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Honda in Formula One

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Honda logo.svg
Full nameHonda Racing F1 Team (2006–2008)
Honda R & D Company
Noted staffYoshio Nakamura
Nobuhiko Kawamoto
Yoshitoshi Sakurai
Osamu Goto
Takeo Kiuchi
Ross Brawn
Nick Fry
Toyoharu Tanabe
Masashi Yamamoto
Yasuaki Asaki
Noted driversUnited States Ronnie Bucknum
United States Richie Ginther
France Jo Schlesser
United Kingdom John Surtees
United Kingdom Jenson Button
Brazil Rubens Barrichello
Previous nameBritish American Racing
Next nameBrawn GP Formula One Team
Formula One World Championship career
First entry1964 German Grand Prix
Races entered88
Race victories3
Pole positions2
Fastest laps2
Final entry2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
Honda as a Formula One engine manufacturer
Formula One World Championship career
First entry1964 German Grand Prix
Last entry2021 Qatar Grand Prix
Races entered480 (479 starts)
ChassisHonda, Spirit, Williams, Lotus, McLaren, Tyrrell, BAR, Jordan, Super Aguri, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, AlphaTauri
Constructors' Championships6 (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)
5 (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)
Race victories88
Pole positions89
Fastest laps75

Honda has participated in Formula One, as an engine manufacturer and team owner, for various periods since 1964. Honda's involvement in Formula One began with the 1964 season, and in 1965 they achieved their first victory at the Mexican Grand Prix. After further success with John Surtees, Honda withdrew at the end of the 1968 season due to difficulties selling road cars in the United States and Honda driver Jo Schlesser's fatal accident.[3]

Honda returned in 1983 as an engine manufacturer, which started a very successful period for the company. After winning races in 1984 and 1985, Honda won the Constructors' Championship every year between 1986 and 1991 with Williams and McLaren, and the Drivers' Championship every year from 1987 to 1991 with Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Honda withdrew at the end of 1992 after having achieved their targets and suffering the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble.

Honda returned again in 2000, providing engines for British American Racing (BAR). BAR-Honda finished second in the Constructors' Championship in 2004, and by the end of 2005 Honda had bought out the BAR team, which was rebranded as Honda for 2006. After a good 2006 season where Jenson Button won the Hungarian Grand Prix, Honda announced in December 2008 that they would be exiting Formula One with immediate effect due to the global financial crisis, following two difficult seasons in 2007 and 2008.[4]

In May 2013, Honda announced their intention to return to the sport in the 2015 season under a works agreement with McLaren to supply power units.[5] The first iterations of the Honda engines proved to be uncompetitive, and Honda spent their first three years under the harsh scrutiny of the public eye as they developed their power unit. McLaren and Honda split after three years, Toro Rosso however, agreed to use Honda engines for the 2018 season as a works outfit.[6] Following a fairly successful season with Toro Rosso, Honda showing fast and potent development with the engines, Red Bull Racing agreed to also take on Honda engines for the 2019 season. Their first victory of the hybrid era was at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, and after several highly successful displays, the Honda power unit is now considered to be one of the front running engines.[7]

As an engine manufacturer, Honda has won six World Constructors' Championships, five World Drivers' Championships and over 80 Grands Prix, ranking fifth in Formula One history. In addition to their success as an engine manufacturer, their three Grand Prix wins as a team owner make them the only Japanese or Asian team to win in Formula One.

First era (1964–1968)

Restored 1965 Honda RA272, the first Japanese car to win in Formula One. The car is painted in the racing colours of Japan.
Restored 1965 Honda RA272, the first Japanese car to win in Formula One. The car is painted in the racing colours of Japan.

Honda entered Formula One Grand Prix racing in 1964 just four years after producing their first road car. They began development of the RA271 in 1962 and startled the European-dominated Formula One garages with their all-Japanese factory team (except for American drivers Ronnie Bucknum and Richie Ginther). More startling was the fact that Honda built their own engine and chassis, something only Ferrari and BRM – of the other teams still running in 1962 – had previously done.

John Surtees and Yoshio Nakamura at the 1968 Dutch Grand Prix.
John Surtees and Yoshio Nakamura at the 1968 Dutch Grand Prix.

In only their second year of competition, Honda reached the coveted top step of the podium with Ginther's win in the RA272 at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. For the new 3.0 L rules from 1966, Honda introduced the Honda RA273. Although the RA273's engine was a well-designed 270 kW (360 bhp) V12, the car was let down by a relatively heavy and unwieldy in-house chassis. Honda returned to the winner's circle in 1967 with the new Honda RA300, driven by John Surtees. This won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix in only its first Formula One race. The RA300 chassis was partly designed by Lola in the UK, and this resulted in the car being nicknamed the Hondola by the motoring press. The team finished fourth in the constructors' championship, despite Surtees being their only driver during the season, while Surtees finished fourth in the drivers' championship.

