What Honda’s comeback means for Formula One

2015 F1 season

Ayrton Senna, McLaren-Honda MP4/7A, Imola, 1992Honda’s return to Formula One as an engine supplier to McLaren from 2015 had been rumoured for some time and today’s confirmation is welcome news.

Honda are the first major car manufacturer to return to the sport as a competitor (rather than as a branding exercise as in the case of Infiniti’s Red Bull title sponsorship) since the mass departure of carmakers in the late 2000s.

It’s less than five years since Honda last departed F1 on the back of two miserable seasons. That followed the disappearance of Ford (via the Jaguar brand it owned at the time) at the end of 2004 and, as the financial downturn bit, Toyota and BMW in 2009.

Honda’s comeback is a vindication for those who pushed for the new engine formula. This was vehemently opposed by some – notably Bernie Ecclestone – who described the news of Honda’s 2015 entry as “a great pleasure”, adding: “Their engine technology and passion for motor sports make them a natural Formula One contender.”

The Japanese manufacturer had the choice to follow domestic rivals Toyota in the World Endurance Championship. The series has less stringent restrictions on engine development and the use of electrical energy recovery. Porsche recently justified their decision to build an LMP1 racer as being more “road relevant” than competing in F1.

FIA president Jean Todt, who pushed hard for the new engines, said their return demonstrated manufacturers found the new engine rules appealling: “The introduction of the new power train next year, in the form of a 1.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with direct injection and energy recovery, is a very exciting challenge and demonstrates a vision for the future of the sport.”

Honda, Interlagos, 2008But manufacturer involvement in Formula One is a double-edged sword. Honda are the ultimate example of how manufacturers will spend big to succeed but won’t hesitate to cut and run the moment their sporting or marketing goals are no longer being met.

The 2015 season will mark Honda’s fourth entry into the world championhip. Sink or swim, they haven’t tended to stay long. Their full works teams lasted just four and three seasons respectively from 1965 to 1968 and 2006 to 2008.

Their considerably more successful engine supply deals to Williams and McLaren (and others) in the eighties and nineties spanned a decade. But when the titles stopped appearing in 1992 their departure was swift.

Honda’s reunion with McLaren evokes memories of those years of crushing dominance and invites comparison with them. Particularly as their period of greatest success came during Formula One’s last turbo era, which ended after McLaren comprehensively routed their rivals in 1988 in a manner not seen before or since.

As they strive to recapture that high Honda will have a year to hone their engine outside of Formula One’s testing restrictions. That will give them the chance to catch up on the head start their rivals had in developing their engines. And McLaren will inevitably glean some useful information from their Mercedes V6 next year.

It would be a surprise if they didn’t pick up a few customer engine supply deals between now and 2015, not least because it will vastly increase their potential for development post-2014, when they will be bound to Formula One’s tight testing regulations.

However it may not prove a simple solution for those teams yet to select an engine partner for next year. With the expenditure on developing the complex new engines so high, smaller teams need to spread the cost over multiple years to afford them. A stopgap deal for 2014 ahead of a Honda deal will be less attractive.

Their hope will be that the arrival of Honda as a competitor to the existing engine suppliers will ultimately exert a downward pressure on engine prices. Providing, of course, that the existing manufacturers remain – and it is being treated as an inevitability that Cosworth will not.

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63 comments on What Honda’s comeback means for Formula One

  1. It’s great to hear that major engine manufacturers are coming back to Formula 1. As it was pointed out, Honda has been in and out of F1 but there’s a strong engineering “culture” within the company and motorsports is one of the ways they express that “culture”. I hope it encourages other manufacturers to return or participate for the first time in F1.

