Just last year, Honda Formula One engines were a mix of the biggest joke and the biggest mechanical plague in the sport. “Honda” was so synonymous with “bad” in F1 that you could practically swap the words out in a sentence. Now, Honda is the new engine supplier for F1’s third-best team, Red Bull Racing.
Honda will take over at Red Bull in 2019. It’s a wonder how we got here.
Honda and Red Bull both have their own not-great recent histories in the F1 engine-supplier department, so perhaps they’re a good fit together. Over the past few years when it was the power unit for the McLaren team, Honda became known for its notoriously terrible engines—not an exaggeration—that left McLaren-Honda drivers stranded on the side of F1 tracks almost every race weekend. McLaren went to Renault power this season, and hasn’t at all escaped the detrimental mechanical problems. Maybe McLaren is just cursed.
Red Bull has been with Renault for 12 years, according to Motorsport.com, but it hasn’t been all rainbows and ponies. Red Bull and Renault have been in a spat for so long over Renault’s performance as a supplier that a few years ago, Red Bull rebranded with “Tag Heuer” power units to paste over “Renault.” It’s even in the official description of the car on the Red Bull Racing website:
The power units have still been Renault, under the passive-aggressive branding.
Honda went to Red Bull F1 junior team Toro Rosso for this season after McLaren finally ended the toxic relationship last year. The McLaren-Honda split was kind of like a bad, public breakup, but Honda somehow found itself another poor soul to crush in Toro Rosso—except, Honda came back in 2018 and wasn’t nearly as bad. Toro Rosso hasn’t exactly powered past the dominating Mercedes or Ferrari cars, but the engines haven’t broken or given out on the team constantly.
For Red Bull, whose drivers sit fourth and sixth in the standings, only behind drivers from Mercedes and Ferrari, the potential for not breaking was enough. Here’s what Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said in a statement, which he might or might not have been reciting through clenched teeth:
“We have always taken decisions such as this dispassionately and with only one criteria in mind – do we believe the outcome will allow us to compete at a higher level. After careful consideration and evaluation we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the Team.” He added: “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso, and by the scope of their ambition, which matches our own. We look forward to working with Honda in the coming years and to racing together in pursuit of F1’s biggest prizes.”
Despite all odds and logic, Honda has made it in modern F1. Meanwhile, the McLaren team is probably still wondering who cursed them and what kind of weird magic they have to do to reverse it.