Did Honda throw a championship away?

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Would the team have achieved more as Honda or as Brawn?
Would the team have achieved more as Honda or as Brawn?

The remarkable story of Brawn has generated many column inches since the team won both championships on Sunday.

But the flip side to the story is whether Honda’s decision to sell the team ten months ago must now be considered one of F1’s greatest blunders.

Earlier this year I asked a Brawn engineer whether he thought the team would have been as competitive if its cars were still using Honda engines instead of Mercedes.

The response came back firmly in the negative, and various disparaging remarks were made about the quality of Honda’s engines and their inability to remove the skin from rice pudding.

In one respect at least, the team’s transformation from Honda into Brawn may have done it more good than harm.

There’s also something to be said for the streamlining of the management process. No longer accountable to the parent company back in Japan, the racing team could now operate with autonomy. And it would be hard to find a better person to take up that responsibility than Ross Brawn.

On the other hand, the sudden change to Mercedes power forced Brawn into some tough compromises. One Brawn engineer told the BBC:

The chassis had the back six inches cut off to fit the engine in – the sort of thing you wouldn’t normally do even with a test car. And the gearbox was in the wrong place because the crank-centre height is different. There’s a massive amount of compromise in the cars.

Timing is also important. As Brawn missed the first two months of testing in January and February, no-one had any idea how quick they were, and no-one had time to respond.

Had Honda stayed, and the team stuck to a regular testing programme, its rivals would have known as early as January that the RA109 (not the BGP 001) was quick. It may have led them to develop double diffusers of their own more quickly, preventing Honda/Brawn from running away with all bar one of the first seven races, and changing the outcome of the championship.

Similarly if Honda had stayed there was a chance Bruno Senna would have taken Rubens Barrichello’s place. The loss of such an experienced driver could have hurt the team on the days when Jenson Button struggled to match Barrichello, particularly in the second half of the season.

How much better would the car have performed without the technical compromises? Was Honda’s departure a blessing in disguise?

There’s no clear answer to the question – it’s destined to become another of F1’s great conjectures to chew on with a few mates down the pub.

Do you think Honda missed out on a championship this year? Have your say below.

Button and Brawn, world champions

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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143 comments on “Did Honda throw a championship away?”

  1. At least Honda would’ve been more competitive than last season, and may even have taken several GP wins, but the titles, that’s highly debatable.

    1. Why wouldn’t they it’s exactly the same team?

      1. Mercedes engines?

        1. I don’t think that the engine has changed that much. The chassis was built for the Honda engine and in 2008 the Honda engine wasn’t that much down on power (compared to the Mercedes) as people think. Honda also had developed a KERS unit and we don’t know if it was more of a McLaren KERS or more of a BMW one…
          Besides that, Honda was allowed to improve the engine, just as Renault.

          The biggest blow to their championship chances might have been the loss of Barrichello

          1. honda has patents that brawn can use for a small light kers unit built into gearbox…much more advanced than any other on the grid this year. Add that to the honda engine and the result would have been the same…fast car.

            The good bit in honda going was being able to change suppliers for brakes and shocks etc..and you cant help but think the merc engine was better so, it really is a 50 / 50 call.

            I think they would have still had a strong chance to win the titles but oh well there loss and we will never know.

          2. should say…..honda has patents that brawn can’t use that brawn


          3. I was interested in the point the engineer made that 150mmm was removed from the chassis,OF A NEW CAR!! If they had stayed with Honda engines, would the extra length of the car worked as well aerodynamically? Also the centrepoint of the gearbox being higher, would that raise the centre of gravity? A lot of CFD, and wind-tunnel time would have had to be scrapped, was it just good fortune that made the car so good, and having a season of experience behind them, will the car be even better next season??

          4. *sorry top speed during a race

        2. Wasnt the Honda engine the fastest engine in a straight line during 2006? And the last 2 seasons although terrible cars they did have very fast race pace

      2. And Ross wasn’t allowed to ‘run’ the Honda team. His management + Mercedes engines = 2 WDC…..

        Honda would not have done it the same.

