Honda Power Returns to Formula 1 in 2015

Senna McLaren

Ayrton Senna driving the McLaren MP 4/4. Photos from McLaren

Honda will once again return to Formula 1 in 2015, producing engines and a KERS system for McLaren after a 7-year absence from the world’s most popular form of motorsport. The decision was apparently driven by the 2014 F1 rule changes, chief of which is the requirement for downsized, 1.6L turbocharged V6 engines. As the cars purchased by consumers are increasingly being downsized and turbocharged as a means to increase efficiency, Honda believes it can utilize knowledge gained in the series to trickle down to its normal cars.

As Nic noted last month, as a side effect to tight FIA rules, Formula 1 cars are moving further and further away from their roadgoing counterparts. Systems regulated by computers, like ABS, traction control, and AWD are the most obvious examples of tech banned in F1 that come standard on an $18,000 Subaru, but Honda is banking on its reentry to the series to increase its experience with alternate power solutions. In sharp contrast to virtually every other automaker, Honda does not currently produce a single model across the Honda or Acura lineup powered by a turbocharged engine. It does, however, provide 2.2L turbocharged V6s for use in the IndyCar series.

Honda has long nurtured an on-again, off-again relationship with the series. Its most recent exit at the very end of the 2008 calendar year was driven by sub par team performance and ballooning staff costs amid the 2008 financial crisis. Honda’s Formula 1 team abruptly folded and was sold to their team principal, Ross Brawn, who ran the team for the 2009 season under his own name before the team was bought by Mercedes. Brawn remains team principal of the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team.

Attempting  to convince Mercedes not to use its own engines would have been impossible, so Honda will instead supply McLaren with the new motor, as well as a KERS system of its own design. The 2015 season will mark the first time in 20 years that the team’s car will not be powered by Mercedes, a partnership that began in 1995 with the McLaren MP4/10. That partnership was celebrated by the creation of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a GT co-developed by Mercedes and McLaren with an AMG engine.

Honda does have a previous history with McLaren, however, as McLaren first used a Honda-sourced engine during the 1988 F1 season. The 1.5L turbo-6 powered the legendary MP4/4 designed by Steve Nichols and Gordon Murray, and was driven by McLaren teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. The team dominated the series between 1998 and 1991 before slipping to second place behind Williams in 1992, the last time McLaren utilized a Honda engine.

Honda RA108

The RA108 is the car Honda’s F1 team ever raced

Running as a constructor, Honda’s only contemporary competitive season was during its return in 2006, in which the team placed 4th in the Constructors’ Championship. The engines have by themselves have a better reputation, especially during the late ’80s to early ’90s, and with moderate success with BAR in the 2000s. McLaren is a bit off its game right now following the departure of front-runner Lewis Hamilton, so it will be interesting to see whether or not Honda’s involvement can set the famed racing team back on its right course.

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About Cameron Rogers

Cameron Rogers is the founder and lead writer at Downshift Autos, the only automotive blog on the Internet*. Born in the back of an AMC Gremlin, Cameron vowed to never let this extraordinarily embarrassing detail define him, so help him God. He drives a GTI but absolutely will not shut up about it if somebody asks. He will not hesitate to let people know that no, they shouldn't get a Porsche 911 when a Morgan 3 Wheeler is so obviously the superior choice. He is obsessed with the seats of a Carrera GT and the steering wheel of a Fisker Karma. He once sat in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S, his greatest accomplishment to date. He is just now realizing that writing an autobiography, however miniscule, in the third person is odd and unnerving. *As of this writing, Cameron has been informed that there are, in fact, many websites and blogs centered around cars and car culture. He regrets his grievous error.

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