  2. 5150 (@) said on 16th May 2013, 12:42

    I am pleased to see Honda back in F1. I don’t really care for the McLaren-Honda partnership in terms of the past. I believe it will be far from that 1988 thing, at least in the beggining.
    It’s just good to see another motor manufacturer in F1.
    It’s better they’re coming back with a big team, though.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th May 2013, 14:45

      Personally I thought ‘that 1988 thing’ was great, because even though they dominated and you pretty much knew which team was going to win as the races clicked by, you didn’t know which driver would win, such was the level of the rivalry on the team. No team orders meant a fantastic rivalry, both on the track and through the media, and as I say to me it didn’t matter therefore that they were dominant…we were not robbed of great racing such as when a dominant team designates a number one in the boardroom before the season even begins and the winner is predetermined.

      I too am pleased Honda is coming back to F1. I think they belong there given that they were first in F1 back in the 60′s and therefore seem to always have a place in F1 and in people’s hearts.

  3. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 16th May 2013, 12:45

    IIt’s great news indeed. 3 engine suppliers is a very low amount, and Honda’s return is very welcome in the sport.

    However, I’m a bit hesitant in the long term and not because of Honda’s history of touch and go. I mean, if F1 goes the same way as in 2007 and freezes the new engine after just 2 years, it’s bad news. We cannot spend more years with the same old engines and no development at all.

    It’s against nature: the world should advance, not deliberately stop. I understand there was a crisis and there was a need to cut costs, but development is rewarded in the long term. More companies invest in making whatever they build in a more efficient and more reliable way, and the whole thing moves foward, Standing still isn’t the answer either.

    It’s probably still good for marketing puposes and all for Renault to have the brand building F1 engines. But if there’s virtually no development, it’s hardly relevant.

  4. Nomore (@nomore) said on 16th May 2013, 12:46

    It means a lot, but if testing is not back it will be hard for them to compete with Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault. 1 year less of experience and only one team to supply….it will be very very hard.
    Mclaren will push with Ferrari (and Mercedes is also in the pack)…we will see how it’s gonna end…

    I also miss the BMW and Toyota..i want more constructor in Formula 1 and not only wings and exhaust….i want the best engine suppliers in the world compete with each other, and not some drink company.

    • I love the Pope said on 16th May 2013, 12:55

      Drink company finances more championships lately than Ferrari and Mercedes.

      • Nomore (@nomore) said on 16th May 2013, 14:35

        @I love the Pope

        In what data you base your conclusions ? can you bring a financial paper where this is mentioned ?

        The best way to prove that, is to put Ferrari out of Formula 1 and see how the sport will fare…and then put drinks company out of the sport and se how the sport fare…

        My idea is not that it should not be drinks comapny (or whatever publicity company), but it SHOULD be more constructor company ( we are in Formula 1 for god’s sake..)…We can achieve that by putting also a engine (like in 2014) and mechanical competition, if we do this, then for constructor like Honda, BMW, Toyota, VW…etc…for them Formula 1 could be more attractive.

        • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th May 2013, 15:04

          Hmmm…can’t say I get the anti drinks company argument. Their money is as green as anyone else’s, they have tons of it, and are willing to spend it in F1, and one could just as easily ask where Renault would be without the success Red Bull has had using their engines. Would they still be in F1 right now?

          Sure there’s nothing wrong with wanting more constructor companies in F1, but the fact that some are not is a complex issue. It’s related to the state of the global economy since 08, but there are also factors within F1 that need to be addressed that might have some makers questioning the relevance of being in F1…see Porsche’s opinion that Lemans is more road relevant. I can’t say I blame constructors looking at the degrady tires, the DRS gadget, and historic instability in the rules (even if they’ve been relatively stable lately does not mean that will hold for the near future) and questioning their potential involvement in F1.

          • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 16th May 2013, 15:31

            @robbie don’t get me wrong, I’d also like to see more manufacturer involvement but the drinks company argument is as outdated as the sport itself. I count manufacturers as teams which compete with their own engines, of which there has only actually been 22 in the 56 year history of the formula one constructors’ championship!

            Sponsor-named teams aren’t exactly new either: Benetton started out as a sponsorship team, and their have been plenty others, particularly since the 90′s. It just so happens there haven’t been many other successful ones beside Red Bull and Benetton!

