Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa on tough times with Mclaren and a fresh start with Toro Rosso
The head of Honda’s much-maligned engine programme has one of the hardest jobs in the sport – in any sport. We asked him what the future holds as Honda switch from Mclaren to Toro Rosso
What do you expect from working with Toro Rosso in 2018?
I’ve never worked with them before, so I don’t know the details of how they work. But I have already had a couple of meetings and I have my impressions from the outside. They are a small team but they’re very much a genuine racing team.
Will there be less pressure with a smaller team?
Not really! Mclaren pushed us very hard, but that’s the nature of a racing team. But we also feel huge internal pressure because we carry Honda’s name. We need to be much better next year. The pressure is even higher from that point of view.
Do you have the hardest job in Formula 1?
[Laughs] It’s not just me. As a team we do a very hard job. It’s partly because we started a year later than other engine manufacturers, so we need to catch up and accelerate performance. That makes our job maybe three times harder.
Is it true that Honda insist on recruiting and training their own engineers, rather than buying in external talent?
Most of our engineers are Japanese because we are a Japanese company and our main R&D centre is in Japan. We have no barriers to European or American engineers, but language can make meetings difficult. Communication is the biggest issue. We train our engineers in other languages and in how to transfer their information to people working in other languages, and the most important thing is to become a more global company and to work with all nationalities.
Why have Honda found F1 so much harder than in the past?
Hmm, this is a big question for me as well! One point of difference is that we had no time to prepare before re-entering in 2015. The lack of preparation time made a big difference.
Will Honda ever own a team again?
I don’t think so. We currently think we need to concentrate on power-plant development and make that work better.
What was the lowest point of your three years with Mclaren?
It’s still very difficult! But seriously, our first day of winter testing at Barcelona this year. That was very tough. [Fernando Alonso completed only 29 laps, owing to Honda power unit troubles; Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel completed 99.]
Why were you so bad?
You have to look back over the past three years. In year two, 2016, we showed good progress. But our performance wasn’t as good as the top runners’ so we had to modify the engine concept. We had to make the engine lighter and lower the centre of gravity. We knew we would struggle with performance after so many changes, but we had to change the concept to try to get close to the level of the top three. Next year will be an update to this concept, not a whole new engine.
What weaknesses have you identified?
We are never satisfied with performance and have to address this in many areas: combustion, squeezing more power from fuel, efficiency, and a higher compression ratio. The difficulty is balancing a higher compression ratio with reliability.
What’s it like when Fernando Alonso comes on the radio and says ‘my engine is terrible’?
It’s unfortunate and sad, but sometimes it’s fair. If the engine has a problem, he has a right to be angry. But from a Honda point of view, I have to tell Fernando that I wish he wouldn’t do that. Because this is an important activity for the branding of the company. It’s not possible to hide our performance, but to save our brand name is very important. I have spoken to Fernando about this. Of course we always need his feedback.
After a bad day at the office, how do you rationalise it?
This is a special job, and I can’t just forget it when I go home to my wife and daughter. There is no solution other than to make the engine better, and that keeps me motivated. Technology is very honest. Improve it and you see the result.
“AS A TEAM WE DO A VERY HARD JOB. IT’S PARTLY BECAUSE WE STARTED A YEAR LATER THAN OTHER ENGINE MANUFACTURERS”