Honda has had a long and illustrious history with Formula 1 dating back to the mid-1960s. The Japanese manufacturer entered three rounds in the 1964 Formula 1 World Championship with their RA271, surprising the paddock by rocking up with a full Japanese operations team, aside from American driver Ronnie Bucknum.
The RA271, powered by Honda’s 1.5-litre V12 engine, would set the foundation for a successful first stint in the pinnacle of motorsport.
With their new RA272, it didn’t take long for Honda to find their way to the top step of the podium, when Ritchie Ginther won the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix in only Honda’s second year in the sport.
Due to new engine regulations introduced in 1966, where engine sizes increased to 3.0-litres, teams fell behind the machining of their engines – including Honda – meaning the new RA273 made its debut with only three rounds left in the season at the Italian Grand Prix.
In 1967, World Champion John Surtees joined Honda to be its only driver, and Honda once again found success when Surtees beat Jack Brabham and Jim Clark to victory in the RA300’s debut at the Italian Grand Prix.
Honda withdrew from Formula 1 after the 1968 season to focus on its automotive efforts in the United States, where overcoming the challenging legislative emissions requirement was an important step for the overall business for Honda. However, the Japanese manufacturer wouldn’t be absent from Formula 1 for long.
Honda and Formula 1: return to tradition
1983 saw the return of Honda engines to Formula 1, although this time as an engine supplier. They teamed up with Spirit Racing for the season, and powered Williams for the final race in South Africa where Keke Rosberg finished in fifth position.
The following year got off to a good start with Williams, however, despite winning the Dallas Grand Prix at Fair Park, the season was plagued with retirements prompting Honda to develop a complete new engine for the next year.
The RA165E was introduced for the 1985 season which powered Rosberg to victory at the Detroit Grand Prix. Williams-Honda finished the year strong, taking victories at the final three races with Nigel Mansell winning at Brands Hatch and Kyalami, while Rosberg won the season-finale in Adelaide.
It was clear at this stage that Honda was the engine to beat in F1, and in 1986 they powered Williams to the Constructors’ Championship, with Mansell finishing runner-up to Alain Prost in the Drivers’ Championship.
In 1987 Williams-Honda took their first double title, conquering the Constructors’ Championship with 9 wins, while Nelson Piquet won the Drivers’ Championship. Honda also had two more wins in the 1987 season, courtesy of the Lotus F1 team.
Golden Era of Honda engines
Honda entered its “golden era” with McLaren in 1988, winning 15 out of 16 races to establish a dominant partnership lasting four years. Honda won four Constructors’ Championships and four Drivers’ titles before withdrawing from Formula 1 at the end of 1992, having achieved their objectives and to focus on stabilising the core of the business of consumer products.
Their sabbatical from Formula 1 didn’t last long, as they returned in 2000 – again as an engine supplier – this time to BAR. Honda also powered Jordan Grand Prix for two seasons from 2001-2002.
The partnership with BAR resulted in 15 podiums from 2000-2005 and a best finish of second in the Constructors’ Championship in 2004.
From 2006-2008, Honda competed once again as a constructor in the championship, finishing a best of fourth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2006 with Jenson Button winning the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Honda withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of the 2008 season due to the global financial crisis, vowing to return to the sport when the time was right. In 2015 they partnered once again with McLaren, however their results in the following three years prompted an early end to the partnership.
Partnership between Scuderia Toro Rosso and Honda
From 2018 Honda powers Toro Rosso, which has previously run Renault, Ferrari and Cosworth engines.
This is the first time in the team’s history it received the backing of an independent engine supplier.
The relationship between the two teams got off to a strong start, as Toro Rosso and Honda completed the most amount of mileage in the first pre-season test and the third overall between the two tests.
At the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix Toro Rosso celebrated what was to be its best finish of the season when Pierre Gasly took the chequered flag in fourth position.
Subsequent points finishes in Azerbaijan, Monaco, Germany, Hungary, Belgium and the USA saw the Faenza-based outfit finish 9th in the Constructors’ Championship, as engine upgrades became more frequent which brought along grid penalties, once it was announced Honda would be supplying Red Bull Racing in 2019.
With Scuderia Toro Rosso bolstering its relationship with Red Bull Racing and sharing the Honda partnership, 2019 is set to be a fascinating season of racing!