Honda wants input from personnel to improve operations

Honda has sought input from its trackside engineers and the mechanics working on both of its customer teams to help improve its operations next year.

As a supplier to Red Bull Racing and sister team Toro Rosso, the Japanese manufacturer made spectacular progress over the 2019 season, elevating the performance and reliability of its power unit to levels comparable with those of its Ferrari and Mercedes rivals.

However, ramping up its supply deal in F1 from one team to two required the deployment of additional resources and operational changes.

Regarding the latter, Honda tech boss Toyoharu Tanabe believes improvements can be achieved for 2020, and the Japanese engineer is relying on his personnel for feedback.

“It was challenging, of course,” Tanabe told Motorsport.com. “More staff here, more engines here. So far everything went reasonably well for both teams.

“I asked the engineers and the mechanics here, ‘What can we do for next year? Please review what we did this year. What was a concern, what was a problem, in terms of the trackside management?’.

“Then we can make a list, discuss it internally, discuss with the R&D department, and then bring the idea for next year.”

©Honda

While Toro Rosso served as a veritable development laboratory for Red Bull in 2018, allowing the Milton Keynes-based outfit to deliver three wins to itself and Honda this season, Tanabe-san insists that both are now treated equally in terms of engine development and allocated resources.

“We support the two teams equally – engine specification, the number of engineers and mechanics, the scale, all equal,” he said.

“When we started this year, we mixed the people [from 2018] and then brought extra support to make the same [level in both teams].

“We’ll keep the same style, for next year and always.”

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Brazil triumph sees Honda targeting 2021 F1 extension

Honda’s success at the Brazilian Grand Prix has raised hopes that the Japanese manufacturer will remain in the sport and extend its current contract with Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso.

Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly finished in first and second place respectively at Interlagos using Honda engines.

Verstappen took his maiden career F1 pole in Hungary with Honda power, and followed that up with his second in Brazil. Prior to that, Verstappen won in Germany with Daniil Kvyat also on the podium,.

It’s all a far cry from Honda’s initial return to F1 in 2015 and its deeply disappointing three-year partnership with McLaren. Honda started supplying power units to Toro Rosso in 2018, and to Red Bull at the start of this year.

Honda’s rapid rate of success in 2019 is thanks to dramatically improved speed and reliability. It has been well beyond expectations and may head-off the threat of Honda’s management deciding to pull its plug on the whole F1 project.

“To take a third win this season is a great result for everyone at Honda and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing,” said Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe.

“The car-PU package worked very well with both our teams and that has to be a good sign for the final race of the season and when we look ahead to next year,” he added.

Tanabe pointed out that the success in Brazil significantly came on the anniversary of the birth of the company’s founder, Soichiro Honda. “I hope this result has a positive impact on our future.”

Honda’s chief engineer for Toro Rosso, Masamitsu Motohashi, was also delighted by the outcome of Sunday’s race. “This is a great reward for all the hard work,” he said.

“Really, I am lost for words. This is our second podium of the year with Toro Rosso, which is a wonderful achievement and it puts them in a very strong position to finish at least sixth in the Championship.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates his third position on the podium.

“We have worked with Pierre for the past two seasons now and so this is a great result in what was in some ways a difficult year for him.

“Our congratulations go to him and our friends at Toro Rosso and let’s not forget that Daniil also managed to finish in the points,” he added. “This is a great boost for the team, but we must now aim to do even better next year.”

And now it looks like Red Bull and Honda are hoping to extend their relationship beyond the end of next season and into 2021 when new rules and regulations will overhaul the sport’s sporting and technical landscape.

Dutch newspaper De Limburger reported that Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko had flown direct from Brazil to Japan to take care of the final stages of detailed negotiations over a contract extension.

The report said that “sources in the paddock know that a deal to deliver engines in 2021 is also in the works,” adding: “The Japanese would like to announce the news in Abu Dhabi, where the last race of the season will be held in two weeks.”

Without a new agreement, Honda would almost certainly quit the sport at the end of next season – and significantly scale back its investment in research and development before that.

An extension of the collaboration [would be] especially good news for Red Bull Racing,” reported the newspaper. “[But] an early announcement of a departure from Honda from Formula 1 would mean that Max Verstappen’s title ambitions for 2020 are dead and buried.

