2021 is going to be a pivotal year for Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda when it comes to the power unit side of things. With Honda pulling out of the sport at the end of the year and leaving its F1 powertrain project in the hands of Red Bull under the newly-formed Red Bull Powertrains Ltd., Honda F1 Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe is hoping that the Japanese giant’s final year in Formula 1 will be one that’s been just as strong as the last two.
“Of course this is Honda’s last year in Formula 1,” Tanabe began when he was asked about Honda’s power unit plans for this year and how much the early engine freeze could affect things. “Everyone in Sakura and Milton Keynes is very determined and we feel we have prepared well for the coming season in conjunction with Scuderia AlphaTauri over the winter so far.
“We won’t know for sure how good a job we have done until we hit the track, but so far preparation has gone smoothly.“
When asked about whether the rumours of huge changes to the Honda power unit for 2021 were true, Tanabe was (as expected) somewhat vague in answering the question. “It is difficult be specific about which parts have seen the most work, but in order to improve power and reliability, we have made modifications to the ICE, turbine and ERS.
“This is our third year with Scuderia AlphaTauri and in order to improve as a whole, we have also improved the installation and packaging of the entire PU.”
These were changes that, according to Tanabe, were initially planned for 2022 due to the effects that COVID-19 had on Formula 1 as a whole.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were going to introduce a new PU for this year,” Tanabe commented. “However, given all the difficulties and restrictions because of the long F1 shutdown, combined with the European lockdown and delay in parts supply, we had decided to postpone it to 2022.
“However, taking into account the decision announced in October 2020, that Honda would leave the sport at the end of 2021, we reassessed the situation and changed our plan again to reintroduce it in 2021.
“It was very tight timing to make this change, but we managed to bring forward the development and preparation programme. At Honda, we felt that we really wanted to use all our technical know-how before leaving the sport.“
Whilst Honda’s return to being a power unit supplier in Formula 1 started off horribly in 2015 through its disastrous partnership with the McLaren F1 Team, things improved a lot through the years to the point where no Honda-powered cars had to take power unit penalties in 2020. This growth and development from a horrible re-start in F1 to a brilliant end is something that Tanabe reflected upon in the run-up to 2021.
“”After Honda returned to F1 in 2015 we endured some very difficult times, but we also learned a lot and our good reliability last year is down to the lessons learnt. We have changed many things on this year’s PU, but our experience in terms of reliability was applied to this.“
“Performance and reliability are always a very subtle balancing act and we hope to maintain that balance this year.“
One of the highlights of the 2020 season were the midfield battles, which often included AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kyvat. This is something that Tanabe was especially keen to comment on.
“Last year the mid-field competition was tougher than in previous years and a very small performance gap could make a big difference in the results. It was great that Pierre Gasly was able to win in Monza and overall, we had a great year with Scuderia AlphaTauri.”
Tanabe was especially congratulatory towards Scuderia AlphaTauri as a whole, showing a lot of optimism towards the partnership between AlphaTauri and Honda going into their final year.
“We are sure that Honda and Scuderia AlphaTauri have progressed over our three years together and we are now truly one team, strong and united. Scuderia AlphaTauri’s support and cooperation played a key role in allowing Honda to become competitive in the hybrid era and we truly appreciate that. It would be great if we can do even better in our final year together.“
Of course, there has been much talk surrounding AlphaTauri’s newest driver Yuki Tsunoda, who was supported by Honda in his journey to F1. Tsunoda has proven himself to be a fantastic driver with an aggressive style that’s brilliant and entertaining to watch and it’s these qualities that Tanabe hopes will make him a real force to be reckoned with in the future.
“We are very glad that a long-time Honda supported driver will make his F1 debut with Scuderia AlphaTauri,” Tanabe stated. “He will be the first Japanese driver on the grid since Kamui Kobyashi seven years ago. I expect he may encounter situations and difficulties he has never experienced before. However, he has adapted really quickly in F3 and F2 and progressed well, therefore I believe he will learn quickly and improve race by race in Formula 1.”
“He will be the centre of a lot of attention, especially from Japan, which will possibly be extra pressure for him, but I hope he continues with his aggressive style of racing in F1 as well. Honda will do all it can to support him.“
When asked about whether the decision to make a deal so that Scuderia AlphaTauri could continue to use the Honda F1 powertrain technology (rebranded as Red Bull) beyond 2021 was the right one to make, Tanabe’s stance on the issue was unquestionably in favour of that.
“I think it is the right thing for Honda to do, considering our relationship with Scuderia AlphaTauri and Red Bull Racing, and how much Honda has benefited from those partnerships. It also reflects the importance of our role and history, as part of the world of Formula 1 over several decades. So, I am glad that Honda has been able to help the two teams and the sport in this way.“