|Full name||Honda Racing F1 Team (2006–2008)|
Honda R & D Company
|Base||Tokyo, Japan (1964)|
Amsterdam, Netherlands (1965–1966)
Slough, UK (1967–1968)
Brackley, UK and Sakura, Japan (2006–2008)
Milton Keynes, UK and Sakura, Japan (2015–)
|Noted staff||Yoshio Nakamura|
|Noted drivers|| Ronnie Bucknum|
|Previous name||British American Racing|
|Next name||Brawn GP Formula One Team|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|First entry||1964 German Grand Prix|
|Final entry||2008 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|First entry||1964 German Grand Prix|
|Last entry||2020 Portuguese Grand Prix|
|Races entered||454 (453 starts)|
|Chassis||Honda, Spirit, Williams, Lotus, McLaren, Tyrrell, BAR, Jordan, Super Aguri, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, AlphaTauri|
|Constructors' Championships||6 (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)|
|5 (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)|
Honda has participated in Formula One, as an entrant, constructor and engine supplier, for various periods since 1964. Honda's involvement in Formula One began with the 1964 season, and in 1965 they achieved their first victory at the Mexican Grand Prix. After further success with John Surtees, Honda withdrew at the end of the 1968 season due to difficulties selling road cars in the United States and Honda driver Jo Schlesser's fatal accident.
Honda returned in 1983 as an engine supplier, which started a very successful period for Honda. After winning races in 1984 and 1985, Honda won the Constructors' Championship every year between 1986 and 1991 with Williams and McLaren, and the Drivers' Championship every year from 1987 to 1991 with Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Honda withdrew at the end of 1992 after having achieved their targets and suffering the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble.
Honda returned again in 2000, providing engines for British American Racing (BAR). BAR-Honda finished second in the Constructors' Championship in 2004, and by the end of 2005 Honda had bought out the BAR team, which became the Honda team for 2006. After a good 2006 season where Jenson Button won the Hungarian Grand Prix, Honda announced in December 2008 that they would be exiting Formula One with immediate effect due to the global financial crisis, following two difficult seasons in 2007 and 2008.
In May 2013, Honda announced their intention to return to the sport in the 2015 season under a works agreement with McLaren to supply power units. The first iterations of the Honda engines proved to be uncompetitive, and Honda spent their first three years under the harsh scrutiny of the public eye as they developed their power unit. McLaren and Honda split after three years, Toro Rosso however, agreed to use Honda engines for the 2018 season as a works outfit. Following a fairly successful season with Toro Rosso, Honda showing fast and potent development with the engines, Red Bull Racing agreed to also take on Honda engines for the 2019 season. Their first victory of the hybrid era was at the Austrian Grand Prix, and after several highly successful displays, the Honda power unit is now considered to be one of the front running engines.
As an engine manufacturer, Honda has won six World Constructors' Championships, five World Drivers' Championships and over 70 Grands Prix, ranking fifth in Formula One history. In addition to their success as an engine manufacturer, their three Grand Prix wins as a team make them the only Japanese or Asian team to win in Formula One.
Honda as a team
Honda R & D Company (1964–1968)
Honda entered Formula One Grand Prix racing in 1964 just four years after producing their first road car. They began development of the RA271 in 1962 and startled the European-dominated Formula One garages with their all-Japanese factory team (except for American drivers Ronnie Bucknum and Richie Ginther). More startling was the fact that Honda built their own engine and chassis, something only Ferrari and BRM – of the other teams still running in 1962 – had previously done.
In only their second year of competition, Honda reached the coveted top step of the podium with Ginther's win in the RA272 at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. For the new 3.0L rules from 1966, Honda introduced the Honda RA273. Although the RA273's engine was a well-designed, ~360 bhp V12, the car was let down by a relatively heavy and unwieldy in-house chassis. Honda returned to the winner's circle in 1967 with the new Honda RA300, driven by John Surtees. This won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix in only its first Formula One race. The RA300 chassis was partly designed by Lola in the UK, and this resulted in the car being nicknamed the Hondola by the motoring press. The team finished fourth in the constructors' championship, despite Surtees being their only driver during the season, while Surtees finished fourth in the drivers' championship.
