Honda will leave Formula 1 at the end of this season, but that doesn’t mean we will be lifting off in the closing stages of this era. In fact, quite the opposite.
Over a season that is made up of more than 20 races, it’s not possible to simply leave items undeveloped from the first race to the last if you want to be successful. Red Bull Racing has been pushing ahead with car upgrades, and the work has been ongoing within the power unit department, too.
The regulations permit each component of the power unit to be upgraded once per season, and the timing of those upgrades is at the different manufacturers discretion. We introduced some new components - such as the internal combustion engine (ICE) - over the winter in time for the start of the season, but the summer break also saw a further step forward from a new Energy Store (ES).
“This new ES has been developed in a project that has taken several years, with an aim to combine improvements in energy efficiency with significant reductions in weight,” Honda F1’s head of power unit development Yasuaki Asaki says.
“In what will be the company’s final season in the sport, Honda F1 has managed to introduce the new ES - fitted with a lighter, low-resistance, highly efficient and ultra-high power battery cell - just in time for the start of the second half of the season.
“In order to achieve the ultimate goal of defeating Mercedes and winning the championship before leaving F1 at the end of the 2021 season, we recognised the need to enhance performance. As such, the development plan for the new ES was brought forward substantially from the original goal of 2022 to introduction during the 2021 season.”
The ES was fitted to Max Verstappen's car at the Belgian Grand Prix, and he duly secured pole position on its first outing. The rain-affected race resulted in a half-points victory, but Max followed that up with a dominant display throughout the weekend at his home race in Zandvoort, securing pole position and taking a comfortable victory.
Max again started from pole in Monza, too, although he unfortunately failed to finish that race following contact with Lewis Hamilton. But the signs have been promising, after what was a huge amount of work to provide both performance and weight gains, the latter helping Red Bull optimise weight distribution.
An ES has a number of unique demands placed upon it, as a high voltage and high output component that requires specialist equipment to develop. Add in the certification that is required for air shipment and the required safety tests in case it is involved in a crash in a race, and the ES carries a much longer lead time than many other PU components.
Attempting to bring forward the introduction of the ES to this season was therefore a massive undertaking for the team at HRD-UK in Milton Keynes, made up of more then ten different nationalities all working together on what is the final major development item of the F1 project.
But it wasn’t an F1-specific body of work, as we received the full support of Honda R&D Co., Ltd (Innovative Research Excellence) and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (Automobile Operations Monozukuri Center), specifically from the road car battery development team.
The collaboration shows how important it is to Honda to give everything in its fight for the championship this season, and the successful delivery of the new ES during August represents a significant achievement for all involved.
Having put so much effort into developing the ES and getting it ready at this stage of the season, the benefits will be felt for the longest period of time possible. The remaining races will obviously see its impact, but then the technology will continue into 2022 when Red Bull takes over the IP for the power unit, showing our commitment to the partnership both now and in the future.
But it’s not just about Formula 1. As Asaki-san points out, this sort of project will have wider-reaching ramifications.
“Even after Honda leaves F1, this new battery technology will contribute hugely to Honda’s future technology to create a carbon neutral society, lead the advancement of mobility and enable people everywhere in the world to improve their daily lives.”
The target now is for it to have that positive impact as Formula 1 World Championship-winning technology.