Honda pull out of F1, Red Bull quits & manufacturers question participation

A while ago, TJ13 published an article that could herald the beginning of the end of big global manufacturer participation in Formula 1 – In it we described a set of circumstances recently occurring which are making the current F1 teams sit up and take notice.

For your information, the article in question can be found via this link here, but in summary, we describe the announcement from the VW Group declaring that VW will not participate in any motorsport involving internal combustion engines, as possibly the most seismic event in motorsport to date.

“Volkswagen has confirmed that it will stop backing all motorsport programmes which feature internal combustion engines, instead shifting focus to electric mobility programmes.” is more or less the scale of the statement made by VW.

Further copy has now been written elsewhere that potentially links Honda into a similar stance, more on that later.

For fans of F1, and there are many who follow other forms of motorsport, this VW Group statement does bring a feeling of worry and concern that their beloved sport is set to change forever, and not necessarily for the better. Perhaps for others, who probably do not frequent TJ13 I might add, this VW statement means little – after all, VW doesn’t have anything to do with F1 right?

Wrong.

VW Group is a global powerhouse, and their stance of electrification of road cars, in particular, a response to ‘dieselgate’ in the US some years ago, means that they are the pathfinders into a marketing message that shuns any form of ‘environmental polluting’ forms of transport. i.e. fossil-fueled engines.

Other European manufacturers are taking notice, and indeed will be ramping up their own message to the public that their brand won’t be responsible for the increase in global warming that is fast becoming apparent in the world, despite what the likes of Donald Trump say.

This move to change to electric vehicles (EV’s) has been pushed by both public mood and political rhetoric that has since become law in many, admittedly for now mostly European countries. Countries are fast mandating that internal combustion-engined vehicles will be outlawed sooner rather than later.

But is it just the European manufacturers responding to this shift?

Renowned Formula 1 copywriter Dieter Rencken has very recently penned an article in Dutch for GPToday.net noticing that Honda is acting rather strangely in recent times. Not many other English speaking F1 news sites have picked up on this ‘op-ed’ by Rencken, but for TJ13, this report increases the likelihood that sooner rather than later Formula 1 will be set to change dramatically, akin to the end of 2008. Another year of dramatic rule changes which coincided with a mass manufacturer pull out.

In the article, Dieter questions the recent announcement of Red Bull’s continuation with Honda into 2021 – Red Bull Racing announcing on Twitter that “We’ll be #PoweredbyHonda in 2021! The Team are delighted to confirm that we have extended our partnership to use HondaHybridPower. @HondaRacingF1.”

Sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso sent a tweet that was even shorter: “It’s great to confirm that @HondaRacingF1 will continue to supply the team into the new era of Formula 1.”

“There was no press release, not a word was said about the period after 2021, so a high-ranking figure within F1 describes the overall strategy as ‘bizarre’.” describes Rencken in his piece.

The reality of the Honda situation is that they simply do not have a firm long term plan for their continued participation in Formula 1. And frankly, this has just been hugely re-enforced by the weak marketing and total lack of a collaborative message between Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso (soon to be called Scuderia Alpha Tauri) and Honda themselves.

According to Rencken, a source within Honda says that this lack of clarity of message is driven by ‘uncertainty around the motor industry’ and the cost of the Honda F1 project.

Further, President and CEO of Honda, Takahiro Hachigo, recently made a speech at the Toyota Motorshow and not once did the boss of Honda mention motorsport, but yet focused on a theme we see the VW Group purposely move wholeheartedly on. Electrification. To be precise, ‘Honda e:TECHNOLOGY’ and the associated term e:HEV.

Cost is also hugely important, plus Honda does have a rich history of suddenly removing themselves from Formula 1, rather frequently over the decades.

To date, this current guise is Honda’s fifth, sixth or seventh participation in F1 since 1964, depending on how the programs are counted and under what denominator they were active: Honda, Mugen, Mugen-Honda, Aguri… etc. No other manufacturer comes close to leaving the sport so often. To coin a court term (I am ‘the judge’ after all), there is a precedent.

And like many other manufacturers, the commitment to EV’s has now taken primary focus in the mid to long term goals.

Indeed, at the Geneva motor show in the spring of this year, Honda made the ambitious plan to ‘only sell electric vehicles in Europe by 2025’. Now tell me where F1 fits in that long term strategy?

Back to Dieter Rencken’s article, and in it the journalist asks a very important question in his conclusion… What are the consequences for Red Bull and Toro Rosso? And what is the result of Honda’s lack of dedication to its partner teams? 

“The prospects for the global automotive industry are unlikely to change dramatically in the next 12 months – when Honda’s management will have to look again at F1 – while the requirement for further electrification is unlikely to diminish.” says Rencken.

“Nor is there currently any prospect of new engine suppliers. Even if one were to appear now, it is unlikely to be competitive before the end of 2021,

“Also, Ferrari and Mercedes will probably not voluntarily supply their biggest opponent with engines, while the latter already has a full portfolio of customers.” says the Dutch reporter.

What about Renault, Red Bull’s favourite whipping boy of the V8 era going into the ill-fated hybrid V6 era for the French manufacturer. Well, there are no guarantees that Renault will stay in F1, because they also feel the ‘uncertainty’ in the car industry, apart from the fact that they also have a series of internal problems.

One must also consider the fact that Renault would rather throw a hand grenade at Christian Horner’s face, than allow their engines to power the Red Bull’s ever again.

Consider too that the rumours previously reported by TJ13 last week (READ MORE HERE) that Mercedes are set to sell their works team, probably to Roger Penske and maybe ‘A. N. Other’ whilst maintaining their F1 presence as an engine only supplier, we will likely see a wholesale shift of focus for manufacturers away from Formula 1.

Should such a seismic event occur, we could also see Red Bull pull out entirely from Formula 1 if Honda decides to pull the plug suddenly like they’ve done countless times before. Unless Mercedes end up powering most of the grid that aren’t powered by Ferrari.

Perhaps an Indycar ‘spec series’ post-2021 is as likely as we all fear. After all, we have American owners now who enjoy bending the FIA rule makers into developing rules unsuited to creative engineering solutions ‘for the sake of the show’, using Ross Brawn at the vanguard.

Whatever the outcome, we will surely see less manufacturer domination in F1 of tomorrow, unless Formula 1 is able to change it’s formula.