Monday, December 11, 2023

75 Years of Honda Racing Continued

As the 1980’s to early 1990’s were truly Honda’s glory Days…


Soichiro Honda wished for Honda to return to Formula 1, this time as an engine supplier only. Wanting to keep a low profile, Honda selected the Minnowesqe Spirit Racing team, founded by ex-McLaren Designer Gordon Coppuck and John Wickham. With the Slough, Berkshire UK team running a Honda powered entry in the European Formula 2 Championship in 1982 with Stefan Johansson and Thierry Boutsen as drivers.


The Spirit 201 F2 chassis was quick, claiming eight Pole positions, with Boutsen scoring three wins and finishing runner-up to Corrado Fabi in the Championship.


Honda sent prototype 1.5-litre V-6 twin turbo engines to Spirit for winter testing in ’82. With Spirit modifying it’s 201 F2 chassis for Formula 1, and continued extensive private testing, including running at Willow springs Raceway.


Having contested the Non Championship F1 Brands Hatch event, ‘lil Stevie Johnson’ (Johansson) made Spirit Racing’s F1 debut at the 1983 British Grand Prix.


The car proved fast but unreliable with engine issues. And even though Johansson finished a best of  seventh at the Dutch Grand Prix. Honda was displeased with the team’s perceived lack of progress. And with Williams courting Honda, the Japanese manufacturer moved it’s supply of engines to Sir Frank’s Team Willy’, and the rest was History.


The Williams/Honda package soon became a force to reckon with, despite infighting by the team’s two drivers, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. With Piquet securing Honda’s first F1 World Championship in 1987.


Honda also supplied it’s engines to rival’s McLaren, joining Williams and Lotus for 1988. As we All know about the rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost! With Senna and Prost winning the next four consecutive F1 Drivers and Constructors Championships. With Honda winning six Constructors and five Drivers titles between 1986-91.


Honda then withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of the ’92 season, before returning again in 2000 as engine supplier to British American Racing, known as BAR-Honda.


The team reached it’s zenith in 2004, finishing runner-up to Ferrari in that year’s Constructors Championship, including Takuma Sato’s lone F1 podium finish of third at the USGP at Indianapolis.


Yet the team was also surrounded in controversy the following year, being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix for it’s cars being under weight and using Fuel as an illegal ballast. Being further banned from the following two Grands Prix.


Initially Honda bought a 45% stake in BAR, owned by British American Tobacco in 2004. And then the following year purchased the remaining 55%, once again becoming a F1 Constructor as Honda Racing F1 in ’06.


As Jenson Button would score His maiden F1 victory at Hungary, Honda’s third and final Grands Prix W’ as a Constructor, before the team slowly declined, and once again withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of the ’08 F1 season. With the team ultimately being bought out by Ross Brawn and becoming Brawn GP, whom dually won the 2009 F1 Drivers and Constructors Championships!


Honda returned to formula 1 in 2015 as a Power Unit (PU) supplier to McLaren, one year after the new PU era began. With both parties hoping to resurrect their former F1 glories…


Yet the McLaren Honda relationship suffered under the strain of Honda’s underperforming PU. For which I think everyone knows about that Smarmy Spaniard Frederico Suave’, aka Fernando Alonso publicly Humiliating Honda by calling their Power Unit a GP2 engine! No less than during the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, owned by Honda! Upon Alonso being overtaken easily by a Toro rosso.


As the relationship finally fractured, with McLaren jettisoning their Werks’ Honda PU supply at the end of 2017 in favour of customer Renault PU’s for 2018.


And although Sauber initially thought they’d secured Honda PU’s for 2018. Ultimately Red Bull’s ‘lil Seester’ Toro Rosso won the supply of Honda Power Units instead. With the Fienza squad ultimately serving as a test bed for HondaPU development, with Red Bull becoming Honda powered the following year.


Armed with arguably the second best PU on the F1 Grid, and now most reliable in terms of mechanical failures. Red bull’s Max Verstappen scored Honda’s first Grand Prix victory at the Austrian Grand Prix. Becoming the first of many Honda victories.


For 2021, Honda announced it would leave Formula 1 once again at season’s end. For which Honda went out on top thanks to Verstappen’s controversial win at the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Where Maximilian won the F1 Drivers Championship.


Yet with Red Bull faced with the prospect of no PU supply and threatening to leave Formula 1. The FIA allowed for an engine development Freeze between 2022-25 with Honda supplying it’s PU’s to be produced by Red Bull newly created Power Train unit instead, (RBPT) for which the 2022 PU were “badges” as. Before now being known as a Honda RBPT.


But Honda’s Formula 1 saga doesn’t end there. As they’ve since done another U-Turn and oddly, will provide Factory PU’s to Aston Martin for the new 2026 E-E-E-lectrified’ F1 Power Unit formulae…


Interestingly, Honda is denoted as the All-time fifth most successful Formula 1 engine with a total of 89 victories. Which doesn’t include any of Red Bull’s 2022-23 subsequent wins. Claiming a whopping 17 W’s in 2022 and preposterous 21 wins this year!


Honda IndyCar Beginnings

In a forever languishing story I’ve intended to scribble her upon No fenders. Engine Developments Limited, a racing engine manufacturer founded by John Judd and Jack Brabham, were commissioned by Honda to build it’s first IndyCar engine.


Following the demise of the European formula 2 Championship in 1984, Engine Developments Limited better known simply as Judd, created the Judd AV engine. A 2.65-litre turbocharged V-8 lump’ producing some 740-850bhp.


The Judd AV was produced between 1984-90, with presumably updates being made at least thru 1992? But I’m getting ahead of myself…


Naturally the Brabham-Honda engine would make it’s IndyCar debut with Galles Racing driver Geoff Brabham, son of Sir Black Jack during the 1986 season. Apparently making it’s CART/IndyCar debut none other than at Portland International Raceway.


As Geoff Brabham would score a best finish of fourth with the Brabham-Honda engine, also known as Honda/Judd at Michigan International Speedway.


Galles Racing continued running the Honda/Judd V-8 in 1987, where the Honda/Judd lump’ made it’s debut in that year’s Indianapolis 500.


Brabham would claim three podiums with the Japanese funded engine. Claiming second at Pocono and Road America, along with third in Miami.


For 1988Truesports with driver Bobby Rahal became the engines primary customer. Yet the Honda name was dropped in favour of just Judd. For which astute IndyCar Aficionados know that Rahal would give the Judd V-8 it’s lone IndyCar victory at the Pocono 500 that year. As the Honda/Judd engine had become known for it’s fuel efficiency, but lacked the outright “grunt”, i.e.; superior Horsepower of the dominant Ilmor/Chevrolet.


As the Judd V-8 IndyCar engine would continue to compete thru early 1993, but was never a factor for     wins or IndyCar Championships…