Honda Returns to F1 Racing as Engine Supplier to McLaren

Honda Motor Co. will return to Formula One as an engine supplier to help develop its technology after exiting the racing series in 2008.

The maker of Acura NSX sportscar will provide motors to its former F1 racing partner McLaren Automotive Ltd. starting in 2015, Takanobu Ito, president of the Tokyo-based automaker, told reporters yesterday. He declined to comment on how much the automaker intends to spend on the effort.

Honda previously owned F1 teams and won 15 of 16 races in 1988 as a supplier to the McLaren team including three-time world champion driver Ayrton Senna. The automaker’s role as an engine supplier for a team to be renamed McLaren Honda comes after it took over the British American Racing team in 2005, only to drop out three years later to cut costs amid the global financial crisis.

“Racing is like a backbone for Honda, so their return carries a very good image,” said Takeshi Miyao, a Tokyo-based industry analyst at Carnorama Japan. “Their return should be good advertising.”

Racing Costs

The automaker, which forecasts the highest annual profit since 2008 as a weaker yen boosts overseas earnings, said yesterday the F1 racing series provides feedback for improving cars it manufactures in volume. The company had said in 2008 it saved at least 20 billion yen ($195 million) by dropping out of F1.

“It’s very costly to participate,” Yoshiaki Kawano, a Tokyo-based industry analyst IHS Automotive said. “Since Honda is coming back after being away from the racing series for a while, they may have to spend some extra on initial investments.”

Honda will develop F1 engines in Tochigi, Japan, where it is already working on a new 1.6-liter turbocharged V6, the automaker said yesterday in a statement.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda’s bigger Japanese rival, dropped out of the series in 2008 as did Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.

New Engines

Honda will be rejoining the series after a revamp of the rules replaces the 2.4-liter V8 engines with 1.6-liter six-cylinder powerplants. The change, initially proposed for 2013, will be implemented in 2014, Honda said yesterday.

“Honda has a long history of advancing our technologies and nurturing our people by participating in the world’s most prestigious automobile racing series,” Ito said. “The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our participation in F1.”

The automaker said last year a revamped Acura NSX, to be built in Ohio, would go on sale within three years. The sportscar is expected to sell for more than $100,000, according to Honda executives.

Acura NSX

The original $89,000 NSX that sold from 1989 to 2005 was built in Suzuka, Japan, and drew performance-car fans with a light, all-aluminum body. It gained pop-culture fame when it was driven in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” by Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel.

Honda introduced an Acura NSX concept car at the North American International Auto Show in January, saying the car will feature a direct-injected V6 that powers the rear wheels and two electric motors that drive the front.

Honda’s “engine technology and passion for motorsport make them a natural Formula 1 contender,” Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive officer of Formula One Group, said yesterday in a statement.

Toyota has no plan to return to the F1 racing series, spokesman Dion Corbett said by e-mail.

Honda also participates in the Indy car race series and motorcycle competitions including Moto GP, considered the equivalent of F1 for motorcycles. The automaker’s Moto GP joint team with Spain’s Repsol SA has won 12 out of the past 15 races, according to Honda’s website.

F1, partly owned by CVC Capital Partners Ltd., withdrew a plan to raise as much as $3 billion in an initial public offering in June last year.

The next event on F1’s 19-race calendar is May 26 in Monaco.

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