Honda boss reveals reasons for 2017 woes but claims gap to F1 leaders is ‘closing’
Posted By: Editor   |  21 Jul 2017   |  3:23 pm GMT  |  117 comments

Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has revealed why McLaren-Honda’s power unit has been so woeful in 2017 while remaining optimistic that Honda is ‘closing the gap’ with F1’s frontrunners.

McLaren sits last in the constructors’ standings having earned two points this season as engine manufacturer Honda has struggled to provide a competitive engine and hybrid unit. The latest in a series of problems occurred at Silverstone as Fernando Alonso retired late on with a fuel pump issue.

Though the team scored its first points of its season in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix (June), Honda hasn’t shown much in the way of recovery. Head of Honda’s F1 programme, Hasegawa, explained that in an interview with Honda the nature of Honda’s issues and why they remain unresolved.

“We introduced a new power unit concept this year, so I would almost call this ‘Year One’,” Hasegawa said.

“Last year the engine concept was completely different. That’s why we really needed to change the whole engine concept this year.

“Roughly speaking, it takes almost a year to design a completely new engine. So that’s why we started 2017’s engine development last May. So this year’s power unit was built up at the end of last year.

“However, when we fired up the complete engine for the first time, we could see it wasn’t delivering the durability or performance in accordance with our expectations. We also found many minor issues. So we needed to modify tiny bits.

The major issues facing Honda

“After resolving these [minor issues], we started to test the full concept at the start of this year – call it Spec Zero as it was the initial one – and before the first winter test we confirmed that it ran on the dyno.

“At that moment we knew that the power was not [being delivered] to our target.

“Then, at the Barcelona test, we found more issues on the car, such as the oil tank issue. It was a car-related issue. This is not a complete engine issue, but of course it is very important.”

“The oil tank is one of the biggest items, so we have a rig for the oil tank but we cannot recreate the same types of G-forces and conditions as in the car.

“The second issue was down to the vibrations. On the dyno, the model is stiffer and heavier, so it doesn’t create any synchronised vibrations, but on the car – with the gearbox and the tyres – there is a much lower level of inertia.

“Low inertia does not always create vibrations but it’s completely different from the dyno and that’s why we suffered a huge vibration on the car. Of course, we were aware some level of vibration would come in the car but it was much bigger than we expected.”

In essence, Hasegawa said that the fault emerged as tests using the dyno and Honda’s other equipment provided a different picture to real-life testing.

The forces acting on the car weren’t, and still aren’t, replicated accurately enough in the factory to provide a representative picture of how the Honda power unit performs in race conditions. Solutions take time to prepare and apply, as Hasegawa goes on to say.

Upgrades take place ‘almost every race’

“Something like the combustion system takes longer for testing and [production]. So we cannot set a target just for two weeks later – normally such an upgrade takes something more like half a year.

“Spec 2 was introduced in Barcelona, and we were already working on Spec 3,” Hasegawa says. Spec 3 engines have now been rolled out to both drivers.

“If we still had the token system we wouldn’t have been able to change the whole engine modification for this season and also introduce the Spec 2 and Spec 3 power units.

“I haven’t counted how many tokens it would cost so I don’t know for sure, but maybe it would be difficult to modify and introduce the current Spec 3 engine using last year’s token system.”

Hasegawa also said that engines are upgraded “almost every race…but we don’t always call it an upgrade because sometimes it is a countermeasure for the durability or reliability issues.

“Also for weight reduction we improved many areas: last year we changed the induction system from aluminium to carbon. That type of update is easier to introduce, but the core performance has not changed.

“So when the material changes or something like that, that’s a different type of update.”

On the rest of the season and beyond: ‘We are closing the gap’

Honda is working on the Spec 4 power unit while developing its 2018 engine. Hasegawa maintains that the current engine design will carry over to next year as it has the potential to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari; Honda will not panic and completely overhaul its power unit.

“I get excited when we bring an update, because it can lead to increased expectations of scoring points or similar,” Hasegawa admits. “But still we need more from our other updates to catch up to the level of Mercedes and Ferrari.

“I am definitely confident that we are closing the gap to the leaders so, from that point of view, our speed of development is good. But at the same time it is natural for the follower because you have a target that you know is achievable.”

