Why is Honda out of F1 but all-in at Indycar

Graham Rahal sets up for Turn 12 during practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix -- Photo by: Bret Kelley, INDYCAR

I took some incoming on my post about Honda leaving Formula 1. I suggested that the current hybrid power unit, which has bankrupted three teams and put the rest of the non-manufacturers on life support, was a expensive formula, remained too long and is now threatening to keep F1 predictable with very limited changes in the 2023 engine regulation set.

Honda says it is leaving F1 to focus on FCV and EV technology. Specifically they said:

“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. As a part of this move, in April of this year, Honda created a new center called Innovative Research Excellence, Power Unit & Energy.”

In essence, the F1 engine is too expensive and doesn’t allow for the kinds of EV or FCV development that their new innovation center can provide. I took a lot of incoming a couple of years ago when I said that F1 is a terrific rapid prototyping lab for innovation and proof-of-concept development but it is naive to suggest that the road car division needs F1 and it’s engineering to remain relevant.

That notion betrayed the reality of just how advanced the current road car divisions of these manufacturers have become over the years. Honda’s innovation center is proof. I’m not so sure that the innovation isn’t actually working in reverse with the road car divisions helping F1 with their hybrid engines.

You may say I have not justified my dissatisfaction for the current engine formula and fair enough but here is announcement I saw over at The Race website that I believe proves my point pretty well.

“Both Chevrolet and Honda have both committed to supply the twin-turbo, 2.4-litre V6 engines under the new rules cycle. The new power unit – which uses a KERS system – was due to be introduced for 2022, but the implications of the coronavirus pandemic have led to the delay.”

I said, when it was announced that Ross Brawn was looking at a change to the engine regulations for 2021 (a couple of years ago now), that the best thing he could do was to change the formula to a twin turbo V6 with KERS. You have a hybrid component and a restricted fuel-flow efficient V6. You also have a better sounding engine too. Yes, I took heat for that ridiculous statement as well.

I told you so

So is this one big “I told you so” screed from me? Of course not. I’m not a genius and I don’t work in F1. I’m no F1 engineer or mechanic and I have very little hands-on exposure to back my concepts and ideas up.

The good news is, it does’t take all of that to simply suggest some common sense. The problem is that when the common sense you are espousing, even if it is 100% correct, is, in reality, only about 40-60% correct for the entirety of the grid due to personal agendas, money, politics and more. Time has a tendency to always push the common sense idea up from 40-100% or from 100% down to zero. That’s when you enter the “hindsight is 2020” area.

If I had a dime for every time I was wrong about something in F1 I could buy a hybrid power unit but there are times that my meanderings do end up ringing true. That isn’t because I’m brilliant, it’s because I’ve watched the series long enough to see history repeat itself. After six years, the hybrid power unit is still the elephant in the room and it is hurting F1.

The fact is, if Honda is willing to continue Indycar with a relatively inexpensive engine that still brings the Honda brand to millions of people and can win races and garner the respect that entails, then why wouldn’t they do that for F1?

Because it is too damned expensive. They will do their own FCV and EV innovation in the road car division and leave the racing for and affordable branding and marketing opportunity. This is what becoming an engineering championship has done to F1. At this point the series might be better off if the manufacturers left and the privateers bought Gibson, Honda and Cosworth engines and got back to racing. Or fans might be better off watching Indycar.

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Cicada Chev

What a breath takingly accurate overview of the farcical situation in f1

Gavin Brown

Agreed until you suggested we watched Indycar ;-). But also think Honda leaving will accelerate the decline in F1 based on ICE’s unless H2 or other less environmentally damaging, noise creating, engine can be shown to be safely stored on board.


So, I’m not all about the static chassis of Indycar, but what if that engine Formula was used in both series? You know F1 Engineering would ramp the hell up on tech on that platform, and probably exceed the output of current F1 engines. Then for 2021 there could be Chevy, Honda, added you the mix. What if it went back to when different engine configs could race? Why not have a V6 Chevy and Honda mixing it up with Ferrari, Renault, Merc?

Tom Firth

Yeah, I’m not against doing something different to what have now. Sharing engine regs with IndyCar isn’t a bad solution to keeping manufacturers involved and development opportunities but offering something cheaper than what they have now in F1. The problem with it would be that by F1 teams ‘Ramping the hell up on tech on that platform’ they’d probably push it into too expensive costs for IndyCar teams and the shared formula would end up with most choosing F1 as the ponds much larger. Still creates a relatively expensive development process too. Running two formats together is plausible in the… Read more »

Last edited 3 years ago by Tom Firth
Tom Firth

That and you’d have to convince American Honda/Global Honda to share IP to make them be involved and good luck convincing GM to back F1.

Tom Firth

1) Honda USA/Honda Performance Development is not the same as Global Honda, the marketing budget and objectives are completely different for IndyCar to F1. Its like comparing why Honda are in touring cars vs F1. 2) Indycar has a hybrid, albeit a much simpler version coming which is why they’ve managed to maintain Honda and Chevrolet in the series. 3) If F1 goes to a simpler format than its current hybrids, that simpler format is not ever going to be an off the shelf engine. Its going to be an expensive development process of a new format as it has… Read more »

Last edited 3 years ago by Tom Firth
Tom Firth

Also would you be willing to drive Ferrari out of F1 as part of your no manufacturers idea? That seems a terrible idea to me to lose the money the manufacturer activation brings, particularly Ferrari.

Tom Firth

Fine, but to clarify which one do you want, the TT.V6 KERS one you suggest developed by manufacturers or an off the shelf spec engine with no development opportunities? Because one I’ll support and the other I won’t.

Tom Firth

Not by itself anyway

Tom Firth

Made a bit of a pigs ear of trying to explain in my other comments so I’ll just put thoughts here were I am on this. I’m not against a different formula to what we have now, even a fuel-flow restricted V6 with KERS. Especially now Honda have left. I’m not against Mikes idea entirely of sharing regs with someone else although I think the someone else would be the big loser of that, its like having a trade agreement between a large nation and a small one, the small one never fares well. I am against an off the… Read more »


Honda removes the hybrid system from the NSX in GT racing, to save weight. Which is curious when they say they want to concentrate on EV tech.

Tom Firth

GT3 regs don’t permit Hybrids. That’s why its removed.


I’m not sure what people’s objections to your thoughts are but I would be amused to see them. I have always thought you were right on point about the current engine regulations. I have been saying the same thing. They are terrible and disastrous for the sport. It is not and never has been F1’s role to be an “example” or prototype technology. It is F1’s role to be competitive and and entertaining. If they insist on interesting engineering then go to an all V-12 or V-16 engine formula.