The 2016 Formula 1 season has barely begun and already there are changes in the ranks of the much-maligned Honda F1 structure.
The Japanese engine builder’s motorsport head, Yasuhisa Arai, leave his role at the end of February and take early retirement.
The announcement comes off the back of Honda’s annual structural review, where a wider restructuring of its motorsport organisation was also confirmed.
The Honda F1 project will now be overseen by Yusuke Hasegawa, while Arai’s other motorsport activities will be taken over by Kenji Ohtsu, who currently heads the R&D programme. Yoshiyuki Matsumoto has been appointed as supervising director of the F1 project.
While Honda may try to market this as part of its grand plan in the return to Formula 1, the truth of the matter is that the project has dramatically failed to gel in its comeback year and Arai has been made the fall guy.
Arai led Honda’s return to Formula 1 when it reunited with McLaren as an exclusive works partner in 2015. The season was a catastrophic failure, with the Honda power unit both underpowered and unreliable; McLaren netted just six points’ finishes and finished a lowly ninth in the Constructors’ Championship standings.
Fernando Alonso, who joined the team’s driving line-up last season, was particularly vocal about the poor performance of the engine and controversially described it as a “GP2 engine” during a very uncompetitive showing at Honda’s home race in Japan.
The struggles of the partnership meant Arai was repeatedly under the spotlight and faced intense media criticism as a result. The low point came during a particularly tense McLaren media press conference at the Italian Grand Prix, where Arai was repeatedly asked whether he should resign in the circumstances.
It would seem that decision has been made for him.
Image via XPB Images