Marko came good on his Honda title ‘guarantee’

Jon Wilde
Red Bull and Honda personnel celebrate winning the World Championship. Abu Dhabi December 2021.

Red Bull and Honda personnel celebrate winning the World Championship by holding a Japanese flag. Abu Dhabi December 2021.

Helmut Marko says Honda had been looking to exit Formula 1 before they joined up with Red Bull – so he gave them a World Championship “guarantee”.

After six years out of the sport, Honda returned in 2015 as engine supplier to McLaren, re-forming an association that had yielded four consecutive Constructors’ titles from 1988-91.

But the attempt to turn back the clock proved disastrous as, even with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button driving the cars, the Briton handing over to Stoffel Vandoorne for 2017, the partnership endured three poor years with not a single podium finish.

At that point, according to Marko, Honda were ready to call time on their ill-fated return. However, they were persuaded to stay on with Toro Rosso in 2018 and when that project showed promising signs, Red Bull themselves joined the party from 2019.

The rest, of course, is history and although Honda had announced in the autumn of 2020 that the following season would be their last, they bowed out in a blaze of glory thanks to Max Verstappen’s World Championship triumph.

A shot of the Red Bull rear wing with the Honda name. Abu Dhabi 2021
A shot of the Red Bull rear wing with the Honda name. Abu Dhabi 2021

The Japanese manufacturer have not yet severed ties completely, of course, for they continue to offer support to the Red Bull Powertrains operation that officially powers Red Bull and AlphaTauri this year.

Red Bull advisor Marko has revealed he had to pull out all the stops, however, to stop Honda from walking away after that embarrassing spell with McLaren – and he turned out to be as good as his word.

“When it was announced McLaren wanted to get rid of Honda, I immediately used my contacts,” said Marko during an interview with Formule 1 magazine.

“It was not easy to convince Honda to continue in Formula 1, they wanted to get out even then.

“I said to the Honda president ‘we guarantee you the title’.”


In terms of those contacts to which Marko referred, he called upon the AVL powertrains company in his native Austria.

“Do you know AVL? That’s a company with 12,000 employees, 80% of them engineers,” said Marko, whose 79th birthday is three days after the forthcoming Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

“The head office is in Graz, they develop engines and test benches. They have supplied Honda with over fifty million euros’ worth of equipment.

“So then you get the information that Honda has a high-tech factory in Sakura that is second to none – everyone walks around in white coats and the estate is 53 hectares.

“Then it is a question of hitting the right strings – and thank goodness it did.”