Honda is ready to take the fight to Mercedes this season after its “miraculous” achievement of developing a new power unit for its final year in Formula 1.
The Japanese manufacturer will leave F1 at the end of this season, with Red Bull taking over its technology from 2022 onwards. For the final year of a Honda-run power unit, a new engine — originally planned for next year — was fast-tracked for 2021 and ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Honda’s head of power unit development Yasuaki Asaki says it has been a massive achievement.
“I gave the instruction (six months ago) for us to start work on the new structure PU,” Asaki told journalists representing a select group of media outlets, including RACER. “I think the biggest concern on the Red Bull side was whether we’d be able to get it done in time, but we explained that with the previous PU we would not be able to beat Mercedes, and that we would need the new PU in order to do that. In order to win we needed to implement the new PU, and hence we started work on it.
“There were some of our engineers who came to me directly and said we will not be able to do the development required in the time that we have. However, once everyone was informed of the news from President Hachigo that we would be leaving Formula 1, I think they understood the reason why I came to them and asked for us to get this new PU ready in that time.
“So what I did was say to everyone that given that this is our last year it’d be nice for us to be able to demonstrate what it is we’ve achieved as Honda engineers. And with that everyone’s expression changed instantly really, and everyone kind of got to work on doing what needed to be done.
“Changing the structure of the PU with only six months until testing and round one is an incredibly challenging thing to do. But thanks to the hard work that everyone put in together, we were able to get the development work done, we ran well in testing, and were able to get ready for round one.
“So if everything goes well, we think that this will be able to contribute to the capabilities of Red Bull. And also it’s a sign of the almost miraculous technological achievement that we’ve able to achieve. I think that within Honda, our engineers will be able to tell the story of what it is that we have achieved.”
The completely new power unit features a lower and more compact camshaft, a change to the valve angle and further modification to the head cover and bore pitch that all add up to a smaller engine with a lower center of gravity. Given the major work that has gone on, Asaki says Honda is expecting an immediate impact in terms of performance, after being able to hit all of its development targets.
“I believe that we were able to implement everything that we have to in order to compete with Mercedes. We had a lot of cooperation from Red Bull, making sure that we could get the most from this new compact engine.
“We only have one year left so we have to be able to gain improvements from this straight away. Our objective is to beat Mercedes. Last year just as we thought we were getting closer to them, they showed further improvement. So looking back on what we’ve learned so far, we’ve set even higher goals for ourselves and if their improvements are within what we’ve assumed them to be, then I believe we have the capability to compete with them.”