Last October Honda announced their decision of withdrawing from Formula One – the news struck like a thunderbolt, when both Red Bull and the newly re-branded AlphaTauri seemed to have found good sync with their power units.
The choice of the Japanese engine manufacturer, which returned to the championship in 2015 with McLaren, will leave Formula One with only three PU suppliers - Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault.
According to actual regulations, given that Renault has currently the least amount of customer teams, the French manufacturers would have been obliged to supply Red Bull and AlphaTauri with engines, unless the Milton Keynes and Italian-based teams were capable of convincing Mercedes or Ferrari to supply the PUs themselves.
At the moment the problem seems to have been resolved – Indeed, at the beginning of last week, a joint statement by Red Bull and Honda unveiled that the two parties have found an agreement to continue working together until 2025. More specifically, Red Bull has set up Red Bull Powertrains Limited, where they’ll continue to run Honda’s technology despite the Japanese opting to leave the series at the end of the 2021 campaign.
Did someone say FREEZE?! ✋ Introducing Red Bull Powertrains Limited - Powering the Team from 2022 💪 #ChargeOn 🤘— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 15, 2021
Red Bull had no intention to go back to Renault’s PU, moreover, F1 and FIA have decided to freeze power units developments for three years starting from next season, thus allowing the parties to enter in talks to find a deal, says Red Bull Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko
“We have been discussing this topic with Honda for some time and following the FIA’s decision to freeze power unit development from 2022, we could at last reach an agreement regarding the continued use of Honda’s hybrid power units.
“We are grateful for Honda’s collaboration in this regard and for helping to ensure that both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri continue to have competitive power units".
Red Bull and AlphaTauri will continue to race with Honda technology until the end of 2024. Now that both teams have secured their engine for the next four years, Honda technical director Toyoharu Tanabe talks about the Japanese’s expectations for their last year on the grid.
“Of course this is Honda’s last year in Formula 1 and in order to finish on a high note, everyone in Sakura and Milton Keynes is very determined and we feel we have prepared well for the coming season in conjunction with Scuderia AlphaTauri over the winter so far. We won’t know for sure how good a job we have done until we hit the track, but so far preparation has gone smoothly.”
"Honda is pleased that, following our decision to leave Formula 1 at the end of 2021, we have been able to reach an agreement for the two Red Bull-owned teams to use our F1 PU technology in F1 after 2021."#PoweredByHonda pic.twitter.com/dk4AlW2U0q— Honda Racing F1 (@HondaRacingF1) February 15, 2021
Tanabe confirms that the whole Honda team will do their best to leave Formula One with a fulfilling great season; moreover, he believes that the decision to extend their relationship with Red Bull and AlphaTauri was the “right thing to do” – despite them leaving the sport.
“I think it is the right thing for Honda to do, considering our relationship with Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing, and how much Honda has benefited from those partnerships. It also reflects the importance of our role and history, as part of the world of Formula 1 over several decades.
“So, I am glad that Honda has been able to help the two teams and the sport in this way.”
One of the major issues that impeded Red Bull (and AlphaTauri) from reaching podiums in several races, was the lack of reliability of the Honda PU. However, Tanabe confirms that during the winter they have seen encouraging results on the dyno and they also made significant adjustments – precisely to enhance power and reliability.
“After Honda returned to F1 in 2015, we endured some very difficult times, but we also learned a lot and our good reliability last year is down to the lessons learnt. Performance and reliability are always a very subtle balancing act and we hope to maintain that balance this year. We expect to know more once we have run on track, after which we can just make operational changes in terms of how we run the PU.
“On the dyno the numbers we have seen match what we expected. Let’s see how competitive we can be on track in the actual races.
“In order to improve power and reliability, we have made modifications to the ICE, turbine and ERS. This is our third year with Scuderia AlphaTauri and in order to improve as a whole, we have also improved the installation and packaging of the entire PU.”
The changes that will be introduced to the 2021 power units were originally planned for 2022 – however, as Tanabe recounts, the pandemic, all the challenges posed by lockdowns, F1 regulations freeze, and, ultimately, Honda choice to leave the sport, have made them reassess their intentions.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were going to introduce a new PU for this year, however, given all the difficulties and restrictions because of the long F1 shutdown, combined with the European lockdown and delay in parts supply, we had decided to postpone it to 2022. However, taking into account the decision announced in October 2020, that Honda would leave the sport at the end of 2021, we reassessed the situation and changed our plan again to reintroduce it in 2021. It was very tight timing to make this change, but we managed to bring forward the development and preparation programme.
“At Honda, we felt that we really wanted to use all our technical know-how before leaving the sport".
As per his expectations for the new season, Tanabe hopes AlphaTauri will be able of beating last year’s incredible results – which, among other things, lead AlphaTauri to score their first victory in 12 years with Pierre Gasly in Monza.
“Last year the mid-field competition was tougher than in previous years and a very small performance gap could make a big difference in the results. It was great that Pierre Gasly was able to win in Monza and overall, we had a great year with Scuderia AlphaTauri.
“Our rivals are also developing and so this will be another year of close competition, but we are sure that Honda and Scuderia AlphaTauri have progressed over our three years together and we are now truly one team, strong and united. It would be great if we can do even better in our final year together.”
Lastly, he commented on the on-boarding of the rookie Tsunoda to the team, who will be the first Japanese driver on the grid since Kamui Kobyashi seven years ago. The entire Japanese country will root for him – which could possibly put a great deal of pressure on the young talent – yet, Honda will continue to do all they can to support him, as they did over the last few years.
“We are very glad that a long-time Honda-supported driver will make his F1 debut with Scuderia AlphaTauri. I expect he may encounter situations and difficulties he has never experienced before. However, he has adapted really quickly in F3 and F2 and progressed well, therefore I believe he will learn quickly and improve race by race in Formula 1. He will be the centre of a lot of attention, especially from Japan, which will possibly be extra pressure for him, but I hope he continues with his aggressive style of racing in F1 as well. Honda will do all it can to support him.”