The following year's Honda RA301 had a lot of reliability problems, but finished on the podium twice and scored a pole position. The team's new Honda RA302 appeared in only a single race at Rouen-Les-Essarts, lasting only a few laps before its fiery crash resulted in the death of driver Jo Schlesser. The death and the want to focus on selling road cars in the United States prompted Honda to withdraw from Formula One at the end of the 1968 season.
Aborted 1999 Formula One project
From 1993 to 1998, Honda's only presence in Formula One was as an engine supplier through its closely related but independent partner, Mugen Motorsports, who supplied engines to Footwork, Lotus, Ligier, Prost and Jordan. Mugen-powered cars had won 4 Grands Prix by the end of the 1999 season. In 1998, Honda was seriously considering entry in Formula One as a constructor, going as far as hiring Harvey Postlethwaite as technical director and designer and hiring engineer Kyle Petryshen from HRC to help with the design, implementation and management of the new engine in the new chassis. A test car, RA099, designed by Postlethwaite and built by Dallara, was made and tested during 1999, driven by Jos Verstappen. Although the engines were still built by Mugen, the team impressed at test sessions, beating some more experienced and better financed teams, even if they were mostly in the midfield. At a test of this car, Postlethwaite suffered a fatal heart attack, the project was later shelved and Honda decided to recommit as a full works engine supplier to BAR, starting in 2000.
During this period, Honda engineers also developed several Formula One cars as a side, unofficial project, the Honda RC100/RC-F1 series, initially using V12 engines as used on the McLarens, before switching to Mugen-built V10 engine in the project's final evolution.
Honda Racing F1 Team (2006–2008)
In September 2005 Honda purchased the remaining 55% share of BAR to become the sole owner. BAT continued as title sponsor with the Lucky Strike brand in 2006, but withdrew from Formula 1 for 2007 due to prohibition of tobacco advertising. It was decided that the team would race under the name Honda Racing F1 Team from 2006.
Honda's first season as a team since 1968 started fairly well, with Jenson Button finishing fourth at the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix and scoring a podium at the second round in Malaysia. At the next race in Australia, Button scored a pole position. The results started to be inconsistent after that and the main reason for the lack of form was down to reliability, with the team dropping out of contention for race victories many times. Pit-stop problems also hampered the team early on, in one case effectively ruining Jenson Button's chances for a good result and possible podium at Imola. In light of this form, it was announced that Geoff Willis would be adopting a factory-based role to concentrate on aerodynamics. Following the appointment of Senior Technical Director Shuhei Nakamoto over Willis' head and Mariano Alperin-Bruvera as Chief Aerodynamicist Willis' position appeared difficult, and reports indicated that he left the team.
At the Hungaroring, fortunes changed. Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button qualified third and fourth, though Button had to drop ten places, following an engine change. In an incident-packed race, Button came from fourteenth on the grid to win his first race, with Barrichello finishing fourth. After this win, the team's performance went up noticeably, displaying consistency arguably better than championship leaders Ferrari and Renault. Since Hungary, Button scored more points than any other driver in the last six races of the season. Barrichello did not have the best season for the team, down to the fact that he had to get used to the new brakes and traction control, after moving from a six-year stint at Ferrari, though he was a regular points scorer. Both drivers earned points finishes in almost all the remaining races, with the season ending on a high note with Button's 3rd-place finish in Brazil – less than a second behind 2nd place Fernando Alonso – after having to start from 14th on the grid. The team would finish fourth in the constructors' championship with 86 points.
