The last three years Honda was in F1 came as both a constructor and engine partner. Some highlights were sprinkled in during an otherwise troublesome period.
The RA106 was among the most powerful of the new V8 engines that came into play starting in 2006, the technical period that ends at the final round of this year. But unreliability punctuated the year for Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello; technical management shakeups included Geoff Willis being reassigned to the factory and Shuhei Nakamoto being named new technical director. Barrichello had moved to Honda after his six-year stint as Ferrari number 2 to Michael Schumacher ended.
Things came right in the second half of the year with Button’s fortuitous if well-judged first career win in the rain of Hungary in 2006, and Barrichello with one of several fourth place finishes.
Come 2007, the withdrawal of sponsor British American Tobacco left Honda with a car basically devoid of primary sponsors. The “myearthdream” campaign, with an “Earth”-liveried though, was a nightmare for the team.
Aerodynamic issues plagued the car all year. Button scored only six points – four of them in the another rain-affected race in China with fifth place – while Barrichello went scoreless.
Things were little better in 2008, although this time Barrichello maximized the performance in a rain-affected race. He finished third in the 2008 British Grand Prix, in what was Honda’s last F1 podium.
Honda pulled the plug on its satellite team, Super Aguri F1, after four races in 2008. The plucky underdogs had grown a following thanks to some of the more amateurish pay-drivers in its first year (Yuji Ide and Sakon Yamamoto), but Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson had punched above their weight on occasion. Sato’s 2007 Canadian Grand Prix stood out in particular, when he finished sixth after a pass of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
The factory team met the same fate at the end of 2008. The Brawn GP grew from Honda’s ashes, with developmental work done on Brawn’s 2009 car thanks to ex-Super Aguri staff members among others. It was a case of “what might have been” for Honda, but it did allow the team to continue with both Button and Barrichello resurrecting their careers.