International assistance: What outside help will it take for Honda engines to make the grade?
Posted By: Editor   |  25 Apr 2017   |  6:11 pm GMT  |  95 comments

It has emerged in recent weeks that Mercedes could consult Honda on improving its hybrid-engine’s reliability and power, although Mercedes has consistently declined to comment on this matter.

Since the debacle of the first test in Barcelona, when the new Honda engine was revealed to be both hopelessly uncompetitive and unreliable, the debate has been whether Honda, McLaren’s power unit supplier, could receive help to help achieve a degree of parity between them and the other suppliers: Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. The fear is that Honda may withdraw from F1 if things continue as they are.

A move towards parity is one of the areas, along with cost control, that were at the heart of talks between teams, manufacturers, the FIA and F1 Management, which resolved to retain the hybrid turbo engines to 2020.

Based on a simulation in which engines would be analysed on their performance around the Barcelona circuit on identical cars, the idea would be for the performance difference between engines not to exceed 0.3 seconds per lap.

There is a lack of options for the Strategy Group in terms of intervention, and it’s most likely that Honda may bring in Mercedes consultants to rapidly diagnose necessary problems with the reliability and performance problems that the hybrid-power-unit has suffered from since pre-season.

The Japanese manufacturer’s F1 chief, Yusuke Hasegawa, said to Autosport: “Of course we have many people from Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault – so from that point of view we are ‘spying’ on their ideas.”

Red Bull is believed to have spoken up against the plan to help alleviate Honda’s woes, arguing against the use of shared engine plans as teams wouldn’t disclose aerodynamic secrets to each other. Red Bull had made a strong pitch for a supply of Honda engines in 2015, but was rebuffed, during the confusing period in which it did not have a supplier for the season ahead.

Renault, which supplies Red Bull, have also had reliability issues stemming from pre-season testing.

If Honda and Mercedes agree to co-operate, there is no tangible power to veto the arrangement from any of their rivals.

Intervention is a tough task because the FIA has already tightened the cost-side of engine regulations, by reducing the customer price of power units by €1 million this year with a limit on the number of power units allowed per driver to four.

Later this year, and in 2018, the FIA states that “constraints on power unit part weights, dimensions and materials, and on boost pressure will be introduced”, to reduce the amount of parts by nearly 50% and reduce engine costs by €3 million by 2018.

McLaren has only finished one race this year with Stoffel Vandoorne having finished 13th in Australia. Both Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso have failed to finish in China and Bahrain last weekend.

Honda’s Sauber supply deal inching ever closer to fruition

JA reported last week that Honda has made major steps in its engine performance after testing in Bahrain, and a deal to supply Sauber is becoming increasingly likely now. Honda has had conversations on and off with Sauber in the past so this is not a new concept. However the circumstances were not right before. Since Haas came on stream as Ferrari’s close ally and partner, Sauber has not enjoyed the same position as before.

Sauber is still using Ferrari’s power unit from last season, the final 2016-spec engine which was introduced at the Italian Grand Prix in September.

A deal with Honda will need to meet the deadline – to notify the FIA which teams a manufacturer will supply – on May 6th.

McLaren’s Racing Director, Eric Boullier, told Autosport, “I think more teams is better and more engine running is better. But there is a price to pay for that, which is deviating more resources into building more engines.

“Whatever happens, we are partners, so at some stage there will be a second team supply question, and I think we’ll have to support this. But we want to make sure it’s not detrimental to our partnership.”

After Sauber’s financial difficulties and its acquisition by Longbow Finance SA in July 2016, the deal came to light. Last summer, Honda also expanded its Milton Keynes base to increase capacity in case a second customer team was found.

The Swiss outfit might find it more commercially viable to source an engine from Honda next season, particularly with the aforementioned engine rules working to reduce costs, particularly in customers teams’ favour.

Do you think Honda should receive some help from Mercedes to level the playing field? Should Sauber use a Honda engine in 2018?Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Force India and Williams have said they will be livid if Mercedes, their engine supplier, is to help one of their rivals overtake them.


