The latest trip to Turkey is a race we’re excited about, but we can’t help admitting it is a bittersweet weekend for us at Honda.
That’s because this should have been the date of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, but the race had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the second consecutive year.
While it is certainly the right decision to prioritise health, it’s a shame that we won’t get to race in front of our home fans one final time before leaving Formula 1. But that doesn’t mean we’re not still going to mark the occasion in style.
This weekend, we might not be racing in Japan, but we will be racing in Japanese colours as the RB16B runs in a special one-off livery and the Scuderia AlphaTauri cars also sport a slight change from their usual livery.
“Red Bull said to Honda ‘let’s do something special together for Suzuka’ - that’s where it all began,” our F1 Managing Director Masashi Yamamoto explains. “Then one of the ideas was to make a special race suit, inspired by the RA272.
“I’ve actually made the race suits before for Honda drivers - all white with a red line - that Jenson Button wore during one of our Honda Thanks Days. So the first idea was the race suits for Suzuka.
“Then the conversation went on a bit more and we said ‘Why don’t we do it for the car as well?’ So a livery inspired by RA272. The design was developed together, Red Bull came up with the basis design and we suggested small details like the red circle at the front that’s like the Japanese flag, and the retro numbers.”
Red Bull had to speak to the FIA and Formula 1 to get approval for the special design, which Yamamoto-san admits “would have been fantastic” to see out on track at Suzuka as originally planned.
But the statement that the livery makes remains the same, regardless of the circuit it is being raced on.
“On the one hand it’s a bit sad, but the main thing is as Honda we are really glad that we can do it together with Red Bull. And we have to thank Red Bull for doing it, because they made a huge effort and contribution to make that happen.
“And also for the fans it’s great, we are sure they will like it. I am proud we can show the fans how Red Bull and Honda are really working together as one team and fighting for one target, one goal. So we are proud that we have something that we can show to our fans around the world.
“I was personally glad and all of us at Honda were pleased because we feel it is an important touch that really shows we are one team.”
And it’s not only Red Bull that has a special message in Istanbul. Pierre and Yuki will have the same message for Scuderia AlphaTauri as Max and Sergio have on the rear wing, carrying the word ‘Arigato’ written in Japanese characters - the Japanese word for ‘Thank You’.
“Arigato is for Red Bull of course, for Christian [Horner], Helmut [Marko], Franz [Tost] and all four drivers across the two teams. But the biggest thank you is to the fans actually, because they have been supporting us for a long time. It is our last season but we wanted to take this opportunity to send that message to the fans.”
The livery is already Yamamoto-san’s favourite of all of the stunning designs produced by Red Bull and AlphaTauri in recent years, and will obviously take on an extra-special attachment if it is on a race-winning car in Istanbul.
But beyond that, the symbol of the partnership is one that he hopes will be enjoyed for a long time to come by both Honda employees and supporters.
“It would be really special to one day be able to display this car at the Honda headquarters as a world championship-winning car. But we have already ordered the models of the cars to be able to allow our fans to own one. I’ve ordered two sizes - 1:18 and 1:43 - because I am always prepared!”
It will be a particularly poignant moment when the car rolls out on Friday morning at Istanbul Park, but as soon as it does so, then the full focus is on the intense championship battle we are locked in with Mercedes.
Hopefully the special livery will be a positive chapter to look back upon, but Yamamoto-san is sure there are more twists and turns ahead in this dramatic season, as we attempt to end it by saying ‘Arigato’ to Red Bull and our fans in the best way possible.
“We are obviously very proud and very happy to be in this position at this time. But as you saw in Russia, there are tracks where Mercedes is particularly good and other circuits where Red Bull is better, so we just have to focus on the races one-by-one and if we do it correctly then we think we can get the championship.”