With the 2021 Formula 1 season set to be their final one in the sport for the foreseeable future, Honda believes its "miraculous" achievement over the winter will help the Japanese carmaker compete with the industry-leading Mercedes power unit.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic played a large part in forcing Honda's hand with respect to their decision to leave F1. The Japanese brand then had to advance their plan bringing forward the developments planned for the 2022 season. This ensured Honda will get one final chance to topple the dominant Mercedes engine that has come to define the V6 Turbo Hybrid Era. The head of their power unit development Yasuaki Asaki explains why this was a monumental achievement.
“I gave the instruction (six months ago) for us to start work on the new structure PU," Asaki told Racer.com among others.
"I think the biggest concern on the Red Bull side was whether we’d be able to get it done in time, but we explained that with the previous PU we would not be able to beat Mercedes, and that we would need the new PU in order to do that.
"In order to win we needed to implement the new PU, and hence we started work on it.
"There were some of our engineers who came to me directly and said we will not be able to do the development required in the time that we have. However, once everyone was informed of the news from President Hachigo that we would be leaving Formula 1, I think they understood the reason why I came to them and asked for us to get this new PU ready in that time.
"So what I did was say to everyone that given that this is our last year it’d be nice for us to be able to demonstrate what it is we’ve achieved as Honda engineers. And with that everyone’s expression changed instantly really, and everyone kind of got to work on doing what needed to be done.
"Changing the structure of the PU with only six months until testing and round one is an incredibly challenging thing to do. But thanks to the hard work that everyone put in together, we were able to get the development work done, we ran well in testing, and were able to get ready for round one.
"So if everything goes well, we think that this will be able to contribute to the capabilities of Red Bull. And also it’s a sign of the almost miraculous technological achievement that we’ve able to achieve. I think that within Honda, our engineers will be able to tell the story of what it is that we have achieved."
Asaki further elaborated on the structural design of the engine highlighting the engine's more compact camshaft, as well as changes to the valve angle, headcover, and bore pitch all leading to a much smaller engine that has a lower center of gravity. Asaki believes the redesign should help Honda match Mercedes over the course of the 2021 season.
"I believe that we were able to implement everything that we have to in order to compete with Mercedes," Asaki said.
"We had a lot of cooperation from Red Bull, making sure that we could get the most from this new compact engine.
"We only have one year left so we have to be able to gain improvements from this straight away. Our objective is to beat Mercedes. Last year just as we thought we were getting closer to them, they showed further improvement.
"So looking back on what we’ve learned so far, we’ve set even higher goals for ourselves and if their improvements are within what we’ve assumed them to be, then I believe we have the capability to compete with them."
After a disastrous re-entry into Formula 1 with McLaren in 2015, Honda has steadily improved its power-unit over the course of the past six seasons. Having won Grand Prix with both Red Bull and AlphaTauri, the Japanese brand would like nothing more than to end their latest stint in the sport with a championship.