F1 2022, Honda, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Alpine, Otmar Szafnauer, Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
Timing is everything in Formula 1, but over the past few decades Honda have proven they have a poor sense of opportunity.
Who could forget his decision to forfeit at the end of the 2008 season? Years of underperformance meant the F1 program was easy to cut at the height of the global financial crisis, but the 2009 car the team had worked on – and spent on – proved to be a real weapon and has swept the drivers’ and constructors’ title. the appearance of Brawn GP.
The Japanese brand made a comeback as a powertrain supplier in 2015, and after a long, trying and sometimes humiliating journey, it finally started winning races in 2019.
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In 2020 he announced he was retiring from F1 again, and in 2021 Max Verstappen won the title with a Honda engine in the back of his car – and that same now unbranded block is topping the charts. two title charts this season.
But there are signs that Honda could still change its mind. A group of senior executives were at the Austrian Grand Prix, the same week the sport was set to agree new engine rules for 2026, and under the scrutiny of a new CEO the company is not ruling out a return this decade.
How much will F1 have changed by the time it makes another comeback? Alpine hopes at least a little. The French team continue to bolster their resources despite the budget cap being put in place as they attempt to reverse years of their little-successful small-spend strategy.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton says he can see team-mate George Russell as a possible successor in charge of Mercedes, with the young Briton leading his team-mate in the drivers’ standings for a 10th consecutive round.
HONDA LEAVES DOOR INTERVIEWED FOR FIFTH F1 RETURN
Honda engines lead the constructors’ championship, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the leaderboard.
Officially, Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri are powered by Red Bull powertrains, but in reality they are Honda engines built and serviced in Sakura, Japan.
It is a customer agreement that Red Bull successfully negotiated to preserve its status as a new engine manufacturer in order to obtain development concessions under the new rules due in 2026, when it will partner with Porsche.
The only evidence of this is the tiny Honda Racing Corporation logo on the cars engine hood – a far cry from the prominent branding of years past.
Officially, Honda pulled out at the end of 2021 to devote its F1 resources to improving the environmental credentials of the automotive side of its business – no doubt a laudable goal.
But the combination of F1’s growing popularity, Honda’s powertrain status as a class leader and F1’s ambitions to be carbon neutral by 2030 – including via technologies it hopes be directly transferable to the world of mobility – clearly caught the attention of the Japanese brand.
“It’s not a closed door,” Honda Racing Corporation CEO Koji Watanabe told the F1 website. “I understand that F1 is discussing to decide the regulations for 2026, and the direction is certainly carbon neutrality. It’s the same direction as us. It’s probably also a good opportunity to study carbon neutrality in F1 , so it’s not a closed door.”
But he admitted it was too early to say Honda was considering a return to F1.
“Of course, we have just finished and concluded our activities [in F1]so nothing [has been] discussed within the Honda company about the 2026 season. So no plan,” he said.
It would be quite a turnaround, but the decision to step down was made at the time of another CEO, and 2021-appointed Toshihiro Mibe is believed to be more inclined to ensure Honda gets a bit more acclaim its technology deserves. .
But how to do it?
The new engine rules, likely to be a simplified version of the current regulations, are due in 2026 and present a neat path back. But with Red Bull set to join forces with Porsche, a new alliance would have to be forged – or a team bought outright to take charge of its own destiny.
“If we want to come back to F1 in 2026, we probably have to decide within one to one and a half years,” Watanabe said.
These are big decisions to be made in a short period of time, but it would be very important for Honda to make them and secure a fifth return to F1.
ALPINE TO FINALLY FACE LARGE TEAMS ON PERSONNEL
Renault returned to Formula 1 in 2016 intent on taking on the sport’s heavyweights on a fraction of the staff and the budget. Obviously, this plan did not work.
Its five-year league plan has been allocated less than 70% of the budget of the biggest teams. Such dramatic underuse was never going to cut it.
This is part of the reason why the team hit a plateau in the Championship in 2018 and were unable to take full advantage of this year’s rule changes.
It also explains why Cyril Abiteboul and Jérôme Stoll, the team’s manager and chairman respectively, left the sport at the end of 2020, after which it was relaunched as Alpine and reset.
Now, with the budget cap in place preventing teams from overspending, and with the sport’s commercial framework stable, Alpine was finally able to target the bigger teams.
Capital works at Enstone are underway and the size of staff continues to increase.
Before the pandemic, the workforce was around 700 people. This year it’s around 850, and the team wants to increase that number by nearly 100 more.
Mercedes and Ferrari employed more than 1,000 people before the budget cap; today, that number is thought to be in the 900s.
“There is still an element of expansion and investment and we are committed to that,” Szafnauer said. the race.
“We plan to hire another 75 people, we are around 850 here.
“We have to be the size of the big teams if we want to fight with the big teams.
“We’ve had great success recruiting, as well as expanding the site here as well. And it was recently approved.
“I think the work will start right around the corner from our house very soon.”
The team is now talking about aiming for championships by the middle of the decade, and Fernando Alonso would at least seem to have enough confidence that the team is heading in the right direction to suggest he would like to stick around for at least two more seasons. to put it in this window.
Money and personnel alone may not conjure up championships, but it certainly gives the team far more power over its destiny than it has had since returning to the sport.
HAMILTON PRAISE RUSSELL’S CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL
Lewis Hamilton says his new team-mate George Russell can lead Mercedes to Championship success once he retires from the sport.
Russell has long been highly rated in the Mercedes family, having been a junior driver for back-to-back GP3 and Formula 2 rookie titles before joining Williams on a three-year apprenticeship.
Solid training in lackluster machinery convinced the team to replace him with Valtteri Bottas this season, and the 24-year-old Briton didn’t disappoint. He took three podium places and has yet to finish a Grand Prix below fifth place.
What’s more, he’s led Hamilton in the standings since the second round of the championship – an impressive feat, although his team-mate’s bad luck contributed to the race.
Speaking in Austria, Hamilton hailed Russell’s work for Mercedes during a surprisingly difficult year for the previously dominant team.
“It’s been nice,” he said. “We worked incredibly well together. George was super positive, had a positive impact on the working environment.
“It’s generally been a real pleasure to work with him and it’s great to see his success.
“He did such a good job, got some great points for the team and he’s going to keep improving – he’s going to keep improving for a long time.”
Seven-time champion Hamilton even confessed that he was so impressed with Russell’s work that he was convinced his junior teammate could take over the leadership of the team to take it to new heights.
“I really see he has so much potential in him, and he’s in the right place for that as well,” Hamilton said. “I really think whether I’m here or not he has all the qualities to help move this team forward and lead them to success, so I think he’s the right choice for the team. .
“Hopefully I can contribute a bit to help him progress.”