The current motorsport boss says a subtle change in Honda’s approach to Formula 1 from 2026 could help make it more consistent in the championship.
The Japanese company recently announced an official return to F1 with Aston Martin for 2026, as it originally intended to end the series altogether so it could focus on developing electric road cars.
The turn marks another step in the stop-and-run nature of Honda in Formula 1, as it has had four official eras to date – 1964-1968, 1983-92, 2000-08 and 2015-21.
Since 2022 it has been supplying engines to Team Red Bull as part of an arrangement made with the Milton Keynes team.
This history made it obvious to question whether or not Honda would stick around this time, especially amid the increasingly stiff competition up front from rival manufacturers.
However, the change in the way Honda’s Formula 1 activities were run last year, coming under the HRC banner alongside its motorcycle racing activities rather than directly under the road car division, was marked as very significant.
Speaking this week, HRC President Koji Watanabe said having everything under the motorsports division should help offer a clearer path for continued participation.
“I can’t promise that we won’t quit in the future, but we want to continue to do so for as long as possible,” he said.
So far, Formula 1 has taken the form of a ‘project’ within Honda R&D, but that means there is a problem with continuity.
Lawrence Stroll, Toshihiro Sanpei, President and CEO of Honda Motor Company, Koji Watanabe, President of Honda Racing, Martin Whitmarsh
“To do F1, a project leader had to be appointed, and if we stop F1, all the staff involved in it will disappear, as well as the budget.
“This time, we’re going to do Formula 1 inside HRC, which is a company that specializes in racing.
“HRC has obtained permission from its parent company to carry out technical research on future motorsport, which means that even if we pull out, we guarantee that people and budget never go to zero.
“In addition, the budget status is now transparent and communicated to Honda management. I believe this will help improve project longevity by helping management understand it.”
Aston Martin relationship
As well as HRC’s position helping to give Honda the foundations to stay in F1 for the long term, the manner in which its future partnership with Aston Martin is framed will also help.
Watanabe added that it was more important for Honda to have a say in matters with Aston Martin than it had so far in its final era with McLaren and Red Bull.
“Our rights and position as a PU supplier has been very weak until now,” he explained. “We spend a lot of money on development and manufacturing costs, but there was no income – or very little income.
Therefore, when the management of the company as a whole faced challenges, it was decided that we had no choice but to stop F1.
“So far, I haven’t been able to say anything to the team management about this, because the balance of income and expenses has been very bad.
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo: Jake Grant/Motorsports Pictures
“However, with this contract with Aston Martin, we have been able to increase our authority as a PU supplier even more than before. By improving this segment, we have taken a different direction.”
While the engine manufacturers do not directly earn any income from F1’s commercial rights, Watanabe believes there are revenue streams that Honda can exploit.
“For motorcycles, there is income from sponsorship and of course income from rental of machinery,” he said.
“Motorcycles have been selling products and parts for a long time, and they are definitely more balanced (financially) than the four wheels.
“Automobiles must also go in this direction. Marketing and product development must be done in different ways.”
One way Honda could get some return from its Formula 1 efforts is by providing power units to customers – an option that could be on the table for the new rules era from 2026.
Watanabe said: “Our contract with Aston Martin allows us to supply customers. It’s not like we’ll never do that, and we might do it if necessary. But at the beginning, we think it’s best to focus on supplying just one team.”
HRC’s general manager for F1, Tetsushi Kakuda, believes opening a deal with customers does present some logistical challenge.
“If it’s too much trouble, it’s better to supply to several teams because the more data you have, the more useful it is as an engineer,” he said.
“However, it is difficult to create a lot of new parts, and you have to have a certain number of human resources (in place). So, we want to focus on Aston Martin first.”