Reaching for the Top in Motorsports (F-1: The Second Phase)
"Racing is part of Honda’s corporate culture. It does not matter if we win or lose. We want to show our best technology to the users of Honda cars in the form of entertaining spectacles. This is why we decided to resume racing activities," Kiyoshi Kawashima, president of Honda, announced the company’s return to the racing circuit at the New Year press conference in 1978.
Spirit Honda’s machine competing in the Austrian Grand Prix in August 1983
The CVCC engine, developed by Honda as a pioneer low-pollution engine, was receiving rave reviews. The decision came after the introduction of the Life, Civic, and Accord Hatchback, which further expanded Honda’s lineup of commercial models.
Honda returned to the World Motorcycle Grand Prix Series in 1979. However, going back to F-1, which had progressed so much during the past ten years, was a difficult decision to make. Finally Honda decided first to take on F-2 to gain sufficient records and experience before competing in F-1. As a result, it took Honda five years after the 1978 announcement to actually make a comeback in F-1.
In 1981, its second year in F-2, Honda won the European F-2 Championship. It was followed by a monumental record of twelve consecutive victories spanning the 1983 and 1984 seasons.
In 1983, Honda began developing F-1 engines. With the company planning to expand its lineup of commercial models in Japan before the scheduled deployment of a three-channel distribution system, things were hectic at the research center. However, as general manager of the F-1 program, Nobuhiko Kawamoto’s policy of not sacrificing the mass production models was firmly intact.
In the second phase, Honda decided to form a partnership with European chassis manufacturers to gain recognition in the world of F-1, supplying only engines. The company set its goal to becoming the number one in the world.
Honda returned to the F-1 circuit at the British Grand Prix in July 1983, in which it competed as Team Spirit Honda. The Silverstone circuit was crowded with journalists and photographers wanting to witness Honda’s comeback after a fifteen year hiatus. To their disappointment, however, the team retired after only five laps. The South African Grand Prix, the last race of the season, saw the debut of Team Williams Honda. Their machine, driven by Keke Rosberg, managed to finish fifth.
Only a few members of Honda’s F-1 team had experienced the company’s early days in F-1 racing, with the team comprised mostly of young engineers who had no experience in F-1. Honda’s aim in assembling young engineers was to foster in the demanding, most-challenging environment of racing the skills and knowledge of these people, who would lead the company’s product development in the future.
Still, the majority of fans expected their Honda to win anyway.