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Analysis

Could Aston Martin switch to Honda power in F1 2026?

Could the team that we currently know as Aston Martin be the recipient of a Honda power unit when Formula 1’s new rules arrive in 2026?

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23 Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR23 Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

That possibility is one of the more intriguing stories to have emerged during the April break, and while it may sound a little far-fetched, history has shown that anything can happen in F1, especially when it comes to juggling team identities and power unit suppliers.

The 2026 season will see a reshuffle of engine partners with Sauber leaving Ferrari to become the works Audi outfit, and Red Bull and AlphaTauri parting company with Honda to run the new Ford-backed engine.

Honda’s position remains unclear. Encouraged by a double title success for Max Verstappen, the company is having second thoughts about its planned withdrawal from F1, and its name is on the list of manufacturers registered with the FIA for 2026.

That doesn’t mean that Honda will participate, but at least it has a foot in the door. If it does intend to take part it needs to already be working on a 2026 project, and doing so under the auspices of the cost cap and the other restrictions that now apply to engine manufacturers.

Honda also needs to find a new partner team after its procrastination obliged Red Bull to take charge of its own destiny and create its own facility in Milton Keynes.

Red Bull Racing RB18 with Honda logo

Red Bull Racing RB18 with Honda logo

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

“F1 is greatly shifting towards electrification, and carbon neutrality is our corporate wide target at Honda,” Honda Racing Corporation president Koji Watanabe said in February.

“We think that F1's future direction is in line with our target, so that is why we have decided to register as the manufacturer of a power unit.

“We're curious about where F1 is going, F1 being the top racing category, and how is that going to look with more electrification happening? We would like to keep a very close eye on that. And that is why we have decided to register as a PU manufacturer.

“After we made the registration, we have been contacted by multiple F1 teams. For the time being, we would like to keep a close eye on where F1 is going and just see how things go. For now, we don't have any concrete decisions on whether or not we will be going back to joining F1.”

It’s all very vague, but clearly the interest is there if a suitable partner can be found. Unless it hooks up with a new entrant, the realistic options are the three current Mercedes customers; McLaren, Williams and Aston Martin.

It’s logical that all three are currently looking at what the possible choices are for 2026 and beyond.

“We are at the moment still in the process of making sure we understand all the options available to this team,” Williams boss James Vowles said recently.

“But no, we're not locked into Mercedes. And we're still in the process of reviewing. We have to, as all teams will do as well, come to a decision fairly shortly. I think end of the year would be late. So a little bit before then.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32 Honda, parks up with engine troubles

Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32 Honda, parks up with engine troubles

Photo by: Dom Romney / Motorsport Images

A Honda reunion with McLaren would have to overcome all the baggage associated with their last stint together that ended with an acrimonious split at the end of 2017, but all avenues have to be explored by both parties – the Woking team has already talked to Red Bull about a possible deal for the Ford engine.

So what then of Aston Martin? Obviously the sportscar manufacturer has strong corporate links to Mercedes, and on the face of it a switch to Honda would appear to make no commercial sense.

Having said that, Lawrence Stroll’s stated ambition is to challenge for the world championship, and the step his team has made this year indicates that he has to be taken seriously. Logic suggests that part of the long-term strategy towards becoming a serious title contender has to involve reducing or even eliminating its dependence on a key rival.

A first step will be seen shortly when the team switches to its own wind tunnel at Silverstone and moves away from sharing the Mercedes facility in Brackley. A further step would be to use fewer Mercedes-sourced parts, which in essence means rear suspension and transmission. As it ramps up for the Audi partnership, Sauber has switched back to making its own gearbox rather than using Ferrari’s, and Aston can follow a similar route.

Back in December, Aston technical director Dan Fallows stressed that there are no plans in place at the moment to reduce the reliance on Mercedes, but he left the door open for future changes.

“I think we’re pretty open minded about that kind of thing,” he said. “What this team has gained from its relationship with Mercedes has been immense.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

“And as we move into the future and do things our own way or take on our own projects, we’re very mindful that we have to be able to do them at least as well as, if not better than they do. That’s a capability we would have to build up before we even thought about making those decisions.

“Honestly, what we look at in the future is all open, really. Lawrence is very open about his ambitions for this team, and I think we always have to evaluate what is the next thing that will help us become more competitive.”

The key consideration is that once you have your own in-house gearbox capability, switching engine suppliers becomes much easier, as you are no longer relying on a package deal. It also gives you total freedom in terms of the car design and concept.

