Based in Brackley, Northamptonshire, the Honda Racing F1 team, began its life as a successful manufacturer of motorbikes before moving into car construction in the early 1960’s.
Honda developed their first road car in 1960 and went on to startle the racing world by producing their inaugural racing model just three years later. The constructors were significant, not only for their quick entrance into racing, but also because they built their own engine and chassis, a feat only achieved at that time by the Ferrari and BRM teams. One year later, in 1964, after Lotus went back on its agreement to race the new car, Honda recruited a racing team and entered its newly developed RA272 in the German Grand Prix. Although the car didn’t place in its initial race, the RA272 quickly rose to victory with American driver Richie Ginther winning the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix.
In 1966, to accommodate for development in engine rules, Honda constructed the RA273, a similar model to its first car but with a much heavier in-house chassis which slowed the car down. After a tyre burst at the 1966 Italian Grand Prix and gear box problems stopped Richie Ginther placing third in America, Honda withdrew the RA273 and focused their efforts on developing a new car which would not be hindered by internal weight. A year later and Honda were back in business with the newly developed RA300 which, partly designed by Lola, was raced to victory by English Racing driver John Surtees in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix. After a successful 1967 season Honda came an admirable fourth place in the constructor championships, an award given by the FIA to the most successful car in an F1 season, and John Surtees who drove for Honda was also awarded fourth place in the driver championships.
After the success of the RA300, Honda set out to build on the car’s merits the following year, developing the RA301 for the 1968 season. Despite re-designing the car’s engine in an attempt to further improve the power of the car, Honda had little success with their new car and on numerous occasions were stopped from placing, due to mechanical failures. After attempts to improve problems in 1969, the year did not start well and Honda announced its decision to withdraw temporarily from F1 racing at the end of the 1969 season.
Despite their relatively low success rate during the 1960’s, Honda were recognised as good constructors and were particularly noted for their powerful and reliable engines. In 1983, after more than a decade away from F1, Honda returned to the sport as an engine supplier for the ‘’Spirit’’ team, going on to supply engines for major teams such as Lotus, McClaren and Williams over the following ten years. By 1992 when Honda dropped out of F1 racing for the second time, Honda’s engines had had 71 Grand Prix victories and had won an honourable six constructor championships.
Between 1993 and 1999, Honda made little contribution to F1 racing, but in 1998 the team launched plans for a new racing car named the RA099. Designed by technical director, Harvey Postlethwaite, the car was tested by Jos Verstappen in 1999 and performed well on the track, making better times than other more experienced cars. Tragically, during one of the car’s test sessions, Postlethwaite had a fatal heart attack and the RA099 never got past the testing stage.
Return to racing
In the year 2000 Honda began supplying engines for the British American Racing (BAR) and the Jordon Grand Prix constructors. The cars produced by both teams were so successful that a tense battle ensued for the right to Honda engines, and in 2003 Honda dropped Jordon and committed itself to BAR.
During 2004 and 2005 Honda purchased the entirety of the British American Racing team as two separate instalments from British American Tobacco (who then owned the team). Renaming themselves the Honda Racing F1 team, Honda began racing cars in 2006, the first time in almost forty years. The season got off to a shaky start with technical difficulties hampering the team’s chance of a victory at the British Grand Prix but, following a third place finish by Jenson Button at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Honda had their first win for four decades with Button driving the RA806 at the Hungarian Grand Prix. After their Hungarian victory, Honda’s cars performed admirably throughout the rest of the season and although there were no more victories, Honda’s car placed respectably in almost all of the remaining races.
At the beginning of the 2007 racing season, with the end of the British American Tobacco company’s sponsorship of the team, the Honda Racing F1 team revealed their new image with the RA107 racing car. The RA107’s livery was painted with the image of the earth against the black background of space and on the back was marked the name of an environmental awareness website myearthdream.com. The image has been well received by some but the team has come in for much criticism from environmental groups such as Greenpeace who see the efforts as hypocritical, given the amount of carbon emissions F1 racing produces.
To date, the RA107 has not been as successful as Honda had hoped, failing to place in any of their races until Jenson Button’s eighth place finish at the mid-season French Grand Prix. Following the disappointing beginning in their re-entry into racing, Honda has been earnestly recruiting new advisors and designers for the technical team in order to improve their car’s speed and efficiency on the track for the 2008 season.
The Honda team has changed regularly over the years but the 2007/08 team stands as follows:
- Chief Executive: Nick Fry
- Team Principal: Ross Brawn
- Technical Director: Shuhei Nakamoto
- Technical Team: Loic Bigois, Francoise Martinez, Jorg Zander, John Owen
- Race Drivers: Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello
Despite having raced F1 cars on and off since the 1960’s, Honda have had very few victories with their own cars, although since their take-over of BAR the constructors hope that this is set to change. Honda’s Grand Prix victories to date are:
- Mexican Grand Prix – 1965
- Italian Grand Prix – 1967
- Hungarian Grand Prix – 2006
On two occasions they have scored the highest qualifying time, allowing them to begin in pole position:
- Italian Grand Prix – 1968
- Australian Grand Prix – 2006