“We don’t stop developing, we need to keep updating. Of course the performance and results are the most important things but it’s all learning for the future too. Compared to last year we needed to modify the engine concept, but next year we will keep the same concept.

“It’s good that we can use the same concept because this year’s development and improvement is directly connected to next year. So that means we don’t need to stop the current development, and from that point of view we have already started next year’s design.

“But our aim is to develop the 2017 concept into the 2018 season and hopefully 2019 as well. So, the engine weight, centre of gravity and the combustion concept is all going in the same direction as the other three engine manufacturers.”

Do you think Honda will recover from its 2017 issues, or will 2018 tell a similar story? Have your say in the comment section below.


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Mclaren should give them one more year and if it fails next year then ditch them I’m ever the optimist and if Honda turn it around which I say could happen look at year two with there first engine Sauber may be wishing they had done the deal.


It sounds to me like Honda’s biggest mistake is they didn’t get the concept right initially and wasted those first two years. I find the negative comments towards them a bit ignorant, very very few truly understand what a project like this actually entails. I am frustrated as a fan watching them get this wrong so far, but they have the capability to get this right. The fact that they haven’t should only serve to underline what a challenge this engine is rather than used to paint Honda as inept.


Something has changed with Honda. My 1983 Honda 4 cylinder motorcycle is brilliant. Arguably a first sport tourer. But, in last decades they can not build an off-road motorcycle with a basic clutch that works. Then they manufactured a hydrostatic transmission motorcycle as if that were a good idea or were cutting edge? In 1970 I was a kid plowing fields with a 966 Hydro International tractor! Basically a 100 hp diesel turning a variable displacement hydraulic pump turning a variable displacement motor mated to a two speed final drive. Hydrostatic transmissions have no mechanical efficiency. They are rated for specific industrial/farming applications and lawn mowers. What decision making apparatus at Honda thought a hydrostatic transmission made any sense as a motorcycle transmission? Convincing arguments are made that Honda decision making is too top heavy. A counterpoint might suggest that when old man Honda passed on- Honda passed on.


Hello James,

McLaren exists to Win. Do you think, absurd as it may sound, that if McLaren-Honda do not sort out the lack of performance and get back to the front of the grid by 2019, The Bahrainis, the Tag Heueur guy, Zak Brown and co could sell the team to Mercedes or alike? (Maybe Aston Martin or another British major brand?


Never say never but, I don’t think they’d sell to those brands.

I think they want to build a world class tech brand with a racing team and automotive marque at the heart of it and they are doing quite well, with the exception of the current performance level of the F1 cars


Why isn’t this engine pounding around tracks installed in the back of a test mule / ex Le Mans racer (not an F1 car)? Why must they do all their development on a dyno? Honda even own their own race track, surely this would give them ‘real world’ testing without breaching the F1 test restrictions.


Its phrases like this – “The forces acting on the car weren’t, and still aren’t, replicated accurately enough in the factory to provide a representative picture of how the Honda power unit performs in race conditions.” – gives us little hope or optimism.
Given the role the block plays as a fundamental part of the chassis, to not be able to simulate additional G forces or applied stresses on the block and ancillaries means that Honda is totally in the dark. Aside from the lack of power, the lack of reliability surely points towards track and car induced issues. This isn’t McLaren’s fault one assumes because it surely have Honda adequate information on driveline inertia and stress maps.

The “Of course, we were aware some level of vibration would come in the car but it was much bigger than we expected.” This seems to indicate that little or no vibration measurements were undertaken using accelerometers and that they were unaware or, worse, unable, simulate the effect that the vibration (a lot of which probably comes from pre-ignition) would have on the drive line components.

What a sorry state of affairs for such a capable and proud company.


Improvement from this level is certain. I suspect, too, that Honda has maintained a core of engineers on the project who have actually learned from their experiences. With the help they have received, there is surely enough talent and will to move ahead. Still, they face a moving target – they could beat every lap record set this year next year and still be last, couldn’t they?


Assuming McLaren are still using Honda engines next year, as seems increasingly likely, it’s easy to speculate what will happen.

Year 1 of McLaren Honda was similarly disastrous to year 3 which exposes some fairly catastrophic correlation issues with their test facilities Vs real-world conditions.

