Formula 1 "not a closed door" to Honda in 2026

Honda says it has not closed the door on a possible Formula 1 return in 2026, as it keeps a watching brief over grand prix racing's carbon neutral future plans.

Formula 1 "not a closed door" to Honda in 2026

The Japanese manufacturer quit F1 at the end of last year, with its parent company wanting to divert its resources towards zero-emmission technology in road cars.

However, it did not turn its back completely with Red Bull taking over the running of the Honda power units that helped Max Verstappen to the drivers’ championship.

PLUS: How Honda achieved F1 redemption through Verstappen’s title

An arrangement was made for Honda to continue the manufacturing, assembly and support for the engines, with the badges of the Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) appearing on the Red Bull and AlphaTauri cars.

Honda’s 2021 title success, and F1’s major push for a carbon neutral future ahead of its switch to new rules and sustainable fuels from 2026, has prompted speculation that the Japanese manufacturer could be poised for a return.

PLUS: Why Honda's latest Formula 1 exit means it may never come back

Such talk was fuelled by a visit last weekend to the Austrian Grand Prix by senior Honda staff, including Honda’s CEO Toshihiro Mibe, its chairman Seiji Kuraishi, plus HRC president Koji Watanabe and its director Yasuaki Asaki.

While the company insists that there has been no formal change of heart about an F1 programme, it has admitted to following closely how the 2026 engine rules are progressing.

Speaking at the Red Bull Ring, Watanabe said: “Formula 1 is the top motorsports category, so we are always watching what is happening in the F1 world.

“Of course, we just finished and concluded our activities, so nothing [has been] discussed within the Honda company about 2026 season. So, no plan.

“[But] it is not a closed door. My understanding is that F1 is discussing to decide the regulations for 2026, and definitely the direction is carbon neutrality.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Erik Junius

“That is the same direction as us, so we don't have to [diverge] from carbon neutrality through F1 now.

“It is probably also a good opportunity to study carbon neutral F1, so it’s not a closed door.”

PLUS: The inconvenient questions posed by Vettel’s Williams run

Watanabe said that Honda would need to get its carbon neutral road car programme fully set on course before serious consideration would be given for an F1 return.

Asked by Autosport what the key factors would be for Honda to green light an F1 return, Watanabe said: “I think there are several factors we need to watch.

“But once we decided to conclude the F1 because of mass production [road cars] and carbon neutrality, first we need to concentrate on this side.

“Then, once we can realise that we can achieve this, we can consider F1.”

Regarding the time frame for a decision about a potential 2026 return, Watanabe suggested that a call needed to be made by the end of 2023.

“I don't know the exact time frame,” he said. “But if we want to return to F1 in 2026, probably we need to decide within 1-1.5 years.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

While a potential full-on return for Honda remains uncertain, an increased involvement with Red Bull appears likely. Discussions are underway about a closer technical partnership, allied to a change in branding focus on the Red Bull teams with the ‘Honda’ name to return.

Watanabe added: “At least until 2025, Honda is going to be a kind of team partner of both teams. And although the detail is not decided yet, also HRC will become a kind of technical partner of both teams until 2025.”

Pushed on a change of branding approach, Watanabe said: “We need to decide for the next season, but personally I want to utilise more Honda....So the combination of Honda and HRC.”

When Red Bull took over running of the Honda power units for this season with its new powertrains division, it was originally believed that the Milton Keynes-based operation had purchased the IP rights to the engines.

The element of IP control of the Honda power units became especially relevant during discussions over 2026 rules, with it being agreed that new entrants would be handed concessions to help them catch up with more established manufacturers.

Red Bull was eager to argue, ahead of a likely link-up with Porsche, that it should be classified as a new entrant while rivals suggested its Honda DNA meant it should be classified as an existing manufacturer.

Watanabe has now clarified that Red Bull never purchased the IP to the engine – so it returns to Honda after the current deal ends in 2025.

“They can utilise the IP, but we didn't sell the IP to them,” he said. “It is just a lease; so approval of utilising the IP.”

shares
comments
Why were there so many penalties at F1's Austrian GP?
Previous article

Why were there so many penalties at F1's Austrian GP?

Next article

Austria F1 drivers’ briefing "going in circles" before Vettel stormed out

Austria F1 drivers’ briefing "going in circles" before Vettel stormed out
Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom? Plus

Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom?

OPINION: Teams that have dominated for long periods throughout Formula 1's history often take years to get back to the top of the tree once they've slipped down. But it remains to be seen whether the same will happen to Mercedes after a challenging 2022 season

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2022
What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi Plus

What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi

Arguably the favourite in the battle to finish second best in 2022's Formula 1 standings, Sergio Perez's two-stop strategy at Abu Dhabi couldn't take him ahead of Charles Leclerc when the music stopped - and several key factors ultimately precluded him from the much-coveted runner-up spot

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2022
The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success Plus

The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success

OPINION: Charles Leclerc achieved his target of sealing runner-up in the 2022 world championship with a masterful drive behind Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. And that race contained key elements that may help him, and Ferrari, go one better in Formula 1 2023

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022
How Verstappen's record-breaking 2022 season compares to the F1 greats Plus

How Verstappen's record-breaking 2022 season compares to the F1 greats

The 2022 Formula 1 season will be remembered as a record book rewriting Max Verstappen masterclass, a completely different challenge to his maiden world championship last year, and a clear sign he is still raising his own level. But where does it stack up against the all-time great F1 campaigns?

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The 2022 Formula 1 season came to a close at the Yas Marina Circuit, where the battle for second in the standings was decided, the wins in a season record extended and a retiring four-time world champion bowed out on a high. Here's how we rated the drivers

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph Plus

The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph

Max Verstappen ended the 2022 Formula 1 season in fitting fashion with a dominant drive to victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But behind him, early season rival Charles Leclerc achieved his target of securing the runner-up spot with a well-executed a one-stop strategy to beat Sergio Perez, whose pursuit on a two-stop strategy was hampered by several critical factors

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge Plus

Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge

Faced with drivers complaining about the long-term health effects of car ‘bouncing’, the FIA stepped in to deal with it. JAKE BOXALL-LEGGE explains how the so-called ‘Aerodynamic Oscillation Metric’ works, and asks if it is fit for purpose?

Formula 1
Nov 20, 2022
Where Vettel stands in the list of the greatest F1 drivers Plus

Where Vettel stands in the list of the greatest F1 drivers

As Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 career has come to a close, figuring out where he fits into the greatest of all time order is a tough and subjective call. With the aid of statistics, attributes and history, here’s how the four-time world champion stacks up in the debate

Formula 1
Nov 19, 2022