Ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, Max got an adrenaline-fuelled taste of Honda’s racing history and the golden age of Formula One as he got behind the wheel of the Japanese manufacturer’s first Grand Prix winner at the firm’s Tochigi Proving Ground.
Prior to heading to Suzuka, Max, along with 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato, visited Honda’s state of the art test facility north of Tokyo where, after visiting the Tochigi factory and meeting staff, our engine partners introduced the two racers to one of the most famous former Honda employees of all, the RA272 F1 car.
Built for the 1965 season, the 1.5-litre V12 car was driven by American racers Richie Ginther and Ronnie Bucknum. At the season-ending Mexican Grand Prix, Ginther powered the technologically advanced car to the Japanese squad’s first F1 victory.
Itching to try out the vintage machine, Max squeezed himself into the tiny cockpit and after a very quick tour of the disarmingly simple controls of the 54-year old car he steered it out onto one of the 60km courses at Tochigi.
After a thrilling blast around the circuit, the Dutchman was full of praise for Honda’s first F1 race winner. “It was very cool to get to experience this car,” he beamed. “I think the oldest race car I’ve driven before today was from about 2008. It’s quite different, but I really enjoyed it. The pure emotion from the engine and the car itself was incredible. I didn’t even fit properly in the car! But it was an amazing experience for sure.”
Despite delighting in the RA272’s visceral appeal, Max was thankful for the 50 years of technological innovation that have led to modern F1 cars. “I’m very happy that I was born a bit later [than to have raced this car], but of course I’m really grateful to be able to experience it. I don’t think I would race it myself, and if you look back 50 years the evolution is insane. But it is good fun to go back to these cars.”
To prove the point Max then slipped into the more familiar cockpit of our 2011 RB7 to give the Honda employees gathered a feel for the power of modern F1. While the show car crew were prepping our double title-winning car, former Jordan, BAR and Honda F1 racer Takuma took his turn in the RA272. “This is a really special moment for any race car driver,” said the Japanese star who is currently racing in IndyCar with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
“There’s such a nostalgic feeling with it. The car is obviously very different to modern formula cars and race cars and Max has just experienced how tricky it is to make it run smoothly. I’m really fortunate to have had some opportunities to run those old cars at past events and it always makes me smile.”
Max then powered up the RB7 and with the more familiar car underneath him the Dutchman treated the Honda employees to a full suit of tyre-smoking, full throttle runs, followed by a tandem tour of the oval track with Takuma at the wheel of the historic Honda. “The main difference in the RB7 was that I had seatbelts! In the other one I didn’t, so it felt a bit odd,” Max laughed. “With the RA272 I had to shift gears with a foot clutch, which I haven’t done in quite some time. It’s a different feeling but both felt good.”
Max then took off for a whistle stop tour of more Honda plants before attending a fan event. Now it’s on to Suzuka and the three-time Japanese Grand Prix podium finisher is looking forward to the race weekend at one of the year’s most challenging circuits. “With Honda on board I think there will be a lot of Japanese fans supporting us, so I’m just looking forward to getting the weekend started and hopefully at the end we’ll get a good result.”