The following year's Honda RA301 had a lot of reliability problems, but finished on the podium twice and scored a pole position. The team's new Honda RA302 appeared in only a single race at Rouen-Les-Essarts, lasting only a few laps before its fiery crash resulted in the death of driver Jo Schlesser. The death and the want to focus on selling road cars in the United States prompted Honda to withdraw from Formula One at the end of the 1968 season.[3]

Second era (1983–1992)

Honda RA121E V12 engine as supplied to McLaren for the 1991 season.
Honda RA121E V12 engine as supplied to McLaren for the 1991 season.

Honda returned to Formula One in 1983 as an engine supplier for Spirit and stayed in the sport for a decade, at various times teaming with Williams (1983–87), Lotus (1987–88), McLaren (1988–92) and finally Tyrrell (1991). Though they often supplied their engines to more than one team per season, Honda did not always supply the same specification engines to different teams in the same season. For example, in 1987 as Williams had an existing contract, they were supplied with the latest 1.5-litre RA167E V6 engine, while Lotus were supplied with the 1986 RA166E engine which had to be adapted to a lower fuel limit and turbo boost restriction, thus limiting its effectiveness, though for the last year of the original turbo era in 1988, both Lotus and McLaren used the same specification RA168E. Also, in 1991, while McLaren had the latest RA121E V12, Tyrrell were only given the RA100E V10s that McLaren had used in 1990. McLaren had direct Honda factory support, with engines coming straight from the Japanese company's racing division in Japan; while Tyrrell had to make do with the previous RA100E model (renamed to RA101E) that were tuned by private Honda tuner Mugen; they had little to no direct factory support.

Both Lotus in 1987–88 and Tyrrell in 1991 obtained use of the Honda engines largely due to their agreeing to sign former Honda test driver Satoru Nakajima as one of their team drivers for those seasons.

As an engine supplier, Honda made its World Championship debut with Spirit's Swedish driver Stefan Johansson at the 1983 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Johansson qualified in an encouraging 14th place (although some 4.5 seconds slower than pole), though he would retire after just 5 laps with fuel problems. Johansson had given the Honda its on track debut earlier in the year at the non-championship 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch (the last non-championship race in F1 history) where despite unreliability, the 1.5-litre turbocharged V6 engine dubbed the RA163E had impressed with its speed. By the final race of the 1983 season in South Africa, Honda had begun its association with Williams where reigning (and outgoing) World Champion Keke Rosberg served notice that the Honda was on the pace by qualifying 6th, only 7/10s slower than the Ferrari of pole winner Patrick Tambay.

Rosberg would give Honda its first win as an engine supplier when he outlasted the field to win the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix and by the end of the 1985 season where Briton Nigel Mansell and Rosberg won the final 3 races of the season (Rosberg had already won that year's Detroit Grand Prix), it was clear that Honda had the engine to beat in Formula One.

At their peak (1986–91) Honda engines were considered the ticket to Grand Prix glory due to their power, reliability, sophistication and winning track record. Honda's commitment to F1 was such that Nigel Mansell, who drove Honda-powered Williams cars from 1985 to 1987 recalled in a 2011 interview that Honda were making and developing 4 to 6 totally different engines in a single season. Honda won six consecutive constructors' championships as an engine manufacturer (two with Williams between 1986 and 1987 and four with McLaren between 1988 and 1991), as well as five consecutive drivers' championships (one by Nelson Piquet in 1987, three by Ayrton Senna in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and one by Alain Prost in 1989), before dropping out of the sport again.

The all-conquering Honda RA168E V6 turbo used in the McLaren MP4/4 and Lotus 100T in 1988.
The all-conquering Honda RA168E V6 turbo used in the McLaren MP4/4 and Lotus 100T in 1988.