On 15 November 2006, it was announced that long time BAR Honda and Honda test driver, Anthony Davidson would be heading to Super Aguri F1 to race alongside Takuma Sato. He was replaced by ex-Red Bull Racing driver Christian Klien for the 2007 season.
With the ban on tobacco sponsorship in Formula One taking effect, 2007 also saw the end of British American Tobacco's sponsorship of Honda. A new livery was unveiled on 26 February 2007 on the RA107 car, depicting planet Earth against a black background of space. On the rear wing was the web address of environmental awareness website myearthdream.com, which was launched on 27 February 2007, immediately following the official launch of the 2007 car. Reactions to the new livery were mixed, although Honda won an environmental award for their "Earth Car" campaign at the end of the year.
The RA107 was the first Formula One car designed under former HRC motorcycle designer, Shuhei Nakamoto. The team's form in pre-season testing was patchy, and Jenson Button urged the squad to improve. The car's sheer lack of pace was evident at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on 18 March, with Button and Barrichello qualifying 14th and 17th respectively (well behind the "satellite" Super Aguri team, whose car is effectively an update of the previous year's Honda, the RA106). Barrichello finished the race in 11th place, with Button in 15th after receiving a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. The team also failed to score points in the four subsequent races, their best finish being 10th in Spain and Monaco, scored both times by Rubens Barrichello. Honda finally scored a point in the French Grand Prix, courtesy of Button's eighth-place finish. The team eventually finished 8th in the constructors' championship, with a best result of 5th at the Chinese Grand Prix, courtesy of Button.
From July 2007, recognising the aerodynamic problems within the car, Honda began to recruit a new team from across the Formula 1 paddock. Chief aerodynamicist Loic Bigois and assistant Francois Martinet were signed from WilliamsF1; Jörg Zander and John Owen from BMW Sauber either later in 2007 or early in 2008.
On 19 July 2007, it was announced that Barrichello and Button would continue the factory effort as teammates into 2008. On 12 November 2007, autosport.com confirmed that former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn was to join Honda as team principal. Nick Fry remained with the team as Chief Executive. On 10 January 2008, it was announced that Alexander Wurz had signed as test driver for the 2008 season. On 29 January 2008, Honda launched their 2008 race car. The "Earth Car" had a slightly different livery from its 2007 counterpart, with only part of the car containing the earth picture, and the rest with Honda's classic white paint. Button, Barrichello and Wurz were present at the launch.
Honda had another disappointing year, and by mid-season they had switched development to the 2009 season, where new regulations come into play. Despite this, Barrichello managed a podium in the wet British Grand Prix with an inspired choice to full wet weather tyres at the right moment.
Sale and formation of Brawn GP
Honda suddenly exited the sport at the end of the 2008 season, unwilling to continue the Brackley-based team's $300 million budget and staff of 700 during the global economic crisis. The team continued to work on the Honda RA109 for the 2009 season while Honda attempted to sell the racing team. A number of potential owners were linked to the team, including Prodrive boss David Richards, Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, and the Virgin Group.
The team was eventually saved by a management buy-out led by team principal Ross Brawn and chief executive Nick Fry, and entered the 2009 season as Brawn GP. The team retained Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello as drivers, with engines supplied by Mercedes. Honda stated it would continue to provide financial support during the team's first year, and the Virgin Group who were linked to purchasing the team, would sponsor the cars throughout the season. Brawn won the overall title in what was its only season before another identity change.
Formula One results
(italics indicates non-works entries; bold indicates championships won)
|1964||Honda R & D Company||RA271||RA271E 1.5 V12||D||Ronnie Bucknum||0||NC|
|1965||Honda R & D Company||RA272||RA272E 1.5 V12||G|| Ronnie Bucknum
|1966||Honda R & D Company||RA273||RA273E 3.0 V12||G|| Ronnie Bucknum
|1967||Honda R & D Company||RA273
|RA273E 3.0 V12||John Surtees||20||4th|
|1968||Honda R & D Company||RA300
|RA273E 3.0 V12
RA301E 3.0 V12
RA302E 3.0 V8
| David Hobbs
|Joakim Bonnier Racing Team||RA301||RA301E 3.0 V12||G||Joakim Bonnier|
|1969 – 2005: Honda did not compete as a constructor.|
|2006||Lucky Strike Honda Racing F1 Team||RA106||RA806E 2.4 V8||M||11.
