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Franz Tost

Honda reveal AlphaTauri boss helped save engine project

Honda's Masashi Yamamoto has revealed that Franz Tost encouraged Red Bull to sign Honda for the 2019 season.

Article
To news overview © AlphaTauri

Honda's Managing Director Masashi Yamamoto has outlined how Franz Tost, the team boss of AlphaTauri, played an instrumental role in helping to save the Honda engine project and convinced his Red Bull bosses that the Japanese manufacturer could build a competitive F1 engine.

With Honda formally pulling out of F1 at the end of 2021 after winning the Drivers' Championship with Max Verstappen, it marks the culmination of an eight year project that saw Honda rise from the darkest depths of the early days of the hybrid era.

With Honda committing to F1 a year after the likes of Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari began manufacturing hybrid engines for F1, Honda's partnership with McLaren proved disastrous.

With no reliability and, worse, no performance, Honda's first few years are probably best remembered for Fernando Alonso's derisory radio message branding his Honda power unit a "GP2 engine".

With McLaren dropping Honda at the end of 2017, worse was to come for Honda as the uncompetitive Sauber team pulled out of a deal to be supplied with their engines.

But Red Bull were eyeing up a partnership with Honda, as their relationship with Renault crumbled. In order to give Honda a shot, Red Bull committed their junior team, then known as Toro Rosso, to run the engines for a year before Red Bull were convinced enough to give Honda their backing for the 2019 season.

Looking back on this time period, Yamamoto said that Tost, boss of Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, played a huge role in their commitment.

"It was actually Franz Tost who said that Honda can do it," Yamamoto told The Race.

"He had spoken to board members and said we have to continue, to recover. Before talking to Helmut [Marko, Red Bull], we talked to Franz a little bit."

A different approach from Red Bull

Part of the differing philosophy between McLaren and AlphaTauri was that Honda were now able to communicate directly with the FIA and F1.

"Compared to before, I could have much more communication to other management in F1, like F1 or the teams," Yamamoto explained.

"Maybe that helps a little bit on the technical side as well. We can get a lot of information or we can make some negotiations. That helps to survive in F1.

"With McLaren, they said ‘we take care of the politics and everything so you just focus on making engines’. That was the role. So we stepped in a little bit more after starting with Red Bull.

"The change for myself is that after starting with Toro Rosso, Franz said ‘you should speak to F1, you should speak to the FIA’."

While Honda's engine project became competitive with Red Bull, winning their first race with Verstappen at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Yamamoto believes that the project would have been doomed to fail had they continued with McLaren.

"Even if we had continued with the McLaren project, I don’t really think we could have been successful, nor McLaren either," he said.

"The biggest reason probably is the shape we have started wasn’t really right. So the project needs to be started with the right shape or communication, which we could not with McLaren.

"And that’s something we could have done with Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso. That was very key.

"We started from zero. That was a restart and we needed it."

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