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Honda confident it can match F1 rivals in 2026 despite hiatus

Honda is confident it will be able to match rival Formula 1 power unit manufacturers upon its fully fledged return with Aston Martin in 2026, despite an 18-month development hiatus.

Red Bull Racing RB19 technical detail

Honda withdrew as an official engine manufacturer at the conclusion of its Red Bull deal at the end of 2021, although it continued building engines for Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri under the Honda Racing Corporation moniker.

But following F1's push for more sustainable future engine regulations, the Japanese giant has had a change of heart and announced a tie-up with Aston Martin as a works partner from 2026 onwards, the increased electrification and switch to sustainable fuels luring Honda back in.

According to HRC chief Koji Watanabe, Honda's soft exit from F1 has cushioned the blow of losing months of development time compared to the engine manufacturers that committed to the new regulation cycle from the start.

“I'd like to mention that we have been continuously supplying engines upon request from Red Bull even for the current F1, so therefore we are still in operation for the ongoing F1 races as well,” Watanabe said when asked if he was confident Honda would be at the same level as its rivals by 2026.

“As for the new regulations to be introduced from 2026, we have continuously engaged in studies of the important factors in terms of the power units. So therefore, we have not totally withdrawn from our R&D activities.

“Unlike the previous time where we were fully withdrawn, we have already been engaging in development.”

Honda's situation is night and day different from its last F1 entry in 2015, when it arrived as McLaren's works partner one year into the turbo hybrid era.

Initially it struggled mightily to get power and reliability out of its power unit, wrestling with the complicated MGU-H system that will now be removed for 2026.

Koji Watanabe, Honda Racing CEO

Koji Watanabe, Honda Racing CEO

Photo by: Motorsport.com / Japan

Watanabe explained that after Honda's official F1 withdrawal its development staff was moved to non-motorsport related divisions, investigating “carbon neutral projects”.

But under the HRC name, which was also seen on Red Bull's F1 cars, it conducted case studies on F1's new engine direction, which ultimately led to its decision to re-join as a fully-fledged manufacturer.

He feels Honda has therefore kept its foot in the door enough not to lose too much ground on its competitors.

“Until March 2022 we were fully engaged in gauging the development of the power units for up until 2022,” he added. “So, we had the full headcount still remaining.

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“However, then they were allocated to different carbon neutral projects. So, the headcount of the development member has started to decrease starting from April 2022.

“In April 2022, a new company called Honda Racing Corporation was established, this is the dedicated company for motorsport races. This company kept on engaging in studies and development of four-wheel technologies and we commenced studies regarding the new regulations.

“Therefore, we don't think that we have lost so much regardless of our withdrawal from F1 racing at this point in time.”

Additional reporting by Jonathan Noble and Adam Cooper

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