Changes to the technical regulations during the winter are one a part of the explanation why Red Bull replaced Mercedes as the team to beat on outright speed on the opening spherical of the 2021 F1 season.
However as Mercedes workforce principal Toto Wolff admitted, there was a shift within the stability of energy between F1’s engine producers as effectively. “We’re dropping a bit of bit on the engine aspect,” he conceded after qualifying in Bahrain. “Honda has performed a terrific job.”
On the launch of AlphaTauri’s AT02, the primary Honda-powered automobile to interrupt cowl this yr, technical director Toyoharu Tanabe hinted at the gains they had made over the winter through revisions to their engine, turbine and energy recovery system. Additional particulars of these modifications had been revealed in a programme aired by Japan’s government-owned broadcaster NHK, which was granted entry to Honda’s F1 engine growth facility at Sakura.
When the pandemic struck final yr, Honda initially opted to delay its subsequent new energy unit design to 2022. However the model’s subsequent determination to name time on its newest spell in F1 on the finish of this yr led the workforce to re-commit to a 2021 deadline for its newest V6 hybrid turbo.
Reliability was a major weak point for Honda when it returned to F1 with McLaren six years in the past. It has made nice good points since then, and final yr Honda was the one producer whose drivers accomplished the season with out exceeding their allotted variety of energy unit components (they did start becoming a brand new energy unit to Pierre Gasly’s automobile in Turkey, however deserted the change, which didn’t cease him incurring a penalty).
With the variety of races on the 2021 F1 calendar rising to a record-breaking 23, Honda focused additional sturdiness enhancements each to see out the season and supply the chance for efficiency good points.
To do that, it developed a brand new coating for the engine’s cylinder heads to enhance their resistance to the excessive temperatures and friction generated throughout combustion. This innovation, which has made the cylinders as much as 10 occasions extra resistant than these utilized in Honda’s high-revving bike engines, was evaluated on the finish of the yr at Yas Marina.
As soon as validated, the extra sturdy cylinders allowed the workforce to hunt larger efficiency from its engine. This was performed by reshaping the combustion chamber to extend compression, by lowering the angle at which the valves are positioned. This proved to be a win-win growth: the camshafts had been moved nearer collectively, producing a extra compact engine, which is less complicated to package deal inside an F1 chassis.
These good points got here with a draw back, nonetheless. Because the unit carried out extra effectively, much less power was misplaced by way of the exhaust system, which disadvantaged the MGU-H of energy. To resolve this, the blades of the turbine had been reshaped, enabling it to carry out extra successfully regardless of the diminished exhaust power.
Additional reductions within the dimension of the engine, and decreasing of its centre of gravity, had been obtained by introducing new development supplies. These allowed Honda to scale back the engine’s bore pitch (the hole between the centres of adjoining cylinders).
Honda’s extra highly effective, compact and lighter RA621H energy unit due to this fact ticks quite a lot of packing containers for Purple Bull and AlphaTauri. Its capabilities had been demonstrated with pole place for Max Verstappen and fifth on the grid for Gasly’s AlphaTauri.
Neither fairly hit the identical heights within the race – Verstappen misplaced out to Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Gasly’s night was compromised by harm. However the drivers had been fast to reward the most recent developments from Sakura – Verstappen said Honda’s engineers had “a great winter”.
There could but be some considerations over reliability, nonetheless. Troubling indicators within the information from Sergio Perez’s RB16B and Gasly’s AT02 in Bahrain led to new electronics and batteries being fitted to each. Whether or not Honda’s good points have come on the expense of its 2020 reliability file stays to be seen.
Due to Daniel Bialy for his contribution to this text.
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