The Japanese manufacturer pulled out of F1 at the end of the 2021 season, knowing clearly that its focus on its electric road car business meant it could no longer justify a program in the series.
But it has always kept its feet in the water, leasing the IP of its power units to Red Bull from 2021, which duly won the drivers’ world championship with Max Verstappen.
Its continued success this year has led to an increase in its presence, with Honda logos returning to Red Bull cars from the Japanese Grand Prix onwards.
The current deal with Red Bull runs until the end of the 2025 season, after which the Milton Keynes-based side plan to run their own power unit.
But talk of Honda’s return to F1 moved forward when an original plan by Red Bull to partner with Porsche from 2026 fell through after talks between the parties broke down.
Immediately after the news broke, Red Bull, which develops its own engine, said it was open to a possible partnership with Honda – particularly on increasing the electrical element of the F1 power unit. .
That idea has now moved forward with Honda’s motorsport chief revealing in Japan on Monday that the company has officially registered its interest as an engine manufacturer.
The FIA had asked all manufacturers wishing to use power units from 2026 to inform the governing body of their intentions by mid-November.
Honda Racing president Koji Watanabe confirmed Honda had done so, but made it clear that this did not necessarily mean he would enter permanently from 2026.
“As HRC, we registered as a PU manufacturer after 2026,” Watanabe said when presenting Honda’s 2023 Honda Motor Sports business plan.
A Honda logo on a Red Bull engine cover
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
“The F1 regulations from 2026 go in the direction of carbon neutrality.
“Also, the fact that electrification is also being promoted, and the carbon neutrality and electrification that Honda Motor Co., Ltd. is promoting, are the same. The targets match.
“As a racing company, we signed up as a manufacturer in order to advance racing research.
“There is also the fact that November 15 was the deadline (for registration). I registered as a manufacturer in order to continue [this research].”
Honda’s decision to enter means it now has the chance to assess whether or not to press ahead with an official return in 2026, which could be on its own or in partnership with Red Bull.
Had he not registered by the November deadline, it would have been more difficult for him to register for 2026 at a later date, and he would not have been involved in any of the formal discussions that are currently underway. between the various manufacturers and the FIA.
Speaking to Autosport earlier this year, Watanabe explained that Honda had never fully closed the door on a return to F1 – and would actively consider it once it was happy that its road car priorities be sorted.
“I think there are several factors that we have to watch,” he said when asked what would convince Honda to return.
“But once we decided to conclude F1 because of the mass production [road cars] and carbon neutrality, we have to focus on that side first.
“Then, once we realize we can achieve that, we can look at F1.”