Here’s an idea on how to improve the Honda engine:

Ditch the turbo
Ditch the stupid electronics
Add 4 more cylinders
Increase the cubic capacity

Voila, a fantastic engine, it’s simple cheap it performs well.


Why can’t McLaren build their own F1 engines as they build their road car engines? Surely they have the money & can start this project by bringing in experts now for next year’s championship.


Can’t see this happening as the Japanese don’t want to lose face, be even further embarrassed & admit failure. I also don’t think it would be fair nor right to the other teams if they did receive outside assistance from Mercedes – Honda need to sort it out on their own & can bring in other experts to assist but not Manufacturers currently in F1 as they’re competitors.


Actually, nobody is asking if Honda wants to be helped. Everything so far points out that this is not the case and may be perceived in Japanese culture as a loss of face . If they wanted outside help, there are consultancies like Ilmor, there are high-level engineers that could have been ‘poached’ from other teams, but my understanding is that Honda has always seen F1 as a place to show it’s own capabilities – something that unfortunately did not work out with their own team either.


international assistance? did someone dig up the old ferrari international assistance (fia) joke?


The interesting question is do mercedes whose F1 setup was handed over to Brawn with a cash dowry to run it for a year feel that they owe some moral support o Honda? I suspect that they do.


To me, it’s simple… Honda aren’t cutting it. Not good enough. Either get it right or get out…


Why not just go ahead and have a global Indy car series? F-1 has lost the theme. Please just shoot me.


I don’t quite understand how they would be able to get help from outside without completely opening up any secrets to then be used by others. For all we know they could be massively more efficient or powerful in a certain area of design, and that information would then become known to whoever helps them, for incorporation or improvement in their own design – possibly negating any gaps or gains made.


The simple answer is NO, they should not be allowed outside help & further there should not be an artificial parity of engine performance. That would be IndyCar racing, not F1.

However in the pragmatic modern F1 era, they have created such a complicated & expensive hybrid turbo PU (no longer called an engine), that the whole formula can’t afford (politically) to lose another major manufacturer. This is especially true for Merc who want to keep this PU as long as possible.

Politics trumps pure equalised simple F1 rules.


This actually seems counter-intuitive…

If I am a potential engine manufacturer who wants to enter the sport, I am not sure if I’d want to now, knowing that I may be compelled to share any potential success or advantage with rivals who couldn’t be bothered to simply steal my employees out from under me like any other reasonable outfit would do.


Japanese engineering was the best towards the end of the last millennium. 25 years from then and the German technology is way superior to the Japanese. How did the Germans accomplish this miracle?


Honda had a bad start to the new pu era, with their concept and the token system they wasted two years. Their new power unit will come good, this new pu is basically not even 6 months old so they are way behind in the arms race. I put money on a Mclaren podium this season……without any help from Mercedes.


This appears to the final admission that this Honda F1 project has (tragically!) been an unmitigated disaster…

Claim Reality
1) Claim: Showcase of Honda technical excellence; Reality: Still worst PU on the grid after 3-4 years development (including last years models)
2) Claim: We do it the Honda way don’t need outside help; Reality: Apparently they’ve totally changed the organisation in March of this year including recruiting staff from competitors.
3) Claim: We’re understanding our issues and are working to get on top of them; Reality: *Competitors* offering to provide them technical consultancy to stop the performance gulf becoming too embarrassing so an engine parity rule is brought in.

etc etc.

Sadly I’m now less able to associate Honda road cars/consumer engines with excellence than I was before they entered F1… which presumably was the main objective. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.


Hi James, what is happening in formula 1 (can it still be called that?) where an engine supplier is threatening to leave (in disgrace) unless they’re given pointers from their competitors? If they want to hire staff from other engine suppliers so be it, but “consultants”?


