What Drove Honda to Leave F1 and then Reconsider Their Decision?
From triumph to retreat and back again – Honda’s roller-coaster journey in Formula 1 is nothing short of intriguing. Having left the sport on a high note, they now announce a dramatic comeback, stirring curiosity and raising crucial questions. Will their brief hiatus hamper their momentum? Let’s delve into the depths of this fascinating turn of events.
Why did Honda withdraw from F1, only to announce their comeback, and have they lagged behind during this period? A little over a year ago, Honda exited Formula 1 on a victorious note, with Max Verstappen clinching the 2021 drivers’ championship.
Currently, Honda has stated its intentions to re-enter as a manufacturer once the fresh power unit regulations are implemented in 2026. What could be the reason behind their abrupt reevaluation of their F1 commitment?
Honda already started to revise its stance by reestablishing its full branding on the Red Bull vehicles, ensuring its contribution to the leading team’s triumph was recognized. However, it became apparent earlier this year that the collaboration between the two was on borrowed time.
Rumors about Honda’s future have been swirling since February, when the FIA verified it as one of the six power unit manufacturers who agreed to create power units according to the new regulations. While Red Bull will keep utilizing the Honda-engineered power units until 2025, the world champions declared their plans to develop their 2026 engines with Ford.
This raised uncertainties about the team with which Honda would associate in 2026. The manufacturer clarified this today by announcing its replacement of Mercedes as Aston Martin’s power unit provider.
But what prompted Honda to reassess its initial reasons for withdrawing from F1? And does its choice to terminate its F1 engine programme post-2021 place it in an immediate disadvantageous position compared to the competition it will face in three years?
Honda disclosed its plans to exit F1 in October 2020. The manufacturer had reentered the series five years prior, and after a fruitless three-year collaboration with McLaren, it eventually found success with Red Bull.
During 2020, Honda opted to terminate its F1 involvement to concentrate more on achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The company stated it would redirect its corporate resources into R&D of future power unit and energy technologies, including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will form the crux of carbon-free technologies.
At the time of Honda’s decision to exit, F1’s future engine regulations were not fully established. However, F1 has since solidified its plans for the next Gen of engines, which will be closely based on the current units but will produce a larger share of their power output electrically and will run on what F1 calls fully sustainable fuel.
These modifications aligned perfectly with Honda’s aspirations. “The most significant factor influencing this decision was the direction of the new 2026 regulations, which are leaning towards carbon neutrality,” stated Koji Watanabe, President of Honda Racing Corporation, during a media briefing. “This direction coincided with our company’s future goals. That was the decisive factor.”
Despite the probable decrease in thermal efficiency of the 2026 power units due to the removal of the MGU-H, Honda finds the heightened significance of electrical power generation appealing.
“At present, electrical power accounts for less than 20% in comparison to the internal engine,” said Watanabe. “But the new regulation would demand around 50% or more of electrification, shifting even further towards electrification.” Honda anticipates that the insights gleaned from this research will be beneficial for future electric road vehicle development.
F1’s shift towards sustainable fuels, which will be tested in the junior series Formula 2 and Formula 3 before 2026, has also received Honda’s endorsement. “We would have to seriously consider how to integrate the new fuel with the internal engine,” noted Watanabe. “We would also need to think about optimizing efficiency to increase speed. And I believe that this direction aligns with Honda’s direction.”
Interestingly, F1 is collaborating with Aramco, Aston Martin’s title sponsor, in the development of these fuels. Martin Whitmarsh, CEO of Aston Martin Performance Technologies, emphasized the significance of this relationship.
“There’s a considerable and perhaps unspoken technical challenge being tackled at present,” Whitmarsh noted. “And again, we’re incredibly fortunate to have one of the leading entities in this field, Aramco. Therefore, I believe the partnership between Honda and Aramco will be very crucial and very significant.”
Honda has exited and reentered F1 more frequently than any other engine manufacturer. Yet, it suggests that the brevity of its most recent departure and return means it has not lost significant development momentum compared to its competitors.
“We have been persistently delivering engines as requested by Red Bull, even for the present Formula 1,” Watanabe stated. “So, we’re still involved in the ongoing F1 races as well.
“In terms of the new regulations due to take effect from 2026, we have consistently been engaged in understanding the crucial factors related to the power units. Therefore, we haven’t completely abandoned our R&D activities.”
Following Honda’s decision to withdraw, F1 put a halt on the development of its current power units, which took effect at the start of the previous season. Thus, Honda has lost little in comparison to its rival manufacturers, according to Watanabe.
“In October 2020, we announced our withdrawal from F1. So we ceased F1 activities at the end of the 2021 season. But until March 2022, we were fully committed to the development of power units for up until 2022. We maintained the full team until then.
“So the development team remained intact until March 2022. However, they were then redistributed to various carbon-neutral projects, resulting in a gradual reduction in the development team starting from April 2022.
“Nevertheless, in April 2022, a new entity called Honda Racing Corporation was established. This company, solely dedicated to motorsport races, continued its involvement in the research and development of four-wheel technologies. We have initiated studies concerning the new regulations. Therefore, we don’t believe we have lost much despite our temporary withdrawal from the F1 race.”
When Honda last made a comeback to F1, it happened a year after new engine regulations were introduced, which gave its rivals a head start. This won’t be the case this time, and the manufacturer is confident that its recent exit and comeback won’t significantly impact its preparations for a return that is still nearly three years away.
Why Honda left F1 and now wants to come back Why Honda left F1 and now wants to come back Why Honda left F1 and now wants to come back Why Honda left F1 and now wants to come back Why Honda left F1 and now wants to come back
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