Next year Honda will return to Formula One after a seven-year absence, bringing the first Japanese automaker to compete in the top-tier racing series back into the fold. But though it started in 1964 much as it ended in 2008, running its own team (much like Ferrari and Mercedes do today), its new F1 program will see it revert to engine-supplier status (like Renault did when it sold its team to Lotus).
The arrangement will be exclusive to McLaren for the 2015 Formula One World Championship. But what fans and insiders alike have been wondering is how it might expand after that. Well, now we have at least part of the answer.
According to the F1 business insiders at Pitpass, Honda motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai told a group of journalists at this past weekend's race in Shanghai that the deal with McLaren will be exclusive not only in 2015, but also in 2016. In other words, it won't be until 2017 at the earliest before Honda might begin supplying engines to any other teams, if at all.
The last time McLaren and Honda collaborated, they proved an unassailable combination - one of the most successful partnerships in the history of motorsport. With Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost (subsequently replaced by Gerhard Berger) behind the wheel, McLaren-Honda won both the drivers' and constructors' titles four years running from 1988 through 1991, proving as winning a combination as Red Bull and Renault.
McLaren placed second under Honda power the following season in 1992, then meandered under Ford and Peugeot power before embarking on its long partnership with Mercedes that's still in effect this season. Meanwhile Honda left the series after 1992, only to return in 2000 with BAR, the team that it subsequently bought, then sold in 2009 to Ross Brawn who won the championship and ended up selling to Mercedes. That team is now leading the championship standings with nearly three times as many points as its closest challengers.