Written by Richard Kelley
Few F1 engine manufacturers, over the past decades, have found the secret to catching and passing the dominant standard bearer once new F1 engine rules are in place. One of those rare mechanical heroes has been Honda; and they accomplished the magnificent feat twice.
Sadly, Honda decided to depart F1 at the end of the 2021 season after seven seasons as a power unit supplier.
Whereas Honda had a rocky time re-joining the grid with an ailing McLaren chassis from 2015 to 2017, Honda’s stunning success in partnership with Red Bull brought Max Verstappen’s maiden Formula 1 World Drivers Championship in 2021.
Max Verstappen celebrates winning his maiden World Drivers' Championship with Masashi Yamamoto, General Manager of Honda Motorsport, Helmut Marko and Red Bull Racing crew members. Image Courtesy: HOCH ZWEI Photoagency.
To commemorate Honda’s unique GP history, Red Bull and AlphaTauri sported special liveries for the Turkish Grand Prix, originally scheduled to be Japan’s round of the world championship.
The tribute included a one-off special livery in throwback Honda ‘Championship White’ with a red accent, paying tribute to the rising sun livery the company wore when it first joined F1 in the 1960s.
The design retained Red Bull's red branding, the yellow airbox and the blue rear wing but was otherwise converted to a white-based format. Red Bull also placed the driver numbers on a red circular backdrop, similar to the Japanese flag.
Max Verstappen drives the RB16B wrapped in the special Honda white livery during the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix weekend. Image Courtesy: HOCH ZWEI Photoagency.
Sister team AlphaTauri also featured a modified livery with the message ‘ありがとう’ (‘Arigato’ which means 'Thank You' in Japanese) written on the rear wing.
A special 'Thank You' message for Honda written on the back of the AlphaTauri's rear wing. Image Courtesy: HOCH ZWEI Photoagency.
Although Honda has been an engine supplier in recent decades, their 1965 RA272 was a genuine giant-killer, the first all-Honda engine and chassis, and the first-time F1 race-winner.
That year, F1 teams were given a free hand with engine layout as long as they based their unit at 1.5 liters displacement. With its motorcycle history, Honda chose a V-12 slung transversely behind the driver. It was pitted against a host of bulletproof Coventry Climax units.
The engine had a 60-degree ‘V’ between banks, 48 valves and a bore and stroke that measured just 2.29 x 1.85 inches. Horsepower was said to be 230 at 13,000 rpm. And the sound it made was stunning.
Phil Hill, who drove the car at Suzuka in Japan, once commented, “The Honda engine reminds me very much of a Ferrari’s because it loves to rev and rewards the driver right up to the red line.”
Driver Richie Ginther’s reputation as both a top-line race driver and a brilliant technical advisor matched Honda’s innovative approach to F1, and his Honda led the race in Mexico from flag to flag, winning the season finale at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Second place went to another U.S. driver, Dan Gurney driving a Brabham with its dominant Climax engine.
The original Honda RA272 that inspired the special white livery. Image Courtesy: Richard Kelley.
Honda returned to F1 in 2015 with McLaren but struggled for tangible results with the British squad. Honda linked up with Toro Rosso in the 2018 season, laying the foundations for their highly successful partnership with Red Bull which started in 2019.
Honda initially withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of 2021, but ultimately decided to partially come back and strengthen the relationship with Red Bull again, having powered Max Verstappen to his maiden Formula 1 World Championship. Red Bull Powertrains – a new company set up by the Austrian outfit – then took over the Honda engine IP with help from the Japanese company under a support agreement.
Red Bull took over the intellectual property and production of Honda’s V6 hybrid power in 2022, and Max Verstappen promptly won his second World Championship, while Red Bull captured the Constructor’s crown. 2023 looks even better, thanks to Red Bull and Honda's expertise and full cooperation.
Max Verstappen's White Bull on parade in the pit lane during the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix weekend. Image Courtesy: HOCH ZWEI Photoagency.
Follow the link below to discover our latest design poster depicting Red Bull's tribute to Honda – the RB16B in the special White Livery.