At last year’s Australian Grand Prix in March, Honda staff were crying tears of joy.
After agreeing to supply Red Bull’s engines at the beginning of 2019, the Japanese manufacturer was celebrating its first F1 podium finish since 2008 when Max Verstappen crossed the line third in Melbourne.
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But 18 months on and the partnership that promised so much — after Red Bull became fed up with the unreliability of Renault’s engines — is facing a sad end.
Honda announced it will quit F1 at the end of 2021, citing a desire to dedicate more resources towards developing carbon-free technologies and tackling climate change.
Simply, it can’t do that and be an F1 power unit supplier at the same time, leaving Red Bull and AlphaTauri in search of new providers for 2022 and beyond.
Rather than feel any joy at his rivals’ speed bump, Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul says Honda’s impending departure is proof the rules need to change.
Engine regulations governing the use and scope of power units are in place until the end of 2025, but Abiteboul says the sport can’t wait that long to adapt. He believes Honda’s F1 divorce shows the sport needs to make it easier and more attractive for new players to enter the game.
Right now, Abiteboul is concerned engine manufacturers are too intimidated by the financial and technological pressures associated with being involved in F1.
“We want an F1 with car makers, with OEMs, with engine suppliers, and being down to three engine manufacturers is not a positive development,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.
“The engine situation is simply unsustainable. In particular from an economic perspective, but also from a technology perspective.
“The entry ticket is so high in terms of costs, but also in terms of technology.
“We need to think harder about the environmental sustainability of the engine, about the economic sustainability of the engine.
“There has been a bit that has been done, but it’s not enough. We need to be harder on that.”
Abiteboul said too often when engines are spoken about in F1, it’s to complain about them. He blasted the sport as a whole for failing to promote how impressive its technology actually is, and called on F1 to market that technology better to avoid situations we’re witnessing with Honda.
“It’s just more evidence that we have failed in putting together the right messaging and the right marketing of these engine regulations, which are mind blowing — there is nothing more advanced in the world in terms of automotive powertrain,” Abiteboul said.
“There is nothing that even gets close to this efficiency level for light vehicles, so that’s remarkable.
“But it’s just as remarkable to have failed so badly in explaining to the world and getting the world to understand what this is all about, and the windfalls that could impact more mainstream technology.
“F1 has missed an opportunity of leveraging an asset that we have.”