Don’t underestimate the scale of the news that Aston Martin will become the Honda works team from 2026.
There’s something confusing about Honda’s recent history in Formula 1, with the half in, half out approach alongside Red Bull. But Red Bull Powertrains runs Honda power units that are looking well set for three consecutive championship doubles.
However, there were no guarantees that success, and the fact that Honda signed up to the 2026 regulations, meant there was going to be a deal done. The Japanese manufacturer has a tendency to make knee-jerk reactive decisions to its participation – such as the one that led to it withdrawing at the end of 2021 – and plans can change in an instant.
It’s not only on the Honda side that it’s such a big deal, though. For Aston Martin, it’s the first time the team gets works support, and it represents a gamble of sorts.
Not on Honda’s performance, as the past few years have shown there are few better options on the table. But it will mean a departure from the customer deal it had with Mercedes that has helped provide the platform for this year’s impressive run.
Aston Martin will have to design and manufacturer its own gearbox and rear suspension alongside Honda, but in committing to do so it highlights just why it felt the Mercedes partnership could go on no longer than 2025.
“It’s a big challenge, but it’s an essential challenge in us stepping up,” Aston Martin Performance Technologies group CEO Martin Whitmarsh said. “The 2026 chassis regulations have not been finalized and I’m hoping sanity will prevail and we will choose to simplify the very complicated transmissions. (But) we are recruiting the people at the moment, we’re facing that challenge that you have highlighted.
“We have a great partnership currently, and great components and systems provided to us but this is about the growing up of this team. You set out to win in F1, that means beating existing partners, and in order to do that, we have got to be independent.
“We’re building great facilities and we are progressively pulling away from our dependence on Mercedes-Benz, and that is no reflection on them. They have done a fantastic job for us. They continue to do a great job for us. Clearly, we are here to beat them. And that means we have to be self-reliant.”
It’s a mantra that has been heard from teams in the past – including McLaren when it ditched the dominant Mercedes power unit for a Honda works deal ahead of 2015 – but Aston was even more closely connected, and so far this year more successful.
It’s not the works team beating Aston Martin at this point, but Whitmarsh can see exactly why that partnership would hamstring Lawrence Stroll’s outfit in the long run.
“I think we have to be clear, Mercedes have been great partners and they remain that. They are in it to win, and clearly we are here to win as well. Ultimately, there is some incompatibility in those two missions and that’s why we have taken the decision.
“The first and obvious example was we currently share a wind tunnel with them. We’re having to spend a huge amount of money to build our own wind tunnel which is only four or five miles from the wind tunnel – quite adequate one – that we use.
“The nature of F1 is, if you want to win, it means beating Mercedes and it’s extremely difficult to beat an organization as good as Mercedes if you’re reliant on them for intellectual property, facilities and components.
“Team Silverstone has a great tradition of delivering big bang for small bucks, but we’re in a different position now. The Aston Martin brand, the ambition of Lawrence Stroll and now great partners like Honda, we are here to win. Therefore, you have got to have the complete integration of facilities and approach.
“The 2026 technical regulations are going to demand a full integration, not just the physical integration of components, but the operational integration to be able to deliver and to win to a much greater extent. In my view, it’s very difficult to win championships consistently without a full works relationship, which is why we have made this decision and why we are delighted to have a fantastic partner like Honda.”
It’s not only Aston Martin that should be delighted, either. Formula 1 fans everywhere should be getting excited at the prospect of 2026.
It feels a long way off, but it is set to mark a significant change in the F1 landscape.
Think back to the 2014 season, and the 11 teams on the grid were all supplied by either Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault. That was all there was on offer as the new regulations proved too complex and expensive for the majority of new manufacturers. Honda expanded that to four a year later, but that’s been as good as it would get.
With the new rules that have been – and no doubt helped by the significantly increased interest in the sport that makes it a far more recognizable marketing platform around the world – we are set to enter an era with the following works partnerships:
Red Bull – Red Bull Powertrains with Ford
Aston Martin – Honda
Mercedes – Mercedes
Ferrari – Ferrari
Alpine – Renault
Sauber – Audi
Of the 10 teams on the grid, only McLaren, Haas, AlphaTauri and Williams are not currently partnered with their own in-house power unit set-up or an exclusive works supply. And the clear top four from this season all will have one.
When it’s framed like that, it’s perhaps not just because it wants to win championships that Aston Martin needed to move on from its Mercedes partnership, but simply just to try and have the same opportunities as more than half of the grid.
Of course, when you have so many different entrants, only one can get it right. Sitting here today I couldn’t tell you who that’s most likely to be, but Aston Martin has just bagged itself the supplier that has been able to celebrate championships over the past two years, so it’s hard to see it truly regretting the decision in that context.
Red Bull, on the other hand, maybe could.
Honda had a score to settle post-McLaren and has done it emphatically with Red Bull. But HRC president Koji Watanebe hinted earlier this year that it was Red Bull’s choice not to remain partners in 2026 when it first shunned Porsche and then opted for the Ford deal.
If it’s a fired-up Honda that will join forces with Aston Martin then Stroll, Whitmarsh and co have potentially pulled a blinder. But with so much competition, any one of the other manufacturers could steal a march and catapult their team to the top.
2026 is going to be wild.