Honda Set for F1 Return With McLaren

The three-generation Honda Formula One cars, (front to rear)1965 Honda RA272, 1988 McLaren Honda MP4/4 and 2006 Honda RA106.
Toshifumi Kitamura | Getty Images
The three-generation Honda Formula One cars, (front to rear)1965 Honda RA272, 1988 McLaren Honda MP4/4 and 2006 Honda RA106.

Honda is returning to Formula One, confirming that it will renew its partnership with McLaren and supply the British team's engines from 2015.

The Japanese car maker is developing the 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 engine at its factory in Tochigi.

Honda shocked F1 in 2008 by announcing it was pulling its team out of the elite racing series over the spiraling costs of running a team and turmoil in the car industry, a move followed by other car makers.

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It led to one of F1's most turbulent periods, prompting bitter rows over how to reduce costs – an issue that continues to dog teams.

McLaren will continue with Mercedes engines next season, but then switch to Honda in an attempt to revitalize the team's challenge for the world championship, which has been dominated in the past three years by Red Bull and its Renault engines.

The McLaren-Honda partnership ruled F1 between 1988 and 1992, winning eight world championships, during which it took the winner's podium in 44 out of 80 Grands Prix.

In 1988, McLaren drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost won 15 out of the 16 Grands Prix driving the McLaren-Honda MP4/4.

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But he denied this would cause friction with Mercedes as McLaren begins to focus on its Honda relationship. "We recognize our mutual dependence on each other," he said. "There is a large amount of high regard behind the scenes between the two corporate organisations."

McLaren, he added, "will operate in a scrupulous way between the two organisations".

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Honda's exit and return bookend a difficult financial period for the company, and for Japanese car makers in general. When it pulled out, the global financial crisis was gathering force, car sales were collapsing and the yen was climbing towards what would be a record high, exacerbating the decline in income earned outside Japan.

Now, the yen has weakened and global demand is recovering. Honda last month forecast that net profit would increase 58 per cent in the year to next March, to 580 billion yen ($5.6bn).

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Takanobu Ito, president and chief executive of Honda, said: "For Honda to survive as a winner in the automotive industry we must continue to develop superior technology, and to do that our young engineers need to test their skills against the world. F1 is the best place to do that."

Attention could turn to other Japanese car and motorcycle manufacturers that scaled back their motor sport activities during the crisis. Toyota, which followed Honda out of F1 in November 2009, is also experiencing a financial resurgence, with net profit expected to rise 40 per cent this year after tripling last year.

Suzuki, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki also pulled the plug on racing teams in 2009 but are looking stronger today.