May be F1 PU technology is not that road relevant after all. Merc may have invested hundreds of millions and realized that they can’t use the tech in road cars. What is the best way to recoup the investment/make profit? Share/sell/license IP to another manufacturer – Honda.

From Merc perspective, F1 is a business with profits have to be made. From Honda’s perspective, F1 is a business where losses have to be contained.


James, I have a question for you. Was giving Sauber 2016 engines completely down to Sauber’s finance issues? If it were for any other reason, I find it strange any manufacture wouldn’t give its customers current spec engines, as you are basically increasing the amount of ‘in season testing’ if you like, by gathering data on 2 more engines. Surely even it were down to finances, Ferrari could’ve helped Sauber out in some way to maximise their chance at effect power unit development?


There is an awful lot of nonsense being written about all this!

As I see it Honda came late to the party and have been developing in isolation trying to catch-up. Do they have better people or facilities than their competition?
Not really.

To date they’ve been unable to develop faster than their competitors (who have obviously not stood still).

So they went sh*t or bust over the winter by flipping their core architecture and this has evidently not worked. They also had to build their ‘hybrid’ expertise from scratch with regard to the hybrid / electronic aspects.

Given all of this it would have been frankly ASTOUNDING if they were anywhere near on performance parity by this point.

The only key take-aways for me are these –

1. ‘Cost containment’ is BS. Not happening at all. Anything governing current practices (lack of testing anyone?) linked back to cost containment needs to go out the window. Companies will always spend what they can afford – let’s accept this and not fight it.
2. Honda’s communications around the 2017 PU shortcomings were terrible and were the source of this embarrassment much more than their engineering
3. Things happen in F1 in a time-frame of ‘seasons’… crap engine = bye bye season – come back next year. Getting incrementally angrier from one GP weekend to the next is unrealistic…


I wonder why only Mercedes name suggested as a potential external consultant. Ferrari and Renault also now have decently competitive engines. Why would they not help?

I feel it is incorrect for Mercedes or for that matter any of the 3 manufacturers to help Honda. They should resolve the situation on their own. The original Ferrari engine in 2014, was a dud. However they have been working hard on it for the last 2-3 years and got it to being nearly level pegging with Mercedes.

If Honda’s engine were to become competitive after Mercedes help, where would that leave Honda’s reputation in terms of being able to produce competitive hybrids?

is there any precedent for such a case.

As regards Sauber being supplied by Honda, I feel it was a mistake for McLaren to veto Honda out of other engine deals, except for the first year. If Honda had more cars running last year, there situation today could have been much better.


McLaren Horcedes with more Horce power!


I don’t see how talk of Honda taking help from Mercedes addresses the ‘Japanese Pride’ issues the media have talked about when Honda have not elected to recruit PU engineers from other teams.

Also why would Mercedes give Honda a chance to win? In 3 years Mercedes have not allowed a customer team to win a race, they are unlikely to be transparent enough to give a rival engine manufacturer the winning formula.

Sauber Honda, to me, makes a lot of sense. For what ever reason the Mclaren Honda dynamic does not work. There is a communication barrier. Perhaps it is a cultural issue. Perhaps the Swiss based team can overcome these issues.

Tornillo Amarillo

Everything is possible really… After all Wolff and Hamilton are very-very happy that Ferrari is up at front now ! New F1 owners…

I don’t know if fans appreciate that warm friendship in the cold down room between drivers before the podium ceremony.
I would like a new Kimi around, maybe Max.


I double direct technical input is possible given the complexity and possible differences in design.

Would allowing them some test days or so be sufficient? Or lowering the penalty on e.g. an engine replacement: they could be allocated 2 extra engines per driver for example. It also prevents them from loosing face, as they still have to fix it by themselves.


Mercedes helping Honda is a bit like the Road Runner helping Wile E Coyote to run faster. The Road Runner doesn’t want the Coyote to give up, as it lessens the entertainment. It might work while it knows there’s no chance of it being caught by the Coyote.

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