Year 2 ironed out many of those gremlins, reliability improved as each race was effectively a test day, exposing design flaws which to Honda’s credit they were able to fix.

Year three was a total reset in that they introduced a new, but ironically more conventional concept and the cycle from year one started again.

Therefore logic dictates that year four will be similar to year two i.e. regular points, improved reliability, but nowhere near the podium.

Unless a rival team goes and reinvents the wheel they should just about be coming good just in time for a fresh set of problems in 2021.

Unless of course they can find some good solutions in their test facility.


Just as well they only have ‘issues’ and no problems.


I have a nagging suspicion that despite all the crap we have seen from Honda over the last 2 seasons that they are on a good trajectory of improvement for the rest of this season and may even surprise us in 2018…


Words and more words…….that’s all we get.


Masashi Yamamoto, the Honda General Manager of Motor Sports Division: as per contract until 2021, McLaren can’t change engines.
“I’m always in contact with Takahiro Hachigo, CEO of Honda, and we have no intentions to retreat from F1”.
“McLaren can’t use another engine on a temporary basis either”.


It’s telling that he doesn’t do what the article title says, explain the reasons. All he does is list a lot of issues that occured.

It’s like if I say the reason for me being late for the meeting is that I couldn’t find my car keys, I had to get petrol, I forgot the way and I couldn’t find a park. But the actual reason is that I am massively disorganised.

What’s Honda’s real reason?


And yet Mercedes build a brand new engine for 2014 and win the championships in its first year.


That’s just not true. The current engine regs were announced in 2011. So Mercedes had a least 3 years of development alone, without the need to race and develop at the same time. But it’s actually better than that, the hybrid part of the engine was under heavy development from 2009.

The fact is Honda still has 2 years, or arguably 4 years to go, in which to match the same development pace as Mercedes.


Actually it is true. If you read what I wrote with care, and without emotion, I do not refer to the amount of time that Mercedes took to develop the engine. Instead, I point out that in its first year of competition, the engine was winning championships, unlike the Honda engine which, in its first year of competition, was more of an embarrassment. Two stars against your name. Not sure what that means.


“Mercedes build a brand new engine for 2014”

That’s what you posted “a brand new engine for 2014”, the fact is it was a brand new engine in 2011 not 2014. In fact the energy recovery sections of the engine were “brand new” back in 2009.

Maybe what you should have posted was “Mercedes built a brand new engine between 2009 and 2013 and raced it for the first time in 2014 and won the championships in that year”. I would have no argument with that.

My point was that your claim reads as if Mercedes built an engine from scratch and won a championship in one year, when the fact is it took them 5 years. We should give Honda the same 5 years and then any comparison is valid. The difference is Mercedes did their development away from the races whereas Honda are doing for everyone to see. We don’t know how many engines Mercedes blew up in their 5 years of testing, could be many more times than what Honda has.


Talk is cheap and we’ve heard this all before from Honda. However I do think McLaren are better off sticking with them and hoping they eventually come good rather than changing to the Merc. If they switch to Merc there is no way they would be allowed to win. The factory team will always be a step ahead. And the best they could hope for is 4th or 5th probably behind the other factory teams and battling it out with the Williams and Force Indias for best if the rest customer teams. At least if they stick with Honda they have a chance of winning if Honda can eventually get their act together.


Not one poster appears to have read a previous JAoF1 article where it clearly explained why Honda were so far behind?

Amazing, almost as daft as Honda themselves.

So, how many F1 people from the British F1 community have Honda now hired ?

People who have come from the successful 1,6 hybrid PU era teams Mercedes, Ferrari and know how to make them work, how many have HRC now hired ?

Because HRC were failing because they have always used HRC to train engineers, believing that their natural brilliance and massive resources would win. It didn’t, this was flagged, so obviously they have hired experienced F1 hands who know what to do, rather than staggering around playing a billion dollar game of blind man’s buff right?

After it was so clearly pointed out where they failed ? Surely ?


I believe the engine is getting quicker but the reliability is worse than Ilmor was. And the Ilmor was very quick.


It seems to me there are two issues with Honda.

