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.

NHRA: Antron Brown on verge of earning 50th career Top Fuel win this weekend at Phoenix

Photo courtesy Toyota Racing
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When you’re used to winning championships – like three in the previous five seasons – any other season finish is disappointing.

That’s kind of how NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver Antron Brown looked at his fourth-place showing in the 2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

“At the end of the day, we had a very competitive season last year and made it to 10 final rounds,” Brown said. “But we got into the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoffs) and our timing was off.

“We struggled with a lot of problems we don’t usually have. Now it’s time for a new chapter for this team and time to get better. This is a new beginning for us and it’s going to be fun and exciting and we’re coming after them.”

Antron Brown hugs the NHRA Top Fuel championship trophy after winning it in 2016. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Brown had a good start to 2018, reaching the semifinals before losing to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher in the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

“We had a great performance at Pomona and I couldn’t be more proud of what our Matco/Toyota guys did,” Brown said. “Now we are going to Phoenix where we’ve won three times (2009, 2012 and 2014, and was runner-up in 2011) and we’ll just try to hit it hard and get a fourth.”

Next up on the NHRA 24-race national event circuit is the second race of the season, this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix (Chandler, Arizona).

Brown has definite plans to make it four wins in Phoenix. And if he does that Sunday, he’ll set a significant career milestone: it would be his 50th career win driving a Top Fueler and the 66th win overall (he won 16 races in Pro Stock Motorcycle before shifting from two to four wheels).

In so doing, Brown would become only the fourth Top Fuel driver in NHRA history to hit the 50-win mark. The others are Tony Schumacher (83), Larry Dixon (62) and Joe Amato (52).

This will be the second time Brown has been racing in Phoenix this month. He was part of the preseason test there for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock cars a week before the season began.

“Testing went really well there,” said Brown, leaving him optimistic that he can reach victory circle once again. “I love going back to Phoenix.”

Brown has been the most dominant driver in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 2012, winning more than twice the number of races (34) than the next most successful Top Fuel driver (16 by Schumacher) in that time period.

He also has a 71 percent overall win percentage, which exceeds both eight-time Top Fuel champ Schumacher and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force.

“I’m just pumped up, feeling like we’ve got some unfinished business from last year,” Brown said. “We had a good outing but didn’t close the deal, so this year, we’re looking forward to getting back there and getting off to a great start.”

NOTES: Brown will serve as honorary pace car driver for the March 4th Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas. He’ll be joined by teammates Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett in a weekend full of activities that they’ll all be involved in.

“I’m really excited,” Brown said. “It’s going to be my first experience as a pace car driver, and I’m just super stoked to go out there and drive the Camry pace car for Pennzoil and start those NASCAR boys off the right way. Throttle down, pedal to the metal. I just want them to get off to a great start.”

Brown has won four times at The Strip, the drag strip adjacent to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity,” he said. “It’s an honor to be out there with such talented drivers, and I know I’m going to really enjoy watching our NASCAR counterparts.”

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