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Honda can match Mercedes - exclusive Yasuhisa Arai Q&A

01 Sep 2014

While Mercedes have been dominating Formula One racing this year, Honda's preparations for their 2015 F1 return with McLaren have been ramping up behind closed doors.

As they enter the final few months of development, we caught up with Honda's motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai to discuss current progress, the relationship with Woking, and why Honda are confident of a triumphant comeback...

Q: Arai-san, the countdown for Honda's F1 return is on. Can you tell us the current state of affairs?

Yasuhisa Arai: We are absolutely within our development plan. Our engine - or more precisely our power unit - is ready for a whole system check, but without the chassis. It will still need more time to bring the power unit and chassis together and then be able to run checks with the complete car.

Q: Can you talk us through your schedule up to the point when power unit and chassis will finally become one?

YA: In the next couple of weeks we will run simulations and at the beginning of next year we will start to run on the track - very likely at Jerez. That will very likely be the first time to show the whole car, the Honda engine and the McLaren chassis - the Honda McLaren.

Q: So Jerez will be the first public outing of the new car - but will you run the car before that to collect data?

YA: Right now there are no plans to collect data during the rest of 2014. Jerez will be the first time.

Q: You are the man in charge of this return: what challenges are you facing?

YA: There are, of course, some challenging points. One is to develop an environmentally-friendly powertrain for a competitive racing situation. It is in the DNA of Honda to be competitive - competitiveness is very important for us to live up to the racing spirit that is fundamental within Honda.

Q: How much did the rule changes contribute to Honda's decision to come back?

YA: Yes, it definitely was one reason for Honda to come back into Formula One, but there was also the fact that the lap times compared to the old engines are very similar, and that means that we are talking about a technology that is very advanced. You can match the speed of the old engines, but with much smarter - and resource-saving - technology.

Q: Honda has a glorious past in Formula One racing as an engine supplier, but less so as a team owner. Why?

YA: Our specific specialty is the engine. And McLaren - our partner - specialise in the chassis, the race management and trackside activities. So the best plan to win is to combine our talents.

Q: So McLaren will be your exclusive partner for 2015. But what about beyond that?

YA: Yes, in 2015 we don't have the plan to supply any team other than McLaren. In 2016 or after, if some teams or partners ask us to supply them too, we will take a look at that situation. But even in 2016 McLaren will be our main partner in F1. And even if we supply other teams from 2016 onwards our main focus will always be to win - to make the engine better through more data - and not necessarily to look at a return on investment. If you win that comes automatically.

Q: Did you leave Formula One racing too early at the end of 2008? The year after you sold the team, Brawn GP won both the drivers' and constructors' championships - titles that could have gone to Honda. Is there unfinished business?

YA: Everyone says so! When we left F1 in 2008 our engineers believed that our technology, our engineering methods, were correct - and we definitely believe that this is still valid.

Q: You will be up against Mercedes next season - currently the best power unit in F1. Will you have the same successful start as they had?

YA: I have confidence that we will match Mercedes.

Q: Of the three current engine suppliers, two have struggled on occasions this season. Do you think you can avoid similar start-up difficulties?

YA: I think that the two other engine suppliers will recover next season - I strongly believe that. And we will be there too.

Q: You must have analysed why these other two suppliers are struggling in their first year. What is your conclusion?

YA: You can only make conclusions when you have all the different data on the table. I can imagine that Mercedes found the perfect balance between their chassis and their power unit and that the others didn't find that balance. So we work together with McLaren as one team - because this is the only way to go.

Q: How is your daily business with McLaren coordinated?

YA: In the past, it was always a bit difficult to make such a cooperation work. But with today's IT technology - with data sharing - that is very manageable these days.

Q: So Jerez will be your D-Day. What expectations do you have for the day - and for the 2015 season in general?

YA: Formula One is a very important part of our strategy - and winning is very important for Honda. We want to raise the awareness of our brand and I trust - I am a firm believer - that we will win races next year. And that will send out a very positive signal for our brand on a global basis.

Q: So Formula One racing is intended to add an emotional and sporting aspect to your brand?

YA: Yes. Especially in Europe where fans believe that Honda is a sporting brand - and with the launch in 2015 of some very sporting road cars they will tie in perfectly with Honda's engagement with Formula One. We will use Formula One as a catalyst to deliver the message that Honda is building very sporting cars.