Honda F1 chief Toyoharu Tanabe answers about speculations on power increase, post-reliability upgrades push, personal regret and more on 2022.

The 2021 F1 season has been a tremendously successful one for Red Bull Honda thus far.  Even they are possibly surprised by their success, leading the drivers Championship along with the Constructors’ after eight rounds so far, with five wins.

It is arguably their most successful season since their last title winning championship in 2013. It is not a case of now or never, but a third of the way through the season, they are in the ascendancy. If anything, they are improving weekend by weekend.

Max Verstappen’s lights to flag victory in Spielberg last week is living proof of same. They are now being chased by Mercedes as opposed to doing the chasing. “Actually, we finished one third of the races in this season and then the result is from the first race is not too bad but we know Mercedes how strong they are and then they will come back with a strong car in the future, for sure,” Honda F1 chief Tanabe.

“So, to improve our performance Honda Sakura members and the Milton Keynes members, along with teams, working very hard to improve our trackside performance. And then, to keep challenging the championship for this year.” Two weeks ago at Paul Ricard, Red Bull introduced a new power unit, with an improved reliability.

An impressive mid race stint saw Verstappen overhaul Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap. So impressive that to a greater extent, it came under suspicion and scrutiny, but much like Red Bull, Honda also find it amusing information from their F1 rivals.

“I’m very happy if it is true [that Honda has gained 15 bhp] but it’s not true,” said Tanabe. “Under current regulations, any performance update is not allowed to apply during the season. As a result, our second PU is the same as the first PU in terms of specification and performance,” he added, but when pressed more about the reliability updates, which may have helped Honda to run at higher performance modes, he wasn’t fully into it.

“The current performance improvement is as a result from the hard work from Honda and the teams,” said Tanabe. “Then under the current PU regulations, we need to submit any changes, so only allowed to change for reliability, for cost reasons and logistics. Then we need to submit very detailed to the FIA first and the FIA approves those changes.

“FIA distributes all the documents to the other PU manufacturers, so we need to have an approval from the other PU manufacturers to change any single parts, specification. Then, why we are doing such a very much detailed investigation is a long time ago some teams improved their performance to make a change, to improve their reliability, so we are very careful to change the performance and then it is not possible to improve the performance during the season. That’s my answer to that suspicion,” summed up Tanabe.

As he explained about improvement on their trackside performance with the current spec of power unit, Tanabe further elaborated on how Honda achieved it, within the regulations and constraints. “So when we understand this year’s PU, ICE and the ERS system and then we go to different tracks every time, so we simulate how to use the balance for the ICE and the electric systems,” he said.

“So then we optimise the usage of the PU in terms of the lap times, so current technical directives give us a little bit harder time, we need to use qualifying, race, the same mode, we need to run in qualifying and the race the same mode, so that time of simulation and then when we come to the track, we run real world and then update that type of calculation to maximise our performance,” summed up Tanabe.

In summary, Tanabe agreed that Honda is extracting more potential from their power unit at this stage rather than what they did at the start of the year. “I can yes, so because we started using this ‘20/’21 new PU from pre-season test and then we have been learning gradually how to use our PU and then we improve our weakness and then we push our strengths and then as a result the base specification, the performance is the same but trackside performance, I believe, we have been improving,” he said.

But with regards to the speculations that after the pre-season F1 tests, Honda had to run the engine in a lower performance mode due to reliability concerns, therefore the reliability changes made for the second PU have enabled them to run it back again at the higher performance level that we now see. Tanabe appeared bemused by it.

“No. How can I say?,” Tanabe counter-questioned. “Maybe someone compared the GPS data from the first one to the second one. They easily can find out the gap between Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda. That’s the easiest way to find out how to use our PU – Honda uses PU from the beginning of the season.”

Bearing in mind performance improvements since Paul Ricard, the Honda package appears now to the class of the field, coupled with the performances of the AlphaTauri’s also this year, it appears that Honda will leave F1 with their heads held high as well as the strongest engine, if the current performances continue.

“We keep analysing our position, compared to the other PU manufacturers, so that analysis, including the chassis performance as well, so if you have a good car with less downforce, sometimes you see a good engine power performance, so it’s a little bit difficult to judge,” said Tanabe.

“Then our current results give us a… still we are not number one so as I said, we cannot improve the pure performance, like the IC performance, then we are working on very hard how to use the PU efficiently at the track, so we want to use current hardware more efficiently with team engineers,” summed up Tanabe, who admitted that personally, he feels the pinch that Honda is leaving, but he wouldn’t come in the way of the company’s decision.

“Personally, yes but regardless the result of this year’s championship or our result, I think Honda’s decision has been not changed from their previous one,” said Tanabe. “It means leaving from the Formula 1.” Even though officially they will leave the sport, they still have the IP deal with Red Bull and will, in fact, supply, the 2022 engine from their Sakura base.

“Yes [it will be from Sakura base],” said Tanabe. “Red Bull and Honda have been working on that project and then so how to proceed that transition for next year. I cannot tell the detail but generally we are going to a good direction and then we should prepare well for next year so now we are working very hard, I am working very hard at the trackside.”

The story was co-written by Neil Farrell

Here’s explanation from James Vowles

Here’s all on Mercedes and Red Bull on the upgrades