Thursday, October 8, 2020

Honda To Abandon Formula 1 After 2021 Season

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/Motorsport Images through American Honda Co., Inc.

Throughout the history of Formula 1, the sport has featured a revolving door of automobile manufacturers who have entered and exited for miscellaneous reasons. 

Lamborghini, Subaru and Spyker Cars are some prominent names in the automotive world that had an involvement in Formula 1 too brief for some to remember. Other companies such as BMW, Toyota and Porsche have previously operated as heavy hitters in the global open wheel series but are not actively part of the sport. Formula 1 also contained a number of names that have operated in several prominent stints. First involved in grand prix racing in 1964, Honda’s Formula 1 history is defined as both a constructor and engine supplier. Currently supplying power units to Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri, Honda has announced intentions to end their most recent participation in Formula 1 racing.

With the end of the 2021 Formula 1 season, the Japanese automaker will no longer contribute propulsion to entrants. In a speech made by President, Representative Director and CEO of Honda Motor Co., LTD Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s cited reason to discontinue their present role in the sport is related to the company’s increasing focus on developing new technologies for production vehicles to comply with environmental targets. Planning to have 2/3rds of the automobiles sold across the world electrified, Honda is targeting carbon neutrality by 2050. After the completion of the 2021 obligations to Formula 1, Honda plans to divert staff and personnel working with their Formula 1 power unit program into their research and development department to create carbon-reducing powerplant technologies.

The decision by Honda leaves two teams in search of a new power unit supplier for the 2022 season. Both teams having won grand prix events in 2020 with Honda power, Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri seemed pleased with their propulsion for the year. This year, Max Verstappen won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix with Red Bull Racing while the AlphaTauri group celebrated victory at the Italian Grand Prix with winning driver Pierre Gasly. Reacting to the news, Red Bull Racing’s Team Principal Christian Horner commented in a team statement posted online, “As a Team we understand how difficult it has been for Honda Motor Company to reach the decision to step back from Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season.” Horner also expressed the team’s disappointment in the announcement but also conveyed gratitude to Honda for the five wins scored by the Red Bull-owned grand prix organizations. While announcing their departure, Honda is still devoted to creation of a competitive power unit for the 2021 season with both teams.

Honda’s recent stint in Formula 1 came following the announcement of the sport’s current turbocharged/hybrid power unit configuration introduced for 2014. Partnering with McLaren (a team which Honda had enjoyed some major success in the past), the Japanese auto brand elected to wait until 2015 to enter competition with their gasoline/electric powertrain. Performing poorly with McLaren from 2015 to 2017 with the power unit receiving much ridicule due to lack of competitiveness and reliability problems, Honda secured a new deal for the 2018 season with Scuderia Toro Rosso (transforming into AlphaTauri this year). Toro Rosso’s corporate relative Red Bull Racing adopted Honda performances in 2019 and secured a victory for the auto company at the year’s Austria Grand Prix before winning two more times.

Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri have a tricky job ahead finding a power unit supplier for the 2022 Formula 1 season and beyond. The use of all three remaining powerplant options will provide obstacles to the teams. The top contender would be Mercedes-Benz but they’re slated to supply four teams next year including their factory team that is a top adversary for Red Bull Racing. Renault had previously provided engines to both Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri but the relationship ended on a sour note a few seasons ago. Finally, the option of Ferrari may be appealing by the performance of the 2020 competition package. Other rumoured alternatives could involve a new Formula 1 powerplant supplier or Red Bull Racing developing their own power units.

Though saying Say┼Źnara to Formula 1 on October 2nd, the Japanese automaker sent somewhat of a mixed message about competing with a gasoline/electric hybrid powerplant platform in open wheel racing one day later. Honda reaffirmed its commitment to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 by confirming their involvement of a power unit to conform with the racing tour’s upcoming introduction of hybrid technology in competition cars for 2023.

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