Honda's supreme year in its days as an engine supplier came with McLaren in 1988. Mated to the Steve Nichols designed McLaren MP4/4 and with then dual World Champion Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna as the drivers, the McLaren-Honda duo had an almost perfect season. Unlike most, Honda built an all new V6 turbo (the RA168E) for the year to cope with the reduced fuel limit (150 litres) and turbo boost limit (2.5 BAR, down from 4.0 BAR in 1987) and it paid massive dividends. McLaren-Honda claimed 15 pole positions in the 16 races, 13 of them for Senna, and also claimed 15 race wins, 8 from Senna (a new season record) and 7 from Prost which actually equaled the old record he jointly held with Jim Clark. McLaren-Honda scored a then record 199 points in the Constructors' Championship, a massive 134 points ahead of second placed Ferrari (whose driver Gerhard Berger was the only non-Honda-powered pole winner in Britain and the only non-Honda-powered winner in Italy), while Senna and Prost were the only drivers in contention for the Drivers' Championship ultimately won by Senna. Prost actually scored more points than Senna over the course of the season, largely thanks to 7-second-place finishes to go with his 7 wins, but under the rules of the time only the best 11 scores counted to the championship which saw the title go to the Brazilian.

Fittingly in the last race of Formula One's original turbo era, the 1988 Australian Grand Prix, Honda-powered drivers closed out the podium with Prost defeating Senna with the Lotus of Nelson Piquet finishing an easy 3rd.

For the new 3.5 L naturally aspirated regulations for 1989, Honda debuted the new RA109E V10 in the McLaren MP4/5 and were now exclusively supplying McLaren; Lotus were forced to use Judd engines. This engine proved as dominant as the V6 turbo before it, taking 10 wins and 15 pole positions during the season and powering Prost to the 1989 Drivers' Championship. For 1990, a further developed version of the V10 and the MP4/5B powered Senna to the 1990 Drivers' Championship. For 1991, Honda developed a brand new V12, the RA121E, with which Senna ultimately won his third world championship. 1992 saw the Adrian Newey designed Williams FW14B chassis to be superior to any other car that season, and McLaren-Honda finished 2nd in the Constructors' Championship. Honda's final win of this era came when Gerhard Berger won the 1992 Australian Grand Prix, the final race of the season. The company had decided to pull out of Formula One after the 1992 season due to the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble that occurred that year.

Honda-powered cars had won 71 Grands Prix by the end of the 1992 season, 69 of them as an engine supplier between 1983 and 1992. Williams had 23 wins (75 races) and Lotus 2 wins (32 races) while McLaren gave the Japanese company 44 wins from 80 starts with the team.

Third era (2000–2008)

Return as a works engine manufacturer (2000–2005)

Honda RA005E Engine as supplied to BAR for 2005.
Honda RA005E Engine as supplied to BAR for 2005.

Honda returned yet again in 2000, providing engines for BAR. They also supplied engines to Jordan Grand Prix for 2001 and 2002. This would lead to a battle for the right to use the Honda engines in the long term. In 2003, despite their better showing in the previous two seasons, Honda dropped Jordan Grand Prix. In mid-November 2004 Honda purchased 45% of the BAR team from British American Tobacco (BAT, the founder and owner of BAR) following BAR's best season, when they were able to achieve second place in the 2004 Constructors' Championship, only behind the dominant World Champions Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.

Full team ownership (2006–2008)

The logo used by Honda from 2006 to 2008.
The logo used by Honda from 2006 to 2008.

In September 2005 Honda purchased the remaining 55% share of BAR to become the sole owner. BAT continued as title sponsor with the Lucky Strike brand in 2006, but withdrew from Formula 1 for 2007 due to prohibition of tobacco advertising. It was decided that the team would race under the name Honda Racing F1 Team from 2006.

2006 season

Honda's first season as a team since 1968 started fairly well, with Jenson Button finishing fourth at the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix and scoring a podium at the second round in Malaysia. At the next race in Australia, Button scored a pole position. The results started to be inconsistent after that and the main reason for the lack of form was down to reliability, with the team dropping out of contention for race victories many times. Pit-stop problems also hampered the team early on, in one case effectively ruining Jenson Button's chances for a good result and possible podium at Imola. In light of this form, it was announced that Geoff Willis would be adopting a factory-based role to concentrate on aerodynamics. Following the appointment of Senior Technical Director Shuhei Nakamoto over Willis' head and Mariano Alperin-Bruvera as Chief Aerodynamicist Willis' position appeared difficult, and reports indicated that he left the team.

Rubens Barrichello driving for Honda at the 2006 Brazilian GP.

