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. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 16th May 2013, 16:15

    Pretty happy that Honda are back in Formula 1. A major company and brand can only help the sport. Hopefully this may entice more manufacturers. Could you imagine having teams or engine suppliers like BMW or other major companies.

  2. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 16th May 2013, 16:16

    It is good news, although I’ve been a bit baffled at the Marussia-Mugen rumours. Aside from the fact that they’ve been linked to Ferrari power in 2013, it would be a big risk for a low-budget team like Marussia to try something completely untested, just to be a guinea pig for McLaren. There’s a huge chance of it failing to produce the necessary results, too.

    But this does prove another thing. Ferrari’s 2014 engines are the cheapest, but somehow the least wanted. STR is certain to move off to Renault(for obvious reasons), Sauber are reluctant to stay, and Marussia are now being linked to Mugen/Honda. Is there any reason for this? Do teams already know which plant is the best and which the worst? If so, then how?

    • Fisha695 (@fisha695) said on 16th May 2013, 17:26

      It may not be that the Ferrari engines are the cheapest but that they have so many conditions & clauses in their supply contract that nobody else really wants them? “Is the hassle worth the possible benefit”.

      Then again there is a possibility that the Marussia/Ferrari relationship could be deeper then just an engine supply deal. Ferrari has pushed for the FIA to make F1 a 3-car per team sport, while RedBull already sort of has that by financing/owning STR, there is (atleast in my opinion) a strong possibility that within a few years we could see Marussia exit ownership and their team basically become the Ferrari version of STR (SCR, Scuderia Cavallo Rosso?) maybe even be branded under one of the other FIAT brands like “Alfa Romeo Racing powered by Ferrari” or something like that.

  3. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 16th May 2013, 16:59

    The return of Honda as an engine supplier is great news. Honda *can* build a competitive V6 and together with McLaren the resources are there to forge another successful F1 partnership.

    McLaren needed to make a move like this and the writing has been on the wall since the Mercedes team was announced. Frankly, their 2014 season chances cannot be a whole lot worse than 2013. If they do experience some unexpected successes while rebuilding, all the better.

    No doubt other constructors will want Honda engines too. The fact that Honda will be an engine supplier only will help increase their chances for success this time around.

    So much livery speculation. Let the livery be turd brown as long as the car can win races. Make some new F1 history in whatever colors. The point being, go fast first.

    Honda, welcome back!

  4. kcarrey (@kcarrey) said on 16th May 2013, 17:12

    are teams still restricted to 8 engines per season from 2014 onwards??

  5. Alex Bkk (@alex-bkk) said on 17th May 2013, 13:39

    Whoopee ****! If I’m gonna pull for an underdog engine manufacturer that’s gonna be fighting to get into Q2 it’s not gonna not me supporting one of the largest automotive manufacturing concerns in the world. Yeah they got it right way back when with two of the best F1 drivers the world has ever known. Then they poured untold millions into a factory effort, they failed and then they quit for reasons that it was economically stupid to support an F1 team in the current economic crisis. Where was the love and passion for the sport? It’s wasn’t there. There was only a love for political correctness and dollars, yen and pounds. It makes me want to vomit and I’d rather pull for a team with an engine designed by Prisoner Monkeys and built puke green elfin creatures from an alcoholic underworld nightmare. What does Honda’s comeback mean to F1? It means I turn off my TV on Sunday and go to the beach and weep for Macca fans the world over.

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