Honda has had a longer and more tumultuous relationship with Formula One than just about any other automaker. It had only been building cars for four years before it entered F1 in 1964 as the first Japanese team in the series, winning its first race the following season but shuttering the program a few years later. Honda came back to power the likes of Williams and McLaren to several World Championships in the '80s and '90s, but things took a downturn when it started a partnership and ultimately took over British American Racing. After pouring untold billions into the effort, the economy tanked, and Honda ultimately sold the team, which subsequently claimed the championship – under new ownership and Mercedes power. Now Honda is gearing up to return in 2015 with a new turbocharged V6 hybrid powertrain it's supplying initially to McLaren, which in turn is switching back to Honda from nearly two decades with Mercedes.
So why return to F1 now? That's precisely what Autoblog asked Honda's Global President and Chief Executive Takanobu Ito (pictured above with McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh) while visiting his office in Tokyo. While he wouldn't reveal specifics (like when his company's new engine would be available to other teams, as it most certainly will in the long run), Ito-san was clearly happy to discuss the motivation behind the move and the value he feels it brings to the company and its products.
Aside from the recovery of the economic collapse that prompted Honda's withdrawal from the series (much as it did for Toyota and BMW), Ito says the prime consideration for the company's return to the series was the motivation it brings to his employees. After spending a few days in Japan ahead of this week's Tokyo Motor Show, it's all the more evident to this writer how central a role honor and pride of work play in Japanese culture, and competing at the top level of motorsports is something which Ito feels will drive his company and the people behind it to excel.
Ito pointed toward the proliferation of motors within Honda's powertrains as a development he hopes to take to road from track
Another prime consideration Ito cited was the shift in focus on the part of the FIA under Jean Todt's leadership to make F1 more technologically relevant to manufacturers. A hybrid six-cylinder engine is of course more closely associated to most mass-production engines than a high-revving V12, V10 or even V8 engine – configurations which Honda has historically avoided. In particular, Ito pointed toward the proliferation of electric motors within Honda's powertrains as a development which he hopes to take to road from track.
While avoiding specifics, Ito implied that Honda could use electric motors to combat turbo lag by spooling up the turbocharger electrically and capturing the power generated upon winding down to help spool it back up again when needed. So while motivation itself may be Honda's prime motivation in getting back into the pinnacle series of motor racing, there may be more direct and tangible benefits yet to come.