From the archive: Honda in Formula One

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Second time around

Nelson Piquet’s points-victory in the 1987 World Drivers Championship was the first such title for a Japanese engine supplier. As such, it marked the culmination of a long-cherished dream for Honda, whose 1980s Grand Prix programme is its second attempt to overthrow the Formula One establishment. Honda’s first F1 car appeared in the 1964 German Grand Prix driven by inexperienced American sportscar driver Ronnie Bucknum, the Japanese firm apparently taking the view that its Grand Prix programme should start with a clean sheet of paper, including the driver. The distinctive white car, featuring a compact transverse-mounted twelve-cylinder engine, failed to finish its maiden outing.

The following season was the last for the 11/2-Litre engine regulations. Honda recruited former BRM number-two Richie Ginther to drive. He rounded off the season, and the formula, with a superb win in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix in the rarefied atmosphere at Mexico City, beating Dan Gurney’s Brabham-Coventry Climax in a straight fight.

Ginther remained with the team throughout 1966, being succeeded by John Surtees for 1967 and 1968. In conjunction with Lola boss Eric Broadley, Surtees revamped the truck-like Honda chassis; the resultant “Hondola” repaid that effort by carrying him to a split-second victory over Jack Brabham in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

But that was the sole GP success achieved by the team under the 3-litre technical regulations and Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of 1968.

It was not to be until 1983 that the first turbocharged Honda 11/2-litre F1 engine made its debut with the tiny Spirit team, Stefan Johansson competing in several Grands Prix during the second half of the season. This was a pilot project which led to an ambitious programme with the Williams team, kicking off with the 1983 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami.

Keke Rosberg scored the first race win for this new alliance at Dallas in the summer of 1984, after which it accelerated on to win four races in 1985 and nine in both 1986 and 1987, winning the Constructors’ Championships in both those seasons. Honda expanded its involvement to supply engines to Lotus from 1987 and has split with Williams for 1988, instead favouring McLaren’s two top runners, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, with its turbocharged power units. AH