Honda Formula One has decided to end the tenure of motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai at a Honda board meeting on Tuesday, motorsport.com reported.
Arai had been at the helm of the Japanese engine manufacturer’s efforts in the sport since it announced its return to Formula One for the 2015 season.
The role of chief engineer and head of the Formula One project will be assumed by Yusuke Hasegawa, the managing officer and director of Honda R&D, while Yoshiyuki Matsumoto takes on supervision of the entire Formula One program, according to formula1.com.
The move to sideline Arai comes just days after the McLaren Honda team launched its 2016 car, the MP4-31.
The announcement comes as something of a shock because as recently as Sunday Honda F1 had released a statement from Arai referencing the challenges ahead of the team.
“From the start of tomorrow’s testing, the second season of McLaren-Honda’s new adventure begins. It was a short winter break, but nonetheless Honda was able to make the most of the off-season in preparation for 2016, strengthening our team and working tirelessly,” Arai said in the release.
The McLaren Honda team is looking for major improvements in the new package as the 2015 car, the first in the most recent iteration of the McLaren-Honda relationship, struggled for competitiveness throughout the 2015 season — with the two-world champion driver line up of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso finishing in 16th and 17th, respectively, on the drivers’ championship table.
In the first day of 2016 testing on Monday, signs were positive for McLaren Honda as Button finished with the sixth-fastest time, having completed an impressive 84 laps on the day.
“We’re in a much better position than last year, which is great,” Button said on formula1.com. “Everything ran smoothly, no reliability issues, so not too bad.
“It’s too early to say if we’re quick or not. Today is more about having an understanding — there are lots of different things we have on the car, which are all big improvements on last year.”
Ferrari’s four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel topped the timing sheets on the first day of testing while reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton put down a staggering 156 laps on the day, the most of any driver.