| Rubens Barrichello
|2007||Honda Racing F1 Team||RA107||RA807E 2.4 V8||B||7.
| Jenson Button
|2008||Honda Racing F1 Team||RA108||RA808E 2.4 V8||B||16.
| Jenson Button
Honda as an engine supplier
1983–1992: Spirit, Williams, Lotus, McLaren and Tyrrell
Honda returned to Formula One in 1983 as an engine supplier for Spirit and stayed in the sport for a decade, at various times teaming with Williams (1983–87), Lotus (1987–88), McLaren (1988–92) and finally Tyrrell (1991). Though they often supplied their engines to more than one team per season, Honda didn't always supply the same specification engines to different teams in the same season. For example, in 1987 as Williams had an existing contract, they were supplied with the latest 1.5-litre RA167E V6 engine, while Lotus were supplied with the 1986 RA166E engine which had to be adapted to a lower fuel limit and turbo boost restriction, thus limiting its effectiveness, though for the last year of the original turbo era in 1988, both Lotus and McLaren used the same specification RA168E. Also, in 1991, while McLaren had the latest RA121E V12, Tyrrell were only given the RA100E V10's that McLaren had used in 1990. McLaren had direct Honda factory support, with engines coming straight from the Japanese company's racing division in Japan; while Tyrrell had to make do with the previous RA100E model that were tuned by private Honda tuner Mugen; they had little to no direct factory support.
Both Lotus in 1987–88 and Tyrrell in 1991 obtained use of the Honda engines largely due to their agreeing to sign former Honda test driver Satoru Nakajima as one of their team drivers for those seasons.
As an engine supplier, Honda made its World Championship debut with Spirit's Swedish driver Stefan Johansson at the 1983 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Johansson qualified in an encouraging 14th place (although some 4.5 seconds slower than pole), though he would retire after just 5 laps with fuel problems. Johansson had given the Honda its on track debut earlier in the year at the non-championship 1983 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch (the last non-championship race in F1 history) where despite unreliability, the 1.5-litre turbocharged V6 engine dubbed the RA163E had impressed with its speed. By the final race of the 1983 season in South Africa, Honda had begun its association with Williams where reigning (and outgoing) World Champion Keke Rosberg served notice that the Honda was on the pace by qualifying 6th, only 7/10's slower than the Ferrari of pole winner Patrick Tambay.
Rosberg would give Honda its first win as an engine supplier when he outlasted the field to win the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix and by the end of the 1985 season where Briton Nigel Mansell and Rosberg won the final 3 races of the season (Rosberg had already won that year's Detroit Grand Prix), it was clear that Honda had the engine to beat in Formula One.
At their peak (1986–91) Honda engines were considered the ticket to Grand Prix glory due to their power, reliability, sophistication and winning track record. Honda's commitment to F1 was such that Nigel Mansell, who drove Honda-powered Williams cars from 1985 to 1987 recalled in a 2011 interview that Honda were making and developing 4 to 6 totally different engines in a single season. Honda won six consecutive constructors' championships as an engine manufacturer (two with Williams between 1986–87 and four with McLaren between 1988–91), as well as five consecutive drivers' championships (one by Nelson Piquet in 1987, three by Ayrton Senna in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and one by Alain Prost in 1989), before dropping out of the sport again.