At the Hungaroring, fortunes changed. Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button qualified third and fourth, though Button had to drop ten places, following an engine change. In an incident-packed race, Button came from fourteenth on the grid to win his first race, with Barrichello finishing fourth. After this win, the team's performance went up noticeably, displaying consistency arguably better than championship leaders Ferrari and Renault. Since Hungary, Button scored more points than any other driver in the last six races of the season. Barrichello did not have the best season for the team, down to the fact that he had to get used to the new brakes and traction control, after moving from a six-year stint at Ferrari, though he was a regular points scorer. Both drivers earned points finishes in almost all the remaining races, with the season ending on a high note with Button's 3rd-place finish in Brazil – less than a second behind 2nd place Fernando Alonso – after having to start from 14th on the grid. The team would finish fourth in the constructors' championship with 86 points.

On 15 November 2006, it was announced that long time BAR Honda and Honda test driver, Anthony Davidson would be heading to Super Aguri F1 to race alongside Takuma Sato. He was replaced by ex-Red Bull Racing driver Christian Klien for the 2007 season.

2007 season

Earthdreams livery on Honda's trucks.
Earthdreams livery on Honda's trucks.

With the ban on tobacco sponsorship in Formula One taking effect, 2007 also saw the end of British American Tobacco's sponsorship of Honda. A new livery was unveiled on 26 February 2007 on the RA107 car, depicting planet Earth against a black background of space. On the rear wing was the web address of environmental awareness website, which was launched on 27 February 2007, immediately following the official launch of the 2007 car. Reactions to the new livery were mixed, although Honda won an environmental award for their "Earth Car" campaign at the end of the year.[8]

The RA107 was the first Formula One car designed under former HRC motorcycle designer, Shuhei Nakamoto. The team's form in pre-season testing was patchy, and Jenson Button urged the squad to improve. The car's sheer lack of pace was evident at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 18 March, with Button and Barrichello qualifying 14th and 17th respectively (well behind the "satellite" Super Aguri team, whose car is effectively an update of the previous year's Honda, the RA106). Barrichello finished the race in 11th place, with Button in 15th after receiving a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. The team also failed to score points in the four subsequent races, their best finish being 10th in Spain and Monaco, scored both times by Rubens Barrichello. Honda finally scored a point in the French Grand Prix, courtesy of Button's eighth-place finish. The team eventually finished 8th in the constructors' championship, with a best result of 5th at the Chinese Grand Prix, courtesy of Button.

From July 2007, recognising the aerodynamic problems within the car, Honda began to recruit a new team from across the Formula 1 paddock. Chief aerodynamicist Loic Bigois and assistant Francois Martinet were signed from WilliamsF1; Jörg Zander and John Owen from BMW Sauber either later in 2007 or early in 2008.[9]

2008 season

On 19 July 2007, it was announced that Barrichello and Button would continue the factory effort as teammates into 2008.[10] On 12 November 2007, confirmed that former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn was to join Honda as team principal. Nick Fry remained with the team as Chief Executive.[11] On 10 January 2008, it was announced that Alexander Wurz had signed as test driver for the 2008 season.[12] On 29 January 2008, Honda launched their 2008 race car. The "Earth Car" had a slightly different livery from its 2007 counterpart, with only part of the car containing the earth picture, and the rest with Honda's classic white paint. Button, Barrichello and Wurz were present at the launch.

Honda had another disappointing year, and by mid-season they had switched development to the 2009 season, where new regulations come into play. Despite this, Barrichello managed a podium in the wet British Grand Prix with an inspired choice to full wet weather tyres at the right moment.

Sale and formation of Brawn GP

Honda suddenly exited the sport at the end of the 2008 season, unwilling to continue the Brackley-based team's $300 million budget and staff of 700 during the global economic crisis.[3] The team continued to work on the Honda RA109 for the 2009 season while Honda attempted to sell the racing team. A number of potential owners were linked to the team, including Prodrive boss David Richards, Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, and the Virgin Group.[13][14][15]

The team was eventually saved by a management buy-out led by team principal Ross Brawn and chief executive Nick Fry,[16] and entered the 2009 season as Brawn GP.[17] The team retained Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as drivers, with engines supplied by Mercedes.[18] Honda stated it would continue to provide financial support during the team's first year, and the Virgin Group who were linked to purchasing the team, would sponsor the cars throughout the season. Brawn won the overall title in what was its only season before another identity change.

