Honda’s jet division helped F1 engineers solve power unit problem

2018 F1 season

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Honda’s jet engine division HondaJet helped to solve a major reliability problem which plagued its Formula 1 power unit.

The co-operation between Honda’s F1 programme and its jet engine division began following a series of failures on its cars which led McLaren to cease its partnership with the Japanese manufacturer in 2017.

Toro Rosso took over Honda’s power unit supply the following season and quickly benefited from changes to the architecture of their engines which came about through Honda’s work with HondaJet.

The manufacturer had experienced problems with the vibrations created by a shaft connecting to the MGU-H. This is permitted to spin at very high speeds – up to 125,000 rpm – by the F1 technical regulations. The vibrations within Honda’s engine caused a series of failures and forced them to limit how hard the engine could be run.

This led the manufacturer to draw on HondaJet’s expertise in tackling similar challenges. Aircraft engines must perform faultlessly to ensure safety.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Bahrain International Circuit, 2018
Gasly took the revised engine to fourth in Bahrain
HondaJet technicians who helped develop their turbo fan engines were able to help the company’s F1 engineers fix their problem, according to a recent documentary produced by Japan’s government-owned broadcaster NHK.

The changes to the power unit involved altering the size and shape of the shaft and its bearings to improve its stability at high rotational speeds.

The new engine delivered on its potential soon after it was introduced. At the second race of 2018 in Bahrain Pierre Gasly finished fourth in his Toro Rosso, which at the time was Honda’s best result since its return to F1 three years earlier.

Toro Rosso’s success prompted Red Bull to switch to Honda power last year. The team scored three victories in its first season with Honda and has since extended its partnership with the manufacturer.

Thanks to Daniel Bialy for his contribution to this article.

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48 comments on “Honda’s jet division helped F1 engineers solve power unit problem”

  1. Interesting. Really shows that Honda was finally shaken up and woke up to pull in all they had after the seperation from McLaren.

    I do hope they stick around long enough for a solid haul of success this time.

  2. I do wonder if Honda’s F1 section should have contacted the Jet division earlier. Maybe they could have helped with some of the turbo charger / MGU – H issues.

    1. Maybe it was some kind of pride thing, they didnt want to have their help first. But rotating shaft dynamics in such systems is a very complex subject, im glad they sorted it out, it made the racing more exciting when there is cars left at the end of the race.

      1. @maisch I really hope not. There is nothing wrong with admitting or asking for help. In fact this is really disappointing that they didn’t discuss this sooner. But large organisations can inherently have challenges, especially when it comes to communication.

        Happy that they’re making better progress and a real shame that McLaren weren’t able to benefit.

      2. Considering the turbo in the Mercedes engine was contracted to their truck division, I see no reason why Honda couldn’t have made available such expertise from other divisions and sister companies.

    2. Thought about that as well; but, using all of the impressive Honda resources available is something they seemingly only did (were allowed to do?) once they fully realized the magnitude of the task ahead to actually compete @drycrust ; pride maybe @maisch, or hubris.

      Given we had read stories about how the Mercedes truck division was involved in getting their engine so right for 2014, it seems a bit surprising that things like the McLaren/GP-engine disasters had to play out before Honda got to take it seriously. Also, can’t help but wonder whether Renault ever really get to that point.

      1. Also, can’t help but wonder whether Renault ever really get to that point.

        @bosyber – I’m just waiting for part II of Ghosn’s saga, where he goes from Lebanon to Viry in a box labelled “Car Parts” to go undercover as an engine designer ;)

        1. Excellent @phylyp! I’d pay to see that: hope Netflix hears you. ;)

          1. Undercover ex-boss @phylyp? Seems like plenty of potential to get the go-ahead!

      2. Back then, it was said that Honda F1 engine team was a new project inside the company, with non-senior members, and they wanted to keep it that way to avoid (let’s say) “external contamination”.
        My guess is it was something finacial-related. A junior team is way cheaper than a senior team.

        Quite astonished to see the outcome was asking for help 3 years later.

      3. @bosyber I hadn’t heard that rumour, but there was a rumour the F1 engine was built around the engine used for a concept car displayed at some esteemed motor show about 2004. After the show the car was given to some eminent person like the President of Hungary.
        I believe the current F1 engines compress air to about 30:1 (look at a school 30 cm ruler and compare the length to 1 cm), which is higher than many diesels engines, so yes, it is quite believable that diesel engineers would be involved. I believe the trick is not so much igniting the fuel, but not igniting the fuel because the rules state the fuel has to be ignited with a spark.
        Regarding McLaren and the Honda engine, it sounded different from the other engines. To me it was as though the turbo-charger was having a problem coping with the exhaust from the engine, so valves would open to discharge the exhaust instead of making it go via the turbo’s exhaust fan. That’s basically a loss of power. That would have been immediately obvious to both Honda and McLaren’s engineers, so the mystery is why they didn’t try to fix it straight away. Okay, there was the Token System to contend with, but even so I would have thought fixing that would have been near the top of the list. Maybe the reason it wasn’t fixed would have been if the best solution was to fit a larger and more bulky turbo charger and that McLaren didn’t like that solution. If that is so then surely McLaren need to accept some responsibility in Honda’s engine being inadequate. Also, Alonso should have known this and been a bit less gungho with his criticism of Honda.

