Did Honda throw a championship away?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Would the team have achieved more as Honda or as Brawn?
Would the team have achieved more as Honda or as Brawn?

The remarkable story of Brawn has generated many column inches since the team won both championships on Sunday.

But the flip side to the story is whether Honda’s decision to sell the team ten months ago must now be considered one of F1’s greatest blunders.

Earlier this year I asked a Brawn engineer whether he thought the team would have been as competitive if its cars were still using Honda engines instead of Mercedes.

The response came back firmly in the negative, and various disparaging remarks were made about the quality of Honda’s engines and their inability to remove the skin from rice pudding.

In one respect at least, the team’s transformation from Honda into Brawn may have done it more good than harm.

There’s also something to be said for the streamlining of the management process. No longer accountable to the parent company back in Japan, the racing team could now operate with autonomy. And it would be hard to find a better person to take up that responsibility than Ross Brawn.

On the other hand, the sudden change to Mercedes power forced Brawn into some tough compromises. One Brawn engineer told the BBC:

The chassis had the back six inches cut off to fit the engine in – the sort of thing you wouldn’t normally do even with a test car. And the gearbox was in the wrong place because the crank-centre height is different. There’s a massive amount of compromise in the cars.

Timing is also important. As Brawn missed the first two months of testing in January and February, no-one had any idea how quick they were, and no-one had time to respond.

Had Honda stayed, and the team stuck to a regular testing programme, its rivals would have known as early as January that the RA109 (not the BGP 001) was quick. It may have led them to develop double diffusers of their own more quickly, preventing Honda/Brawn from running away with all bar one of the first seven races, and changing the outcome of the championship.

Similarly if Honda had stayed there was a chance Bruno Senna would have taken Rubens Barrichello’s place. The loss of such an experienced driver could have hurt the team on the days when Jenson Button struggled to match Barrichello, particularly in the second half of the season.

How much better would the car have performed without the technical compromises? Was Honda’s departure a blessing in disguise?

There’s no clear answer to the question – it’s destined to become another of F1’s great conjectures to chew on with a few mates down the pub.

Do you think Honda missed out on a championship this year? Have your say below.

Button and Brawn, world champions

143 comments on “Did Honda throw a championship away?”

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  1. Not sure about these ‘What if?’ pieces. Makes an interesting read but not discussion.

  2. what ifs are that and we will never know.

  3. Had Honda stayed, and the team stuck to a regular testing programme, its rivals would have known as early as January that the RA109 (not the BGP 001) was quick. It may have led them to develop double diffusers of their own more quickly, preventing Honda/Brawn from running away with all bar one of the first seven races, and changing the outcome of the championship.

    Keith didn’t they see the double diffusers from Toyota and Williams on the early tests??? And knowing this weren’t they tempted of using this loophole of the regulations?? Who prevented them of constructing their own double diffusers??

    1. Paige Michael-Shetley
      21st October 2009, 19:49

      The story actually goes that a Honda engineer who came up with the DDD concept went to Toyota and brought it with him.

    2. When Brawn finally went testing in March, they were immediately wuicker than everyone else.

      When Toyota and Williams tested their cars they weren’t that far ahead, if they were ahead at all.

      There’s links back to the 2009 pre-season testing articles here so you can have a look: http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2009/03/18/2009-f1-testing-march-18th/

      1. Thenaks Keith for the link, great to look at that article as I had not found this site at that point. :)

  4. Radical compromises by Brawn at the last minute, scary for everyone else to imagine what they will produce with all teething problems out of the way, and being Mercedes prefered team.

    Hard to evaluate the team moral aspect of having survived, making sacrifices for a car tyey belive in which then cleans up.

    I suspect the lack of heavy heirarchy and corporate control frees a team significantly, when its full of so much talent, Im sure its beneficial for them to have freedom in all operations.

    If Honda cant make an engine that keeps up, of course they could not have done this without having switched to Merc. Someone mentioned 70bhp, thats almost the diff between KERS active or dormant, the whole all lap, each and every lap! No chance, wonder why they even bothered.

  5. We will never know, I think they would have probably win it – especially the WCC championship. Brawn dropped significantly after first half of the season and with Honda funding they could have developed the car better during the season.

  6. Paige Michael-Shetley
    21st October 2009, 19:47

    I think they would have been just as good. Brawn was pretty much given autonomy anyways, which he used to cease development on the RA108 early and concentrate on the 2009 challenger. The car was developed by Honda, too.

    I don’t know how bad the Honda engine really was. Was it on par with the Merc? No. But Honda didn’t exactly have the least draggy car in the field in 07 and 08, either, so that didn’t help.

  7. I think it will be so exciting to have Mercedes play an increasingly important role in Brawn

  8. Keith-you point out many of the circumstances-some deliberate and some accidental-that led to Brawn’s success.
    I particularly like your point that the team missed early testing. As you cleverly explain, this WOULD have led to an earlier airing out of the diffuser issue between the teams, which would have diluted Brawn’s advantage, for sure.
    Thanks for quoting the Brawn engineer who spoke of the particular compromise in the car using the Mercedes engine-I have been wondering about this all year.
    Watching the Brawns honking down the Interlagos straights, I felt no way would the Honda engine measure up.
    Reubens-and Jensons-experience and attitude was indispensible and well suited to this task. Sometimes failure teaches you more than does success.
    In all, it was a “perfect storm” of wildly different variables that resulted-amazingly-in triumph in this most tightly and highly engineered series.

