Formula 1

Honda’s response to ‘suspicion’ about its F1 engine

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Honda says it is maximising more of its Formula 1 engine’s potential as the season progresses, in response to “suspicion” about recent gains in performance.

Red Bull and Honda have won the last four grands prix as their package has edged ahead of chief rival Mercedes’, giving Red Bull and Max Verstappen the lead in both championships.

Honda introduced fresh engines at the French Grand Prix and comments from Mercedes and its world champion Lewis Hamilton indicated a belief this might have given Red Bull extra performance.

Red Bull took these comments to be suggestions of a performance upgrade, which is not allowed in-season.

Team boss Christian Horner and lead driver Verstappen said there was no Honda upgrade and the fresh engines simply coincided with Red Bull adopting a smaller rear wing to increase its straightline speed.

Asked about the power output of Honda’s engine allegedly increasing, Honda F1 technical director Toyoharu Tanabe joked: “I’m very happy if it is true.

“It’s not true. Under the current regulations, any performance update is not allowed during the season.

“As a result, our second power unit is the same as the first in terms of specification and performance.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Qualifying Day Paul Ricard, France

Honda has introduced small changes for reliability for its second set of engines, but this is within the rules, was explained to the FIA, and communicated to rival manufacturers too.

Tanabe insisted the reliability fixes hadn’t allowed the engine to be “turned up”, dismissing a theory that Honda had a concern earlier in the season and ran the engine in a lower mode until a fix could be introduced.

“The current performance improvement is as a result of the hard work from Honda, and the teams,” said Tanabe.

“We’re only allowed to change for reliability, cost reasons, and logistics. We need to submit very detailed changes to the FIA first, and the FIA approved those changes.

“The FIA distributes all the documents to the other PU manufacturers. So, we need to have approval from the other big manufacturers to change any single part’s specification.

“Why we are doing such detailed investigation [into such changes now] is that a long time ago some teams improved their performance [by making] a change to improve their reliability.

“So, we are very careful to change the performance. It is not possible to improve the performance during the season.

“That’s my answer to that suspicion.”

Red Bull Honda F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Tanabe states that the base performance specification of the power unit is unchanged but the operation of the power unit has improved.

Honda’s internal combustion engine design changed substantially over the winter. It made the layout of its camshaft significantly more compact and lowered it, in addition to changing the valve angle, and shortened the spacing between each cylinder.

The purpose is to change the shape of the combustion chamber and reduce the overall size of the engine, lowering the centre of gravity and changing the airflow on the camshaft.

It created an engine smaller than the ‘size-zero’ concept pursued with McLaren several years ago but also gave Honda a very different relationship between the combustion engine and energy recovery systems.

Asked by The Race if Honda was simply closer to the maximum potential of its engine now, Tanabe said: “Yes. Because we started using this 2021 new power unit from the pre-season test, and then we have been gradually learning how to use it.

“We improved our weaknesses, and then we pushed our strengths.

“And as a result the base specification of the performance is the same but the trackside performance I believe we have been improving.”

Red Bull Honda F1 Austrian Grand Prix

There is also an improved oil from supplier ExxonMobil, introduced in the race before France, that is meant to be better for reliability and running at higher temperatures, and may be worth tangible lap time as it is optimised.

The unexpected scrutiny of Honda’s second engine began with remarks from Wolff and Hamilton and continued as Hamilton in particular stated repeatedly that Red Bull’s engine may have got more power.

Wolff did move to ease tensions last week though, when on the Friday of the Styrian GP he recognised the role of the Red Bull’s lower-drag rear wing and suggested it was wrong to question whether the Honda was producing more power.

And after the Styrian GP, when asked by The Race if he suspected anything untoward in terms of knock-on performance gains from Honda’s reliability fixes, Wolff said: “In this sport we were not working with suspicions.

“It’s important to analyse the facts and the data and this is what everybody does.

“It’s very transparent how every team performs and we will be looking at every team’s performance, including Red Bull and ourselves, and then come to conclusions.

“But in a moment of defeat, the initial reaction shouldn’t be pointing fingers at anybody or looking to find excuses.

“They’ve done a good job, fact, and the second power unit that they brought has been really strong.

“And that can be only with reliability, if the first one had what had degradation.

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