        • Gagnon (@johnniewalker) said on 16th May 2013, 16:26

          Just to make it clear, theres 0% chances, ever, that BMW will come back in current regulation, they never made any V6 engine and said they will never do one. The proof is that all their 6 are Inline 6 and they’re the only one still doing it. No BMW with current regulation for sure.

          • Nomore (@nomore) said on 16th May 2013, 17:01

            @johnniewalker
            Agree, but i was talking in general that each 3-4 years, we make engine changes and not freeze them, mechanical changes and not everything fixed, and electronic technologies….the odds that the biggest constructors in the world will be attracted are very high

          • MDS said on 16th May 2013, 17:07

            They have patented a V6 engine design not too long ago so I wouldn’t be so sure.

            Porsche would never put a diesel in their cars either…

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 16th May 2013, 15:37

      @nomore

      Drink company is making a much better job.

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th May 2013, 16:22

        Hey @vettel1 Just to be clear I think we are on the same page, right? I too take manufacturer based as to mean they run with their own engines, and in fact that is more the rarity than the norm as you point out. And I have no issue whatsoever with a drinks company succeeding. (Just a bit confused when you say ‘don’t get me wrong’…because I don’t).

        I think, since you are saying ‘particularly since the 90′s’ if you take out Ferrari, which was given extra millions and veto power on the rules since the 90′s, and they were on a 16 year WDC drought when MS was moved there to end it, the majority of success has been with non-manufacturer based teams. So if we differ at all it is that I don’t think there haven’t been many other successful sponsorship teams beside Red Bull and Benetton since the 90′s. Rothmans/Williams/Renault with DH and JV, Marlboro/Mercedes/McLaren with Mika, Benetton with FA not just MS, Mac/Merc with LH, Red Bull/Renault with SV. Ferrari is of course the standout manufacturer based team, and yet without the massive effort and unlimited testing that went behind MS/Ferrari, being a manufacturer based team is certainly no guarantee of success.

        • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 16th May 2013, 17:14

          @robbie I was just clarifying that I actually do care about manufacturer involvement, as the subsequent comment could make it appear otherwise!

          Bascially I don’t define Rothmans Williams etc. as sponsor teams as they aren’t registered under their sponsors name: Williams for example is affiliated almost solely with F1, whereas Red Bull is of course associated mainly with the drinks company and not the F1 team.

          Another example of a team like this may be Simtek or Footwork, but McLaren is a name associated with the F1 team and not an investor! That’s all I really mean by that.

        • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 16th May 2013, 17:16

          Basically, if I say “Red Bull” you think “drinks company”, or if I say “Benetton” you think “fashion comapany” – whereas if I say “Williams” you think “F1 team” or “McLaren” you also think “F1 team”.

          • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th May 2013, 17:34

            Ok @vettel1 fair comment. I take your point and it’s a good one. I was taking it more from the engine side of things.

          • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 16th May 2013, 17:56

            @robbie no that point still stands, that is just a sub-point ;) Basically manufacturers didn’t really have a dominant spell until the early 2000′s, where Ferrari won the 1999-2004 championship’s and Renault the 2005/6 titles.

      • Nomore (@nomore) said on 16th May 2013, 16:47

        @jcost
        If you are referring to the competitiveness of cars… Sure under this kind of regulation they are making.

        At the end of the day i can’t blame Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda ,BMW, Toyota, Renault ..etc because they are not interested in making “wings and exhaust” for their road cars…
        If you were leading one of these company would spend 400-500 million of $ per year in those tricks ?
        Mercedes some months ago wanted to remain only like a engine supplier, the only reason that they remained as a full team is because of 2014 engine challenging.
        The only one that is almost guaranteed that will remain (regardless the regulation) as a full team is Ferrari…for history, economically reasons (from both parts Ferrari and F1) and prestige, they are almost forced to remain.
        Montezemolo has several times said that they are interested in technology for making road cars and they are running out of patience…One day Ferrari may also say enough is enough we are out…they have the right to do it.

        from the fans point of view, this argument depends also in what is the pleasure that everyone wants…i personally like to see Honda, BMW, Toyota, Mercedes, Ferrari as a full team competing together, and also more challenging from engine, mechanical and electronic…these were the reasons why i decided to support ferrari in the earlier 97, i liked their technology in making cars.

