Honda announces its withdrawal from Formula One after the 2021 season

F1 Honda pulling out
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TOKYO — Honda will be pulling out from Formula One at the end of the 2021 F1 season as it shifts to a goal of carbon neutrality, the Japanese car manufacturer said Friday about its withdrawal.

Honda is the engine supplier for the Red Bull and AlphaTauri teams. It had resumed competition in F1 in 2015, originally with McLaren, but Honda-powered cars never managed to become regular title challengers in an era dominated by Mercedes.

Red Bull Racing said it was “disappointed” but noted the success of the partnership with contender Max Verstappen scoring Honda’s first victory since 2006 at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, followed by three other wins and 13 podium finishes.

Team principal Christian Horner said they respect Honda’s decision “to re-deploy their resources.”

“Their decision presents obvious challenges for us as a team but we have been here before and with our strength in depth we are well prepared and equipped to respond effectively, as we have proven in the past,” Horner said in a statement.

Honda’s exit could cause problems for Red Bull. Verstappen is under contract until 2023 but Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf has reported that he has an exit clause allowing to leave at the end of 2021, ahead of sweeping changes to F1 rules for the 2022 season.

It’s also unclear who could supply Red Bull’s engines from 2022. The team’s previous partnership with Renault ended acrimoniously, while Mercedes and Ferrari may be reluctant to supply a team perceived as a championship rival.

In 2013 when Honda announced its planned return to F1 with McLaren, the hope was they could rekindle the partnership which saw McLaren-Honda win four straight constructors’ titles from 1988 through 1991 with drivers like Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

Instead, the new Honda V6 turbo engines were underpowered and unreliable. Even with former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button at the wheel, McLaren didn’t score a single podium finish in three seasons and was often out of the top 10.

A transitional year in 2018 with Toro Rosso was followed by a full Red Bull partnership in 2019 and 2020. Still, the Honda-powered cars have remained off the pace of Mercedes despite an uptick in results.

In its statement, Honda said it could use some F1 technology and know-how to develop future technology.

“In the meantime, as the automobile industry undergoes a once-in-one-hundred-years period of great transformation, Honda has decided to strive for the `realization of carbon neutrality by 2050,”‘ Honda said. “This goal will be pursued as part of Honda’s environmental initiatives which is one of the top priorities of Honda as a mobility manufacturer.

“Toward this end, Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies, including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies,” it said.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”