The Singapore paddock is a distinctive sight. It is nearly midnight, but the various hospitality units are illuminated by powerful floodlights. The whole area is still abuzz with team members, media and guests.
Sat on a sofa outside the Honda building, Masashi Yamamoto focuses on the whole scene, as he contemplates the big news that has just been announced: Honda is staying in Formula 1, joining forces with Toro Rosso for the next three years.
“Motorsport is everything for Honda, it’s part of our DNA,” the General Manager of Honda’s motorsport division says. “When we started in 1948, Honda’s dream was to race. That ultimately led us to Formula 1 in 1964."
"It’s the challenge of performance and technology that drives us. So giving up halfway makes no sense, it’s not our mentality. We’re here to progress and grow. It’s very important for us.”
The switch to Toro Rosso comes after mutually agreeing to end the McLaren partnership, following three challenging years. Talks about the future of that partnership were finalised after the Italian Grand Prix and Yamamoto says both sides worked hard to find a solution before opting to part ways.
“Our motto as McLaren-Honda is ‘One Team’ - working together to get performance. However, we didn’t perform as well as we hoped in the pre-season tests, so from the beginning of the season onwards we were unable to deliver as much power as we wanted, and McLaren expected.”
“Obviously Honda would have preferred to stay in partnership with McLaren, but we were not able to reach the performance and reliability targets set by the team. This created tension between us and unfortunately separation was the result. In the world of Formula 1 it’s important to get the results, it’s part of the deal.”
While the McLaren partnership will end after this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Honda is determined to make its Formula 1 project a success. With new engine regulations coming in 2021, there is still plenty of scope to continue the recent progress made with the power unit concept introduced at the start of this year.
“The regulations go on until 2020 so we still have three years and we want to show our improvements in the technology. We want to show Honda’s potential,” Yamamoto insists. “That is very important for us, to let the world see how we will progress and how we can make it a success.”
Toro Rosso is now the team with which Honda will chase that success. As the newest power unit supplier in Formula 1, it joins forces with one of the youngest teams on the grid, with both sides of the partnership keen to grow together.
For Yamamoto, these aligned approaches will prove beneficial, as Toro Rosso-Honda takes on the not insignificant task of preparing for 2018.
“First, [Toro Rosso team principal] Mr. Tost knows a lot about Japan. He understands the culture and it’s a good communication that we have,” Yamamoto says. “We have seen that they also have a young factory and are growing, which for Honda is very important because we can work with the same mentality and have the same approach. It is a new start with a team with a similar mindset to move forwards together."
“Toro Rosso and Honda will start working together immediately and for the coming years. However, before that we have the rest of the 2017 season to complete with McLaren, so a good communication between us is still very important, as well as a good performance in the remaining races."
The new works partnership will receive a fresh approach, and Yamamoto is enthusiastic about Honda’s future in Formula 1 as it moves into a new era.
“Working with McLaren, I’ve realised that they are a very big company which is very systematic. It’s obviously very strong because of that but at the same time they can find it hard to adapt to change."
“Compare that to Toro Rosso, it is a company that is growing. It is very important for us to work in partnership together, heading towards the same goal. So for us we are very much looking forward to being able to work closer."
“Take this for an example: If we compare both teams with different cuisines, let’s say McLaren is a very sophisticated French cuisine, that’s the way it is. Then Toro Rosso is more like a countryside, homemade delicious stew where you can add new ingredients. We’re excited to do that.”