Why Honda's departure will be an ultimate worry for Formula 1
Honda's departure for an electric future will give F1 a long-overdue headache.
With Honda announcing that the company will depart F1 at the end of next year, I have to say it was something I did not anticipate. Given the fact that Honda is doing extremely well in F1 at the moment, it seems strange that it has decided to bow out. Two confident partnerships in Red Bull and AlphaTauri, a powerful, promising and ever-improving power unit and a strong driver development programme, today's announcement comes as a shock.
However, with the Japanese manufacturer citing its shift in focus to developing alternative energy forms, which includes the further development of electric-powered vehicles and becoming fully carbon-neutral by 2050, it is a decision that should not only worry Red Bull, but Formula 1 as a whole. Given Honda was the most recent manufacturer to become a power unit supplier in F1 upon its return to the sport with McLaren in 2015, it is a real concern and indeed a real shame to see the company decide to leave.
My main concern is one of the motives behind Honda's decision to leave, as it now sees, despite the recent success and improvements within Formula 1, the development of electric cars more beneficial to the company as it hopes to begin to move away from internal combustion engines for its road-going vehicles. Whether you like it or not, the future is indeed electric and more and more manufacturers are going to lean towards the development of these vehicles as the years go on.
This leaves only three power-unit suppliers in the sport as the new regulations take their toll when 2022 kicks off, two of which are already massively involved in the current development of electric vehicles. Renault currently offers a range of electric vehicles under the guise of its Renault Z.E brand with models such as the Twizy and the Zoe, while Mercedes, as well as running a fully-fledged manufacturer team in Formula E, just recently launched it's first fully-electric vehicle, the EQC.
Now, my question is, if a supplier like Honda, who is consistently improving within F1 and is a supplier capable of proving competitiveness and victories with it's power-unit, then how long until other manufacturers, namely Mercedes and Renault, decide to follow suit? Mercedes has nothing left to prove in terms of success, dominating the sport each year since the V6 Turbo Hybrid power-units were introduced in 2014 and Renault? How long will they stay, pouring time and resources into a sport that they don't seem to be making much ground in?
Red Bull sister team Scuderia AlphaTauri also tasted success with Honda, Pierre Gasly taking the win at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. (FIA.)
Given the fact that Renault actually stood away from its Formula E team in order to focus on it's F1 programme two years ago, it hardly hasn't yet been the rise to the success of the golden days that the manufacturer had hoped upon its return in 2016. With champion Fernando Alonso returning next year and the recent promising pace and performance giving the team a sort of inspiration for the next two years, if it does not work out in the coming years, will they be next to drop out in favour of an all-electric future?
Don't get me wrong, I find nothing wrong with electric vehicles and more familiar readers of my articles here on Drivetribe will know that I am and have been a keen supporter of Formula E since it's first race back in 2014 but I cannot help but now feel really worried for the future of Formula 1.
Red Bull, although this is an ultimate blow to the Milton Keynes squad in a time where it was looking to rise to the challenge of the Silver Arrows, will stay committed to F1, as noted by team principal Christian Horner, but we will just have to wait and see who will be powering the bulls when the new era of F1 descends in 2022. It will be also interesting to see if this also means Honda will depart IndyCar, given the series commitment to switch to Hybrid technology in 2022, which would then leave only Chevloret as the sole engine supplier in the series.
Former F1 engine supplier Cosworth has also noted its interest in returning to F1 as an engine supplier in 2021, but claimed it would only consider a return if the FIA considered a removal of the MGU-H from the current power-units, the known Achilles heel in these engines. Although it would be a bit of a comfort to see a manufacturer return to the sport, I cannot see F1 or the FIA making such a change to accommodate another supplier into the sport.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates his victory at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. (FIA.)
I'm worried for the sake of the sport due to the continued threat of an electric takeover in the future making it redundant as we know it, but I think today's news from Honda is the first piece of concrete proof that it is indeed, someday going to happen. Will Formula 1 need to adapt into a form of electricity to stay viable? Will it sacrifice the smell of burnt fuel and loud engine sounds to keep going on? If it does, will it lose the fanbase that has stood by it ever since 1950? Times change, and to stay viable, so must everything else. As much as we hate to admit it, Formula 1 is no exception.