Honda will make a decision within the next 18 months about whether a return to Formula 1 is desirable for the Japanese manufacturer.
Honda formally departed F1 at the end of the 2021 season, coinciding their exit with a return to the top of the sport as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship with a Honda power unit.
The Red Bull Powertrains department of Red Bull took over the running of the powertrains, which are still Honda’s design and shipped from their headquarters in Sakura – a reasonably easy job for Red Bull given the implementation of an engine freeze until the end of 2025.
F1 will introduce a new, evolved version of the hybrid power unit for 2026, although the exact regulations have yet to be prescribed. The new regulations have caught the eye of the VW Group, with strong rumours of Volkswagen and Audi coming into the sport, while Honda have admitted they could be interested in making a formal return as a manufacturer.
Motorsport.com report senior Honda staff, including CEO Toshihiro Mibe, chairman Seiji Kuraishi, HRC president Koji Watanabe and director Yasuaki Asaki, were all in attendance at last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The report reveals Watanabe has not ruled out a return to the top flight of motorsport.
“Formula 1 is the top motorsports category, so we are always watching what is happening in the F1 world,” he said.
“Of course, we just finished and concluded our activities, so nothing [has been] discussed within the Honda company about the 2026 season. No plan.
“[But] it is not a closed door. My understanding is F1 is discussing to decide the regulations for 2026 and definitely the direction is carbon neutrality. That is the same direction as us. So we don’t have to [diverge] from carbon neutrality through F1 now. It is probably also a good opportunity to study carbon-neutral F1. So it’s not a closed door.”
Given Honda’s desire to leave F1 was down to a desire to focus on carbon neutrality, Watanabe said the focus is still on their road car programme before any inclinations towards F1.
“I think there are several factors we need to watch,” he answered when asked about what Honda need before a return to F1.
“But once we decided to conclude F1 because of mass production (road cars) and carbon neutrality, first we need to concentrate on this side. Then once we can realise we can achieve this, we can consider F1.”
Given the maintained links to Red Bull and their two racing teams, the potential is also there to simply increase the nature of that partnership again.
“We need to decide for next season, but personally I want to utilise more Honda,” he said. “So the combination of Honda and HRC.
“At least until 2025, Honda will be a kind of team partner of both teams. And although the detail is not decided yet, also HRC will become a kind of technical partner of both teams until 2025.”
He also confirmed Red Bull never outright purchased the intellectual property of the Honda power units, as widely believed. The IP of the hybrid engines returns to Honda after 2025, with Watanabe revealing it was “just a lease, so approval of utilising the IP”.
If a return to F1 for 2026 is indeed on the cards, he revealed the decision would have to be made quite soon.
“I don’t know the exact timeframe,” he said. “But if we want to return to F1 in 2026, probably we need to decide within 1-1.5 years.”