Honda’s Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has confirmed that the Japanese manufacturer will not change their engine concept for future seasons, electing to continue further modifications to their existing design in the immediate future.
Having struggled for competitiveness since their return to the sport in 2015, Honda elected to hit the reset button on their approach to engine development, only for the shift to backfire and leave their factory team McLaren stranded in the lower midfield for a third consecutive season.
Hasegawa however has stated they will not go back to square one to resolve the issues, instead looking to build on the engine design currently in place instead, which itself was new for the 2017 campaign.
“We introduced a new power unit concept this year, so I would almost call this Year One again,” said Hasegawa. “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.”
“It was good for us to do that. We can modify the specification of some of these parts to catch up with the other three engine manufacturers. Last year the engine concept was completely different, so with minor modifications we could not duplicate the same type of performance. That’s why we really needed to change the whole engine concept this year.”
Hasegawa went on to explain that having started development of the new-spec engine in May last year – initially piece-by-piece – alarm bells on start to ring when the full design was implemented into a complete unit.
“So this year’s power unit was built up at the end of last year. In parallel, we also conducted some mono-cylinder tests and some experimental tests on other engines. 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.”
“After resolving these smaller elements, 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. But of course at that moment we knew that the power was not delivering 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.”
With the Honda powerplant unable to compete with its trio of rival straight out of the box, McLaren have been in desperate need of upgrades all season long. With lead driver Fernando Alonso frustrated with the lack of progress – threatening to walk out of the team unless a change of engine manufacturer is arranged for the Woking-based team – Hasegawa was keen to point out the lead times on the required upgrades meant swift change was unreasonable to expect.
“It depends on the items – something like the combustion system takes longer for testing and confirmation. 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,” he continued. “Even at that time we knew there were some good items that we were working on but they were not ready at that moment, so we needed another few months to introduce them.”
With a large gap to close, Hasegawa says the Honda engine team has been working at full tilt on multiple refinements simultaneously, pointing out they are making continual changes which aren’t necessarily considered full upgrades. Hasegawa explained these changes are coming at “almost every race.”
“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.
Despite the lack of overall progress the Japanese manufacturer has made in the past three years, Hasegawa said he still remains steadfastly optimistic of progress every time they release a new update for their power unit.
“I get excited when we bring an update, because it can lead to increased expectations of scoring points or similar,” he admitted. “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.”
Despite perpetually having to play catch-up due to their lack of competitiveness, he feels the decision to stick with their original 2017 ethos will bear fruit.
“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.”