The McLaren-Honda partnership

As with almost any weekend, ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix focus was on the McLaren-Honda partnership. McLaren driver Fernando Alonso commented during the normal Thursday press conference that if the team won, or close to that, before September he would stay with the team.

Most will see this unlikely as Honda haven’t seemed to have gotten on top of their issues. It was compounded during the weekend when Honda failed to deliver upgrades to their engine for the weekend.

This led in part to McLaren’s executive director, Zak Brown, talking about having to ask the serious question of whether the team continues with the Japanese manufacturer or not into 2018.

Alonso_F1
McLaren MCL-32 / Fernando Alonso / ESP / McLaren Honda” by Artes Max is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I personally want to see the partnership continue into 2018 and beyond. I also feel McLaren should let Fernando Alonso leave and focus on bringing a driver such as Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo or maybe even Sergio Perez to drive alongside Stoffel Vandoorne.

Why? Having signed a deal with Sauber for 2018, Honda aren’t going to be leaving Formula 1, unless a mutual agreement is made to cancel the deal, and therefore they are in the sport for the long term.

If you look at Renault and how they have approached their return as a factory team, they have stated multiple times that it will take time before they are ready to challenge for wins and championships. This shows to me that Renault are taking a long term view of their Formula 1 project, allowing them time and room to make mistakes, which has happened with their engine, learn from those mistakes and also recruit the right people into the team.

McLaren_2016
IMG_5168” by rgbRandomizer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This is an approach McLaren needs to adopt, regardless of whether they have a Honda or a Mercedes engine as it will take time, either way, to get the most out of the engine and therefore get to a point of challenging for podiums and championships. Therefore changing the mindset of the team to a long term project can ultimately help the McLaren-Honda partnership flourish and why it makes sense to me to allow Fernando Alonso to leave and sign someone else to partner Stoffel Vandoorne who is potentially more open to a longer term project.

With Honda also due to supply Sauber, this gives the Japanese manufacturer two more cars running their engine and therefore increases the amount of potential data that can be gathered. Surely the more data Honda collect, the quicker it is to identify issues with the engine as well as find suitable solutions to solve those issues and find performance gains.

The lack of cars running Honda engines out on track has been a serious disadvantage to them since they returned to Formula 1 in 2015, especially in an era where the engine technology is relatively new and there is a lot of possible innovation and performance gains to be found.

Formula 1 engine supply by team per season
2015 2016 2017
Ferrari 3 4 3
Renault 2 2 3
Mercedes 4 4 3
Honda 1 1 1

The above table hopefully shows this disadvantage as even Renault, a team who has struggled in the new V6 turbo hybrid era, has had at least two teams running their engines since 2015, whilst Ferrari and Mercedes have only ever had a minimum of three teams (that’s six cars) running their engines. Compared to Honda’s one, the Japanese manufacturer is in an almost constant state of catch up as they have little data to work with to guide the development of their engine.

It is frustrating to see the partnership failing and having gained little to no progress. But there is hope with Sauber due to run Honda engines in 2018 and the benefits that can bring. McLaren ultimately in 2017 have to decide whether to stick with Honda in the long term, which may mean taking the sacrifice of allowing Fernando Alonso to leave. Or whether they deem Alonso too important to lose and therefore potentially switch to a Mercedes engine.

McLaren Sunset
Sunset, Albert Park Turn 6 & 7” by Joshua Sadli is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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