McLaren has today confirmed that from 2015 they will once again be powered by Honda engines.
The partnership that dominated Formula 1 during the late eighties will be rekindled during the new era of Formula 1 engine regulations which see the return of turbocharged power to the grid. The announcement has been expected for some time with McLaren having become a customer of Mercedes rather than, as was the case in the past, a partner to the German manufacturer.
Once Mercedes decided to purchase the Brawn GP squad, created from the ashes of Honda’s own team, it was inevitable that their long standing relationship would be nearing an end. While they will continue together in 2014 McLaren needed to safeguard their future with factory support in the turbo era.
For some time it was clear that Honda was the target of affection from the Woking squad and having worked so successfully together in the past, winning 44 races from 80 starts, the history of their relationship also was important to Honda with whom they won four consecutive Constructors’ Championships.
Honda has confirmed that they are already developing the engine in their Tochigi research and development facility and you can be sure that it will be running in the back of a test mule before long as they look to use 2014 to iron out any potential kinks in the powerplant.
McLaren’s team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, was clearly delighted to be able to announce the news and said:
“It is fantastic news for everyone who loves Formula 1 to be able to welcome Honda back to Formula 1,” commented Whitmarsh. “Together, we’re about to embark on a new and extremely exciting chapter in McLaren’s history.
“Like McLaren, Honda is a company with motor racing woven into the fabric of its heritage. We’re proud and thrilled to be joining forces once more to take on the world in Formula 1. Whilst both companies are fully aware that we’re embarking on a very demanding journey together, we’re hugely committed to the success of the partnership, and we’ll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we’re fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015.”
The team has endured a very difficult start to the season and Whitmarsh has come under fire from his critics and has had to dismiss speculation about his future as recently as the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. This announcement however clearly shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the team has secured a crucial element of success in the future.
For Honda the news also is a coup. Having left the sport in 2009 due to the ever worsening financial crisis they have been evaluating their future motorsport activities. There was even speculation that they would leave MotoGP, due to tightening of electronic regulations, but this news confirms their intention to cement their motorsport activities in the future.
Having struggled as a Constructor the company has clearly come to the conclusion that the greatest benefit that they can get from motorsport is to be an engine manufacturer. In the past they used their relationships with McLaren and Williams to train their most promising young engineers in the highly competitive and pressure fuelled atmosphere of racing before moving them back into the road car division. This strategy is sure to be followed once again.
Takanobu Ito, President and CEO of Honda, also commented on his company’s history of using sport to fuel their future development:
“Ever since its establishment, Honda has been a company which grows by taking on challenges in racing,” said Ito. “Honda has a long history of advancing our technologies and nurturing our people by participating in the world’s most prestigious automobile racing series. The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our participation in F1.
“We have the greatest respect for the FIA’s decision to introduce these new regulations that are both highly challenging but also attractive to manufacturers that pursue environmental technologies and to Formula One Group, which has developed F1 into a high value, top car racing category supported by enthusiastic fans.”
The news comes as a shot in the arm to Formula 1 where the sport had appeared to be heading towards a major engine supply conundrum, With only Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes confirmed as “turbo manufacturers” it was clear that there was potential for demand to outstrip supply. Renault has confirmed that they only wish to supply engines to three teams, Ferrari currently supply to three teams and Mercedes are due to supply McLaren, Force India and their own squad next season. With 11 teams looking for engines there was a possibility that one of the manufacturers would have to supply a team against their wishes.
The news that Honda will be joining the fray will alleviate some of this concern and given their history of traditionally supplying more than one team-Williams and McLaren in the 80s, Jordan and BAR at the start of the century-it is clear that suddenly the sport is in a much stronger position.
Jenson Button claimed his first victory using Honda power and drove for the team under Honda ownership. The 2009 world champion spoke about this longstanding relationship:
“I’ve already enjoyed a long and successful working relationship with Honda,” said Button. “I first raced a Formula 1 car powered by a Honda engine in 2003, and I was a works Honda Formula 1 driver between 2006 and ’08, winning my first grand prix in Hungary in 2006 in a Honda Formula 1 car, so I know exactly how passionate Honda is about motorsport, and Formula 1 in particular.
“The challenge set by Formula 1’s new technical regulations provides Honda with the perfect opportunity to return to the pinnacle of motorsport. Honda is one of the most experienced and accomplished builders of turbocharged engines anywhere in the world, has always treated Formula 1 as a platform for world-beating technical innovation, and will surely relish the opportunity once again to showcase on a global sporting stage its engine technicians’ unparalleled engineering prowess.”
The announcement is exciting for the sport as we will once again see the iconic name of Honda on the grid but it also shows that the FIA’s decision to change the regulations has worked. Manufacturers are interested in returning to Formula 1 once again and with Honda returning you can be sure that executives at other manufacturers will now be discussing Formula 1 once again.