Move aligns with Honda's commitment to reaching full electrification across Europe by 2025
Honda has revved up its commitment to a carbon neutral future by announcing it will leave Formula 1 before 2022, citing the need to accelerate the auto industry's move away from the internal combustion engine (ICE).
The move aligns with the Japanese car firm's focus on a rapid transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Last year, it pledged to sell solely vehicles with electric drivetrains in Europe by 2025 and to reduce ICE vehicle sales to below a third of its global total by the same date. In the long term, it is committed to reaching carbon by neutrality by 2050 via "future power-unit and energy technologies, including fuel-cell vehicle and battery technologies".
Honda's decision to leave Formula One leaves the sport with just three engine suppliers, and teams Red Bull and Alpha Tauri without one. Honda had worked with Red Bull since 2018, winning a string of grand prixs but failing to challenge the dominance of world champions Mercedes.
Red Bull reiterated its commitment to F1, with team principal Christina Horner saying "we will now take the time afforded to us to further evaluate and find the most competitive power-unit solution for 2022 and beyond".
However, Honda's withdrawal from the sport highlights the challenges faced by F1 as the world pivots towards electrification and manufacturers prioritise responding to the climate crisis and the incoming raft of legal restrictions on sales of internal combustion engines.
Electric technology is not capable of powering vehicles to the sustained speeds seen in an F1 Grand Prix. The sport currently uses 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid engines, with thermal efficiency of 50 per cent compared to just 30 per cent for average road-car engines. F1 bosses are looking at other ways of cutting carbon consumption, including synthetic fuels which capture carbon from the atmosphere in their manufacture and can therefore be labelled 'carbon neutral'.
But Honda's decision to quit the sport underlines the question of how long manufacturers will see hybrid engines as relevant in a world accelerating towards full electrification. This shift continues to gather pace, as evidence by the latest industry figures for the UK revealing that 44,708 pure electric cars have been sold since the start of the year - almost three times the total for the same period in 2019.
Despite such growth, fully electric car sales still account for just five per cent of the UK total. Price is often cited as a barrier, with zero-emission vehicles costing up to £10,000 more than an ICE equivalent.
However, a new study from fleet management firm LeasePlan suggests this headline price difference can be misleading as it does not account for the lower running costs of electric vehicles. The study found mid-size electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3 or BMW 3 cost just £832 a month to buy and run, compared to £911 for diesel and £963 for petrol, once fuel, tax, maintenance, insurance and depreciation values are all taken into account.
The same is not true for small cars, such as the Nissan Leaf and Vauxhall Astra, where battery powered cars were found to be marginally more expensive, costing £657 a month compared to £645 for diesel and £642 for petrol. Meanwhile, price comparisons between high-end executive cars in electric and ICE continue to be skewed by the far higher price tag on battery-powered models such as the Tesla Model S.
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