Fourth era (2015–)

Return as a power unit supplier to McLaren (2015–2017)

Honda returned to Formula One as an engine supplier in 2015 for the second season of the V6 turbo-hybrid regulations, reviving their relationship with 1980s and 1990s partner McLaren.[5] Honda's power unit was designed around McLaren's very tight chassis design and aerodynamic requirements, which they had dubbed their "size zero" philosophy.[19] Over the 2015 season, the McLaren-Honda package proved to be significantly underpowered and unreliable, and the team finished ninth the constructors' championship with fifth place in Hungary as their best result. Reasons for the lacklustre performance included Honda lacking experience and data with the new regulations, a token system limiting development,[20] as well as fundamental issues with McLaren's "size zero" chassis concept.[21] McLaren had also persuaded Honda to return a year earlier than initially planned.[21]

For the 2016 season, Yusuke Hasegawa replaced Yasuhisa Arai as Honda's project leader.[22] Honda had made significant improvements for the season,[23] and after just the sixth race of the season, the Monaco Grand Prix, the team had scored 24 points, three points shy of the previous season's full total. The team scored points in 13 different races during the season and recorded fastest lap at the Italian Grand Prix, finishing in sixth place in the final constructors' standings with 76 points, a marked improvement from the year before. In September 2016, Hasegawa revealed that Honda had a separate team already working on next year's engine.[24]

For the 2017 season, Honda redesigned the entire power unit, with the major change being the positioning of the turbo, compressor and MGU-H. This design split the turbo from the compressor and had them overhanging each side of the block with the MGU-H in the centre of the V all connected via a shaft. Honda confessed that the new design was "high risk" and it would take time to reach its potential, but will ultimately give higher performance.[25] The season started with several reliability issues, and it took until the eighth round in Azerbaijan to score points. However, the team regularly finished in the points in the latter part of the season, scoring points in six of the last ten races, to finish ninth in the constructors' championship. The relationship between McLaren and Honda had soured,[21] and in September 2017 the two announced that they would split at the end of 2017.[26]

Partnership with Red Bull-owned teams (2018–2021)

2018: Toro Rosso

On 15 September 2017, it was announced that Honda would be the engine supplier to Toro Rosso for the 2018 season. As part of the deal, McLaren switched its engine supply to Renault.[27] Honda stated that the goal was to become a top-three engine manufacturer in partnership with Toro Rosso for 2018.[28] The season started off well for Toro Rosso, with the Honda engine proving to be significantly more reliable compared to previous years. Team principal Franz Tost claimed "The Honda is not as bad as it was made out to be by previous partners, the unit is actually quite a special thing" and was actually surprised by the performance and the ultra compact assembly of the unit. In Bahrain, the team managed to finish in P4, Honda's best result since returning to the sport in 2015. As of 2018, Honda had significantly ramped up its F1 efforts, including greater funding, much improved facilities and a much more effective management structure. During the season, Honda's PU developments were fast and effective with the unit being a much more mature variant of the architecture first used with McLaren in 2017. Toro Rosso were more relaxed on the PU dimension requirements than McLaren, allowing Honda to increase the size of various components, some of which the change alone provided a power and reliability boost and despite the size increase, the Honda power unit was still the most compact on the field. At the Canadian Grand Prix, Honda debuted their Spec 2 unit which provided a notable increase in power while also furthering reliability. Red Bull who were running Renault engines for the season had the benefit of watching how their power unit compared to the Honda in the Toro Rosso. After seeing the performance gain of the new Honda and being impressed with their dedication and facilities, RBR announced the termination of their deal with Renault and the formation of a partnership with Honda for 2019 and 2020.

During the Russian Grand Prix practice sessions, Honda debuted their Spec 3 power unit which was delivered nearly a month earlier than targeted. Both Toro Rosso drivers reported a sizable increase in power throughout the rev range however the engine's driveability had suffered, claiming gearshifts felt clunky and the engine vibrated a lot more. Honda reported these issues were due to their gains being greater than expected and so surpassed estimated design limits of their architecture, they were confident however that they could improve the engine mappings and gearbox synchronisation to compensate. Due to this, Honda decided to revert to the Spec 2 power unit for the rest of the weekend while they carried out further optimisation for the engine and gearbox on the dyno back at Milton-Keynes with Toro Rosso engineers. Reports showed Honda had found 40 hp with the upgrade which exceeded targets. As promised, the final version of the Spec 3 power unit was ready for competition one week later at the Japanese Grand Prix. The new power unit showed great improvement in driveability and enabled Toro Rosso to make it to Q3 with both cars and finish a competitive 6th and 7th.

2019: Red Bull and Toro Rosso

Red Bull and Honda entered a two-year engine deal for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, thus ending Red Bull's 12-year engine partnership with Renault.[29] The deal meant that Honda would be engine partner to two Formula One teams for the first time since 2008 (Honda and Super Aguri).[30] Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said his team would have direct involvement in the design of the Power Unit package with Honda, allowing them to co-develop the chassis and engine to allow for perfect synergy, which would provide a significant packaging advantage for both seasons, however Horner did specify that 2020 was their target for World Championship contention using 2019 as a building year.

