Legendary F1 partnership to be renewed as Honda agrees McLaren engine deal

Story highlights

Japanese car giant Honda will return to Formula One as an engine supplier in 2015

Honda will renew its successful partnership with British racing team McLaren

McLaren will continue using Mercedes-Benz engines in 2014 when new rules come in

Honda says new engine rules in F1 will help it develop "greener" technologies

CNN  — 

Japanese car manufacturer Honda is returning to Formula One in 2015 as an engine partner with British racing team McLaren, a deal which will renew one of the most successful partnerships in motorsport’s elite class.

Their previous five-year collaboration powered Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost to a clean sweep of world titles between 1988 and 1992.

The 1988 car, the McLaren-Honda MP/4, has gone down in F1 legend after winning all but one of the 16 races that season.

Honda ran its own team from 2006 until the end of 2008 when it dramatically withdrew from the sport because of the global economic crisis.

There is currently no Japanese representation in F1 and Honda’s comeback to the grid with the multi-year McLaren technology partnership will mark an important step for the island nation, which has a long and successful history in motorsport.

“It’s fantastic news for everyone who loves Formula One to be able to welcome Honda back,” said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh as the news was announced in Tokyo.

“Together, we’re about to embark on a new and extremely exciting chapter in McLaren’s history. Together we have a great legacy – and we’re utterly committed to maintaining it.

“Like McLaren, Honda is a company with motor racing woven into the fabric of its heritage. Whilst both companies are fully aware that we’re embarking on a very demanding journey together, we’re hugely committed to the success of the partnership.

“We’ll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we’re fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015.”

McLaren has used Mercedes-Benz engines since 1995 and will honor its contract with the German company – which now owns the defunct Honda F1 team – to use its equipment in 2014.

Hybrid technologies

Next season will see the FIA – motorsport’s governing body – introduce major new rule changes affecting engine technology.

The new regulations include the introduction of a 1.6-liter turbo engine with increased reliance on the hybrid kinetic energy recovery system known as KERS.

Takanobu Ito, president and CEO of the Honda Motor Company, said the chance to explore new technologies in elite racing was one of the attractions of returning to F1.

“Ever since its establishment, Honda has been a company which grows by taking on challenges in racing,” Ito said.

“Honda has a long history of advancing our technologies and nurturing our people by participating in the world’s most prestigious automobile racing series.

“The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our participation in F1.

“We have the greatest respect for the FIA’s decision to introduce these new regulations that are both highly challenging but also attractive to manufacturers that pursue environmental technologies.”

Many engine manufacturers see F1 as an opportunity to showcase the hybrid technologies they are developing on their road cars.

Japanese renewal

The return of Honda means there will be four car manufacturers supplying engines to F1 in 2015, the others being France’s Renault, Italian luxury brand Ferrari and the Daimler-owned Mercedes.

Honda blamed the economic crisis for its decision to pull its team out of F1 in 2008 with then Honda president Takeo Fukui saying in an emotional press conference: “This difficult decision has been made in light of the quickly deteriorating operating environment facing the global auto industry … and the sudden contraction of the world economies.”

The new venture with McLaren is important for Japanese motorsport and for the country, which is still regaining confidence following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Japan is the world’s third-largest car manufacturer behind China and the U.S. and in 2011 Honda’s operations were severely disrupted by the disaster.

Returning to F1 also represents an opportunity to restore confidence in both the brand and the Japanese motorsport industry.

The economic downturn also affected motorcycle manufacturer Suzuki, which pulled out of the MotoGP Series following Kawasaki’s withdrawal in 2009.

Honda first entered a works team in F1 in 1964 but withdrew at the end of the 1968 season following the death of Jo Schlesser, who had been driving a prototype vehicle at the French Grand Prix.

The company returned to F1 in 1984, providing turbo engines to Williams before agreeing a partnership to supply McLaren.

In 2004 Honda bought a stake in the BAR team before taking sole ownership ahead of the 2006 season. The highlight of this second era running its own team was Jenson Button’s win at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.

The company had poured huge amounts of capital into F1 and ironically the team was on the verge of great success before pulling out in 2008.

Team principal Ross Brawn led a rescue package to buy out the team and continue work on Honda’s 2009 car design – the car would help Button win the world drivers’ title and the constructors’ championship for Brawn GP that season.

Mercedes then bought the team, based in Oxfordshire, England, in 2010 and it is once again on an upward curve, taking three pole positions and two third-places on the podium so far in 2013.

F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has now backed Honda to return to the front of the grid in partnership with McLaren, which lost former world champion Lewis Hamilton to Brawn’s Mercedes team after last season and has struggled this year.

“It is a great pleasure to see Honda back in Formula One,” he said. “Their engine technology and passion for motorsport make them a natural contender.”