Reaching for the Top in Motorsports (F-1: The Initial Phase)
In May 1962, Hideo Sugiura, quality manager at Saitama Factory, received an unofficial order from Yoshihito Kudo, director of the research center, "We are planning to compete in F-1. I want you to oversee the project." The resulting exchange was a rather interesting one:
"What is F-1? I have seen some photographs about it before, but I don’t know what it is. Please tell me what F-1 is," asked Sugiura.
Soichiro Honda and the F-1 prototype car which was covered with a steel space frame like that of the Cooper Climax on which it was modeled
"I don’t know, either," replied Kudo. "It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a beginner, at first." This conversation is just an example of how foreign a concept F-1, or Formula One, was to Honda’s employees at that time. What little information available to them came from the 2.5-liter British F-1 machine, the Cooper Climax, which the research center had obtained six month earlier.
Honda’s entry in F-1 was announced in January 1964. Ever since the company had won an overall victory at the Isle of Man TT Race, one of motorcycling’s most prominent races, there had been great anticipation concerning Honda’s possible move into car racing. Particularly, the employees of the research center were confident that there was no race that could not be won with their technology.
Despite the previous year’s launch of the T360 mini truck and the S500, a small sports car, Honda was still the youngest car manufacturer in Japan. It was none other than Soichiro Honda who decided to compete in F-1, before any other manufacturer in the country.
Mr. Honda’s passion had been evident since March of 1954, when the company announced its entry into TT motorcycle racing. "Since childhood," he once said, "my dream was to become a champion in world automobile racing with a machine I had made myself." Thus, Honda once again took the fateful first step toward the realization of a dream, this time in the world of cars.
Only a small number of engineers were assembled to handle the F-1 project at first, most of whom had been involved in motorcycle events only. Therefore, to conduct the necessary research and development experienced engineers were hired, and young employees fresh out of college were recruited to provide much needed manpower. The new R&D team was led by the company founder.
"The target for horsepower was decided by Mr. Honda himself," recalls Akio Okudaira, who was in charge of engine performance. "Whether that horsepower could be achieved was not the question. He just told us we must produce this much power in order to win. For example, the code name for the engine, RA270, was assigned by Mr. Honda, who probably wanted to remind us that the engine had to produce 270 horsepower."