Honda's racing arm HRC signs deal to supply factory engines to Aston Martin F1
By John Howell / Wednesday, 24 May 2023 / Loading comments
Honda is a funny one. Its participation in F1 in recent years is a little like watching someone contemplating a swim in the biting North Sea: a toe in, a toe out, a toe in again, then all in, then all out again… And it’s just announced it’s all in again for 2026, as an engine supplier to Aston Martin.
Honda’s last F1 ‘all in’ was with Red Bull Racing, of course, with which it won the driver’s championship in 2021. That was one of the most exciting seasons ever, as Verstappen and Hamilton’s tug of war ebbed and flowed right down to the last race and, very nearly, the last corner of the season. By that stage, Honda had already announced its intention to withdraw as an engine supplier, but softened again and kept a toe in the following year by supporting Red Bull’s 2022 1.6-litre hybrid motor. This year Honda’s racing badge, HRC, is back on the Red Bull’s, so the company’s sort of in again, even now.
But 2026 will be the next big push for HRC. That’s when F1’s engine regulations are due for their next revolution. The 2026 cars will still use hybrid power, but instead of the bulk of that coming from the ICE side – currently that accounts for around 700hp of the power unit’s combined 900hp total – the 2026 power units will require a 50:50 split between petrol and electric. That, of course, is all about F1 being seen to be sustainable as it strives to be carbon neutral by 2030. And on that point, the ICEs will also be running on ‘green’ synthetic fuel under the new regulations.
This is why Honda says it’s decided to go all in again. The reason it cited for its last departure was to focus on developing its electric powertrains rather than seen to be faffing about with old technology. But with 50 per cent of F1’s power coming from electricity from 2026, HRC has decided that’s enough of a valuable gain in transferrable R&D – to its road cars – and F1’s green dream ties in with Honda’s environmentally friendly image.
This was confirmed by Toshihiro Mibe, Global CEO of Honda, who said, “One of the key reasons for our decision to take up the new challenge in F1 is that the world’s pinnacle form of racing is striving to become a sustainable racing series, which is in line with the direction Honda is aiming toward carbon neutrality, and it will become a platform which will facilitate the development of our electrification technologies”.
For Aston Martin, it’s yet another signal of Lawrence Stroll’s commitment to building a championship-winning team. For a start, HRC wouldn’t be partnering with Aston if it weren’t confident about the operation’s ability to produce a competitive chassis – especially as HRC is currently leading this year’s driver’s and constructor’s titles with Red Bull.
Since buying the Silverstone-based team (which was originally Jordan F1) Stroll has expanded the factory, the staff and invested in a new wind tunnel. And this year is the first fruit of that investment. The current AMR23 was fast in pre-season testing and has followed that up in racing. At times this year it has been the second-fastest car on the grid, behind the (so far) all-conquering, Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB19.
Concerning the deal, Stroll said, “I would like to welcome Honda and HRC to the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team. We share a mutual drive, determination, and relentless ambition to succeed on track. Honda is a global titan and its success in motorsport is longstanding and incredibly impressive. I would like to thank Mr. Mibe and Mr. Watanabe, and the whole team at HRC as we embark on this exciting future together from 2026”.
Aston Martin is currently second in the driver’s championship, which is a remarkable turnaround from last year and highly impressive. It puts them two places ahead of Ferrari and ahead of the factory Mercedes team, of which Aston Martin is currently a customer. The AMR23 has the same Mercedes power unit as the official Mercedes cars, yet in being ahead in the standings that’s proof that Aston’s built a better, quicker car on a smaller budget.
Stroll also brought Fernando Alonso in this year as his number one driver, partnering his son, Lance. Despite approaching 42-years old, Alonso is as fast as ever – proved by him sitting in third place in the Driver’s championship, behind Verstappen and Red Bull’s second driver, Sergio Perez. Whether Alonso’s age will have caught up with him by 2026, who knows – but if he’s still there then, when HRC and Aston combine, it would be ironic.
Alonso was famously highly critical of Honda’s original hybrid engine when it returned (all in) with McLaren in 2015. To be fair, the engine was down on power and blew up regularly and spectacularly, but some of Alonso’s comments were particularly pernicious. One would imagine they still linger in the memories of HRC’s top dawgs.
That would certainly add another exciting twist in the Honda-Aston Martin story. One thing is for sure, though, Honda has a long history of success in F1 up to and including the present day, so there’s good reason to believe it will be successful come 2026. That would mean Aston Martin would be successful, too, and what F1 needs, as ever, is more teams able to fight for wins and championships. So this is good news all round.
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