“In that case, Honda would close the money tap and put the development on a low fire. For Verstappen it might also be the signal to move to another team in 2021. That threat is much less if Honda remains in Formula 1.”

Masashi Yamamoto (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Managing Director.

If Red Bull and Honda do extend their partnership, BBC pundit and former Renault driver Jolyon Palmer predicts that Red Bull and Honda could be serious title contenders as soon as 2020.

“If Red Bull can do what they’ve so far failed to do in the hybrid era – start the following season as competitive as they finish the last – then the Verstappen/Red Bull/Honda package could be a force to be reckoned with in 2020,” Palmer wrote in his regular analysis for BBC Sport.

“For Honda in particular, [Brazil] was a moment that must have caused such joy,” Palmer continued. “In truth, Honda were poor back in 2015. They took a lot of stick, but the unreliability and lack of performance were clear for all to see.

“Four years later, they are back with two drivers on the same podium,” he added. “Just pure ecstatic emotion. A complete turnaround.

“Honda were dragged through the mud during the Alonso and McLaren years, but since teaming up with Toro Rosso last year, and now Red Bull in 2019, their performance improvements have been vast.

“Not only did Honda get a one-two, but they achieved the second place in the best manner possible for an engine manufacturer – a drag race to the line, against the formerly dominant Mercedes power.

“With the regulations staying stable for 2020, there should be every chance that Red Bull can challenge [for the title] over the course of [next] season.”

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Albon set to make Red Bull bow at the back in Belgium

Alexander Albon will start his first race for Red Bull from the back row of the grid – no matter how well he does in Saturday’s qualifying session.

That’s because the engine in Albon’s newly acquired company car will be upgraded to the latest specification of Honda power unit.

“We are introducing the Spec 4 version of our PU at this event,” Honda technical director Toyoharu Tanabe confirmed.

“As usual, we have focused on improving both reliability and performance, in the hope of achieving even better results with both teams in this part of the season.”

As Honda has already gone through the maximum allowed number of component changes on the RB15, the new engine means that Albon will be required to start this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix from the back row.

Albon’s former team mate at the sister Toro Rosso team, Daniil Kvyat, will also get the upgrade – meaning he will join him on the back row.

However Albon’s new team mate Max Verstappen will not receive the upgrade. And neither will Pierre Gasly, the driver that Albon replaced at Red Bull who now returns to Toro Rosso in a straight like-for-like trade.

“Our plan is that only Albon and Kvyat will run it at Spa for strategic reasons, looking at the rest of the season as a whole,” explained Tanabe.

“The driver swap between Albon and Gasly has no effect on how we operate at the race, and we continue to do our best to support all four of our drivers.

“As per the sporting regulations, Albon now takes on what was Gasly’s power-unit usage in terms of all the components that make up the power unit, and vice versa.”

Depending on how the new power unit performs at the power-hungry Spa-Francorchamps circuit, it’s expected to be rolled out to Verstappen and Gasly the following weekend at Monza.

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing.

It means that Honda avoids having all four of its drivers demoted ot the back row in the same race.

Knowing that he’s starting at the back on Sunday actually helps take some of the immediate pressure off, Albon who will probably now effectively sit out Saturday’s qualifying session.

“We’ll just go into the weekend more focused on race pace, which means more laps,” the Thai driver explained.

“I still would have liked to have given it a go, and see how I could have done in qualifying and try and start further up than I will be.”

Albon admitted on Thursday that he was feeling nervous ahead of his big break at Red Bull, after taking part in just 12 Grand Prix events at Toro Rosso before his promotion.

“It’s a 10 for excitement, but the number for nerves is quite high as well!” he said.

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Honda progress stems from 'lessons and countermeasures'

Honda has said that it is learning every race how to continue improve its engine step-by-step, and that the approach is paying dividends with victories for Red Bull in Austria and Germany.

Honda’s F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto added that lessons from the Canadian and French Grands Prix had proved to be particularly important.

The latter race saw Max Verstappen finish in only fourth place, but Yamamoto told Autosport magazine that what they had learned that day at the Circuit Paul Ricard proved crucial toward their success in the next race at the Red Bull Ring.

