10 Oct 2012

Honda in F1 - will they return?

Honda have said they are open to the idea of rejoining Formula 1.

Autocar carries an interview with Yoshiharu Yamamoto, CEO of Honda R&D who says:

"I cannot speak for Honda, but on a personal level I love racing, but there is a lot involved when you are in F1. It is the very top of auto racing and that requires a large commitment."

Yamamoto san might say he cannot speak for Honda but he carries an awful lot of influence in the company.  He goes on to say:

"But it is true that we do look up at those races and hope that one day we can take part again. I do not personally think we can just go straight back immediately, but there is potential for the rules to change and attract us. I follow the rules, certainly, and if they present an opportunity then it would be nice to go back."

So basically he is saying Honda are interested in a return to F1.  This doesn't surprise because in 2014 small capacity turbocharged engines will make a return to F1, so the existing manufacturers will lose the datasets they've garnered over the past few years with the 2.4 litre V8s which are in current use.

Back to square one for everyone.  Honda knows there is no better time to enter competition than when there is a level playing field.

Leaving aside their lamentable time as a manufacturer, Honda have have won 72 races as an engine supplier plus 6 constructor and 5 drivers championships.

Yamamoto san goes on to say:

"The first thing we must do is win in the WTCC, and then perhaps we can look further afield"

Which is kind of like saying they will only enter MotoGP if they win WSBK.  No matter, Honda have a single Civic in this years WTCC but for 2013 have a full factory supported team with two very experienced drivers - Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro.

It will take at least two years to develop a 1.6 litre turbocharged engine for Formula 1. However, it is not unknown for manufacturers to stay in touch with F1 by developing such things in-house without telling the outside world.

Maybe Honda already have their own F1 engine on the dyno.

The question seems to us not when Honda will return to Formula 1 but how.  The last time they tried to enter as a manufacturer they made a complete hash of it.  Ferrari aside, manufacturers do not generally do well in F1.  

The Brawn effort won a title with trick parts, Mercedes then went on to do nothing special in three years of trying.  Toyota, famously, spent billions of Yen on F1 only to walk away with their tails between their legs.  Lotus (nee Renault) are not a real manufacturer, being run reasonably independently from Enstone with manufacturer cash keeping them afloat.

Honda should really only be thinking of entering F1 as an engine supplier.  And who better to tie up with than McLaren.  The two have a very successful history together and, with McLaren having to pay for Mercedes engines, they would bite Honda's hand off if the offer of free engines arose - as long as they are powerful and reliable enough that is.

Red Bull Honda also has a certain ring to it.  As an independent team Red Bull have no affiliation with Renault but, unlike McLaren, they can afford to pay for the best engine so would maybe sit and wait to see how the Honda unit performs.

If they are to ignore our advice and enter as a manufacturer then the best thing they could do would be to buy an existing team - thus inheriting manufacturing facilities, a race mentality and, crucially, a share of the money for the new Concorde agreement.

If they were to buy an existing team then the likely candidates would be Sauber or Force India.  Williams is not for sale and no-one below these three in the constructors championship would be able to bring enough value-added to the equation.

Sauber is unlikely due to the teams location in Switzerland.  Force India would be much more likely - as much as anything because Vijay Mallya's various businesses seem to be in real trouble at the moment.

However this is all speculation at the moment.  Yamamoto san was only voicing an opinion.  But, as we all know, such things are not said lightly.

It is likely to be a well planted remark aimed at signalling an intent to enter in F1 - at some point in the future.

We await with baited breath.