      3. Igo, read the article…

  2. The team needed the fat cutting away, and raw determination that fighting for your life brings, to make the Brawn team the winners they are today.

    Honda bailing was a good thing. Had they stayed they wouldn’t have won both titles. (IMHO).

  3. Barrichello was certainly instrumental in winning the WCC. Looking at Bruno’s past record it looks highly unlikely he would have been able to pull a Hamilton and be competitive from his first F1 race.

    I think it was still wise of Honda to pull out. They were throwing huge amounts of money away on their F1 project, and that’s just not acceptable when you are laying people off at your factories. Now as a privateer team they can (and will) spend money a lot more wisely instead of just spending frivolously and going cap-in-hand to the CEO.

    The age of large manufacturers dominating F1 is slowly coming to an end and are being replaced by independent teams, which is a good thing.

    1. “Pulling a Hamilton”. The expression in itself just shows how considered the guy is (and quite rightly so).

      I have to agree, Senna (Bruno) would have not done as well as Barrichello. He would however have brought sponsors and 230 former Honda F1 employees might still have a job.

      1. Yes but Hamilton did have one of the best cars which meant he always had the chance of winning, what made Hamilton stand out was the team mate he was up against and how he coped but you also have to look at the context of what car he was given. Most rookies cannot get in and just win because they are constrained by the cars (and now testing ban)
        I doubt the Honda engine would have been strong or reliable enough to be in position for consistant wins and would they have been able to fend off RBR and then Mclaren and Ferrari?
        Brawn were helped by the autonomy, which I think is one of the most important parts; Williams for instance have to race Nakajima because they were dictated to by Toyota, this situation means Nico has been the sole point scorer, if they had their own choice in drivers they could be a lot further up the constructors. Autonomy is important in many ways but thought I would go with this example :P
        Brawn have done very well but it was very hard for anyone to catch up with them. This type of situation may never rise again because it was so unique and was helped by the rule changes. The other teams were also halted by the testing ban and by the argument over diffusers.

        1. This old chestnut!

          It took having undisputed #1 status and two immense cars for someone to finally break Fangio’s record. Hamilton was lucky in the resources he could pull on, but the driver-car combination is inter-dependent: no matter how good he is, he wouldn’t have been able to do the same in an inferior car, and an inferior driver in the same situation would never have done as well.

          1. I agree and Hamilton has probably shown his worth more this year by making the most of a bad car, but it does mean it is very hard for any rookie to repeat his achievements of his first year(s) of Formula 1.

    2. Cut the “pull a Hamilton” crap. Hamilton “pulled a Villeneuve”, that’s the truth.

      1. I love the smell of sour grapes in the morning…

      2. Jacques Villeneuve you mean? Was he teamed up with a double world champion when he became WDC? Didn’t know Frentzen won even one.

        Huh, amazing what you can learn …

        1. Hamilton wasn’t teamed with a double world champion when he won the WDC. Get it right.

          1. Lol, true. But he beat him.

      3. This article hasn’t got anything to do with Hamilton, can we stay on topic?

        1. No Keith, we cant. You should know this by now :)

  4. I Think it is down to a lot of different things working together to bring success
    1.Large investment of time and money from Honda,
    2.Fighting against the adversity of the team being dispanded,
    3.A great and respected leader in Ross Brawn,
    4.The big team’s Mclaren, BMW, Ferrari & Renault investing there recourses into KERS not aero.

    I think the fact that everybody including the drivers had a rude awakening when Honda pulled out would have pulled everybody together and they would have all taken a collective responsibility to make the new Team work, they also would have looked at Ross Brawn as a figure who had saved them all and would do anything for him. I think the Car would have still been quick as it was a lot quicker than a Mclaren with KERS.

  5. I don’t think the Honda engine was THAT bad but certainly the fact that other teams didn’t have time to copy the diffuser must have made a difference.

