To say that Honda has a great 2017 F1 season is an overstatement unlike any other. In fact it’s the craziest most ridiculous season of Formula 1 I ever watched. The change of Honda F1 boss from Yasuhisa Arai to Yusuke Hasegawa last year doesn’t deliver the performance improvement whatsoever. Honda engine performance was so bad, with plenty of race failures, Fernando Alonso even slow down on purpose in the Belgian GP. If the idea is to spite the Honda team, he did it with aplomb.
McLaren bosses made it very public they are not happy with Honda engine. Despite countless, countless, well actually some statement from Honda admitting they are failing but vow for improvements, McLaren didn’t want any of it since they considered the team as a first tier and not a bottom dweller. The thing is, Mclaren-Honda relationship is not skin deep, it goes way deeper. Honda is the one who actually pays for Fernando Alonso salary, one of the most expensive F1 driver in the grid. Honda also bears part of the brunt of financing the McLaren team. Honda is more than just an engine supplier.
So why Honda engine suffers? Well, because F1 truly is the pinnacle of motorsport racing, with hugely complex power unit. Not just an engine, F1 power unit consists of internal combustion engine with a turbocharger and both a kinetic and heat reclamation technology to produce power. The engineering adage speaks true, the more things you add up the more things going to explode. So what gives, Honda is an engineering company, what happened in the development part? F1 enforced a “fairness clause”, means that engine development is not actually free, it has to be done in a certain time period and tested during race season. Even testing the engine on a moving chassis outside the allocated time period is forbidden. Honda engineers have a very limited experience with producing high performance engines due to constantly going in and out of F1, and having ZERO high performance car in the market for almost a decade after the first generation NSX ends its production in 2004. Compared to Ferrari, Mercedes, even McLaren to some extent, their engineers are head deep in experience making the best of performance engines.
Since McLaren bosses are aware that brand image is an expensive thing to lost, more so than Honda funding, they finally cut ties with Honda and chose the third best option to partner with Renault for their engine. So why Renault oh so mighty McLaren? Because Fernando Alonso just wanted out from the Honda engine so bad, they will settle for anything but Honda. Fernando Alonso is the key figure here. He is arguably one of the best driver, and like any band front runner, the singer sometimes makes or break the band. Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain comes to mind. Alonso stipulates if he’s staying in McLaren, the engine supplier needs to be changed, fast. Since Ferrari and Mercedes are not willing to supply another team, the option goes to Renault. Sure Red Bull Racing currently stands in third constructor’s championship is powered by a Renault engine, however Toro Rosso, and even the factory Renault team that uses the Renault engine is having a bad time with engine problems as well.
But a deal has been made, and starting 2018, Honda will part ways with McLaren. It’s a sad day remembering that McLaren-Honda partnership in Aryton Senna time was considered legendary.
So welcoming Toro Rosso! Eh… It’s weird that Honda now backing up a satellite team from previously backing up one of the prestigious racing team in the field. Toro Rosso is Red Bull satellite team, a junior team where potential drivers “trains” in the field and if deemed potential goes up the food chain and get a seat on the Red Bull F1 car. It looks bad at first, relegated to a satellite team with slimmer chance of winning due to having a potential but not experienced drivers…. But you know what… Truth sometimes stranger than fiction.
In a twist worthy of any latin America telenovela, Renault actually shutters the engine deal for Red Bull Racing in 2018! With Mercedes and Ferrari only commits to existing team (hence McLaren-Renault deal), Honda might just have to supply Red Bull team with an engine in 2019! On the early hours of Toro Rosso deals, a lot of comments goes to Honda that they can breathe a sigh of relief, to improve their engines with Toro Rosso and fails in leisure without the pressure of top tier team. Now with this news, it has come to mind that the race never let up, Honda needs to improve, and improve a whole God damn lot, if they want to return to supplying the top team.
So Yusuke Hasegawa-san, you have 2 years to improve Honda F1 power unit and 2 years is a lot. God speed, and lose that eastern attitude, win at all cost.