The step forward between france and Austria was so pronounced that at the time Verstappen praised Honda for learning to be “not be so conservative” with its latest specification of power unit.

“I see why Max is saying we learned how to push the engine in certain conditions,” Yamamoto said. “We learned a lot from Canada and France, for the heat especially.

“I can understand why Max compares France and Austria,” he continued. “We put in a countermeasure before going to Austria, and it worked really well.”

By contrast, Mercedes struggled to cool Lewis Hamilton’s car in the heatwave conditions at Spielberg that day, resulting in the reigning world champion’s worst result of the season to that point in fifth place.

Honda and Red Bull went on to make another big leap forward in time for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.

“We learned something from France and then we improved our usage for Austria,” Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe told Autosport. “Then we learned something from Austria and improved something for Germany.

“We tried to make everything optimal,” he added, explaining that it wasn’t possible to get everything right in the first iteration of the Honda RA619H.

“It’s not perfect because of the different conditions we see for the first time,” he said. “Every time we update the calibration or usage after that kind of experience.”

Toyoharu Tanabe (JPN) Honda Racing F1 Technical Director.

Despite the breakthrough wins – and a maiden pole position for Verstappen at Hungary – Honda is still wary about pushing too hard, too fast if it means jeopardising the reliability that’s seen the Dutch driver finish all 12 races so far this season.

“Low performance, we can run [with],” Tanabe said. “But a reliability issue gives a big penalty, it means we cannot run.

“We always need to make a balance between performance and reliability,” he insisted. “You need to guarantee a certain level of reliability, and then you need to start the performance.

“Otherwise we cannot run, and that’s a very serious problem trackside.”

Already on the third specification of their power unit, Honda now faces a big question about the timing of any future upgrades given that penalties will put their drivers at the back of the grid.

“At the moment no decision has been made yet,” said Tanabe, adding that the precise timing would be the result of discussions with the Red Bull and Toro Rosso teams.

Despite the recent return to winning ways, Honda F1’s parent company is still discussing whether or not to continue their presence in the sport beyond the end of 2020.

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Toro Rosso looks set for 'guinea pig' penalties

It looks as though Toro Rosso’s 2018 campaign could be essentially over, with Red Bull apparently approving a plan to use their junior squad as a test and development operation for the rest of the season.

After 12 years with Renault, Red Bull are to follow Toro Rosso in using Honda engines next season. That means any progress that the Japanese manufacturer can make this year will directly help the senior squad in 2019.

“Of course we leave the decision to Honda,” Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko told Auto Motor und Sport this week.

“But if they find a tenth with the development, of course, they can try the upgrade in the race,” he added. “Even if that means we’re taking penalties for it.”

Brendon Hartley is already on his fifth internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H. Penalties have seen him start from the back row in France and Austria, and he had been due to start even further back – from pit lane – in Britain.

Gasly is already on his fourth set of components. Introducing more upgrades on the cars will end up incurring further hefty grid penalties that will severely compromise the two drivers chances of scoring championship points.

Toro Rosso has failed to score a single point since Monaco, and slipped to eighth in the constructors championship standings as a result.

The team itself admitted that it was struggling to get to grips with the latest Honda power unit upgrade that was introduced in time for the Canadian Grand Prix in June.

Gasly described Honda’s one-second-per-lap deficit to Merceded and Ferrari at Silverstone as “crazy”.

“We still have to understand exactly how to get the best out of the Spec 2 engine,” he said.

“It’s more in terms of just pure performance and power from the engine,” he said. “I know they are working on it and they have a couple of ideas.

“I just need to give them time to bring it to the track. But at the moment we still lose quite a lot in terms of straightline speed.”

Honda’s F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe told Autosport magazine that they were working on improvements to the ICE.

“I hope we will have some update and improvement within this season,” he promised.

Tanabe added that they were still looking into the reason why Hartley was unable to take the start at Silverstone and whether more PU changes – and more penalties – are on the way for the Kiwi in Hockenheim.

“While fixing the car we had an issue with the installation on the power unit side that caused an improper function,” he said.

“We saw unusual data on the power unit side and we retired,” he noted. “I think the components are okay, we will check carefully for any damage.”

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