First, your dealing with a corporate culture that has decided to throw millions of dollars at McLaren and to design and build a Honda F1 PU. Honda appear to be approaching this task with a much longer time frame than the typical hyper productive FI team. I’m sure to Honda they are doing fine and making progress, and financing the payroll at McLaren, why should they worry when its not in their culture to acknowledge an elephant, let alone one in the room.

Second, the corporate culture seems to be relying on solutions from Honda engineers. Now I’ve read here and elsewhere that they do have euro engine designers on staff, and whether they are listening to them or not who knows, but the bottom line is the data to build a respectable F1 PU is out there and you simply need to acquire it. Honda in contrast, seem to persist with fresh young Japanese engineers and constant iteration around already known solutions. Given the number of years they have invested in this endeavor to date, they do not appear to actually be bringing anything new and innovative to the table to get the job done.

Honda might want to consider hiring an European to head the F1 PU project, as they have an American I believe, head the Indy Car engine project in the US.


Earlier this year Yasuke Hasegawa told about their 2017 engine to “As a matter of fact we were thinking [it was] too easy, and it was too difficult to achieve the new technology – that was my mistake,”. And this statement was followed by rather silly excuses, basically they oversimplified the task in their minds and overestimated their capabilities and patted themselves with much pride on their untested achievements on a mono cylinder prototype. I lost respect for Honda for such an outrageous statement. I don’t think there is any exception to the rule if you want to do anything well in any walk of life, then it is never going to be easy no matter how small or big the task. I assuming a stereotype here because I am sure the new generation of Engineers are somewhere affected by this. And that is the Eastern culture is must too invested in virtual world in every aspect of their lives and maybe it time for them to realize that real world is much different because it works on laws not invented by humans. By the way I don’t think Honda will be able to catch up to Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault…issue is not Time but Honda itself (philosophy, process, self critique etc)…and sadly Honda is not able to look at itself objectively and honestly. Honda needed to work like an Artist but they approached the task like a Donkey.


One thing is sure, if Sauber switches to Honda, they are definitely the furthest back next year too!… Only two can win, Mercedes and Ferrari, (and perhaps RB) how fun is that!?


“Honda will not panic and completely overhaul its power unit.”

You mean AGAIN, don’t you, Hasegawa San?


What a load of… lameness!


It is easy to blame Honda for being incompetent. However, look at Ferrari and Renault. It is not as if they have been beating Merc engine on a regular basis. In spite of all the time and expertise, they are at least 0.5 sec behind and there is no hope that they will catch Merc this year. Honda’s failure is notable but the bigger story is Ferrari and Renault’s failures.


agree, FHonda, Renault and Ferrari cannot compete without Merc sandbagging. Plus add to this the massive gap from the works Merc to the customer Merc engine, almost always lapped in races.

Imagine if the customer Merc engines could easily beat the Red Bulls, to race the Ferraris, could Merc be worried that something would be done about their monopoly and marketing using F1.

Remember when Williams made the mistake of daring to take pole from the works Mercs way back in Austria 14…


FIA banned testing to contain costs and help small teams be more successful. Big teams simply redirected funds to state of art simulators and test rigs. Small teams still struggling because sponsors aren’t interested in supporting teams that can’t win. Potential simple answers:
1) Teams more that 20% adrift on points allowed to conduct unlimited in-season testing (yes, very expensive, but would help Honda get its act together) and could even help a Sauber sort its aero. Key problem: Mercedes/Ferrari would benefit from this because customer teams could test upgrades.
2) Apply equalisation (ie. extra weight and/or slower tyre compounds) to winning teams.

Ultimately F1 needs more manufacturers, not less. We should do everything to help Honda and other m/f’s be successful. Even when they display breathtaking incompetence. (Seriously, how did they build a rig that is so far adrift of in-car vibration standards?!)


An interesting read, but I am disappointed that Honda appear to have got it so wrong for the past 3 years! Admittedly last time round in the 80’s it did take them a while to get their act together. However they were able to do a lot of track testing, now they can’t which must make Dealing with these issues challenging! The real shame is that this years chassis from McLaren looks a good one, but the PU issues mean we won’t know how good it is. This must be immensely frustrating for McLaren and the drivers, especially Alonso!

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