Honda Revives Trio of Historic Formula One Power Plants

Honda Revives Trio of Historic Formula One Power Plants

Article by Brian Hannon. Videos from Honda.

With much anticipation, Honda will make their return to Formula One in 2015 as the official engine/power train supplier for McLaren. To say Honda has enjoyed success as an engine supplier in the highest echelon of motorsports would be a gross understatement. Their success was most evident in the 1980s as they exploited the limits of turbocharging, as well as emerging as the front-runner of normally aspirated technology after a rules change in 1989. During a special exhibition at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan (conveniently also the location of the Honda Collection Hall Museum), Honda resurrected three of the most important Formula One cars of that era and shared the videos of their runs. Turn your speakers up!

First up is the 1986 Williams FW11 with Honda’s RA166-E 1.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6. Piloted by Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, the FW11s RA166-E produced 800 horsepower in race trim and a staggering 1,000+ horsepower in qualifying mode! While the twin-turbo V6 didn’t make as much horsepower as the four-cylinder BMW of the time, it was much more reliable, and that paid off with Williams winning the World Constructors Championship that year. This also marked the end of an era as a 4-bar boost limit was placed on the engines for the 1987 season, ending the days of almost unlimited power.

Next up we have the 1988 McLaren MP4/4 with the final iteration of the 1.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6, the RA168-E. Power was again restricted as boost pressure was further regulated to only 2.5-bar, which equated to roughly 650 horsepower for the races. This was also the car that sparked one of the most heated inter-team rivalries that Formula One had ever seen: Alain Prost versus Ayrton Senna. The two combined to win 15 of the seasons 16 races with Senna barely edging Prost in points at the final race in Suzuka. The year 1988 also marked the end of the turbocharging era in Formula One as power adders were to be banned beginning in 1989.

Enter the 1989 McLaren MP4/5 with its all-new RA109E 3.5-liter, normally aspirated V10 producing roughly 660 horsepower at 12,800 rpm. In development since the mid-point of the 1987 season, this helped to further stir the pot between Senna and Prost and resulted in a second consecutive World Constructors Championship for McLaren. Though turbocharging was now dead, few could argue with the sound emanating from full field of normally aspirated V8s, V10s and a few V12s sprinkled in for good measure.

With such a storied history in Formula One, especially with McLaren, we’re obviously very excited to see Hondas return to the grid!


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Brian Hannon (BHRP)

Grew up around cars and racing, a passion fueled by my whole family. Participated in numerous track days with cars and motorcycles as well as covered the NASA East Coast Honda Challenge for Grassroots Motorsports. Now that I'm in Colorado I'm enamored with the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb... borderline obsessive...
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