F1: Honda's Return To Formula One Continues Long Racing Tradition Photo:
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Peter Anderson | May, 17 2013 | 6 Comments

Japanese carmaker Honda has a long, long history in Formula 1.

Its return with McLaren in 2015 is not only a new chapter, but a reuniting of one of the most successful partnerships in Grand Prix history.

Company founder Soichiro Honda is quoted as saying, "Racing improves the breed". And, along with the company's incredible record in motorcyle racing, the company added F1 to its achievements in the Sixties.

Honda entered Formula 1 in 1964, a mere four years after getting its first car on the road. An ambitious project, the RA271 started development in 1962.

Ambitious? The nascent manufacturer produced not only its own chassis, but also its own engine. Ambitious indeed.

Success was not long in coming however, with Richie Ginther putting the 1965 RA272 on the top step in Mexico.

"We will not be content with this victory alone. We will study why we won and aggressively apply those winning technologies to new cars," Soichiro Honda said.

Sadly, Honda's first stint in F1 ended in tragedy: the new RA302 crashed with Jo Schlesser at the wheel. The Frenchman died at his home race in 1968, after John Surtees had declared the car unfit to race.

The team withdrew and the Honda name didn't return to Formula 1 until the turbo era of the Eighties.

Teaming up with the under-performing Spirit team, Honda engines found their way into the backs of Lotus, Tyrrell, Williams and McLaren cars.

They powered these cars to 71 Grand Prix victories by the end of 1992, including championships for Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet.

Honda engines powered Williams cars in the mid-Eighties, delivering a constructor's championship for the and FW11 and FW11Bs driven by Mansell and Piquet in the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

Honda's relationship with McLaren is perhaps the most famous. The company produced turbo V6 engines, V10s and V12s for the British team but, curiously, chose not to supply the engine for the F1 road car project.

With Honda engines, McLaren's MP4/4 dominated the 1988 season, drivers Senna and Prost delivering fifteen wins from sixteen races and a first title for Ayrton Senna.

The only "loss" of the year was when Senna tangled with a backmarker at Monza while in the lead.

The 1989 season saw Honda supply a 3.5 litre V10 for the new regulations, and powered Prost to a driver's championship and the MP4/5 to a constructor's championship.

In 1990 and in controversial circumstances, Senna won a second title in a McLaren Honda, having driven Alain Prost off the road in his Ferrari at the final race at Suzuka, Honda's home track. Prost had done the same thing the year before.

The year 1991 was the last of Senna's - and Honda's - world championships and Honda left the sport at the end of 1992, leaving McLaren with less-favoured Ford DFV engines.

Their departure was a little half-hearted, however - for the rest of the Nineties and to the end of 2000, the Footwork, Ligier, Prost and Jordan teams were powered by Mugen-Honda engines at one time or another, with Jordan scoring a win in 1998 with Damon Hill and in 1999 two wins with Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Honda returned in 2000 with the BAR team, a team built around Jacques Villeneuve for the 1999 season. The team had not done well in its debut season, but the Honda deal meant engines and personnel for the well-funded team.

Current McLaren driver Jenson Button first raced with Honda engines at BAR in 2003, while Villeneuve's sacking by year's end saw popular Japanese driver Takuma Sato enter the sport.

By 2004, the Honda V10 was considered one of the most powerful engines in Formula 1, with an estimated 716kW, taking BAR to second in the constructor's championship without a single win.

During the 2004 season, Honda bought 45 percent of BAR and replaced team principal David Richards with Nick Fry. The team suffered the embarrassment of being banned for two races after running illegal fuel tanks to allow the cars to run underweight in the races.

In 2006, the team re-branded BAR to Honda, competing as they did forty years before as both engine supplier and constructor.

Compatriot Japanese team Super Aguri also used Honda V8s, but with very little success in 2007 before folding after round four in the 2008 season.

The works team had very little luck, their best result fourth in the 2006 season. The team lured Ross Brawn from his technical director role at Ferrari to become team principal.

The timing was, sadly, awful.

The GFC hit and Honda sold the team to a management consortium led by Ross Brawn. The Japanese company could no longer justify the $300m per year spend while it was doing the unthinkable - sacking members of its Japanese workforce.

In 2009, the team won both driver's and constructor's titles with Mercedes engines, but, of course, with Honda's funding.

Honda's return in 2015 has been the worst-kept secret in Formula 1 for almost eighteen months, so the confirmation has the team, and the sport - abuzz.

In the paddock and among pundits, Honda's return is being hailed as a victory for the new turbo engine rules as making F1 more relevant to road cars.

Perhaps this comeback was inevitable. After all, Soichiro Honda, himself a racer, once said: "If Honda does not race, there is no Honda."

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