Honda’s previous management made the decision not to renew its partnership with Red Bull which expired at the end of 2021. This was a surprise move, especially since Red Bull and Honda were starting to see the benefits of their collaboration. However, Honda’s decision was not based on financial reasons but was due to a shift in focus towards developing alternative energy forms with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
The Issue with F1’s Current Power Unit Regulations
F1’s current power unit regulations place heavy emphasis on the innovative MGU-H system. This technology uses exhaust gas heat to generate energy and reduce turbo lag. Although the MGU-H plays a significant role in the thermal efficiency of the current crop of F1 cars, its detractors argue that it lacks relevance on the road. This has proven to be a stumbling block for many OEMs to enter the series.
The 2026 Engine Regulations
The 2026 engine regulations will eliminate the complicated MGU-H system and put more emphasis on energy harvested under braking by the MGU-K. This shift has led to several manufacturers, including Audi and Ford, giving F1 another look. With Red Bull out of the picture, Honda Racing Corporation chose to partner with Aston Martin to make a swift return as a fully-fledged power unit manufacturer, while still supporting Red Bull with its current power unit.
The Move towards Electrification and Carbon Neutrality
Honda believes that the new engine formula, with its larger percentage of electrification and focus on carbon neutrality, has made F1 compatible again with the Japanese giant’s mass EV plans. Currently, electrical power accounts for 20% or less as opposed to the internal combustion engine, but the new regulations would require about 50% or more of electrification, moving even further towards electrification.
Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe stated that “with the new 2026 regulations, the key for winning will be a compact, lightweight, and high-power electric motor with a high-performance battery capable of handling high and swift power output, as well as the energy management technology.” Honda believes that the technologies and know-how gained from this new challenge can potentially be applied directly to their future mass production electric vehicles, such as an electric flagship sports model, and electrification technologies in various areas, including eVTOL, which is currently under research and development.
In 2026, F1 will also move towards the use of 100% renewable biofuel, which aligns with Honda’s strategy. HRC president Koji Watanabe stated that “the 2026 regulations would obligate us to go 100% towards carbon-neutral fuel and that would require us to really think about how to integrate the new fuel with the internal combustion engine. We also would have to think about how to make the efficiency optimized in order to speed up, and I think that direction matches with Honda’s direction.”
Honda recently announced its target to double its global EV and hydrogen sales by 2024 and plans to produce more than two million EVs annually by 2030. With their renewed focus on F1, Honda hopes to continue their commitment to electrification and carbon neutrality, leading the way towards a more sustainable future.
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