Honda's supreme year in its days as an engine supplier came with McLaren in 1988. Mated to the Steve Nichols designed McLaren MP4/4 and with then dual World Champion Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna as the drivers, the McLaren-Honda's had an almost perfect season. Unlike most, Honda built an all new V6 turbo (the RA168E) for the year to cope with the reduced fuel limit (150 litres) and turbo boost limit (2.5 BAR, down from 4.0 BAR in 1987) and it paid massive dividends. McLaren-Honda claimed 15 pole positions in the 16 races, 13 of them for Senna, and also claimed 15 race wins, 8 from Senna (a new season record) and 7 from Prost which actually equaled the old record he jointly held with Jim Clark. McLaren-Honda scored a then record 199 points in the Constructors' Championship, a massive 134 points ahead of second placed Ferrari (whose driver Gerhard Berger was the only non-Honda-powered pole winner in Britain and the only non-Honda-powered winner in Italy), while Senna and Prost were the only drivers in contention for the Drivers' Championship ultimately won by Senna. Prost actually scored more points than Senna over the course of the season, largely thanks to 7-second-place finishes to go with his 7 wins, but under the rules of the time only the best 11 scores counted to the championship which saw the title go to the Brazilian.
Fittingly in the last race of Formula One's original turbo era, the 1988 Australian Grand Prix, Honda-powered drivers closed out the podium with Prost defeating Senna with the Lotus of Nelson Piquet finishing an easy 3rd.
For the new 3.5L naturally aspirated regulations for 1989, Honda debuted the new RA109E V10 in the McLaren MP4/5 and were now exclusively supplying McLaren; Lotus were forced to use Judd engines. This engine proved as dominant as the V6 turbo before it, taking 10 wins and 15 pole positions during the season and powering Prost to the 1989 Drivers' Championship. For 1990, a further developed version of the V10 and the MP4/5B powered Senna to the 1990 Drivers' Championship. For 1991, Honda developed a brand new V12, the RA121E, with which Senna ultimately won his third world championship. 1992 saw the Adrian Newey designed Williams FW14B chassis to be superior to any other car that season, and McLaren-Honda finished 2nd in the Constructors' Championship. Honda's final win of this era came when Gerhard Berger won the 1992 Australian Grand Prix, the final race of the season. The company had decided to pull out of Formula One after the 1992 season due to the burst of the Japanese asset price bubble that occurred that year.
Honda-powered cars had won 71 Grands Prix by the end of the 1992 season, 69 of them as an engine supplier between 1983 and 1992. Williams had 23 wins (75 races) and Lotus 2 wins (32 races) while McLaren gave the Japanese company 44 wins from 80 starts with the team.
2000–2005: BAR and Jordan
Honda returned yet again in 2000, providing engines for BAR. They also supplied engines to Jordan Grand Prix for 2001 and 2002. This would lead to a battle for the right to use the Honda engines in the long term. In 2003, despite their better showing in the previous two seasons, Honda dropped Jordan Grand Prix. In mid-November 2004 Honda purchased 45% of the BAR team from British American Tobacco (BAT, the founder and owner of BAR) following BAR's best season, when they were able to achieve second place in the 2004 season, a year dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.
Honda returned to Formula One as an engine supplier in 2015, reviving their relationship with 1980s and 1990s partner McLaren. For the 2015 championship, Honda supplied McLaren with the RA615H, a 1.6-litre direct injection V6 turbocharged DOHC engine. The engine was designed around McLaren's very tight design and aerodynamic requirements, which they had dubbed their "size zero" philosophy. Over the season, the engine proved to be significantly underpowered and inefficient, scoring points in just five races. Yasuhisa Arai refused to apologise for the poor performance. He was replaced as head of Honda's Formula One programme by Yusuke Hasegawa on 1 March 2016, with Arai taking the role of senior managing officer at Honda's Sakura HQ. McLaren-Honda finished the 2015 season in 9th place in the World Constructors' Championship standings with 27 points
For the 2016 season, McLaren used the upgraded Honda RA616H power unit. The season started more positively than the previous year and after just the sixth race of the season, the Monaco Grand Prix, the team had scored 24 points, 3 points shy of the previous season's total. Reliability and performance were still an issue though, and in June 2016, when Hasegawa was asked whether podiums would be possible in 2016, he said: "No, only with luck. Our realistic goal is to regularly finish in the points." Out of 21 races, the team scored points in 13 of them during the season. In September 2016, Hasegawa announced that Honda had a separate team already working on next year's engine. McLaren-Honda finished in 6th place in the final Constructors' standings with 76 points, a marked improvement from the year before.