        1. Interesting, not sure I read about the showcar before @drycrust; sure, McLaren clearly weren’t blameless in the fruitless relationship, and Alonso seemed petulant (there is a reason he’s not in F1, nor in a winning Indy;would he say Karma?)

          1. @bosyber After a bit of searching I think the car I had read about was the Mercedes Benz F700 concept car. It was first displayed at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. Afterwards (I’m guessing on that bit) it was given as a gift to UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It uses a ” DiesOtto engine”, which “combines elements of diesel and petrol (Otto cycle)”. Supposedly the F700 has a “performance equivalent to the Mercedes-Benz S350, with a fuel consumption rating of 53 US MPG or 4.43L/100 km.”

    3. @drycrust
      do not forget during the Mclaren times they had to build to Mcl specs with an extremely small engine and as a result new technical challenges.
      Only changing to TR they had the freedom to build an engine to their own specs.

  3. Fascinating read

    1. Sounds like a lot of spin to me ;)

      1. Lol @robbie, Indeed, has become reliably powerful spin now!

  4. The changes to the power unit involved altering the size and shape of the shaft and its bearings to improve its stability at high rotational speeds.

    Interesting and cool to note that they needed this input on the physical/mechanical design. I presume the material science aspects of turbo components are strictly regulated in F1? So no shafts/bearings made of unobtainium, etc.

    1. altering the size and shape of the shaft

      There other ways to achieve that, @phylyp. Just all you doctor ;)

      1. *There are other ways to achieve that, @phylyp. Just ask your doctor ;)

  5. Love these stories.

  6. That’s why they changed engine components more often than permitted to cover 2 whole seasons!..

    I think they need further assistance from someone else.

    1. Maybe assisted by renault..
      Oh wait.. ;)

  7. Can you imagine if Red Bull designing a Honda jet?

  8. This is exactly the kind of thing that will be difficult to monitor under the budget cap.
    Sure, Honda will of course be internally tracking the resources they are committing to the F1 project, but how can this be audited?

    Honda could say they had “x” engineers seconded to the F1 project from HondaJet for whatever period.

    I’m not sure what method the FIA is proposing to monitor/verify this.

    1. I’m not sure engines are even concerned at all by budget cap actually. It is a team measure, not a constructor one. Teams must only declare the market value of the engines each year.

      1. Ahh, thanks for clarifying.

        Overall point – this notion of deploying resources from part of a manufacturer’s wider operation has potential to be a banana skin.

    2. The engines are not part of the budget cap. You chose a poor example

      1. @megatron,@paulk,@dermotkeelan, Yes ! help with the engine may be outside the budget cap, but what if Honda Jet engineers were to have coffee with the Alpha Tauri design chief and mention some aerodynamic tips, purely in passing you understand. How would that be?

        1. @hohum that would have to be a *really* long coffee.

  9. Under the budget cap how would this be accounted for?

    Would they have to attribute a fair market-value for the the “consulting” hours of the HondaJet engineers deduct that accordingly? Would it be considered something “pro-bono” that the helpful engineers would do anyway since they are paid by another company? Or would it be done in secrecy and never made public?

    1. PUs are not under the budget cap, they have their own separate accounting, and that is mostly covered by the maximum amount that PU suppliers are allowed to charge their customers. The PU manufactures chose these expensive PUs for their own very good reasons, they are therefore being allowed to develop them as they see fit.


  10. I like it. Shows Honda mean business, and bodes well for the future. I was worried Verstappen’s career might stall (pun intended) waiting for a Championship-capable car, but fingers crossed Honda and RBR can deliver that sooner rather than later (preferably 2020 please :D )

  11. Thanks Daniel

  12. They still used more engines than any other manufacturer in 2019 … so the take-away from this story is “don’t buy a HondaJet at any cost”.

    1. Why, has a HondaJet crashed? How many engines did they use compared to the others? RB didn’t have ONE engine fail in a race all year.

      1. How is the weather over in fantasy land?

  13. That’s really cool. I’m sure it was more complicated than that (i.e. packaging the new solution), but kudos to them for fixing a major flaw in their architecture.

  14. Honda has spent a billion dollars on HondaJet and delivered 105 aircraft even though it first flew in 2003: they can also teach their F1 program colleagues about grit and perseverance.

  15. This is rather old news. I remember even the official F1 site mentioning this cooperation around the time when Verstappen won the first race with Honda in Austria.

    It’s also incomplete since they were working together well before this season.

  16. What if Ghosn was spirited out of Japan on a HondaJet…

    1. “Now we can fight!” – Ghosn

  17. Kinda funny since HondaJets are such a slow airplane compared to other private jets.

  18. Funny how it all works well the moment the ‘Size Zero’ philosophy was abandoned. Almost like McLaren’s packaging demands caused the engine to be a hunk-a-junk due to their own unrealistic demands.

  19. Word is that Renault consulted their bicycle division, which ended up in breathtaking results.

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