Honda top brass admit that taking a watching brief during next year's F1 campaign could put it at a disadvantage when it returns to the track in 2015.

The Japanese marque is due to make a much-heralded return to the top flight with McLaren - with whom it dominated the period between 1988-92 - but will not be ready for competition until 2015, giving rivals Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari a year's head-start when it comes to understanding the new engine and drivetrain technology being adopted by the category next season.

Although Honda is already working on its own version of the new 1.4-litre turbocharged V6 powerplant, it admits that not being able to pit it against the three established manufacturers on track next year will prevent it from learning some of the development tricks it expects the 'big three' to pick up.

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"There are both advantages and disadvantages of participating from 2014," motorsport chief Yasuhisa Arai told the FIA's official publication Auto, "Many things will happen during the F1 season, and we are in a fortunate situation to be able to observe what will happen. However, as we are only able to observe, we cannot physically be at the track to see the problems.

"Other teams can improve on their problems and progress as the race goes on. How they will progress will be a mystery to us and our engineers must rely on their imaginations."

McLaren will start next season with the new driver pairing of Jenson Button and rookie Kevin Magnussen, but will have to complete one further year with long-standing engine partner Mercedes before being able to make the switch to Honda. Both McLaren and Honda, however, believe that their historical success together will make the transition as smooth as possible.

The pair's previous five-year partnership, which included the successful but volatile pairing of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna behind the wheel, produced no fewer than eight world championships, as well as 44 race wins, 53 pole positions and 30 fastest laps - in just 80 grands prix. The 1988 season was the most dominant in history, with McLaren winning all but one of the 16 races, and only losing a grip on the other when Senna collided with a slower car in Italy.

"Whilst both companies are fully aware that we're embarking on a very demanding journey together, we're hugely committed to the success of the partnership, and we'll spend the next 18 months working together to ensure that we're fully established and competitive ahead of our first grand prix together in 2015," team principal Martin Whitmarsh said in May.

"The names of McLaren and Honda are synonymous with success in F1 and, for everyone who works for both companies, the weight of our past achievements together lies heavily on our shoulders. But it's a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren-Honda to the very pinnacle of F1 success. Together we have a great legacy - and we're utterly committed to maintaining it."

Arai, too, believes the combination of past success and determination to succeed again will put the pairing in a good position when they finally come together on track.

"We have had a great history together, but more important is the mutual respect we have for each other's work ethic and processes," he concluded, "We have the same mentality or feel when we pursue victory and that is very important."