        If you like wings and exhaust it’s your choice and i respect that, but i like something else.

        • crr917 (@crr917) said on 16th May 2013, 23:25

          You are sure the fickle tyres are attracting car manufacturers?

        • fangio85 (@fangio85) said on 17th May 2013, 2:17

          @nomore, I see your point, and I also would like to see more manufacturers, simply to mix it up a bit, as it is its getting a bit boring with 22 cars but only four engines (3 engines powering 20 of those cars, yawn). I think if ferrari get fed up with regulations they don’t like, they could get them changed pretty easily, not because of some favouritism conspiracy or anything, just purely because ferrari will be no less successful as a car maker without f1, but f1 wouldn’t last long if ferrari left. I don’t mind if people disagree and say they wouldn’t mind if ferrari left, I’m simply saying I think f1 needs ferrari but not visa versa. Imagine if ferrari and merc left f1 because of another engine freeze, I would give f1 two years max before it died completely. I can’t think of anyone I know that would watch f1 without ferrari, even non ferrari fans. And merc leaving would be pretty bad too. Sorry I’m ranting now lol

    • drmouse (@drmouse) said on 17th May 2013, 9:27

      “I also miss the BMW and Toyota..i want more constructor in Formula 1 and not only wings and exhaust….i want the best engine suppliers in the world compete with each other, and not some drink company.”

      I’m actually fine with Red Bull. They may be a drinks company, and they may do everything else as pure publicity, but they have done amazing things.

      In Formula 1 they have produced a fantastic team. They have ploughed money into it and helped push the sport ahead.

      Then there was the space jump. An incredible achievement, advancing the human race.

      There are many others. I know that it’s all about advertising for them, but would you rather see them advertising through annoying TV ads or by pushing technological boundaries? It is a very positive form of advertising.

      So, yes, I take issue with the whole “they are just a drinks company” argument. Of course I would like to see more manufacturers come back to F1, but I think the world would be a poorer place without Red Bull, and I salute them for their efforts.

      And this is coming from a guy who despises Vettel…

  5. Doubt it’ll be a success from the get go, but it’ll be promising. With McLaren’s vast technical knowhow the new pair would advance through the field in relatively less time but if Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari are already doing too well then this strategy may have McLaren staring at the north face of the Eiger come 2015.

  6. andae23 (@andae23) said on 16th May 2013, 12:49

    What I’m missing in this great article is the fact that Honda is an Asian manufacturer. Hopefully it will spark some enthusiasm from other Japanese/Asian companies for sponsorship. We have three races in the neighborhood of Japan (though I’m not sure 2015 will have a Korean round) and combining that with a recovering economy, interest from Asian companies should be at a peak.

    And let’s not forget that Takuma Sato and Kamui Kobayashi made their way into Formula 1 with the help of Honda and Toyota respectively. A Japanese driver would be the perfect way to appeal to a wider audience, which in my opinion is crucial for Asia’s role in Formula 1.

    So yeah, this is fantastic news.

  7. Aditya F. Yahya (@adityafakhri) said on 16th May 2013, 12:58

    I expect McLaren-Honda’s performance will be at least like BAR in 2004-05 which is competitive enough. I have a gout that they will do great but it will take times to emulate their success with McLaren and Williams in 80-90′s.
    Now it’s time to wait for Telmex and orange livery.

