Honda F1 Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe discusses the methodical changes made to their 2021 PU, which he hopes can end partnership with AlphaTauri and Red Bull on a high note.

With no power unit developments permitted in the upcoming F1 season, Tanabe says the team made a number of changes in the off-season, making ‘modifications’ to the new power unit’s Internal Combustion Engine, its turbocharger and Energy Recovery System.

Tanabe also points out a number of packaging changes Honda have made, which are apparent on the AlphaTauri’s AT02, which was unveiled online early Friday. “It is difficult be specific about which parts have seen the most work, but in order to improve power and reliability, we have made modifications to the ICE, turbine and ERS,” he began.

“This is our third year with Scuderia AlphaTauri and in order to improve as a whole, we have also improved the installation and packaging of the entire PU,” Tanabe adds. The Japanese engineer also says that the dynamometer figures produced by the new power unit have been on par with those they had expected as a result of the changes.

“On the dyno the numbers we have seen match what we expected. Let’s see how competitive we can be on track in the actual races,” Tanabe said. The 60-year-old admits that 2021’s power unit was initially delayed to 2022, before Honda’s decision to leave F1 after the coming season meant they decided to bring forward its introduction.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were going to introduce a new PU for this year, however, given all the difficulties and restrictions because of the long F1 shutdown, combined with the European lockdown and delay in parts supply, we had decided to postpone it to 2022,” Tanabe explained.

“However, taking into account the decision announced in October 2020, that Honda would leave the sport at the end of 2021, we reassessed the situation and changed our plan again to reintroduce it in 2021. It was very tight timing to make this change, but we managed to bring forward the development and preparation programme. At Honda, we felt that we really wanted to use all our technical know-how before leaving the sport,” Tanabe said.

One focus of the new engine, Tanabe also says, is reliability – something which plagued the supplier in its time with McLaren from 2015 to 2017. Tanabe acknowledges the importance of a strong balance between performance and reliability, and says Honda worked to find this in their work for 2021.

“After Honda returned to F1 in 2015 we endured some very difficult times, but we also learned a lot and our good reliability last year is down to the lessons learnt. We have changed many things on this year’s PU, but our experience in terms of reliability was applied to this.

“Performance and reliability are always a very subtle balancing act and we hope to maintain that balance this year. We expect to know more once we have run on track, after which we can just make operational changes in terms of how we run the PU,” Tanabe said.

With 2021 being the official end of its partnership albeit as joint partners, Tanabe says that Honda and those at AlphaTauri and Red Bull were ‘very determined’ in the development process of their new power unit, aiming to find success in their final season together.

“Of course this is Honda’s last year in Formula 1 and in order to finish on a high note, everyone in Sakura and Milton Keynes is very determined and we feel we have prepared well for the coming season in conjunction with Scuderia AlphaTauri over the winter so far.

“We won’t know for sure how good a job we have done until we hit the track, but so far preparation has gone smoothly,” Tanabe said. “Last year the mid-field competition was tougher than in previous years and a very small performance gap could make a big difference in the results.

“It was great that Pierre Gasly was able to win in Monza and overall, we had a great year with Scuderia AlphaTauri. Our rivals are also developing and so this will be another year of close competition, but we are sure that Honda and Scuderia AlphaTauri have progressed over our three years together and we are now truly one team, strong and united.

“Scuderia AlphaTauri’s support and cooperation played a key role in allowing Honda to become competitive in the hybrid era and we truly appreciate that. It would be great if we can do even better in our final year together,” Tanabe concluded.

Here’s the 2021 AlphaTauri livery

Here’s Christian Horner on steps with Honda beyond 2021

Here’s news on Red Bull signing deal with Honda

Here’s initial details from Helmut Marko on their plans