The season of 2021 is the last season we will see Honda as a manufacturer, as they’re pulling out of Formula 1 in order to focus on “further introduction of carbon-free technologies”. Although they’re exiting the sport, their new power unit concept will be used by Red Bull in the future, after the takeover of the Honda technology and renaming it to Red Bull Powertrains, a move that was possible due to the engine development freeze agreement.
For this year (which was actually designed for 2022 but brought forward) Honda introduced a more aggressive packaging and made some key changes to push the sizing boundaries, something they tried to work with during the “size-zero engine” McLaren era, but has eventually proved unreliable and troublesome. The engine developed for McLaren in 2015 suffered many issues - problems with cooling as well as small turbo, that was unable to deliver any visible boost levels.
But with the 2021 Red Bull engine, Honda made massive improvements. The technical director of Honda F1 Toyoharu Tanabe said that they did everything they could in order to deliver an engine that will both boost power and packaging for the team from Milton Keynes. After the Bahrain GP Tanabe revealed a little more about the changes made to the power unit for this season.
As he said: “We reviewed every single part and the kind of concept of our previous PU, and then we designed this year’s PU as a new PU. Of course our desire to improve our performance in our PU means ICE and ERS. Also with the new design we made it a little bit more compact compared to previous PU. I think it has contributed to the car package and performance as well.”
He explained: “The camshaft position has been lowered, and we have lowered the engine height. It is a compact package. As a result, when the engine is installed in the chassis, the degree of freedom of the airflow flowing inside the car is increased. In other words, it has contributed to the aerodynamics.
He added: “It’s hard to come up with exact numbers as to how much downforce has increased and how much lap time has been improved, but [Adrian] Newey said that he was grateful for the power unit being more compact and it contributing to the new installation.”
Although it is hard to judge how reliable the engine will be throughout the entire season, it is a visible upgrade for Red Bull compared to last year, considering Max Verstappen was able to score pole position and subsequently finish 2nd in the first race in Bahrain, and his teammate, Checo Perez, who is still admittedly getting used to the car was able to get 5th place after starting from pitlane. Will 2021 be the year of Red Bull?