With 2019 testing under way, Honda spoke of the refined 2019 RA619H power unit to be used by both teams, bringing refinements to overall architecture allowing greater power capability for future upgrades and significantly improved packaging. After a successful first day of testing, Horner commented on the new Honda power unit as "a thing of beauty" and "what looks like a Swiss clock being attached to the back of the chassis" and probably the best setup they have seen.[31] Red Bull driver Max Verstappen also commented on the power unit design mentioning how detailed it was and that "everything just fits together seamlessly, right down to their connectors, everything is designed nicely and well made, it just works, nothing looks rushed together". At the end of the test weeks, Honda F1 Technical Director, Toyoharu Tanabe mentioned that although they had a successful test, they will revise the shape of a few components on the power unit in time for the first race, believing Honda went slightly too aggressive with the packaging and there was room to ease it a little with no compromise to the chassis.[32]

Naoki Yamamoto during his practice run at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix.
Naoki Yamamoto during his practice run at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix.

At the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, Red Bull's first competitive outing, saw them take 3rd place with Verstappen, Honda's first podium since returning to Formula One in 2015. Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff made comment regarding Red Bull's form saying "they look completely different from before, watching them pass Sebastian [Vettel] in turn 3, power was enormous, the combination of Red Bull and Honda this year does indeed look rather threatening". Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton also commented on the performance gain, "they definitely have a much better power unit this year, they are pretty much just as quick as us, the improvement is impressive".

At the Austrian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen gave Honda its first win of the V6 turbo-hybrid era, and the first Honda-powered win since Jenson Button won the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. Another win followed 2 races later in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. At the following race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen took his career first and Honda's first pole position since Button took at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.

At the Italian Grand Prix, Honda ran its Spec 4 power unit with all four cars for the first time which brought significant changes to the combustion system, along with a brand new fuel composition from partner ExxonMobil. The engine proved to be a significant step up in performance with Tanabe labelling it a bigger step forward than the Spec 3 RA618H engine from 2018 at Toro Rosso, which at the time brought their largest performance increase since returning to F1 in 2015. This specification is widely regarded as what brought Honda up to or possibly beyond the same level as Mercedes with the two manufacturers' advantage over each other swapping circuit to circuit. A notable event was Pierre Gasly and Hamilton's straight drag to the finish line at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which showed the Toro Rosso to slowly pull ahead to finish second, scoring Honda's first 1–2 finish since the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix after Verstappen took victory from pole position.[33]

Verstappen finished the 2019 season third in the drivers' championship for the first time in his career, becoming the first Honda-powered driver since Button in 2004 to finish in the top three of the drivers' championship. Red Bull finished third in the constructors' championship, while Toro Rosso had their most successful season with two podiums and sixth place in the constructors' championship. Honda took reliability honours by finishing the season with the least on track failures of all four manufacturers by a noticeable margin and no retirements caused by engine failures in the entire season.[34]

Before the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Honda and Red Bull announced an extension to their engine supply deal to include the 2021 season.[35]

2020–2021: Red Bull and AlphaTauri

During 2020, Honda supplied power units for AlphaTauri, the new name for Toro Rosso after it was rebranded to promote the AlphaTauri fashion brand.

As 2020 testing got underway, both Honda-powered teams reported their best-ever start to a year, having outstanding reliability allowing significant test progress to be made. For the first time, Tanabe expressed outward confidence in the progression they had made with the RA620H where previously, Honda would remain tight-lipped and limit expectations. For this season the power unit benefits from improvements across the board, with reliability, power and efficiency all taking another measurable step forward from last year's unit. Honda made mention of several new concepts being used for the first time with the 2020 power unit after extensive testing for two years on their dyno's back in Sakura, one being centred around "a new combustion idea". Media, teams and personnel in the paddock all made comments at the sound of the 2020 Honda power unit which is highly unique and unlike any of the other three manufacturers on the field. Honda ended the test feeling it to be the most successful one they have had since returning to the sport with zero terminal issues and only a single power unit used by each team for the two weeks. Honda reported the power unit to operate exactly as intended and although could not comment on where they believed they were in comparison to their opponent manufacturers, they believed they could start the 2020 season ready to mount a challenge for the title with Red Bull and finish at the front of the midfield with AlphaTauri.

