The Japanese engine-maker Honda and its new partner, Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso are facing a huge mountain to climb before the winter test period for the 2018 championship kicks off.
Honda ended its collaboration with the British team McLaren. While this cooperation brought huge success in the late ‘80s, the latest reincarnation did not bear fruit. After a period of three years, both parties agreed that ending the collaboration and moving on would be the best for both companies. McLaren committed to Renault’s power units while Honda will supply Toro Rosso with its double-hybrid product.
It will be Toro Rosso’s fourth different power unit. The team which was formed by Red Bull from the previous Minardi squad in 2006 used Cosworth in its first year, then changed to Ferrari for the next seven years, committing to Renault in the 2014 and 2015 championship, using then a year-old Ferrari power unit in 2016 before returning to the French engine manufacturer Renault for the 2017 season.
The Faenza-based team had a strained relationship with Renault, especially over the last third part of the championship. The team was dogged by a series of power unit-related reliability woes. Towards the end of the year, the argy-bargy, noisy quarreling became standard between the two. Renault argued that the energy owned team could not use its product properly while Toro Rosso stated that it has not changed the installation of the power unit.
Toro Rosso decided to swap the French engine to the Japanese one. Some believe that Red Bull wants to test and see what improvement Honda is capable of after its torrid return to the pinnacle of motorsport. The four-time world champion team may also change to Honda in the future if it is able to improve its power unit.
On 15 September 2017 it was announced that Toro Rosso would be using Honda power for the 2018 season. As teams usually start the design procedure of their next year’s cars in the spring, Toro Rosso faced a huge task to recalibrate its ideas and find the perfect installation for a car which has had its fundamentals by that point.
Toro Rosso technical boss James Key said its technical staff cannot start the Honda-powered 2018 car "from scratch" because the main aerodynamic surfaces of the car are already set in stone.
"It’s a very compact unit, but a different architecture to the Renault. It requires a lot of adaptation work," he told Speed Week.
Honda’s former F1 project leader Yusuke Hasegawa confirmed Key’s words.
"We are working quickly to swap teams. We have to prepare things before February, so it will be a very busy winter. The installation is the biggest job for us, to get the engine to fit to the chassis.
"We need to make many modifications, which is a big job, especially in this limited amount of time. Honda and Toro Rosso - from both sides - are doing a very good job. Development is ongoing on the power unit. It will remain the same power unit concept from this year, so we are able to use the current one as the starting point.
Hasegawa added that the Japanese manufacturer is keen on working with another team and starting a new relationship from scratch.
"We only know things as the McLaren-Honda way, but this will be another opportunity to expand our understanding and experience of a different way of working," the Japanese concluded.