At the start to the 2017 season, Honda had redesigned the entire power unit, essentially starting again, with the major change being the positioning of the turbo, compressor and MGU-H, this design split the turbo from the compressor and had them overhanging each side of the block with the MGU-H in the centre of the V all connected via a shaft. Honda confessed that the new design was high risk and it would take time to reach its potential but is the only way to surpass their competitors. In pre-season testing, the new engine was described as being "unreliable and down on power" by driver and double world champion Fernando Alonso. Honda conceded that the power unit was initially developing less power than the final iteration of last years unit as they were still understanding how to operate the new architecture, this combined with the new chassis regulations for 2017, which greatly increased down-force which concurrently increases drag, exacerbated the power deficit.As pre-season testing progressed, more issues were coming to light on the new engine which were mostly attributed to packaging constraints, the worst of which was the discovery of a major design flaw in the oil tank for the engine which was totally redesigned due to the engines new architecture placing the compressor where the oil tank was previously positioned and the packaging requirements enforced by McLaren left little to no space for a conventional tank. It was found that Honda underestimated the G-forces the new 2017 cars produced during cornering and that in combination with the need for the design to be ornate thanks to minimal available space was causing oil starvation issues under load which resulted in a lot of stoppages, hindering testing progress. The team was forced to overfill the tank to keep the car on track to complete the testing schedule, while Honda rushed to produce a temporary fix, this would later be shipped and make it in time for the second week of testing.. McLaren were disappointed with the performance of the new engine, fearing another season of poor results and despite receiving from Honda $100 million in funding and free engine supply, rumours began spiralling that McLaren were looking for any avenue to terminate the partnership and find a new engine supplier.
After a dismal start to the season where Fernando Alonso had only started and finished one race in the first seven, Honda was under immense pressure to accelerate their engine development and as such rushed forward a partial engine upgrade for one car which was delivered to Alonso at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix The revised Spec 3 unit showed improved performance when compared to the Spec 2 that Stoffel Vandoorne ran during practice sessions with Alonso showing a 20–25 km/h (12–16 mph) speed advantage while running similar downforce levels, however despite the clear improvement, in the interest of saving mileage it was not used in the race and this also afforded Honda the opportunity to inspect the unit for any potential reliability issues. Despite this, the team achieved its first points finish of the season in Azerbaijan with a 9th place. At the Hungarian Grand Prix, McLaren Honda felt they had a chance for a solid result as they believed their chassis was amongst the best on the grid and Hungary is not a particularly power dependent circuit. This was proved true when Fernando Alonso drove the fastest lap of the race and finished the race in a season best sixth, while Stoffel Vandoorne finished in tenth to give the team its only double points finish of the season.
The Honda power unit started to make good progress as the season progressed, allowing the team to begin to perform at a satisfactory level. For further development, Honda again requested a slight relaxation to the size zero packaging constraints for the power unit so they could increase in size, a request which was denied before the start of the 2017 season, this would provide a reliability and power increase, however the request was denied again by McLaren on grounds it would detract from their aerodynamic benefit which the team believed was their only real advantage. This outcome, the very public finger pointing at Honda for the poor results over the last three seasons and clear lack of communication between both companies who began to argue over any change had caused rifts to emerge between McLaren and Honda staff at various levels.  After Hungary, the team scored points in five more races to finish the season with 30 points and 9th place in the Constructors' Championship and despite promises of progress from Honda, in September 2017, McLaren announced it would be dissolving the partnership with Honda at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
In 2020, F1 Managing Director Ross Brawn reflected on McLaren Honda's woes as both companies are now experiencing a resurgence, he believed the relationship needed to end as the environment became too toxic to continue with and was almost necessary for McLaren to get another engine in the car that another team was winning races with for them to find their own flaws as opposed to putting all blame solely on Honda. It was this hardship that has given McLaren the understanding required to begin making a strong push towards the front in recent years and Honda in finding a partner which is a truly synergistic relationship in Red Bull.
