Honda’s announcement that it will quit F1 at the end of next season was obviously a pretty serious blow to the category, leaving just two automotive companies involved (in addition to Ferrari) from 2022 onwards and no prospect of any new ones joining under the current hybrid power unit regulations, set to run to the end of 2025. But of more concern than the fact of Honda’s withdrawal should be the reasons it gave for the decision. “As the automobile industry undergoes a once-in-a- hundred-years period of great transformation,” said the company’s group CEO Takahiro Hachigo, “Honda has decided to strive for the realisation of carbon neutrality by 2050. As a part of this change, we decided to allocate our energy management and fuel technologies, as well as our human resources amassed through F1 activities, to the research and development of advanced power units and energy technologies.”
Honda believes its long-term survivability depends upon meeting the environmental challenge and that it needs the brains and resource from its F1 power unit programme to help it do that – but not F1 itself. The inference is that F1 is no longer aligned with future automotive R&D, that further knowledge of units is no longer relevant.
The automotive mass market future is some form of electric, either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell electric. Until the energy from which the electricity grid is powered is itself renewable, the environmental advantages of a battery electric car are not there. The battery electric car needs to cover between 80,000-220,000 miles before it covers the environmental cost of the production of its batteries compared to a petrol car. The hydrogen cell is even more environmentally costly to manufacture. That switchover point comes down drastically – to 18,000 miles for battery electric – if the electricity grid is derived from renewables only. Automotive companies are planning on the wider world sorting out renewable-powered grids and when that has happened, they need to have the appropriate cars ready to take advantage. As such, electric racing looks to have a far better chance of being relevant to automotive R&D than hybrids.