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Honda’s latest return part of its cyclical history in F1

May 16, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Japan F1 Honda AP

Off and on, Honda’s history in Formula One dates back to 1964. As Formula One evolves, so too does Honda’s participation in the sport.

Development of the RA271, a fully Honda-built engine and chassis, began in 1962 with its race debut in 1964. Richie Ginther took Honda’s first win in the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix in an RA272. The iconic white and red car built for that era was one of three on display at Thursday morning’s announcement.

Honda also famously won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix with John Surtees in the RA300 in the car’s first race; the car had been partially designed by Lola.

Tragedy stopped Honda’s first F1 voyage in its tracks; Jo Schlesser’s death in the 1968 French Grand Prix precipitated Honda’s first departure.

It returned as an engine partner in 1983, first with Spirit and later with Lotus, McLaren, Tyrrell and Williams. That 10-year run through 1992 was Honda’s most successful period in the sport, thanks to its accolades achieved with McLaren from 1988 through ’92.

Honda was only loosely associated with F1 from 1993 through 1999, in partnership with independents Mugen. There were still four race wins in that period with Ligier (Olivier Panis, 1996 Monaco) and three with Jordan.

An effort to re-enter on its own in 1999 was aborted due to another death of recruited technical director and designer Harvey Postlethwaite.

But in 2000, Honda re-entered once again, first with BAR and then Jordan. Jordan lost its Honda deal at the end of 2002 with Takuma Sato’s departure playing a role, and struggled for the final three years of its existence (2003-05) to find suitable engine partners and drivers.

Honda, having finished second as an engine partner to BAR in 2004, was keen to re-enter on its own in the era of heavy manufacturer participation (Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Jaguar) and did so when it bought out the remaining shares of BAR in 2005.

Although Jenson Button recorded his first win as a driver, and Honda its first as a constructor since 1967, the three years Honda ran the ex-BAR team were peppered with technical staff shakeups, frustrations, and a noteworthy loss of funding with British American Tobacco’s withdrawal at the end of 2006.

Honda pulled out at the end of 2008 ahead of the next set of new F1 regs and car design, in play since 2009. Ross Brawn led a management buyout to keep the team afloat with a new  engine supplier, and with development of the 2009 car the main focus of 2008, Button and Brawn GP scored the World Championships.

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