2018: Toro Rosso
On 15 September 2017, it was announced that Honda would be the engine supplier to Toro Rosso for the 2018 season. As part of the deal, McLaren switched its engine supply to Renault. Honda stated that the goal was to become a top three engine manufacturer in partnership with Toro Rosso for 2018. The season started off well for Toro Rosso, with the Honda engine proving to be significantly more reliable compared to previous years. Team principal Franz Tost claimed "The Honda is not as bad as it was made out to be by previous partners, the unit is actually quite a special thing" and was actually surprised by the performance and the ultra compact assembly of the unit. In Bahrain, the team managed to finish in P4, Honda's best result since returning to the sport in 2015. As of 2018, Honda had significantly ramped up its F1 efforts, including greater funding, much improved facilities and a much more effective management structure. During the season, Honda's PU developments were fast and effective with the unit being a much more mature variant of the architecture first used with McLaren in 2017. Toro Rosso were more relaxed on the PU dimension requirements than McLaren, allowing Honda to increase the size of various components, some of which the change alone provided a power and reliability boost and despite the size increase, the Honda power unit was still the most compact on the field. At the Canadian Grand Prix, Honda debuted their Spec 2 unit which provided a notable increase in power while also furthering reliability. Red Bull who were running Renault engines for the season had the benefit of watching how their power unit compared to the Honda in the Toro Rosso. After seeing the performance gain of the new Honda and being impressed with their dedication and facilities, RBR announced the termination of their deal with Renault and the formation of a partnership with Honda for 2019 and 2020.
During the Russian Grand Prix practice sessions, Honda debuted their Spec 3 power unit which was delivered nearly a month earlier than targeted. Both Toro Rosso drivers reported a sizable increase in power throughout the rev range however the engine's driveability had suffered, claiming gearshifts felt clunky and the engine vibrated a lot more. Honda reported these issues were due to their gains being greater than expected and so surpassed estimated design limits of their architecture, they were confident however that they could improve the engine mappings and gearbox synchronisation to compensate. Due to this, Honda decided to revert to the Spec 2 power unit for the rest of the weekend while they carried out further optimisation for the engine and gearbox on the dyno back at Milton-Keynes with Toro Rosso engineers. Reports showed Honda had found 40 hp with the upgrade which exceeded targets. As promised, the final version of the Spec 3 power unit was ready for competition one week later at the Japanese Grand Prix. The new power unit showed great improvement in driveability and enabled Toro Rosso to make it to Q3 with both cars and finish a competitive 6th and 7th.
2019: Red Bull and Toro Rosso
Red Bull and Honda entered a two-year engine deal for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, thus ending Red Bull's 12-year engine partnership with Renault. The deal meant that Honda would be engine partner to two Formula One teams for the first time since 2008 (Honda and Super Aguri). Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said his team would have direct involvement in the design of the Power Unit package with Honda, allowing them to co-develop the chassis and engine to allow for perfect synergy, which would provide a significant packaging advantage for both seasons, however Horner did specify that 2020 was their target for World Championship contention using 2019 as a building year.
