Honda’s latest return part of its cyclical history in F1

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Off and on, Honda’s history in Formula One dates back to 1964. As Formula One evolves, so too does Honda’s participation in the sport.

Development of the RA271, a fully Honda-built engine and chassis, began in 1962 with its race debut in 1964. Richie Ginther took Honda’s first win in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix in an RA272. The iconic white and red car built for that era was one of three on display at Thursday morning’s announcement.

Honda also famously won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix with John Surtees in the RA300 in the car’s first race; the car had been partially designed by Lola.

Tragedy stopped Honda’s first F1 voyage in its tracks; Jo Schlesser’s death in the 1968 French Grand Prix precipitated Honda’s first departure.

It returned as an engine partner in 1983, first with Spirit and later with Lotus, McLaren, Tyrrell and Williams. That 10-year run through 1992 was Honda’s most successful period in the sport, thanks to its accolades achieved with McLaren from 1988 through ’92.

Honda was only loosely associated with F1 from 1993 through 1999, in partnership with independents Mugen. There were still four race wins in that period with Ligier (Olivier Panis, 1996 Monaco) and three with Jordan.

An effort to re-enter on its own in 1999 was aborted due to another death of recruited technical director and designer Harvey Postlethwaite.

But in 2000, Honda re-entered once again, first with BAR and then Jordan. Jordan lost its Honda deal at the end of 2002 with Takuma Sato’s departure playing a role, and struggled for the final three years of its existence (2003-05) to find suitable engine partners and drivers.

Honda, having finished second as an engine partner to BAR in 2004, was keen to re-enter on its own in the era of heavy manufacturer participation (Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Jaguar) and did so when it bought out the remaining shares of BAR in 2005.

Although Jenson Button recorded his first win as a driver, and Honda its first as a constructor since 1967, the three years Honda ran the ex-BAR team were peppered with technical staff shakeups, frustrations, and a noteworthy loss of funding with British American Tobacco’s withdrawal at the end of 2006.

Honda pulled out at the end of 2008 ahead of the next set of new F1 regs and car design, in play since 2009. Ross Brawn led a management buyout to keep the team afloat with a new  engine supplier, and with development of the 2009 car the main focus of 2008, Button and Brawn GP scored the World Championships.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.