The season proved to be one where teams would be faced with significant challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and forced a delay on the start of the season until July 2020 and required extremely strict social distance and anti-viral measures to be adopted by Formula 1 and all the teams. In an effort to ease the financial strain put on all the teams from the pandemic, the FIA introduced several rules for the 2020 and the following 2021 season. The first would be a total restriction placed on all engine upgrades brought to track for 2020 with all teams having to use the exact same specification engine from the first practice session of the first race weekend until the end of season. The aim was to reduce the costs required to remain competitive over a season. The restriction disrupted Honda's development schedule where it had an extensive upgrade plan ready for 2020. Honda stated that running the starting specification for an entire season would hamper its performance significantly, the exact reasons as to why this would be the case were not divulged. This performance hit became evident during the season as Honda encountered several operational issues with their power unit which they attributed to early software issues for the new engine, mostly centred around their new combustion concept. Honda conceded the restriction on power unit upgrades had forced them to rely solely on software programming to keep the power unit "behaving" although they believe these challenges taught them a great deal about their architecture and plan to employ some lessons learnt for next year.

During the 2020 season both Honda-powered teams took Grand Prix victories as Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and the 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly won the Italian Grand Prix. This made Honda the first engine manufacturer to win with two different teams in the V6 turbo-hybrid era.[36]

In late 2020, Honda decided they would withdraw from Formula One as an engine supplier at the end of the 2021 season citing their need to focus all resources on next-generation road vehicle technologies to make necessary strides towards carbon neutrality before 2030.[37] The announcement was made early to reduce pressure on Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri to find a replacement engine supplier for 2022 onwards. In the meantime, Honda F1 pledged to continue full force development right up until the end of 2021 with no drop in funding until the conclusion of the 2021 season. As part of a final push for the championship in their final season together with Red Bull and AlphaTauri, Honda announced they were accelerating the development of their brand new Power Unit which was initially planned for introduction in 2022 and would be brought forward for use in 2021. This, along with the lifting of engine specification restrictions in 2021, Honda believed it will give them the tools to mount a big push for the title. Following Honda's decision to withdraw, Red Bull Technology subsequently acquired the intellectual property to the Honda power unit enabling Red Bull to produce the engine through Red Bull Powertrains Limited from 2022 up to 2025 despite the announced withdrawal of the Japanese manufacturer at the end of 2021. The engines supplied to both Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing will be branded Red Bull.[38][39]


Aborted 1999 Formula One project

From 1993 to 1998, Honda's only presence in Formula One was as an engine supplier through its closely related but independent partner, Mugen Motorsports, who supplied engines to Footwork, Lotus, Ligier, Prost and Jordan. Mugen-powered cars had won 4 Grands Prix by the end of the 1999 season. In 1998, Honda was seriously considering entry in Formula One as a constructor, going as far as hiring Harvey Postlethwaite as technical director and designer and hiring engineer Kyle Petryshen from HRC to help with the design, implementation and management of the new engine in the new chassis.[40] A test car, RA099, designed by Postlethwaite and built by Dallara, was made and tested during 1999, driven by Jos Verstappen. Although the engines were still built by Mugen, the team impressed at test sessions, beating some more experienced and better financed teams, even if they were mostly in the midfield. At a test of this car, Postlethwaite suffered a fatal heart attack, the project was later shelved and Honda decided to recommit as a full works engine supplier to BAR, starting in 2000.

During this period, Honda engineers also developed several Formula One cars as a side, unofficial project, the Honda RC100/RC-F1 series, initially using V12 engines as used on the McLarens, before switching to Mugen-built V10 engine in the project's final evolution.[41][42]

Formula One chassis results

  • Winning percentage: 3.4%

(italics indicates non-works entries; bold indicates championships won)

Year Name Car Engine Tyres No. Drivers Points WCC
1964 Japan Honda R & D Company RA271 RA271E 1.5 V12 D United States Ronnie Bucknum 0 NC
1965 Japan Honda R & D Company RA272 RA272E 1.5 V12 G United States Ronnie Bucknum
United States Richie Ginther
11 6th
1966 Japan Honda R & D Company RA273 RA273E 3.0 V12 G United States Ronnie Bucknum
United States Richie Ginther
3 8th
1967 Japan Honda R & D Company RA273
RA273E 3.0 V12 F United Kingdom John Surtees 20 4th
1968 Japan Honda R & D Company RA300
RA273E 3.0 V12
RA301E 3.0 V12
RA302E 3.0 V8
United Kingdom David Hobbs
France Jo Schlesser
United Kingdom John Surtees
14 6th
Sweden Joakim Bonnier Racing Team RA301 RA301E 3.0 V12 G Sweden Joakim Bonnier
19692005: Honda did not compete as a chassis constructor.
2006 Japan Lucky Strike Honda Racing F1 Team RA106 RA806E 2.4 V8 M 11.
Brazil Rubens Barrichello
United Kingdom Jenson Button
86 4th
2007 Japan Honda Racing F1 Team RA107 RA807E 2.4 V8 B 7.
United Kingdom Jenson Button
Brazil Rubens Barrichello
6 8th
2008 Japan Honda Racing F1 Team RA108 RA808E 2.4 V8 B 16.
United Kingdom Jenson Button
Brazil Rubens Barrichello
14 9th

