull-Honda collaboration?
Adjusting to a new engine provider is never an easy task for a team. As a former technical director in Formula 1, I have seen shifts between six or seven different suppliers, and given the complexity of current power units, these changes have become even more challenging.
In theory, the engine-to-chassis and engine-to-gearbox mounting positions, as outlined in the technical regulations, should be identical. Yet, each power unit manufacturer has its unique design philosophy, differing in areas such as turbo positioning, turbo size, intercooler, and so forth. Therefore, each transition demands a substantial overhaul. Care must be taken, as this can cause setbacks before the true potential of the new partnership is fully realized.
Over recent years, both Racing Point and Aston Martin have maintained a tight-knit relationship with Mercedes, which went beyond merely supplying power units. Mercedes also provided gearboxes, hydraulics, and some rear suspension parts as per Aston Martin’s needs.
Switching to a Honda power unit means that Aston Martin will either have to take on the design of all the additional components independently or Honda will need to broaden its role, bringing in more design expertise to assist in these areas.
Over time, Honda has had an intermittent presence in F1, both as a supplier and as a team. It appears to respond quickly to the immediate circumstances. Perhaps it has now recognized that participation in F1 demands a long-term commitment and, when leveraged properly, can enhance road car technology and development. The higher-ups seem to be heeding those at the coalface more, thereby understanding the true potential this engagement can offer them.
Honda must bear in mind that replicating the successful partnership with Red Bull by aligning with another team could be exceptionally challenging.
The partnership with Aston Martin is arguably the best possible outcome Honda could have anticipated after unexpectedly ending its alliance with the leading team in F1.
Having clinched three out of the last four championships, it’s set to win two more this year, and probably several others before 2025 concludes. The interruption of this successful streak lies solely on Honda, leading to another manufacturer stepping in to collaborate with Red Bull.
This new venture will significantly differ from what the Red Bull-Honda project could have been if Honda had been more consistent. It would have been a dedicated 2026 programme, an extension of several years of triumph, rather than a nascent engine operation constructing its inaugural F1 engine. Therefore, if the Red Bull-Ford endeavor fails, it doesn’t necessarily mean Red Bull-Honda would have suffered the same fate.
It’s truly unfortunate and perplexing that Honda landed itself in this self-created predicament. The partnership with Aston Martin does have its merits. It’s a promising project for both parties, packed with tremendous potential, and Aston Martin should be absolutely thrilled.
However, for Honda, it seems unwise to gamble on the potential of a new endeavor instead of sticking with a proven successful strategy due to an absurd lack of planning and short-sightedness. This led to its abrupt decision to ‘quit’ F1, only to hastily reverse that decision and find itself without the very partner that initially propelled it to the top.
While a works engine partnership doesn’t guarantee triumph in Formula 1, it’s certainly a foundational requirement for it. In Honda, Aston Martin has secured a collaborator that can greatly enhance its chances of achieving its goal of vying for world championships.
Despite the team’s optimistic outlook, relying on a customer deal was always a constraint. Considering Aston Martin has gone all out to secure all the necessary resources to fulfil its F1 aspirations, not having a works partner would have been a significant setback.
Although regulations are designed to minimize any disparity between customer and works engine partners, having a close-knit partnership with your power unit supplier invariably offers an edge. This will enable Aston Martin and Honda to collaborate seamlessly, with compromises only made to optimize the overall package.
This doesn’t mean success is a foregone conclusion, but it does ensure that Aston Martin checks all the boxes concerning resources, facilities, and partnerships needed to prosper in F1. Now, the ball is in the court of the teams at Silverstone and Honda to tackle the challenging task of maximizing the potential of this partnership. If they succeed, it will form a formidable alliance.
Beyond the clear competitive implications, Aston Martin’s collaboration with Honda underscores the stark business rationale that forms the bedrock of team owner Lawrence Stroll’s ambitious strategy since his £90million acquisition of Force India in 2018.