    Don’t forget that Honda still largely funded the team this year, what if they had kept the team but given Ross Brawn a free hand instead of constantntly meddling as Japanese companies tend to do.

    They may just have done it!

    They certainly didn’t make the hash of it that BMW seem to have done, failed to be an entry for 2010, sold to a dodgy consortium for peanuts and probably disappear into obscurity.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      21st October 2009, 11:43

      They certainly didn’t make the hash of it that BMW seem to have done, failed to be an entry for 2010, sold to a dodgy consortium for peanuts and probably disappear into obscurity.

      BMW seem to have a knack of doing that – that’s what happened to Rover.

      1. Hah! Well spotted!

      2. Never thought of it that way!

    2. Forget about the double diffuser, it was on the Williams and Toyota cars from day one…

      1. Actually, till the verdict in April, the “non ddd” teams were convinced that it was illegal. Started from the moment Williams and Toyota rolled out their cars.

        I think McLaren even had some form of double diffuser, but they closed it up for the first few races.

      2. But Brawn were much faster. And Ross Brawn was the person who’d warned the teams about the diffuser loophole during the rules discussions last year, so they might have been more inclined to believe it was going to be ruled legal.

        1. Brawn weren’t the only DD team that were quick though.

          Remember Toyota should have won in Bahrain and Glock was catching Button in Malaysia when the race was stopped. Also, they finished 3rd and 4th after starting at the back in Melbourne.

          I really believe that Ferrari especially would be arrogant enough to be sure that the concept would be ruled illegal.

          1. Remember Toyota should have won in Bahrain

            If they should have won, why didn’t they? Toyota didn’t respond to events during the race and kept with their planned strategies regardless. They didn’t take advantage of emerging opportunities and that scuppered their race. They’ve had good pace at points during the season, but what made the Brawns so successful is their speed at various circuits and conditions. Toyota couldn’t replicate that, double diffuser or not.

        2. wrong completly…RBR went to Charlie Whiting in 08 and asked (stupidly) if this type of design(loophole) was to be allowed.
          Had RBR been allowed to design a whole car around the DD design rather than tack it on afterwards Brawn may not have looked as classy.
          And this ‘title’ of being super cunning and smart for thinking of the design and no one else did…what utter rubbish.

          RBR should have just built it and then did a ‘brawn’ what illegal?!?!? no (my mate is C Whitting he will take care of it)…oh hang on that was what brawn did and williams did,

          1. forgot to add DD diffusers in design phase according to Whitting and the FIA were illegal…in 09 they became a super clever adaptation of the grey area….

            I am not a Mclaren fan but had either they or Renault alone just had this loophole DD on the car it would have been vetoed straight away.

  6. But I like the skin on rice pudding…

    But yes, aside from the excellent early development work the team did, I’m sure the switch to a Merc engine went a long way towards their success, which would obviously have not been the case had the team remained as Honda.

  7. I think the switch to mercedes made the tranformation to a champion ship winning team. Without that, probably they would still be 3rd or 4th in championship order at the end of it.

  8. HounslowBusGarage
    21st October 2009, 11:40

    Surely the pivotal point was when the Japanese management withdrew or was replaced; after ewhich everything became possible. Don’t I remember that the team’s aerodynamicist only had motorbike experience or something like that?
    Had that management culture continued, nothing would have been achieved and Ross Brawn might have become so despondent that he may have walked off to another team . . . like Ferrari again.

    1. The Japanese management structure doesn’t seem to work well in F1, but I doubt that Honda’s was so incompetent as to ruin their 2009 season. Besides, one of the quickest F1 cars of the decade was built under Japanese management, so it can’t all be bad

  9. As you say, I think the fact that a great car, particularly the diffuser, was kept hidden from the competition really helped. I’m sure the others would have developed a diffuser they had assumed was illegal and even if they had not had them in place by Australia, it would have been much sooner. Adn let’s face it, Honda could have acted a lot worse than they did. They seem to me to have been quite reasonable in the current economic climate. As a corporation, it would have been terrible PR to plough millions into a sport whilst laying off staff and suffering a sales slump.