With 2019 testing under way, Honda spoke of the refined 2019 RA619H power unit to be used by both teams, bringing refinements to overall architecture allowing greater power capability for future upgrades and significantly improved packaging. After a successful first day of testing, Horner commented on the new Honda power unit as "a thing of beauty" and "what looks like a Swiss clock being attached to the back of the chassis" and probably the best setup they have seen. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen also commented on the power unit design mentioning how detailed it was and that "everything just fits together seamlessly, right down to their connectors, everything is designed nicely and well made, it just works, nothing looks rushed together". At the end of the test weeks, Honda F1 Technical Director, Toyoharu Tanabe mentioned that although they had a successful test, they will revise the shape of a few components on the power unit in time for the first race, believing Honda went slightly too aggressive with the packaging and there was room to ease it a little with no compromise to the chassis.
At the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, Red Bull's first competitive outing, saw them take 3rd place with Verstappen, Honda's first podium since returning to Formula One in 2015. Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff made comment regarding Red Bull's form saying "they look completely different from before, watching them pass Sebastian [Vettel] in turn 3, power was enormous, the combination of Red Bull and Honda this year does indeed look rather threatening". Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton also commented on the performance gain, "they definitely have a much better power unit this year, they are pretty much just as quick as us, the improvement is impressive".
At the Austrian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen gave Honda its first win of the V6 turbo-hybrid era, and the first Honda-powered win since Jenson Button won the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. Another win followed 2 races later in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. At the following race, the Hungarian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen took his career first and Honda's first pole position since Button took at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.
At the Italian Grand Prix, Honda ran its Spec 4 power unit with all four cars for the first time which brought significant changes to the combustion system, along with a brand new fuel composition from partner ExxonMobil. The engine proved to be a significant step up in performance with Tanabe labelling it a bigger step forward than the Spec 3 RA618H engine from 2018 at Toro Rosso, which at the time brought their largest performance increase since returning to F1 in 2015. This specification is widely regarded as what brought Honda up to or possibly beyond the same level as Mercedes with the two manufacturers advantage over each other swapping circuit to circuit. A notable event was Pierre Gasly and Hamilton's straight drag to the finish line at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which showed the Toro Rosso to slowly pull ahead to finish second, scoring Honda's first 1–2 finish since the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix after Verstappen took victory from pole position.
Verstappen finished the 2019 season third in the drivers' championship for the first time in his career, becoming the first Honda-powered driver since Button in 2004 to finish in the top three of the drivers' championship. Red Bull finished third in the constructors' championship, while Toro Rosso had their most successful season with two podiums and sixth place in the constructors' championship. Honda took reliability honours by finishing the season with the least on track failures of all four manufacturers by a noticeable margin and no retirements caused by engine failures in the entire season.
2020–2021: Red Bull and AlphaTauri
As 2020 testing got underway, both Honda-powered teams reported their best ever start to a year, having outstanding reliability allowing significant test progress to be made. For the first time, Tanabe expressed outward confidence in the progression they had made with the RA620H where previously, Honda would remain tight lipped and limit expectations. For this season the power unit benefits from improvements across the board, with reliability, power and efficiency all taking another measurable step forward from last years unit. Honda made mention of several new concepts being used for the first time with the 2020 power unit after extensive testing for two years on their dyno's back in Sakura, one being centred around "a new combustion idea". Media, teams and personnel in the paddock all made comments at the sound of the 2020 Honda power unit which is highly unique and unlike any of the other three manufacturers on the field. Honda ended the test feeling it to be the most successful one they have had since returning to the sport with zero terminal issues and only a single power unit used by each team for the two weeks. Honda reported the power unit to operate exactly as intended and although could not comment on where they believed they were in comparison to their opponent manufacturers, they believed they could start the 2020 season ready to mount a challenge for the title with Red Bull and finish at the front of the midfield with AlphaTauri.
During the 2020 season both Honda-powered teams took a Grand Prix victory as Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly won the Italian Grand Prix. This made Honda the first engine manufacturer to win with two different teams in the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
Formula One engine results
World Constructors' Championship wins
|Constructor||Season(s)||World Constructors' Championship wins|
Grand Prix results
Bold indicates current engine deal.
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