Honda has altered the management structure of its Formula 1 programme with its boss Yasuhisa Arai leaving his role at the end of the month, it was announced today.
It is understood that the reshuffle is part of a number of executive changes at Honda, as Yusuke Hasegawa, the manufacturer’s managing officer and director of Honda Research and Development, will replace Arai, who has led Honda’s F1 approach since it returned to sport with McLaren at the start of last season.
Hasegawa will officially take over from Arai has Honda’s executive chief engineer and head of its F1 project on March 1, with the latter becoming the senior managing officer of the company’s R&D division.
The timing of this announcement raises questions about Honda’s response to the failure of its renewed relationship with McLaren last year, when the team finished ninth in the constructors’ championship – its worst result since 1980 – with just 27 points.
Honda’s problems with its V6 turbo power unit began to emerge at the end of 2014 when its first test with McLaren was hampered by severe problems with its electrical systems.
But as 2015 progressed it became clear that Honda’s engine design and layout were costing the team a significant amount of power and reliability. There were also issues regarding communication between Honda and McLaren and it is thought Hasegawa’s appointment will address these concerns.
Speaking at the end of last season, Arai said: “At the real beginnings of 2014 in Abu Dhabi, with electrical problems at the very beginning, I believed if we got rid of the electrical issues then it would possibly turn out for the better.
“But, over the summer was when everything was clear – that it was a hardware issue that we had the difficulty with. Then we could put our heads down.”
Button: more progress needed
On the first day of winter testing in 2016, Jenson Button completed 84 laps around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, more mileage than the team managed across the whole of the first test (at Jerez) in 2015.
Speaking after his first day in the MP4-31, Button explained that the new power unit was a step forward in terms of electrical deployment, which was costing McLaren heavily in terms of lap time last season, as Honda has revised the turbine, compressor and MGU-H for this year.
He said: “There are no negative points to the car. The standout is the deployment has been very good, very consistent throughout the day, no issues, and quite a big chunk better on the long runs compared to last year.
“Obviously it shows other weaknesses with the car we still need to improve, but it was a good day, and I’m reasonably happy.
But the 2009 world champion still reckons Honda needs to make another engine upgrade before the start of the season at the Australian Grand Prix.
He said: “[With] deployment we’ve made a good step forward, but with the power unit we’ve a lot of work still [to do.]
“[Honda] have done a good job on working on the reliability and pushing the deployment very hard over the winter.
“But I don’t think any of us will be happy going to Melbourne with the power unit. There is definitely more to come from the first race. We need that.”
Fernando Alonso is getting his first experience of the MP4-31 and the 2016 Honda power unit as he completes McLaren’s testing today and on Thursday, with Button returning to action tomorrow.
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