What a surprise. Honda is out of F1. Again.
It’s a very Japanese move.
The decision was likely made sometime in 2019 when Honda was struggling, but kept private until the Japanese company could withdraw without losing face.
When AlphaTauri scored its against-the-odds victory in the Italian Grand Prix, giving huge kudos to Honda in a way that its victories with Max Verstappen and Red Bull never could, the way was clear for a tactical retreat by a company which is struggling for relevance and showroom results because it under-performs as an SUV maker and has none of the utes which are so popular in many countries including Australia.
Honda even celebrated its AlphaTauri success by gifting the team a HondaJet Elite, a wonderful technological advance in short-range business jets but – once again – not as successful as originally planned.
The Japanese maker has bounced in and out of grand prix racing for decades, most recently when it used the Global Financial Crisis as an excuse to desert the team that became Brawn and went on to win a world title using Honda cash and staff but with a Mercedes-Benz engine plugged into the back of the Honda chassis.
There was also the time when it deserted the Williams team after Frank Williams was paralysed in a road-car crash . . .
That time the Honda backflip drove Williams into the arms of Renault, and they shared 64 wins and world titles in 1992 and 1993.
Rumours of another Honda withdrawal began in 2018 when McLaren was struggling for competitiveness with a hybrid Honda package that was nowhere near a match for Mercedes-Benz or Ferrari. The McLaren-Honda liaison was intended to restore both companies to their 1990s highs with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, but . . .
There was a massive loss of face but Honda restructured and re-focussed on a new partnership with Red Bull and its aerodynamics savant Adrian Newey.
Last year there was plenty of improvement, but still not enough for a company which expects success in Formula One and does not have anywhere near enough money to compete with Benz, or Ferrari, or even Renault.
But, once again, it has taken the very Japanese and very tactical decision to withdraw at the end of 2021.
So Red Bull and AlphaTauri get another year to organise a new powertrain supplier, while Honda can avoid the expense of developing a new package for the delayed rule changes in 2022.
The only real question now is where Red Bull and AlphaTauri go, as they look to replace their powerplant supplier – it’s much more than an engine – when Formula One makes the big change for 2022.
Could the Bulls be forced to go helmet-in-hand to Renault, their former powerplant supplier and the maker that looked most likely to desert the Grand Prix grid before a renewed commitment that includes a big-money deal for Fernando Alonso from 2021?
The house looks to be full at Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari is a basket case that will be focussed on its own needs for 2022, and there is lots of bad blood with Renault.
Could Aston Martin provide the answer if it develops its own powertrain once it morphs into a factory team in its new partnership with billionaire boss Lawrence Stroll?
There are lots of questions but very few answers at the moment, although the AlphaTauri-Honda executive jet still looks very tasty.