Ahead of their new partnership for 2018, Honda and Toro Rosso have both made changes to their team structures as they seek to build a successful relationship in Formula 1.
Honda recently announced that Yusuke Hasegawa will no longer head up the company’s Formula 1 operations, conducting a management reshuffle, while Toro Rosso has needed to make changes to its 2018 car having originally begun the design process around a Renault engine package.
Honda has divided Hasegawa’s former Head of F1 Project position into two distinct roles, breaking the trackside operations away from the role in charge of development at Honda’s Sakura headquarters.
Toyoharu Tanabe is the incoming Honda F1 technical director, and will oversee the Japanese company’s operations at races and tests – working closely in conjunction with Toro Rosso’s management and engineering staff.
With plenty of prior experience in Formula 1, Tanabe had worked as a race engineer for Gerhard Berger during Honda’s first stint with McLaren, and later worked as an engineer with Jenson Button at BAR and Honda’s former works team, before most recently working in America with Honda Performance Development.
The development role in Sakura is to be taken by Yasuaki Asaki, a senior engineer at Honda also with prior F1 experience, before becoming the project lead for Honda’s N-One and N-Box ranges of “kei” cars.
After taking over from Yasuhisa Arai in 2016, Hasegawa will now return to Honda’s automotive operations as executive chief engineer, heading up the company’s research and development across its manufacturing concerns.
Hasegawa’s time overseeing the Honda F1 project was of limited success and, although McLaren showed steady improvement over the 2016 season after a fraught opening year of McLaren and Honda’s renewed partnership, 2017 was a period of struggle.
Electing to pursue a new engine concept having felt that the McLaren-enforced “size zero” power unit design had reached the end of its development potential, Honda struggled for reliability all year, forcing the two parties to cut ties.
Tanabe’s first job will be to ensure that Honda’s relationship with Toro Rosso begins strongly, knowing that Red Bull Racing will be assessing Honda’s progress with its junior team.
Using Toro Rosso as something of a sacrificial lamb presents a low-risk solution for Red Bull, and the Italian team receives works support for the first time after handing its customer Renault package over to McLaren.
With Honda’s variation in power unit architecture compared to Renault, Toro Rosso technical director James Key has conceded that accommodating a new power unit has provided something of a challenge to the team’s engineers.
Talking to Autosport, Key said: “They are completely different. It’s a very nicely packaged engine, but the whole power unit is a different architecture.
“It doesn’t drop into the same space. There’s quite a bit of car layout work that has to be done to adapt to it.”
“We’ve adapted the car under the skin as best we can, and that’s led to quite a different approach to the chassis design, to the way the gearbox works, and so on.
Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was optimistic about Toro Rosso’s partnership with Honda, suggesting that the marque’s single-team approach will result in “no compromise”.
“Honda’s goal is to prove to everyone that they can make fast engines”, said Gasly.
“We are the only one to have their engines so we’re sure they’ll give everything they can to give us the best treatment and there will be no compromise.
“I think this is really positive and they’ll have an extra three or four months to improve before the beginning of the year.
“At the moment they are definitely improving. When you look at the McLarens, they are much better now than six months ago. If they manage to keep this momentum I think it will be a good move and surprise everyone in a nice way. Let’s hope it can happen.”