    Hindsight is 20/20; who knows what early decisions made by Red Bull, Toyota, Ferrari and McLaren could now be deemed terrible?

    1. I’m sure the others would have developed a diffuser they had assumed was illegal

      Possibly. But remember there was a huge amount of development work required for the 2009 cars, so developing two diffuser concepts (one single, one double) would have taken resources away from other parts of the car, such as KERS or front wing. In fact, Williams stalled their flywheel KERS development because they could find more lap time gains from putting all their resources into refining the bodywork. Proof that there is only so much time and money to go round.

  10. I’ve often wondered about this myself. Like someone else said I think Honda may have won one or two GPs this season but not much else. Young Senna could have turned out like Nelson Piquet. Brawn was accountable to no one this season, but with Mercedes buying into the team from next season that will change a little. I think next years car improving on this years and designed for a Mercedes engine could be formidable! Aslo Button could have his hands full with young Rosberg. It will be great!

  11. Honda left the sport for financial reasons (they weren’t getting decent race results – ie. poor return on their investment – combined with the downturn in global car sales) and thus they had no option of staying. And as you point out in your article, had they stayed, they would most probably have enjoyed limited success compared to Brawn GP for several reasons not least the engine. As it is, the newly streamlined and autonomous team headed by Ross, coupled with the lengthy and expensive work on RA109/BGP 001 (by Honda) resulted in the winning combination we have seen.

    So really, no, Honda did not throw away a championship. This was the best outcome for all parties concerned; the people at Honda must surely be proud of this outcome, as must those who helped the project over the winter but were unfortunately not able to stay with the team.

    Brawn, the man and the team, should be congratulated and credited for their successes without us playing the “what if” game. It would also be nice to see more recognition for the honourable and graceful way in which Honda pulled out of F1; other teams (BMW) would do well to take a leaf out of their book. As some have mentioned in the forum, I for one agree it would be appropriate and fitting for Ross to receive a knighthood.

    1. well said.

      i think it would be nice to see honda publicly thanked by brawn. as for knighthood, i’m sure ross can afford it ;)

    2. Didn’t a lot of people who lost their jobs from the old Honda team eventually end up down the road at Red Bull ?

      I understood that Red Bull have expanded exponentially this year and were very happy to pick up really well trained engineers from wherever they could get them.

      Anybody know more about this story ?

      1. You understand wrong. The Red Bull workforce has been reduced this year. The odd people leaving Honda/Brawn might have ended up at RBR/RBT ; but overall there have been quite a few redundancies.

  12. Whilst maybe not up to Merc standards, The Honda engine wouldn’t have been that bad, they’d have got to play catch up in the same way Renault did this year, so we wouldn’t have seen the sort of disparity we did last year.

    But it’s a thorny issue. I think the main factor would have been the revealing of the double diffuser earlier in the testing, especially if that had led to a pre-season ban, in which case Red Bull would have run away with the championship. The other big loss would have been Rubens, who not only helped them win the constructors, but took vital points of Vettel in the 2nd half of the season.

    1. I think the main factor would have been the revealing of the double diffuser earlier in the testing

      Can anyone remember how Williams or Toyota kept the double diffuser quiet all through testing? Toyota mechanics stood around the back of the car on the grid in the early races, but I don’t remember them making any special effort during the winter.

      However Brawn turned up with their own double diffuser and were immediately topping the times, many saying at the time that it was all down to the diffuser. It makes you wonder if diffuser-gate would have been less of a big deal if their performance was on a par with Williams and Toyota.

      1. If you want to know how Honda (if it hadn’t become Brawn) would have done in 2009 all you have to do is look at Toyota. Brawn may have bad a bit better chassis, but Toyota had a bit better engine. They also had a bigger budget to do upgrades during the season. While Honda did give Brawn cash to carry on, no one on the grid has given their team a bigger budget than Toyota. The Mercedes engine is far and away the best on the grid right now. While Honda would have done much better in 2009 than 2008, they couldn’t have gotten as good of a result without that Merc engine. Why do you think Red Bull wants it so badly? With the Honda engine they still would only be battling their arch rivals from Toyota for somewhere around 4th or 5th place, which is still much better than dead last.