  9. The Sri Lankan
    21st October 2009, 22:39

    No way! brawn won because of the Merc engines. had the honda turned up with the Ra109 they would have been fighting toyta,ferrari and mclaren. for sure there would have been wins. but we are getting ahead of ourselves when we talk about championships. i cant help but think if the Toyota engine was on par with the Merc where they would be by now. they are blistering fast. even at this stage of the season and not getting any credit for it. surely a 5th place in the championship shows that toyota was beaten to the 3rd and 4th spot by cars with kers

  10. so they hacked off this and that and the gearbox is in the wrong place.. does that infer 1) it could have potentially be even faster if everything was designed around the merc engine or 2) everything was designed wrong but after they accidently made those changes it became quick ?

    1. Watch this space :)

      I think the Jagwar effect was to blame – Too many chiefs – and even then they couldn’t get it together.
      But I think the Mercedes engine was the deciding factor.

      1. That is Honda, pre-brawn of course

  11. Personally, I think the Mercedes engine has been a little overplayed.

    It was the aero package that really stood out from race one for the Brawn, and it still would have been fighting for race wins with a Honda lump. That’s not to say the Merc wasn’t helping of course!

    I also think if Bruno Senna was in the car, that would have taken away a threat to Jenson for this season at least.

    All in all, if they were Honda I think it would have been vs Red bull all the way to the final race. The Merc engine ended it a little earlier.

  12. Firstly I don’t think Honda engine would have perform better than Mercedes,but the the aerodynamics would have been same so the car would have been good.
    Secondly yes if Honda have tested their car from January many teams like Mclaren & Ferrari would have developed double diffuser from the start of the season.
    But I am dissapointed about the fact that we loose a Manufacturer from F1,with the exit of BMW next year we are left with Ferrari,Renault,Toyota,& Mclaren.Even both Renault & Toyota still to confirmed.

  13. Honda = Fail

    1. Hona + Brawn = Success.

  14. Had Honda stayed, and the team stuck to a regular testing programme, its rivals would have known as early as January that the RA109 (not the BGP 001) was quick.

    Interesting view, I never thought about it and you probably are quite right.

    On the other hand, I have another theory:

    I think Max Mosley benefited Brawn GP because he wanted to use it as a good example of how an small team can be winner in order to support his capped budget proposal at that time, not forgetting he was trying to destroy FOTA unity also.

    So, if Honda had not left F1, I’m not sure FIA would have accepted double diffusers.

    1. Had Honda stayed, and the team stuck to a regular testing programme, its rivals would have known as early as January that the RA109 (not the BGP 001) was quick.

      I agree with this statement. Interesting point. Also the Max Mosley benefit makes sense regarding the diffusers.

      And another important point was that the Mercedes engine deal was approved by the FIA for the very reason of the strugle:


      In addition it could be also argued that the mere fact all of the staff of the Honda team were faced with the sack, this gave that extra energy and boost for them to work hard on the development. Everybody was fighting for the survival of their jobs and this really meant that everybody had to give 100%. In other words, change of circumstances and pressure changes the way in which people approach and do their jobs.

      So overall: Did Honda throw championship away?

      Answ: No.

      I think Honda would not have been as competitive as Brown, since many of the circumstances following this transition would not have taken place. So there is very high chance that Honda would have been slow.

  15. I dont think you can underestimate the role of the team principal. Nick Fry was woeful for the years he was in charge- what is he anyway by trade? i think a car plant manager. Its no coincidence that in the year they (BAR) had Dave Richards (what is he doing out of the sport?) they had podiums, if not wins, a plenty.

    Williams have still not really recovered from Patrick Head taking a seat upstairs, Ferrari have gone backwards after Todt as have Mclaren after Dennis..Of course there is always 20 reasons given why the lack of form is because of this or that but fundamentally the winning mentality seeps down from the team principal. Get the appointment wrong and you can have all the double diffusers you want, you wont win.

  16. Anyone who has worked with/in a Japanese corporate environment knows that nothing remotely as creative and fast as needed to be successful in F1 can come out of it.
    Half of the time the team principals will be occupied with reporting to the mothership and explaining obvious things over and over again. Add to this possible directives from Japan which have to be followed without any consideration to reality.
    In order to be successful the Japanese company culture and politics have to be completely removed from the development process and the daily running of the team. When it comes to manufacturing however, this can/should be done in Japan.
    Ah yes, I’m in no way a burned child of Japanese corporate culture whatsoever! ;-)

  17. Simple answer is no, this is a team built from the ashes of Honda, also the honda engine probably would not have been as reliable as the Mercedes engine. This is about a magnificent job done by Brawn, not Honda.

  18. I think Honda have been slightly hard done by. Ok the way they operate may not be condusive to winning grand prix’s but they made the decision not to fold the team when there was no buyer and committed to 100 mill of funds despite their name being taken off the car. Thats a big act of philanthropy in anyones book.

    Also, lets not forget Hondas engine was as good as there was in F1 in the 80’s so its not that they’ve not got talented engineers it would appear they just cant join everything together as well as German or British run teams.

  19. From Japanes point of view, Honda’s dicision was correct.
    After they pulled out F1, Honda’s image in Japan is improving, because they switch thire promotion cost from F1 to environmental project.
    Honda now focus on what is important for Humanbeing’s future. They are not interested in emitting CO2 at track!

    The idea that Honda’s withdrawal form F1 was the big mistake was worng, Racing in not so important for ordinaly Japanese people. Honda just choose what people need(environmental techinology)

    Honda’s new hybrid car is so popular in Japan now.

  20. Honda and Toyota are the two most advanced hig-tech car maker in the world. thire technology is far beyond BMW,Renount, even Mercedes not to mention Fiat.

    But Honda and Toyota could not succed in F1.
    It means modern F1 has nothing to do with car making techinology any more.

    Being fast in race trac is valuabule in this environment age?

    Europian people shuld think about the meaning of F1 and motersports. F1’s regulation is less environmental.

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