  8. Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 16th May 2013, 12:59

    I’m pleased that someboy, anybody is coming into F1, particularly on the engine supply side.
    But I have reservations because of what seemed to happen last time when vast budgets were thrown at the problem of producing a race-winning car and then the entire team was scrapped or sold by the Board’s decision in order to placate shareholders in difficult times. Honda, Toyota, BMW, Ford.
    This time, it’s Honda as an engine seller, which should make it a little more stable as they *should* be making money or breaking even at least on the engines over time, and they *will* have a multi-year contract with teams they supply, thank goodness.

  9. Calum (@calum) said on 16th May 2013, 13:02

    The big question is, will Jenson be reunited with his green Honda trousers?

  10. q85 said on 16th May 2013, 13:08

    I wonder if they could supply someone like Marussia for 2014 to do some on track testing. Doesnt matter if Marussia blows up(well to them it will, but long term it would benefit them too).

    Depends how far down the line the 2015 engine currently is.

  11. Calum (@calum) said on 16th May 2013, 13:10

    How similar are the V6 Indy turbos? Close enough to give Honda a solid foundation to build on for 2015 Mclaren engines?

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th May 2013, 13:19

      I think there’s quite a bit of difference between them. For one the single turbo as opposed to a bi-turbo setup being allowed in Indycar and the whole ERP part of the drivetrain will make for big differences in the engines too.

      But it should make it a nice career path for the guys who first worked on the IndyCar engine, now they did the endurance racing package and they can take anothe step up with the F1 engine now, so it makes for a nice package at Honda

    • kubica2 said on 16th May 2013, 15:54

      IndyCars are bigger capacity and have more power (not including kers). indycar engines rev lower but sound great, so the higher revving turbo f1 engines should sound great too. indycars are a different formula with quite a different car, they weigh about 25% more then f1 cars. i doubt the engine program in IndyCar will give the F1 program any advantage.

    • notme said on 17th May 2013, 11:01

      these are Honda branded engines, they are made by Mario Illien ..i suppose the same will happen with f1 engines

  12. safeeuropeanhome (@debaser91) said on 16th May 2013, 13:10

    Also Senna won all of his 3 titles in a Mclaren Honda, Prost the one in 89 with the other two with Porsche engines. And Senna had an extremely good personal relationship with the Honda engineers, developing the NSX, driving the Lotus Honda in 87 and therefore being key in even taking the engines to Mclaren in the first place. This article is about Honda, not Mclaren in general so it is perfectly understandable why the pictures are mainly of Senna. Gerhard Berger drove for Mclaren Honda longer than Prost did, should we complain that there’s no photo of him either?

  13. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 16th May 2013, 14:01

    @5150 you haven’t really, more who had a greater association with Honda!

  14. Aimal (@aimalkhan) said on 16th May 2013, 14:55

    Will the fans be excited for a Redbull-Renault partnership 20 years from now on too ? just wondering…

    • Cristian (@theseeker) said on 16th May 2013, 17:54

      Interesting point, but I don’t think so. McLaren is a team with tradition, history and a huge fan base, while Red Bull is just a team used for exposure of a brand. Also, no one really cares about Red Bull. :)

  15. Ed Marques (@edmarques) said on 16th May 2013, 15:13

    Great news. Another engine is great for the sport.
    On the other hand Mclaren can say farewell to 2014. Mercedes won’t help them that much.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 16th May 2013, 16:33

      I don’t think Merc will hurt them either. I would understand if, as 2014 progresses, Merc has to start to withhold some data, which I think Mac will understand, but I doubt Merc would do anything too obvious or blatant that wouldn’t go unnoticed and might harm their reputation or integrity. It would be a pretty cheap shot and noticeably unsporting on their part if they were to blatantly harm a team that they have a contract with to supply engines. Not to mention they could risk a law suit if they didn’t fulfill their end of the contract until it’s expiry date.

      For now Mac has far bigger performance issues to sort out than in the engine compartment and certainly if they don’t figure out their issues next year then Merc’s involvement or suspicions of them ‘not helping’ will be irrelevant. And if somehow Mac is strong next year chassis wise and Merc is still eating tires, you can be sure Merc will be fully behind Mac’s success in that scenario.

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