Following the sudden announcement from Honda that it will leave Formula 1 as an engine supplier at the end of the 2021 season, concerns have been raised about how the sport can remain relevant to car manufacturers in a world of ever-increasing electrification.
Honda said it is leaving the sport to focus on the research and development of fuel-cell and EV technologies in a bid to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. While manufacturers have come and gone during the sport’s 70-year history, Honda’s exit is particularly significant.
“Formula 1 is now at risk of becoming slightly irrelevant to car manufacturers, and particularly tho who are not yet vested in the sport, because the world of vehicles is changing much faster than even five years ago people thought would be the case,” ex-Cosworth F1 engine head Mark Gallagher recently told Reuters.
“I think the Honda move, whilst being shocking, is entirely in keeping with what we are seeing happening around the world. For Formula One it poses some pretty fundamental questions about what they are going to do over the next three or four years,” he added.
While Formula 1 was long the favored single-seater racing series of car manufacturers, many are now favoring Formula E. In fact, the series includes companies such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Jaguar and Nissan, and has arguably become more relevant to road cars than Formula 1. Formula E also has a 25-year exclusive deal as the FIA’s sole recognized electric single-seater series so there’s no chance of F1 going electric anytime soon.
“Formula One finds itself in a slightly unenviable position of being wedded to fossil fuel-based technologies at a time when the rest of the world is moving in a different direction,” Gallagher commented.
Renault F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul also admitted that the sport needs to “win the battle of perception.”
“Technology is only good enough if you also manage to get your message across and that’s what we are failing to do,” he said. “I have a concern that when you lose a battle of perception it’s very difficult to turn this around. We may have to accept a sufficient departure from the current engine/powertrain such that we can also reset the perception of what we do.”