Acura is a relatively young brand as carmakers go. Introduced back in 1986 as a North American-only upmarket Honda, the company has had some high highs and some low lows in the last 35 years. It seemed like the company was lost in the doldrums for the last decade or so, but has gradually been rebuilding its performance branding with quality contenders like the NSX and the TLX Type-S. And it has spent some time growing its influence in large international markets, like China.
That’s why I think it would make sense for Acura to take over the branding of Red Bull and Alpha Tauri engines next year when Honda departs. This weekend at the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of the Americas, Acura branding will adorn the wings, helmets, and driver suits of the Honda-powered Red Bull and Alpha Tauri cars. This is a really cool move from the brand, and it got me thinking about what could be. Or maybe what should be.
Some of you might be shouting about the fact that Acura isn’t a worldwide brand, but Formula One isn’t really a playing field for massive multi-nationals right now anyway. Sure Acura doesn’t sell anything in every country where F1 is raced and broadcast, but neither does Alpine. And I’m sure Ferrari or McLaren aren’t moving many units in Azerbaijan or Hungary, either.
Consider for a moment that Acura does sell modern mainstream luxury automobiles in North America and China. With two Grands Prix scheduled for the U.S. next year, plus one each in Canada, Mexico, and China, that covers nearly a quarter of the admittedly too long season. There are rumors that, thanks to the incredible popularity of Netflix’s Drive To Survive, the U.S. could potentially be home to three GPs in 2023 (and there’s always hope that the New York Grand Prix could be revived…), which would make an even more compelling case for this expense for Acura.
It isn’t lost on me, either, that Acura is the only brand in the world building a mid-engine V6 turbo hybrid sports car, which from an engineering standpoint is about as close as you can get to a Formula One drivetrain on the street. That is, at least, until the Mercedes-AMG ONE reaches customers allegedly next year.
Honda leaving the sport at the end of this season is devastating, leaving just Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault as OEM engine manufacturers, while Red Bull Powertrains Limited has been formed from the leftovers of the Honda deal. Red Bull will build its own engines from Honda designs between 2022 and 2024, giving Acura the perfect in.
Red Bull has some experience in this matter, to boot. You may recall that Infiniti was the engine branding partner for Red Bull Racing from 2011 to 2015, even serving as title sponsor in ‘13, ‘14, and ‘15. Those engines were technically Renault-built, but branded Infiniti. When the team had a falling out with Renault, it purchased the engines and re-branded them TAG Heuer before striking a deal with Honda for the 2019 season.
Honda has had a relatively rough go of things in this foray into Formula One, digging in the ditches for scraps with McLaren in the early going. It really started to find its footing when it came onboard as engine supply to Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2018 and stepping up to the big Red Bull team in 2019. Across 19, 20, and 21 the teams have found massive improvements with Honda power, securing 14 wins together thus far.
It is still extremely possible that Max Verstappen will find his way to the 2021 Formula One World Driver’s title with Honda power, and it wouldn’t be a great look for the company to leave a sport while it is on top, would it? Honda is already gone, that deal is done, I’m not trying to get Team Red to come back. But, it would make a lot of sense for Acura to take over the branding of the engines in the back of the Red Bull and Alpha Tauri chassis, especially for the next three seasons. Not only can the more sports-focused brand stake its claim in the pinnacle of the sport, but it can do what it has always done, and stand on the shoulders of incredible Honda engineering and achieve even more.
Am I saying this is what will happen? Not a chance. I’m sure nobody at Acura will be taking my words to heart when it comes to a multi-million dollar project like this. I imagine Acura VP and Brand Officer John Ikeda has thought about it, though. And with an increasingly interested American F1 audience, I’d really like to see him follow through with it.