Aston Martin shows ruthlessness again in swoop for Honda F1 engine


Under Lawrence Stroll, Aston Martin is in no mood to wait for F1 success, writes Chris Medland. Its Honda engine deal shows once more that it's prepared to commit fast — and now has the final element for a title challenge

Lawrence Stroll on F1 grid with Aston Martin car and team

Lawrence Stroll-led Aston Martin announced Honda works deal earlier this week

Florent Gooden/DPPI

As a team, Aston Martin doesn’t do things by halves, does it?

When it has a statement to make, over the past few years it has tended to be a very big one. Whether that was hiring certain personnel, building a brand new factory and wind tunnel facility that dwarves its previous set-up, or signing Fernando Alonso, it commits.

That might seem obvious and what you’d expect any ambitious team to do, but what is standing out so far about Aston Martin is the speed at which it makes those commitments. You can almost envisage Lawrence Stroll telling his team “make it happen, now”, and it does.

A customer team has never won the championship in the turbo hybrid era

Let’s look at the Alonso move before we get onto this week’s massive news surrounding Honda. Back in July, when Sebastian Vettel’s retirement was announced – whatever his reasons may have been and whenever they were finally communicated to the team – Aston arrived in Budapest on the Thursday morning with a vacancy for 2023.

Over the course of the weekend, all sorts of names were linked with Vettel’s seat, but Alonso had been wanting a longer-term commitment from Alpine and had yet to receive it. So discussions took place during the race weekend, some of them even within the paddock, and by the time everyone was walking out on Sunday night a contract had been signed.

Alonso had his two-year commitment, and Aston Martin had the experienced team leader it wanted to continue pushing it forwards in its aim of becoming a front-running team.

Fernando Alonso celebrates podium

Alonso’s experience has helped deliver four podium finishes this year

Getty Images

Now, not even Alonso could have predicted being so competitive this season, but after what was a pretty disappointing 2022 — to put it mildly — for the team in terms of results, this year has led to a huge increase in belief that it is on the path to championships at some stage.

But something was missing. Something crucial. And that stems from the fact that it has been a decade since a customer team won the constructors’ championship – or one of its drivers took the drivers’ crown – and never has it been done in the V6 turbo hybrid era.

“It’s clear to us and to Honda that the 2026 F1 regulations will require the full integration of chassis and PU that only a full works team relationship delivers,” Aston Martin’s Martin Whitmarsh said on Tuesday from Tokyo. “To have this partnership puts us in a position to compete for championships.”

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“It’s clear from everything we’ve seen from Honda in the past, from our recent learnings, from being in conversation the last few weeks – they have a huge passion, they are racers, they want to win. That’s what they are in this sport to do, and that’s fantastic because that’s exactly our goal. We have a lot to learn from Honda, who have been successful over many, many decades in this sport. We are already confident this is going to be a fantastic partnership for the future.”

Whitmarsh is now the group CEO for Aston Martin Performance Technologies, but his influence on the F1 team specifically is clear given his history. He worked with Honda initially and then with Mercedes for so long while at McLaren. He was part of the organisation that started the transition back towards the former nearly 10 years ago.

That initial McLaren spell under the current regulations was an absolute disaster for both sides, but Honda recovered to be the standout partner to Red Bull in recent years, and the catalyst for wanting to bring the Japanese manufacturer back into the F1 fold in the first place still rings true for Whitmarsh as Aston Martin looks to 2026.

Just like the Alonso example, when Aston saw something that worked for what it wanted, it made it happen, fast.

“My previous experience only enthused me, it had no bearing. So my first time working with Honda was 1989 — quite a long time ago. I was ironically involved 10 years ago in encouraging them back to the sport, but I wasn’t here when they arrived.

“But I think Honda are racers. It was an extraordinarily straightforward discussion. The discussion didn’t start very long ago. We shared our ambitions, what we wanted to do in the sport. I think we quickly established that there was a common passion to win, and the synergies were very, very strong. It was a pretty straightforward approach. We want to win, Honda wants to win. I think we can both see the strengths that the two partners bring to that partnership.”

Martin Whitmarsh puts arm around Lewis Hamilton in McLaren pit garage in 2009

Whitmarsh joined Honda-powered McLaren in 1989, remained during the Mercedes years, and worked with Honda ahead of its return

Grand Prix Photo

While that echoes McLaren’s own mantra back in 2015, the theory behind it has only been proven true since. It’s surely not impossible, but to date nobody has been able to win as a customer under these regulations.

And as Aston Martin looks to be decisive and committal thanks to the resource and ambition it has at its disposal, it is also willing to be ruthless. The old Jordan factory that holds such sentimental value is soon to be demolished ready for another new building, and the long-term Mercedes supply deal that has this year been strong enough to see Aston Martin sit second in the constructors’ championship is already being seen as holding the team back from making the final step.

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“We have a great partnership currently, and great components and systems provided to us but this is about the growing up of this team,” Whitmarsh adds. “You set out to win in F1, that means beating existing partners, and in order to do that, we have got to be independent.

“We’re building great facilities and we are progressively pulling away from our dependence on Mercedes-Benz, and that is no reflection on them. They have done a fantastic job for us. They continue to do a great job for us. Clearly, we are here to beat them. And that means we have to be self-reliant.

“I think we have to be clear. Mercedes have been great partners and they remain that. They are in it to win. And clearly we are here to win as well. Ultimately, there is some incompatibility in those two missions and that’s why we have taken the decision.”

The driver, the factory, the personnel and now the works power unit deal. If there’s something still missing for Aston Martin, it’s not big.