How a subtle change could make Honda a more permanent fixture in F1

How a subtle change could make Honda a more permanent fixture in F1

An under-the-radar change to Honda’s approach to Formula 1 from 2026 could help make it a more permanent fixture in the championship, its current motorsport boss has said.

The Japanese manufacturer recently announced an official return to F1 with Aston Martin for 2026, having originally intended to stop the series entirely so it could focus on developing an electric road car.

The U-turn marks another step in Honda’s stop-start nature in F1, which it has had four official seasons with so far – 1964-68, 1983-92, 2000-08 and 2015-21.

From 2022, it has supplied engines to the Red Bull team as part of an arrangement it made with the Milton Keynes-based squad.

That history has made it clear to question whether Honda will survive this time, especially amid increasingly stiff competition up front from rival manufacturers.

However, a change in the way Honda’s F1 activities were managed last year, with it coming under the HRC banner alongside its motorcycle racing activities instead of directly under the road car division, was selected as relatively significant.

Speaking this week, HRC president Koji Watanabe said having everything under one motorsport division should help give it a clearer path to continued participation.

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“I can’t promise that we will never give up for the future, but we want to continue this as long as possible,” he said.

“Until now, F1 has had the form of a ‘project’ within Honda R&D, but that means there is a continuity problem.

Lawrence Stroll, Toshihiro Sanbe,,President and CEO Honda Motor,Koji Watanabe, President of Honda Racing Corporation,,Martin Whitmarsh

Photo by: / Japan

“To do F1, a project leader has to be appointed and, if we stop F1, then all the staff involved in it, as well as the budget, will disappear.

“This time, we’re going to do F1 within HRC, which is a company that specializes in racing.

“HRC has been given permission by the parent company to carry out technical research on future motorsports which means that, even if we stop, we guarantee that the people and the budget will never be zero.

“In addition, the state of the budget is now clear and reported to Honda management. I think this will help improve the longevity of the project by helping management understand.”

Aston Martin relationship

As well as HRC’s situation helping to give Honda the foundations needed to stay in F1 for the long term, the way it is structured will also help Aston Martin’s future.

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Watanabe added that it was important for Honda to have more of a say in things with Aston Martin than it has so far in its latest stint with McLaren and Red Bull.

“Our rights and status as a PU supplier are very weak at the moment,” he explained. We spend a lot of money in terms of development and manufacturing costs, but there is no profit – or very little profit.

“Therefore, when the management of the company as a whole faced the challenges, it was decided that we had no choice but to stop F1.

“Until now, I have not been able to say anything to the team management about it, because the balance of income and expenditure is very bad.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

“However, with this contract with Aston Martin, we have increased our authority as a PU supplier even more than before. By improving that part, we have moved in a different direction.”

While engine manufacturers don’t directly earn any of F1’s commercial rights revenue, Watanabe thinks there are revenue streams that Honda can take advantage of.

“With motorcycles, there is income from sponsorship and, of course, income from renting machines,” he said.

“Motorcycles have been selling products and parts for a long time, and this is definitely more [financially] balance than four wheels.

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“Cars should also go in that direction. Marketing and product development should be done in different ways.”

One way Honda could get back into its F1 efforts is by supplying customer power units – an option that could be on the table for the new rules era from 2026.

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Watanabe said: “Our contract with Aston Martin allows for customer supply. It’s not like we won’t do it, and we can do it if necessary. But in the beginning, we think it’s better to focus for providing only one team.”

Tetsushi Kakuda, HRC’s general manager of F1, thinks that opening a customer deal poses some logistical challenges.

“If there are multiple problems, it’s better to supply multiple teams because the more data you have, the more helpful it is as an engineer,” he said.

“However, it is difficult to create many new parts, and you need to have a certain number of human resources [in place]. Therefore, we want to concentrate on Aston Martin first.”

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