Mostly everyone agrees that the return of Honda to Formula One in 2015 is a good thing. After the departure of Toyota, the inclusion of a Japanese manufacturer is a shot-in-the-arm (or a distraction at least) for a sport currently beleaguered by a sketchy Concorde agreement and perceived apocryphal racing. Just how Honda will perform from the outset however is open to… Well interpretation.
Whilst speaking with an un-named engine supplier earlier in the year, they alluded to the fact that should Honda come on board, they will more or less be up to speed with their competitors – perhaps even more than predicted…
“In my personal opinion if you look at Honda, they know motorsport and if they are to go with McLaren they could have a lot of useful information. For sure they will be a good competitor”.
This “useful information” comes directly from Honda’s competitors – more directly, Mercedes. McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale’s recently commented to BBC Sport that: “We are very careful about protecting our partners’ interests and property.”
Perhaps, but regardless of what confidentiality agreements McLaren have in place with Mercedes, information regarding engine mapping, torque curves etc…, cannot be ‘unlearned’ without performing a complete staff purge during the 2014 season.
Quite obviously that’s not going to happen and Honda will (whether its competitors like it or not) inevitably have a head start on which to refine their power units. Such an advantage may seem rudimentary, but considering this same information can be gathered throughout the 2014 racing season (which Honda won’t partake in), Honda also have the added advantage of testing next year without vexing limitations such as rules – quite a luxury if you can use it.
But it gets potentially even better for Honda. With Torro Rosso looking at a switch to Renault-powered units next year, the limit on engine supply that Renault were looking at capping as early as February 2013 could be stretched. In so doing, this could even force teams such as Lotus F1 Team to look elsewhere for a cheaper engine deal (given the McLaren/Honda deal is not exclusive) and with it bolster a sweet marketing angle that ties in with their retro black & gold design. If that happens then Honda will have access to information from not one, but two engine manufacturers; the gamble of returning to Formula One is starting to look a little more educated.
If Lotus jumps ship, then why not others? Smaller teams like Caterham and Williams run their engines slightly differently to their more well-funded opposition purely because financial constraints forced them into quarrying other avenues of performance. As such teams might find new areas they can work on and if it’s of benefit to the manufacturer then it will be passed on to all teams carrying that engine badge. If not it stays with the team – conceivably another dossier for Honda to peruse. The days of Spygate seem quite quaint indeed.
The real hurdle facing Honda is more a question of refining engine installation; where they are going to place the power unit and package it? We certainly won’t see the kind of seamless ‘bolt-on’ scenario that worked so affectively for the Brawn GP team in 2009, but don’t be surprised to see a Honda-powered team come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic