Like fellow competitors Renault, Honda are a Formula One manufacturer team that have had a stop/start relationship with the pinnacle series in international motor sport. The squad had competed for supremacy in the early sixties, the team being one of only three true constructors of the time, insisting on building their own chassis and engine. The only other teams in 1964 to do this were Ferrari and BRM. By 1969 though, Honda withdrew from Formula One due to lack of results, but returned fourteen years later as an engine supplier. With McLaren and Williams, Honda found great success and managed to claim six constructor titles from 71 victories. 1992 saw the marque drop out of the sport again, but this time it wouldn’t be for quite as long. Let’s look at the recent history of the Honda F1 team.
Honda’s recent presence on the Formula One grid all starts with, perhaps oddly, Tyrrell. The British based team that had enjoyed some great successes in the sport, Tyrrell had a fair amount of heritage behind them. 33 race victories were claimed since 1968 when the team was inaugurated, but the advancing void between the top and midfield teams in the eighties and nineties meant that Tyrrell were soon struggling financially to compete.
In 1998, team owner Ken Tyrrell decided to sell his team to BAT, a project led by Craig Pollock and Jacques Villeneuve with major backing from the tobacco giant. Although the BAR started out in 1999 with re-badged Renault engine units, by 2000 the team had secured a lucrative deal with Honda. The marque had returned full-time to the sport, albeit as an engine supplier once again.
For the next six years Honda worked closely with BAR, but results rarely came. The cars that were built were either potential winners or hopelessly bad. From 2000 onwards, their constructor positions fluctuated from a low of eighth to a high of second. Despite this though, Honda purchased 45% of the team in 2004, the following season being the team’s best to date. Unfortunately, instability returned and political infighting became rife. In 2005 Honda decided to resurrect a past project they had started back in 1999; the return to Formula One as a manufacturer.
The 1999 project came quite close to fruition, a test car having been built and driven at a test session by Jos Verstappen. The chassis was penned by previous Tyrrell employee Harvey Postlethwaite and made it to the track in Spain. However, it was at this test session that Postlethwaite suffered a fatal heart attack and the project was shelved.
Wanting to return to Formula One though, Honda started to negotiate the buy-out of the remaining 55% of BAR, and in 2006 the team had officially changed hands. Unfortunately for the squad, the improved technical experience hasn’t resulted in consistent constructor positions, the final places still fluctuating between ninth and fourth. However, Honda appear to be wanting to remain involved with the sport for a good while longer, having fought a battle with BAR to keep Jenson Button in the team and employing ex-Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn as team principal.
Honda’s best result in Formula One as a constructor is a victory, occurring three times; Mexico 1965, Italy 1967 and Hungary 2006. Again, as a constructor their best championship position is fourth, happening in 1967 and 2006.
Image courtesy of HondaF1.