Did Honda throw a championship away?

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

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143 comments on Did Honda throw a championship away?

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  1. Michael M said on 10th November 2009, 9:36

    People don’t seem to be taking into account the lack of continuous development resources at Brawn this year. They started ahead but were caught up by the summer and second fastest car for the second half of the season. With Honda backing they would have been able to continue development throughout the year and maintained any advantage they had. Personally I think they would have been as strong as the McLaren of the late 1990s when Hakkinen was dominant. This car wasn’t built for a Mercedes engine, it was built for the Honda set up. As a result performance was lost in all areas. Yes there may have been more durability issues with the Honda engine over the year but I don’t think they would have made that much of a difference.

    Essentially it was a Honda FAIL!

  2. Bahjat Tabbara said on 15th December 2010, 9:14

    Honda F1 may or may not have dominated. Clearly Mercedes power is superior to Honda power, but if the team had not competed at all then Toyota and Williams would have claimed wins. Toyota had a tendency to start strongly only to have a dismal mid-season & occasionally a late season surge. On this occasion wins would have been possible.

    I am guessing that Honda would have not been stupid to replace Rubens with Bruno; while also would have had the KERS (which may or may not have added much; but again its use would have depended on performance) thus I believe Honda and Toyota would have dominated the first six races (before other teams hurried hasty double-diffusers), while the rest of the season it would have been fairly close & competitive with their initial edge dropped. Honda-engines also aren’t as reliable as Mercedes, so again that leaves a big question mark.

    Ultimately it also boils down to the quality of the drivers. With all due respect to Jarno or Timo; or for that matter Nico & Kazuki, none have the depth of Jenson & Rubens; in fact, on paper both Jenson & Rubens are much better drivers than the other lads. One wonder if Toyota had attracted (say) Kimi or Fellipe, or even Lewis to drive for them.

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