The date was August 6th 2006, the driver was Jenson Button, and the event was the Hungarian Grand Prix. This race is where Honda took its last win in Formula 1 until today, 13 years later, on June 30th 2019 when Max Verstappen drove his Honda-powered Red Bull to victory in the Austrian Grand Prix.
It has been no secret that Honda has struggled since re-entering Formula 1 in 2015 with McLaren. Since then, Honda has competed in 90 Formula 1 Grands Prix, during which Honda fans remained some of the most loyal on the grid while they watched engines fail, poor pace, and a fractious relationship with McLaren devolve into termination of their partnership. The terms “Spec 3” and “Spec 4”, in reference to Power Unit revisions, became rallying cries. Turbulent Jet Ignition and Pre-chamber Combustion became the technical buzzwords fans practically willed to be in the works at Honda’s Sakura headquarters.
And while fans knew Honda had the potential to return to its former winning ways, evidently so did Red Bull who in 2017 signed a deal for Honda to supply their junior team, Toro Rosso. In their debut season in 2018 Toro Rosso Honda scored 33 points, 3 more than with McLaren in 2017. This is owed to progress Honda had already been making at the time of McLaren’s decision to terminate their agreement and a healthier, more collaborative relationship with Red Bull. Progress was strong enough by the Canadian Grand Prix that parent team, Red Bull Racing, decided to abandon an also troubled relationship with their Power Unit supplier, Renault, in favor of Honda beginning in 2019.
Mercedes’ utter dominance, to a degree few expected, in 2019 has made it difficult to appreciate the gains Honda has made and how well they are collaborating with Red Bull. With two podium finishes, both 3rd place, to their name and a 3rd place standing in the constructors championship, both sides of the partnership were pleased with each other but not entirely satisfied. The inevitable question was, “When will they win?”
After what appeared to be a disastrous start in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix where his anti-stall mechanism was forced to kick in at 'lights out’, driver Max Verstappen had fallen back from a second place grid spot to 7th place and as much as 14 seconds behind the race leader, Charles Leclerc of Ferrari. After switching to the hard tire compound during his first pit stop, Verstappen’s grit and determination combined with his Red Bull chassis and Honda engine allowed him to make an impressive charge through the field. By lap 69 he had caught Leclerc and passed him in turn 3 with a controversial move which involved the two touching wheels and Leclerc having to briefly go off track. After the race this was ruled a 'racing incident’ by the stewards.
Confident of the outcome and while the stewards were still reviewing the incident, Verstappen took to the podium to claim his first place trophy along with an emotional Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 boss, who proudly hoisted the manufacturer’s trophy and sprayed champagne which washed away memories of Honda’s difficult journey to get to this point and celebrated the beginning of a bright future.
On behalf of TOV , TOV-M , and loyal fans everywhere: Congratulations, Honda!