Written by Cameron Gale, Edited by Hugh Waring
Honda have said that returning to Formula One in 2026 is not a closed door as they keep a watchful eye on Grand Prix racing's carbon neutral future plans.
The Japanese manufacturer quit F1 at the end of last season after a successful season with Red Bull, as they won the drivers championship. However, it wanted to divert attention towards zero-emission technology in its road cars. It has not turned its back on the championship completely however. It has recently made arrangements that agreed Honda were to continue the manufacturing of Red Bull Racing’s power units, with the badges of the Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) appearing on the Red Bull and Alpha Tauri liveries.
F1’s push for a carbon neutral future has prompted Honda to consider returning to the sport in 2026. Such talk was fuelled by a visit to the Austrian Grand Prix by senior Honda staff, including the CEO of Honda Toshihiro Mibe, Chairman, Seiji Kuraishi, HRC President, Koji Watanabe and its Director, Yasuaki Asaki.
Whilst they have said that there is no formal change of heart about an F1 programme, it has admitted to closely following how the F1 engine rules are progressing for the 2026 season.
Speaking at the Red Bull Ring, Watanabe said: “Formula 1 is the top motorsports category, so we are always watching what is happening in the F1 world.
“Of course, we just finished and concluded our activities, so nothing [has been] discussed within the Honda company about 2026 season. So, no plan.
“[But] it is not a closed door. My understanding is that F1 is discussing to decide the regulations for 2026, and definitely the direction is carbon neutrality.
“That is the same direction as us, so we don't have to [diverge] from carbon neutrality through F1 now.
“It is probably also a good opportunity to study carbon neutral F1, so it’s not a closed door.”
Watanabe said that Honda would need to get its electric road car programme fully set on course before considering it’s return to Formula One.
When asked by autosport what’s stopping them from coming back to Formula One he said
“I think there are several factors we need to watch.
“But once we decided to conclude the F1 because of mass production [road cars] and carbon neutrality, first we need to concentrate on this side.
“Then, once we can realise that we can achieve this, we can consider F1.”
Regarding the time frame for a decision about a potential 2026 return, Watanabe suggested that a call needed to be made by the end of 2023.
“I don't know the exact time frame,” he said. “But if we want to return to F1 in 2026, probably we need to decide within 1-1.5 years.”
Whilst it remains uncertain if Honda will return it looks ever more likely that they will return to Formula One when the 2026 regulations are in place, they will restore the ‘Honda’ name on the technical side of Red Bull.
Watanabe added: “At least until 2025, Honda is going to be a kind of team partner of both teams. And although the detail is not decided yet, also HRC will become a kind of technical partner of both teams until 2025.”
Pushed on a change of branding approach, Watanabe said: “We need to decide for the next season, but personally I want to utilise more Honda....So the combination of Honda and HRC.”
When Red Bull took over the running of their power trains, it was believed that the Milton Keynes based team had also purchased the Intellectual property (IP) rights to the engines.
The element of IP control of Honda power units became especially relevant over their return in 2026, when Watanabe suggested that Red Bull never purchased the IP to the engine. Inferring, that the IP will return to Honda after the current deal ends in 2025.
“They can utilise the IP, but we didn't sell the IP to them,” he said. “It is just a lease; so approval of utilising the IP.”