Formula One engine results

World Constructors' Championship wins

Constructor Season(s) World Constructors' Championship wins
United Kingdom Williams 1986–1987 2
United Kingdom McLaren 1988–1991 4

Grand Prix results

Constructor Season(s) Total wins First win Last win Pole positions First pole Last pole
Japan Honda 19641968, 20062008 3 1965 Mexican Grand Prix 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix 2 1968 Italian Grand Prix 2006 Australian Grand Prix
United Kingdom Spirit 1983 0 0
United Kingdom Williams 19831987 23 1984 Dallas Grand Prix 1987 Mexican Grand Prix 19 1985 French Grand Prix 1987 Mexican Grand Prix
United Kingdom Lotus 19871988 2 1987 Monaco Grand Prix 1987 Detroit Grand Prix 1 1987 San Marino Grand Prix 1987 San Marino Grand Prix
United Kingdom McLaren 19881992, 20152017 44 1988 Brazilian Grand Prix 1992 Australian Grand Prix 53 1988 Brazilian Grand Prix 1992 Canadian Grand Prix
United Kingdom Tyrrell 1991 0 0
United Kingdom BAR 20002005 0 2 2004 San Marino Grand Prix 2005 Canadian Grand Prix
Republic of Ireland Jordan 20012002 0 0
Japan Super Aguri 20062008 0 0
Italy Toro Rosso 20182019 0 0
Austria Red Bull 20192021 15 2019 Austrian Grand Prix 2021 Mexico City Grand Prix 12 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix 2021 United States Grand Prix
Italy AlphaTauri 20202021 1 2020 Italian Grand Prix 2020 Italian Grand Prix 0
Total 19642021 88 1965 Mexican Grand Prix 2021 Mexico City Grand Prix 89 1968 Italian Grand Prix 2021 United States Grand Prix

Bold indicates current engine deal.

See also


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  3. ^ a b c McDonald, Mark; Spurgeon, Brad (5 December 2008). "Honda withdraws from Formula One racing". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
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  6. ^ "McLaren-Honda split after three years of troubled partnership". 15 September 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017 – via
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  8. ^ Goren, Biranit. "Honda win prestigious environment award - F1 - Autosport". Retrieved 20 June 2019.
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  19. ^ Scarborough, Craig (21 April 2015). "Technical insight: Honda's radical Formula 1 engine for McLaren". Autosport. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
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  21. ^ a b c "The full story of how McLaren steered Honda towards failure". The Race. 6 October 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  22. ^ Andrew, Andrew (23 February 2016). "Yusuke Hasegawa replaces Yasuhisa Arai as Honda F1 chief". BBC Sport. BBC. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
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  24. ^ Barretto, Ben Anderson and Lawrence. "Honda has separate team working on 2017 F1 engine". Retrieved 10 March 2017.
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  26. ^ "McLaren and Honda to split at end of 2017". Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  27. ^ Benson, Andrew (15 September 2017). "McLaren-Honda split after three years of troubled partnership". BBC Sport. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  28. ^ "Honda targets F1's top three with Toro Rosso in 2018". 15 September 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Red Bull and Honda agree two-year engine deal". Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  30. ^ "Honda - Seasons". Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  31. ^ "Honda's 2019 engine 'a thing of beauty,' says Red Bull". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  32. ^ "Honda to revise 'too aggressive' F1 engine packaging". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  33. ^ "Brazil Facts and Stats: A race of highs for Honda | Formula 1®". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  34. ^ "LONG READ: Can Red Bull be genuine title contenders in 2020? | Formula 1®". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  35. ^ "Honda to power Red Bull and Toro Rosso in 2021 | Formula 1®". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
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  37. ^ "Honda to leave F1 at the end of 2021". 2 October 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
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  41. ^ "ツインリンクもてぎ開業15周年記念展示『'90s Racing Collection』第4回 もてぎ 2&4 レース編" (in Japanese). Honda Collection Hall. 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
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External links

Preceded by Formula One Constructors' Champion
as an engine manufacturer
Succeeded by
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