      2. Good question Nitpicker, I think I should rephrase what I said. What I meant is, I don’t think anyone was so bothered until they saw the performance gain it could give which was best exemplified by Brawn – Toyota and Williams were both handicapped by what I’ve now heard called ‘the worst engine of 2009’. Rumbles only turned to outrage when everyone realised it was a race winning innovation. I think the Brawn was no doubt a good car with or without it, but the need to get one hurt Red Bull most of all with their pull-rod suspension.

        1. I’m not convinced the Toyota engine is what held back Williams and Toyota this year; amongst other things Toyota were dismal at Monaco which is more due to chassis and setup rather than engine performance. And at each track, the performance of each team was determined more by their aero design (ability to generate high downforce such as McLaren, or low drag, such as Force India) than engine performance. In fact the only thing we’ve heard about engines this year is that the Merc has hardly coughed and Vettel’s Renaults kept popping. The Toyota engine may be the worst, but relative to the others it can’t be that far back.

  13. As a supporter of the BAR/Honda team for the past few years, I thought that Honda had seriously dropped the ball in how they managed their withdrawal. Considering they are more-or-less bankrolling Brawn until the end of this year, couldn’t they have kept the car badged Honda, found a fully-paying buyer for the team by end of 2009, and reaped the image and marketing benefits from such a competitive season?

    Hindsight is great isn’t it. See Andrew Benson’s blog where a Honda source, mentioning the team atmosphere in early 2009, everyone thought the aerodynamicists had got their sums wrong again. And corporate image is very important in Japan, so “openly” supporting the team for another year in such awful economic conditions may have been unwise.

    However this fantastic article has also mentioned the management issues and engine performance. I never considered Honda engines as the weak choice, but the guys in the team would know better than any of us.

  14. Didnt Toyota and Williams also have a double diffuser. The other teams waited because they thought it was illegal.

    Or maybe the Brawn system was much better and a different concept than Williams and Toyota.

    1. I’m sceptical that most teams didn’t develop double diffusers because they thought they were illegal- F1 teams don’t care much for rules. (I bet that some teams are cheating right now, but it is difficult for the stewards to find out, like BAR in 2005)

      I think that the teams simply decided that double diffusers weren’t worth enough time to develop. Toyota and Williams weren’t too fast in testing.

      1. They kept insisting that the double diffusers were illegal. Some even after the verdict (BMW, Briatore)

        It started from the first moment the Toyota and Williams cars were driving around.

        Im convinced McLaren had some form of double decker diffuser already, but they were afraid it would be illegal and didn;t race it.

        They closed it up for the race at Melbourne and Malaysia:

        Can’t find the picture anymore, but in free practice they drove it with the cover off and it was some sort of double decker diffuser too.

        1. Mclaren did not have a dd. That picture show nothing….only the view from underneath shows if its a dd.

          “McLaren were one of the first teams to respond to FIA’s ruling of the controversial double diffusers last weekend, as they debuted an interim version of the aforementioned feature during the Shanghai practice sessions. The Woking designers have therefore continued the development of the diffuser, with the Sakhir version being considered the last step before the totally-improved unit (expected to debut at the Spanish Grand Prix).

          “We have an adaptation of our conventional diffuser. It brings a bit more downforce but is not a giant step. It is a difficult area. If we had begun with it a year ago, the whole car would have been conceived on that basis,” said McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh in an interview for German magazine Auto Motor und Sport.

          Back on topic i think Honda would have been a bit like ferrari were this year. up there now and again and picked up a win. Not due to the powerplants but the over complicated management structure restricting Brawns influence.

          1. Yeah and that “interim” diffuser is the same thing they had in Australia with the back door opened (and an o