By on October 5, 2020

Honda has decided to leave Formula 1 at the end of the 2021 season to allegedly focus on electric and fuel-cell development. The company has said F1 hybrid combustion engines didn’t mesh with its plan of realizing “carbon neutrality by 2050” and has opted to leave Red Bull and AlphaTauri in a difficult spot moving forward. They’ll both need to find a replacement engine supplier before the 2022 season while Honda decides where it might make a better environmental impact — settling on IndyCar.

Less than a full weekend after vowing to abandon F1, Honda doubled down on Indy by agreeing to a multi-year extension to continue supplying motors until at least 2023. In fact, Honda Performance Development (HPD) is actively working on a 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 hybrid unit, aimed at roughly 900 horsepower, for the sport’s next generation of cars. While we’re pleased to see any manufacturer maintaining its commitment to motorsports, the decision seems at odds with Honda’s plan to pull out of Formula 1 — which has likewise acknowledged a desire to become carbon neutral. Like Indy, F1 is also planning on using hybrid combustion engines for the foreseeable future.

So is Honda just a dirty little liar then?

No more so than any other automaker. While it seems hypocritical to dump Formula 1 and stay with IndyCar, the former tends to favor costly technological advancements to drive the sport forward. IndyCar uses less cutting-edge hardware, by comparison, and intentionally tries to suppress overall costs to keep the sport more competitive. The average Formula 1 race team has a seasonal budget that absolutely dwarfs the $15 million spent by IndyCar teams each year. But IndyCar also requires smaller investments from engine suppliers, which is important when the only ones in the mix are Honda and Chevrolet.

Indy seems to be the more appetizing venue right now, too. While F1 has more fans globally and attempted to level the playing field by introducing a new budget cap (that’s still 10 times what Indy spends) for teams, Ferrari has been discussing expanding its racing program to include IndyCar. Meanwhile, McLaren has already signed up by partnering with Chevrolet and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Why would Honda leave when Indy requires a less rigorous engine development program, more opportunities for its platform to shine, and has new teams ready to join the field? And why would it announce leaving F1 in such frank terms when it can simply frame it as a way to free up money for positive-sounding environmental goals?

It wouldn’t.

“As the automobile industry undergoes a once-in-one-hundred-years period of great transformation, Honda has decided to strive for the realization of carbon neutrality by 2050,” read a company statement late last week. “This goal will be pursued as part of Honda’s environmental initiatives which is one of the top priorities of Honda as a mobility manufacturer … Toward this end, Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies, including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”

“Honda will allocate its energy management and fuel technologies as well as knowledge amassed through F1 activities to this area of power unit and energy technologies and take initiatives while focusing on the future realization of carbon neutrality. Toward this end, Honda made the decision to conclude its participation in F1.”

Over the weekend, the automaker announced its agreement to remain committed to IndyCar. “Honda welcomes this step to the future by IndyCar, action that mirrors Honda’s efforts to develop and manufacture high performance, electrified products that will meet industry challenges and delight our customers,” Ted Klaus, president of Honda Performance Development, elaborated.

“At Honda, we race to develop our people, to innovate technologies and to engage fans. We are proud of our uninterrupted, 27-year leadership in IndyCar, and look forward to delivering a next-generation Honda 2.4-liter hybrid power unit with more than 900 horsepower.”

[Image: Honda]

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13 Comments on “Honda Ditching Formula 1, Sticking With IndyCar...”

  • avatar

    The prestige of Formula 1 is certainly alluring but Indycar is just a more reasonable and practical venue for pretty much everyone.

    It is encouraging that these series are not content simply riding their legacies into insolvency. The hybrid tech is truly integrated into the sport and feels more like a feature than a hinderance.

    Like divorcées going to their kids wedding, Redbull is going to end up back with Renault…

  • avatar

    They’re probably tired of the drama.

    • 0 avatar

      If they had a shot of winning, they would stay in.

      At some point, Ferrari gets itself sorted out. That means at best Honda is #3 and if they don’t perform, Verstappen could exercise his escape clause.

  • avatar

    Formula E is the new politically correct golden girl.

  • avatar

    “And why would it announce leaving F1 in such frank terms when it can simply frame it as a way to free up money for positive-sounding environmental goals?”

    Is green-washing a business decision really good for anyone though?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    It’s not just about developing EVs. The F1 business model is broken, the series is massively expensive with little return on investment.

    Honda figured there is better value for money almost anywhere else than F1 – including other parts of motorsports. Honda is staying in IndyCar and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them step up involvement in the WEC or elsewhere.

    Those 200-million dollar franchise fees for new teams entering F1 reveal more about the state of the sport than anything else. Team values are falling. The Williams family got out at the right time.

  • avatar

    IndyCar isn’t using the hybrid engines yet, are they? Sure didn’t sound like it at the 500! When would the ICE piece shut off? Or is that mainly for a road course versus a superspeedway?

    • 0 avatar

      No Indy isn’t using hybrid yet. And when they do its the same concept as F1: the battery power is used to boost or assist the ICE, the ICE itself never shuts off.

      In fact when Indy switches to hybrids it will finally fix the problem of stalled cars (and associated caution periods) since they will be able to use the battery power to revive the ICE engine and get the car going again.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Bottom line, Honda sells very few cars in Europe and more than quite a few in North America. On top of that, F1 costs hundreds of millions (or even billions) of dollars, while a good Indy engine program probably runs in the tens of millions.
    A good business decision.

  • avatar

    Formula 1 is outrageously expensive to play in, and it has little chance of driving customer traffic to Honda showrooms.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    As a long time sports car racing fan, intermittent F1 fan, I think Indy Car has a better product. I avoid watching any street course action but I think the road course venues are more competitive and exciting with Indy cars vs. F1. I’ve even been to an F1 race in Montreal. I loved the visit but the race itself was a letdown and the cars sounded honky, the vintage exhibition races were actually more fun to watch.
    My F1 interest peaked w/ an American team but I got tired of being excited with a rare top 10 finish.

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