Back in 2020, Honda announced that it would be withdrawing from Formula 1 to focus on its development of customer-focused electric vehicles. Now, in 2026, Honda has signed Aston Martin to be its works team ahead of a renewed interest in F1 racing as the sport transitions into a new era of power unit technology. So, what happened?
There were a lot of moving parts in Honda’s initial decision to leave F1, but one of the big ones was the now-outdated engine technology. F1's current hybrid power units are fine, but they are by no means the pinnacle of developmental technology, especially as it pertains to an increasingly electrified future. Honestly, there wasn’t much for Honda to gain from dumping millions of dollars into developing a more competitive F1 engine each year if it didn’t provide any correlation to the cars Honda could sell on the road.
A lot happened after Honda decided to depart. First, Red Bull asked Honda to remain involved in the sport, but in a more marginal sense: Honda would provide Red Bull with PU components, but it would be entirely up to the team to assemble, develop, and maintain those units.
As a result, F1 opted to freeze engine development. That meant that no power unit provider would have to spend tons of money to develop better PUs based on the current set of regulations; they’d just need to continue making them. And if Red Bull was going to take on the brunt of assembly and maintenance, it made sense for Honda to continue its partnership with the team through the 2025 season. Then, F1 announced that it would be implementing a cost cap that all teams would have to conform to, meaning that no single team or PU provider could dump more money into development than everyone else.
The big change, though, has come with the introduction of F1's upcoming 2026 PU regulations and its push to become carbon neutral by 2030.
In 2026, F1's PUs will be composed of 1.6-liter turbocharged combustion V6 engines supplemented by a more robust set of electric motors. The electric motors will provide three times more power than they do now, and the combustion engines will be powered by 100-percent carbon neutral fuel. Those changes caught Honda’s attention and very likely renewed its interest, since investing in the development of those newer engines would provide greater relevance to road-car development.
That being said, Honda doesn’t feel that it will be playing catch-up when it hits the field with a vengeance in 2026.
Koji Watanabe, President of Honda Racing Corporation, highlighted the fact that Honda already engages in a rotation of engineers during a press conference with media before the official Aston Martin announcement. Every three to five years, road car engineers are cycled into motorsport engineering as a way for employees to further hone their skills and put people on projects they’re passionate about. He did note that there will be a need to bring in skilled and specialized engineers to further develop the project and guarantee its success — but as soon as Honda announced its intention to provide power units for 2026, it started developing the necessary technology.
As it currently stands Watanabe noted that initial prototypes of both the combustion engine and the electric motors exist and are undergoing testing individually to verify each component’s success. The two parts of the overall F1 PU will be mated next year to begin rigorous testing in anticipation of 2026.