Given that F1 morphed into a $2.5 billion business last season (a trend set to continue) and effectively franchised the existing teams under the prevailing Concorde Agreement (which lasts until the end of 2025), Stroll is determined to multiply the value of what was once F1’s most cost-effective team by more than ten times.
Teaming up with Honda – the manufacturer that’s essentially powering the current top-performing car in F1 – is a savvy move to potentially boost the value of Stroll’s expanding franchise as everyone braces for the comprehensive reset (financial, sporting, and technical) slated for 2026.
By then, the various new staff members should be thoroughly integrated, the upgraded facilities properly set up, and new tools (like the wind tunnel and simulator) should be finely tuned. Consequently, Aston Martin should have no more reasons to falter in Stroll’s ultimate goal of establishing a victorious operation.
What unfolds in 2026 and beyond will hinge on the relationship between the bolstered team Stroll is constructing in the UK, the chemistry Aramco develops for (sustainably) powering F1’s simplified (and increasingly electrified) new power units, and the innovative engine structure that Honda will now design.
F1 is progressing toward sustainability and evolving into a motorsport centered on sustainable businesses. On-track triumph in such a meticulously cost-controlled environment also holds the potential to be highly lucrative for investors like Stroll.
Honda is likely the last crucial piece needed to metamorphose the acquisition of a financially distressed F1 team into a full-scale factory operation with potential championship-winning capabilities.
While there are, as always, no guarantees, this is a significant stride towards establishing the prerequisites for substantial on-track success, which should subsequently maximize the team’s value when Stroll eventually chooses to capitalize on what is progressively appearing as an astute investment on his behalf.
This move is beneficial for Aston Martin, and the timing appears perfect. With 2026 still a distance away, it affords the team more time to position itself at the forefront of the grid without the immediate concern of transitioning to a new engine supplier.
If their progress remains on track, then by 2025, Aston Martin could start feeling like it’s hitting a glass ceiling due to its customer status. Those steering the team’s ambitions are correct in targeting a works engine partnership to elevate it to the next stage, and they’ve done a commendable job securing Honda.
I had reservations about Aston Martin’s vision after two challenging years, but I greatly admire their turnaround. They’ve effectively rectified the missteps of 2022 (Mercedes, take note) and successfully broken away from the midfield cluster, starkly contrasting the ongoing failures of McLaren and Alpine to do so.
They’re making sound decisions concerning recruitment and personnel, their acquisition of Fernando Alonso is yielding results, they’re relocating to a new factory, a wind tunnel is under development, and now they have a works engine deal.
Currently, this team is making numerous correct decisions.
Having cherished memories of working with Honda during my career, I’m glad it has forged this partnership with Aston Martin, following the hiccup of its brief departure from F1.
This is an exhilarating move for both parties given Aston’s advancement; just as the last glimmers of hope for any team breaching the big-three stronghold seemed about to fade, Aston Martin’s achievement has revitalized the 2023 season. This is a feat that deserves recognition.
However, my key observation is that this is another strong indication that the championship has evolved into what could be termed as Formula 1 2.0.
Mercedes and Ferrari (and to a lesser degree, considering its fluctuation from promise to a sort of languishment in the midfield and back again, Alpine as well) are unique cases due to their full-fledged manufacturer status. However, last year saw the announcement of Audi-Sauber, Red Bull-Ford (which entails obvious commercial implications) in February, and now Aston Martin-Honda. All of these arrangements are for 2026.
There’s a clear commercial aspect in one of those partnerships, but there will still be some joint technical work between Red Bull and Ford. Principally, for performance reasons, it’s now a fundamental requirement for a potential title winner not only to have a works engine supply deal, but to have it secured this far in advance as well.
F1 represents the apex of professional motorsport, where advancement is ceaseless. Yet, it’s unmistakable that the level of professionalism has escalated in the Liberty Media era and under the franchise model. This is the latest demonstration of that progress as the arms race between teams for a ruleset that’s still two and a half years out and in its formative stages, begins.
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