APRIL 9, 2023

Honda's 2026 plans on hold until June

Honda is still considering an official return to Formula One from the start of 2026, but a final decision won't be taken until the middle of June.

Nyck de Vries, Australian GP 2023
© Red Bull

By Luis Vasconcelos

Honda is still considering an official return to Formula One from the start of 2026, but a final decision won't be taken until the middle of June.

This date is considered the final deadline for the technical department in Sakura to be able to get the personnel it will need to develop a brand-new Power Unit that could be competitive and reliable right from the start.

In spite of Honda having officially retired from Formula One at the end of 2021, following a decision taken by the company's board more than one year earlier, a group of engineers from the Grand Prix program has remained, working on the project for a 2026 Power Unit, even if the vast majority of the designers and other technicians have been moved to developing future electrical engines, as Honda wants to stop producing combustion engines by the end of this decade.

However, Honda's former Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe has remained in charge of that small group of engineers and has represented Honda in all the meetings of the Formula One Technical Group regarding the definition of the 2026 Power Unit regulations, showing the Japanese manufacturer has clearly kept the door open.

The Sakura-based technical group will now get a very important new element, as Masamitsu Motohashi, who replaced Tanabe at the end of 2021, has completed his final race in Melbourne as head of Honda's trackside operations and has returned to Japan to bring his experience to the Formula One group.

While Honda Racing has been pushing the board very hard to get the green light to go ahead with a full budget for the group to prepare for an official return in 2026, the question remains who would be the potential partner for the Japanese manufacturer to work with and, according to sources close to Honda, the two most likely alternatives are McLaren and Aston Martin.

A deal with McLaren, however, could be complicated from a political point of view, as Zak Brown was in charge of the British team when he decided to terminate the contract with Honda at the end of 2017, the collaboration being almost doomed from the start, and this possibly has left some scars that could make it impossible for a future collaboration so soon.

Aston Martin, on the other hand, may be a more attractive proposition, as the huge investment made by Lawrence Stroll and his partners is starting to pay off, and with the team's new factory expected to be fully functional by the end of this year the future looks even brighter for the British make.

Given that the two companies do not fight for the same segment of the automobile market, an Aston Martin-Honda link wouldn't cause any commercial or marketing problems and the partnership could evolve to technology exchanges in the production department, that would be beneficial for both parties.

The first step though before anything else can happen will be determined by what the Honda board decides in June for the direction of ther company's future Formula One plans.