Honda parted ways with its former beloved partner McLaren at the end of 2017 after three miserable, woeful seasons which only brought frustration and disappointment at both sides.
The two companies joined forces in 1988 and stayed together until the end of 1992. Over this period of five championship campaigns, they claimed the title four times, showing commanding form, utter dominance and breaking records after records. However, the second incarnation of this cooperation ended in tears duo to incompetence of improving the situation. Fingers pointed at each other and both parts thought that time has arrived to move on.
Honda felt its reputation was getting harmed after the consistent streak of reliability woes. However, it did not want to pack up and leave the sport as it felt it still had the stamina to take on the fight against the leading giants of Formula One.
The story behind the legendary company
After competing successfully in motorcycle racing, Soichiro Honda decided to enter the pinnacle of motorsport. The company had some concerns about how to deal with the task of such scale, but its hunger was even bigger than its concern to become successful in Formula One.
The first F1 car was named Honda RA271 which was power by a 1.5 litre V12 engine. A year later, Richie Ginther joined the Honda ranks and brought the company its first ever F1 victory, winning the last race of the year, the Mexican Grand Prix.
The legendary John Surtees secured Honda’s second F1 win, racing the iconic, cigar-shaped RA300 which was equipped with a unique waterfall exhaust system and a 48-valve, V12 engine.
Honda bowed out of the sport at the end of 1968 and stayed away for 15 years.
1983, Honda was coaxed back to the sport by the latest technical evolution. The company returned to the scene as an engine supplier for the Spirit Racing team. Electronically-controlled fuel injection technology was introduced.
Keke Rosberg was victorious in the Honda-powered Williams at the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix which was the first win of the company in its new era. Two years later, Honda ruled the track with its RA166E V6 turbo engine, winning Constructors’ Championship with the Williams team.
In 1988, Honda’s winning streak changed into a higher gear. Honda won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship, powering McLaren’s cars for four years. That was despite to the ban of turbos in the ’89 season. After that conquest, Honda left Formula One in 1992.
Honda returned to F1 in 2000, supplying engines to BAR which it brought in 2005. Honda was running a factory F1 team for the first time in nearly half a century. Jenson Button was the most iconic driver of this period. With the global economic recession, Honda withdrew from the sport in 2009.
Formula One’s new era of double hybrid power units lured the iconic brand back to the sport. A year after the introduction of this complex power unit, Honda returned to school as a supplier of its former golden partner McLaren. The latest incarnation with the traditional and ultra-successful British racing team brought was less fruitful and after three years both parties agreed to part ways.
The new partnership
The Japanese company did not turn its back to the sport, but it started a brand-new collaboration with Toro Rosso. The team is eager to build on the relentless determination to succeed in Formule One.The paradigm shift
Former project leader Yusuke Hasegawa was moved off the F1 project and Honda conceded that his role was too much for one person. In the re-thought structure, there are more people taking on and sharing that role. Hasagawa was the successor of Yasuhisa Arai who headed Honda’s F1 project in 2015.
Toyoharu Tanabe became the Technical Director who is responsible for the power unit operation at the race track. Tanabe-san was formerly the Senior Manager of Honda Performance Development, working directly on the IndyCar programme. He was part of Honda’s F1 commitment in the ‘80s.
“It is a fresh start with Toro Rosso, so it was good timing to make changes in the operation,” told Yamamoto.
“One person was looking after trackside operations and the development side. As F1 is really complex, we felt after three years that it doesn’t really work, so we decided to divide the role between two people,” he is quoted as saying by autosport.com.
Yamamoto thinks Tanabe can propel Honda back to winning ways in the company’s battle at the pinnacle of motorsport.
“Tanabe’s style is more hands-on. He sits in on briefings and listens to the discussions. We think Tanabe’s style is more suited to our situation.”
In a desperate pursue for performance and better reliability, Honda followed an aggressive approach last year, bringing small updates in quick succession. They did not always produce the expected result and often resulted in taking grid penalties which led to insurmountable frustration at both sides of the partnership.
Toro Rosso also wants to give ensure that the communication and cooperation between the two companies work in harmony. The Franz Tost-led team made extra preparation during the winter to make the shift as smooth as possible.
“We had some lessons in Faenza focused on how to communicate with Japanese companies. I think this was useful to get an idea of the way of thinkg because it’s a completely different culture. These seminars had a really positive result. We have a really good relationship with Honda. We are kind of a works team. We’re the only team working with Honda.”
As for the mid-term goals, Yamamoto is realistic and steers clear of having bold expectations.
“We’re in a different situation compared to last year. McLaren has very experienced drivers, Toro Rosso has very young drivers. We have to move forward and we have to make progress.”