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

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

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”

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