Formula 1: Honda returns as Aston Martin’s powertrain partner
As the formula 1 presented their engine regulations for the future last summer, it was clear what was at stake: survival. For road traffic, many automobile manufacturers had already decided to move away from the internal combustion engine. And those who – like Formula 1 – are already criticized for driving in circles and are willing to innovate are thinking about change.
Less than a month later, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the world motorsport association Fia, and Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali sat at a press conference at the Belgian Grand Prix next to Audi CEO Markus Duesmann and Audi development chief Oliver Hoffmann, who ceremoniously announced the entry of the Ingolstadt-based company to the 2026 season announced. Then the new regulations will take effect with a significantly increased proportion of electrical energy, sustainable fuel and a target of CO2 neutrality from 2030. Ben Sulayem spoke of a “milestone” for the premier class. In February, Ford also announced its return after more than 20 years and provided the next proof of the ongoing boom in the motorsport series.
This week the entourage arrived in Monte Carlo. And although there was no press conference in the principality between skyscrapers and yachts, the mood was just as euphoric as it was in Spa-Francorchamps after a message that was announced on the other side of the globe in Tokyo: Honda will be back as an engine supplier in three years full commitment in a works partnership Aston-Martin to be there. The great interest shows, said Ben Sulayem, that the regulations “strike the right balance to ensure that Formula 1 remains at the forefront of technological innovation, sustainability and competition”.
Honda had actually said goodbye for the end of 2021. Red Bull Racing and its sister team Alpha Tauri therefore had to look for a new partner. Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault were the only remaining engine manufacturers from 2022 onwards. Honda only stuck with it in the form of technical support – with the volume of the silent partnership being turned up, the Honda logo can be seen again on the cars that replaced long-term winner Mercedes at the top. Ironically, Honda’s wave of success started just as the company announced its exit: Max Verstappen clinched the world title in 2021 and 2022, Red Bull has won five out of five Grands Prix this season.
“If I’m still enjoying it, I’ll keep going,” says Fernando Alonso
For the new era, Red Bull had repositioned itself after the Honda exit with its own engine factory under the company name “Red Bull Powertrains Limited” and in a liaison with Ford after the planned cooperation with Porsche came to nothing. When Honda registered as an engine manufacturer with the Fia again this year, it was again the Japanese who had to look for a new partner. They justify the reversal in a similar way to Audi the entry: The direction taken by Formula 1 corresponds to their own ideas, the concept designed for sustainability is attractive. “We believe that the knowledge we gain through this new challenge has the potential to be applied directly in the series production of electric sports cars,” Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe said at the press conference.
From 2026, Alpine (Renault), Audi, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes and red bull Ford in Formula 1, so six engine manufacturers. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. As a result of the new cooperation, Aston Martin will no longer obtain its hybrid engines (as well as transmissions and rear wheel suspension) from Mercedes as a customer team. The partnership itself is not bad. “But we are in Formula 1 to beat them. They also want to win. Unfortunately, these goals are not compatible,” said Aston Martin Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh, the dependency had to be ended in order to be able to succeed.
The claim has grown, the racing team wants to develop into a serious title candidate. Team owner and billionaire Lawrence Stroll has had a new factory and wind tunnel built, while engineers from Red Bull and Mercedes have been poached. The Brits ended last season in seventh place. Now they are in second place with 102 points behind the undisputed Red Bull (224). What especially Fernando Alonso who is third in the drivers’ standings behind Verstappen and his team-mate Sergio Perez. And of course you need a capable pilot if you want to win the World Cup. Only: When Honda and Aston Martin start together in 2026, the two-time world champion will be 44 years old. Will he still be there? “I don’t know what I’m going to do in 2026,” Alonso said in Monaco on Thursday. “Right now I’m feeling fresh, motivated, still fast. If I’m still enjoying it, I’ll keep going.”
Much of the talk he’s had this week has more to do with his past than his future – and his special relationship with Honda. Driving for McLaren, the Honda engines lacked power, leading the frustrated Alonso to statements that have long since become legendary and have now, of course, been unearthed. At Honda’s home race in Suzuka in 2015, the then 17-year-old Verstappen overtook him in the Toro Rosso, in relation to one of the junior series, Alonso shouted: “GP2 engine! GP2 engine!” It was embarrassing, totally embarrassing. In Interlagos, out of sheer anger, he got out of his McLaren, grabbed a camping chair and demonstratively sunbathed next to the track.
A lot broke at that time. But Honda showed no resentment. Aston Martin would like to keep the Spaniard anyway. And Alonso himself? Riding with Honda again will not be a problem at all from his side: “I know it didn’t work last time 2015, 2016, 2017. But I think they proved that they have a competitive package now .” Such a partnership where you are no longer dependent on another factory team like Mercedes is “probably the only way to be sure of having control of your total package,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that Aston Martin can’t win the World Cup before 2026.”