Honda were surprised to see the reliability of Mercedes in 2021 F1 season as it talks of its own journey, while the latter adds on their engine scene.

With just a couple of grands prix to go, Red Bull are in charge of the drivers title with Max Verstappen and Mercedes are heading up the constructors’ title but both only very narrowly. As of late, the latter have had to change their ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) quite often which has raised some eyeballs.

But seemingly, they have risen to the occasion on race day, but Mercedes who have been a benchmark throughout the hybrid era have hit a sticky patch reliability wise and with the ICE changes happening often, are. From outside, it looks like concern but on track, despite those extra engines, they seem to be performing top notch.

Honda guru Toyoharu Tanabe, though, is a touch surprised himself about the frequency of the changes. “I’m very surprised they are changing the ICE frequently,” he said with Valtteri Bottas having six and Lewis Hamilton having five so far. “So actually, I cannot believe what’s going on and then why.

“But from the PU manufacturer point of view, it’s kind of a disappointment to get a PU penalty for the driver so actually I have no idea but I’m sorry about that,” he added. Since Silverstone, Red Bull have been in the ascendancy, and only one additional PU change has been necessary for Verstappen.

But the burning question is could Red Bull have gone through to Abu Dhabi with no more than the allotted engines without the incident and if they will bring in anymore to have a fresh one at their disposal for the end. Tanabe reckons yes for the former and also for the latter, as he feels happy with how far Honda has come since 2015.

“The current plan, we can manage the PU for the rest of the season for all drivers so yeah, we had some accidents during the season and then lost some PUs but at the moment we have sufficient number of units for all drivers,” said Tanabe.

“Overall, I’m very pleased that we are able to challenge both championships from the beginning of the season with good and strong performances. It’s good but it’s not an easy challenge to get the championship but then there are two races left. Maybe you may say only two, but for us it’s a long, long, tough battle.”

Since Honda returned in 2015, they initially endured a tremendously tough time of it at McLaren. Those of a certain vintage will recall the heady days on the 1980s, the glory years for Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda, and 2021 is the time again for them to shine and end their latest journey on a high.

“Since we participated in this hybrid era Formula 1, actually it was tough,” said Tanabe. “Then we had a lot of failures and then a difficult time in terms of reliability, and also performance. And then we learned a lot, from that era and then we put everything together. It was the end of that… every year, actually, every year, and this year, as you know, this is the last season for Honda Formula 1. I can say we are happy but not quite happy because of some issues in terms of performance. Generally, looking back seven years we have grown and then the current results from this season is quite nice.”

But the biggest thorn remains Mercedes, who have closed up nicely in the last few races. Crucially for them, they ran an old engine in Qatar with Hamilton which left his Brazil rocket with just the one event and having lots of mileage left for the Saudi Arabia event.

“Qatar wasn’t the engine, the fresh one, that we took in Brazil,” said Andrew Shovlin. “This was an older engine and because it is older, it’s got a bit less power. Now, why do we do that in Qatar? Well, of the remaining circuits, Qatar has got the shortest amount of straight line, the shortest amount of full throttle running and it’s got an awful lot of cornering.

“So, the power advantage you get from that engine in Qatar is much smaller than if you run it at the two remaining circuits. All we are doing is really trying to balance the mileage across the pool but make sure that when we use the less powerful engine, there is less of a penalty for it and that also means when we get to the final two tracks, we are going to have the most power that we possibly can.”

The story was co-written by Neil Farrell

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