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Back in the Race

Honda is returning to Formula One racing after a seven-year absence. The Japanese automaker has teamed up with McLaren, reigniting a partnership that had great success in the late 1980s and 90s. The first Grand Prix race in this year's F1 championship takes place next month in Australia. Honda has high hopes for a new car that the team is entering in the race.

The new F1 racer has a Honda engine mounted inside a McLaren body.

The motor has a displacement of 1.6 liters, and thanks to the latest turbo technology, it can generate 600 horsepower. Its developers say the engine features the latest environmentally-friendly technologies, and they are working to increase the horsepower further.

Both Honda's and McLaren's teams have drivers who are former F1 champions.

"I'm very excited to be part of a McLaren-Honda family," says driver Fernando Alonso.

"I think both of us growing up in the 80s, it was the team we were watching," states driver Jenson Button. "So it's special to be part of new era."

Honda is famous for its history of developing eco-friendly automotive technologies.

In the 70s, it was the first company to meet the stringent requirements of the US 1970 Clean Air Act. Honda's innovative low-emissions engines helped put them on the map as an automaker.

In the late 1980s and the 1990s, the McLaren-Honda team dominated the Grand Prix circuit and ignited a major boom for F1 racing in Japan.

However, Honda's business was badly hit by the global financial crisis in 2008. The company decided that it could not continue to invest 340 to 420 million US dollars per year in F1 racing.

Honda's decision to re-enter the field follows recent changes in F1 rules, which now require the use of more environmentally-friendly technologies.

Since last year, engine displacements have been scaled back. Cars must also be fitted with an energy recovery system. It generates power from the engine's heat and from energy created when the brake is applied.

This system for converting engine heat into power is not yet used in ordinary vehicles. Honda executives believe that honing the technology in motorsports could lead to future commercial applications.

Honda President and CEO Takanobu Ito says, "Developing eco-friendly technologies required for Formula One is a great challenge in energy management. I believe this will help to further improve Honda's technologies."

In the venue for the Japanese Grand Prix, Mie Prefecture's Suzuka City, expectations for Honda are high.

"We are the home for F1 racing," says one resident. "Everyone here will be very excited."

The Suzuka Circuit has a long history of racing. In 2006, the city enjoyed a record 65 million dollars in revenue as 360,000 spectators turned out for the Grand Prix. But last year, less than half that number of visitors came. The city is hoping Honda's F1 return will draw enthusiasts back to Suzuka.

The legendary McLaren-Honda team has been reborn with a new car and a new look. Motorsport fans in Japan are hoping this will be the start of another golden age for racing.

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