As I’m sure you’re aware, Honda are making an awkward exit from Formula One at the end of 2021, after powering the Red Bull, Alpha Tauri and Mclaren cars over the last few years. But did you know that this is actually their fourth time leaving F1? Here’s a brief look at the long and storied history of Honda in F1, starting all the way back in 1964…
When Honda entered the sport in ‘64, they were the first Asian team to ever enter the sport. In an era where the majority of the grid were rich, and had bought a car to drive it themselves, Honda joined Brabham, Cooper and Lotus in running a car they’d made themselves. Ronnie Bucknum drove the car at three races that year, finishing a best of 13th at the terrifying Nurburgring Nordschleife in their first race. The next year they would get their first win, and the only one that year that didn’t go to a British driver. In ‘67 they powered John Surtees to fourth in the Championship. The following year however, was less successful. After putting Jo Schlesser in the car for the first time at the French Grand Prix, he spun off the track, crashed, and died. He was one of five drivers to die in 1968, and Honda left the sport at the end of the year.
A return to the sport happened in 1983, supplying engines for the solo entry of Spirit, and for Williams for the last race of the season. The partnership with Williams continued until 1987, a year when they also provided engines for the Lotus of Satoru Nakajima, the first Japanese driver to take part in the sport in a decade. In those 5 years with Williams, they won 23 races and two constructors championships and a drivers championship.
Their relationship with Mclaren began in ‘88 and Ayrton Senna would win them a Japanese Grand Prix for the first time that year, on his way to his first championship. The Mclaren-Honda relationship lasted all through the years of the Senna-Prost feud, and powered the famous Marlboro Mclarens to four straight double championships. 1992 marked the second exit of Honda from F1, although they maintained a close relationship with Mugen, who provided engines for a variety of teams until Honda took over their Jordan contract in 2001.
Honda’s fortunes in the 2000s were very closely linked to those of Takuma Sato. They began backing him in 1998, after he won the Japanese National Karting Championship, and they helped him to his first seat in F1 at Jordan in 2002. When they dropped that contract at the end of 2002, they moved Sato to the BAR team they had been making engines for since 2000, and persuaded the team to give him the drive over Jacques Villeneuve at the Japanese GP. BAR finished second in 2004, with 11 podiums in total.
From 2006-2008, Honda took full control of BAR as a constructor, and supplied engines for their de facto B team, Super Aguri. In that period, Button won the team the only victory they would manage in their third stint in F1. In 2008, when the economic bubble burst, Honda made a sudden exit from F1, leading to the one-season-only Brawn takeover, and one of the best underdog stories ever.
Honda though, missed out on all of that. Instead, their most recent effort will end this year, as they try to power the Red Bull to a title they haven’t seen since 1991. The Japanese team has been the source of many moments throughout the years, and it will be a shame to see them go.
-- Archived from 15/02/2021 --