The above steps could happen even with Mercedes power in the AMR26 in 2026, but a bespoke engine would be the ultimate step towards independence for Stroll. If anyone can find a way for an Aston chassis to run a Honda engine – with or without official badging from the latter – then surely Stroll is the man who can make it happen.

There is also a bigger picture that overrides those complicated branding issues, especially if you start to think in terms of 'Team Silverstone' or perhaps 'Stroll F1'.

Lawrence Stroll

Lawrence Stroll

Photo by: Erik Junius

The former Racing Point organisation is currently known as Aston Martin as part of a marketing plan Stroll has for the road car manufacturer. There’s nothing to stop him changing tack in 2026 after running in green for five years, having successfully boosted Aston’s image.

In theory, Stroll could use any chassis name he wants in 2026 if it ensures that he can have an exclusive deal with the maker of what is currently the most successful power unit on the grid. If that means abandoning the Aston identity, so be it.

It even opens up the possibility that Honda could once again have a works team under its own name, owned (or co-owned) and operated by Stroll.

The appeal for Honda is obvious, as it represents a clean sheet of paper. A reunion with McLaren would have to overcome the awkward history related to that 2017 divorce, and while the messy split with Williams was in 1987 – a lifetime ago – the Grove team may simply be regarded as not competitive enough. As Vowles noted, time is short, and Honda can’t wait to see if Williams makes progress in the next year or two.

Aston, in contrast, has already proved that it has made real progress, and with the move to the new factory – and more time for the revamped technical crew to gel under the leadership of Fallows – it’s logical to assume that there is even greater potential to be tapped in future years.

And there is one trump card that Stroll has in the form of Martin Whitmarsh, his right-hand man at Aston.

Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal, McLaren

Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal, McLaren

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Whitmarsh was at McLaren-Honda in the Ayrton Senna era, and a little over two decades after a first split with the Japanese manufacturer, he oversaw the negotiations that led to the reunion in 2015.

In 2014, McLaren ran a single season under the new rules with a Mercedes hybrid engine before Honda’s entry. In retrospect it’s easy to suggest that the Woking team should have stayed with its old partner for longer, especially as Mercedes had the best engine in the early years of the regulations.

However, in an intriguing parallel with Aston’s current situation, Whitmarsh still insists that McLaren had to take the works Honda deal while it was available. Remaining a Mercedes customer was not a long-term option, and not just because Ron Dennis had fallen out with then Stuttgart boss Dieter Zetsche.

“It would have been reasonable solution for a couple of years,” Whitmarsh told this writer a couple of years ago, before he made his return to F1 with Aston.

“But a good, competitive works deal doesn’t come around very often. And you’ve got to get it. You want to win every single year. But ultimately, you’ve got to win long-term. You’ve got to take that pain.”

Crucially, in terms of his current standing in Japan, Whitmarsh parted company with McLaren soon afterwards, and was not involved in the disastrous implosion of the Honda relationship that followed over the next few years.

“I signed the contract, and then I left,” he said. “They were supplying free engines, they were providing tens of millions per year into chassis development. They were paying most of the driver fees, they were paying for a load of the PR. It was worth over $100 million a year to the team. And we knew that we needed that money, we needed works support to win.”

McLaren MP4-30 nose, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

McLaren MP4-30 nose, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

Photo by: Mark Sutton

As he wasn’t part of the McLaren fallout. it’s safe to assume that Whitmarsh remains on good terms with Honda, and he knows better than most what it would take to get a deal done. It probably doesn’t hurt that Honda also knows Aston technical director Fallows well from his Red Bull days.

“They actually have a racing culture, probably more so than any OEM,” said Whitmarsh of Honda. “Bear in mind the first time around, Mr Honda was still alive. But they still have that racing culture in the team. They are thorough to the extreme, they are proud to the extreme.

“When you look back at winning engines in F1, they've generally been achieved by refining convention, not by huge innovation. And usually when you are either manufacturers or people trying to innovate, it's a mess. I think you learn lessons, and steer it. Honda were slow at that. But Ron went into aggressive mode, and that's when people close down. Rather than manage them, he decided to smack them.”

There remains one elephant in the room that can’t be ignored. Current Aston driver Fernando Alonso was famously in the middle of the breakdown of the McLaren/Honda relationship, and while stranger things have happened, a reunion between the Spaniard and the Japanese company might take a little massaging.

That is of course assuming that the two-time F1 world champion will still be racing in 2026, the year he turns 45…

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