Honda hasn’t darkened Formula 1’s doorstep since 2008 but that is set to change next year when the Japanese automaker returns as an engine…er…power unit supplier to McLaren.
With an exclusive for 2015, Honda has told the official F1 website that it will consider supplying other teams in 2016 and beyond should anyone be interested. Honda’s motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai said:
“Yes, in 2015 we don’t have the plan to supply any team other than McLaren. In 2016 or after, if some teams or partners ask us to supply them too, we will take a look at that situation. But even in 2016 McLaren will be our main partner in F1. And even if we supply other teams from 2016 onwards our main focus will always be to win – to make the engine better through more data – and not necessarily to look at a return on investment. If you win that comes automatically.”
While they may supply other teams, Honda says that McLaren will still remain their prime partner and focus. While they are starting fresh, one has to suspect they’ve taken a look at the Mercedes lump in the back of 2014’s McLaren and got a few bullet points written down. Perhaps that’s why they plan on no testing until January?
“In the next couple of weeks we will run simulations and at the beginning of next year we will start to run on the track – very likely at Jerez. That will very likely be the first time to show the whole car, the Honda engine and the McLaren chassis – the Honda McLaren.
Right now there are no plans to collect data during the rest of 2014. Jerez will be the first time.”
That’s cutting it close given the challenges of making a power unit on par with the Mercedes. The other key note here could be the fact that the engines are, technically speaking, frozen in their development but that freeze allows for performance upgrades at the end of the 2014 season. Honda represents the first real ability to come in with a clean slate and no frozen specification that they have to try and nurse to front-row performance.
Ferrari and Renault will have to manipulate their existing power units but complete re-do’s are not allowed. Many suggest that this baked-in advantage that Mercedes has will not be overcome by Ferrari and Renault but what about Honda? They’ve seen the inner workings of the Mercedes lump and could come out swinging.
Having said that, Arai-san feels differently:
“I think that the two other engine suppliers will recover next season – I strongly believe that. And we will be there too.”
IF that’s the case, then we could see some level of equilibrium but Ferrari has called for unlocking the freeze in order to allow them, as well as Renault, to close the performance gap to Mercedes in order to make F1 more competitive. Honda, perhaps, has more faith in Renault and Ferrari than they do.
No doubt Lotus, Force India, Williams, Caterham and Marussia will be watching McLaren closely in 2015 to see if Honda might be an option for them should they take the fight to Mercedes straight out of the box.