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.