Alonso or Honda? I’d keep Honda

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I know McLaren aren’t happy with the way they’ve been performing over the last couple of years and I also know that losing their Mercedes engine supply was a big impact—so much so that former CEO Ron Dennis immediately brokered a deal with Honda which, on paper, seemed like the right thing to do.

Having no choice for an engine is not a new thing in the era of the hybrid power unit. Last year fans and folks in the paddock were telling Red Bull to Take their temper tantrum home and many comments I saw were along the lines of, “don’t let the door hit you in the *** on your way out”. I argued back then that Red Bull was hugely important to F1 and being denied a competitive race engine supply was a bad move. The FIA agreed and wrote regulations to prevent that from happening again…except, it is happening again.

McLaren are trying to secure a Renault engine supply deal and the manufacturer says they can’t add another team to their roster. This leaves McLaren trying to take Toro Rosso’s supply contract leaving the junior team with a Honda deal. F1 owners, Liberty Media, say they are trying everything they can, along with the FIA’s Jean Todt, to keep Honda in F1.

The difference in McLaren’s approach to their engine displeasure and Red Bull’s last year is that they haven’t threatened to leave the sport should they not get a competitive engine. I still say that Red Bull are hugely important to F1 due to the amount of resources they invest in the series—including bankrolling the Austrian Grand Prix—and McLaren are equally important from a historic and resource perspective.

The problem is that these engines are so complex that only car manufacturers have the resources to create them or at least the will to invest in creating them. Of those manufacturers, only two have gotten it right with one, Mercedes, having the upper hand and that advantage—I argued back in 2014—would be baked in until the engine regulations change in 2020. While many disagreed with me, last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix should go a long way to suggesting I was correct in my concern.

Now McLaren are desperately trying to secure a Renault contract but I’ll offer this thought to ponder—why are they so eager to jettison Honda and get a Renault?

The fact is, I am curious as to the prime mover in McLaren at this point. Reading many news articles would suggest they are trying everything they can, including torching their Honda relationship, to keep Fernando Alonso. I understand why, he’s a singular talent for sure, but is that short-term thinking?

Honda isn’t performing the way they should be at this stage and if McLaren feel that the Honda relationship will never produce fruit and a race-winning engine, then I understand but the engine regulations are set to change in two seasons and as Ron Dennis knew, having a bespoke and single supplier contract that you can control is a massive advantage. It’s a bit like having your own manufacturer.

I have all the respect in the world for Fernando Alonso but I’m not sure that torching your only engine supply deal in order to keep him happy is the best strategy. Honda is not competitive yet but if you’re building a long-term partnership and need a manufacturer relationship that you can steer, Honda seems like a good long-term strategy. Especially if you have a person at the table with Ross Brawn and the FIA and you have an inkling of what the new engine format could be.

Twelve months on and we now have another massive player in F1 desperate for a competitive engine. I’m not suggesting that Honda have no liability in this equation and they should have gotten on top of their performance deficit by now but regardless, F1 and the FIA know how important it is to have a manufacturer in the sport—because no one else can afford to build these hybrid engines—and if Honda leaves, the series is in trouble as it is anchored to an engine format that only three entities can make and only one of them have an engine that is top shelf. Of those three, two of them don’t want to supply Red Bull or McLaren for fear of instantly creating a competitive team that could outperform them due to their chassis design and resources.

McLaren need a long-term partner that can ultimately have the resources to invest in R&D and create an engine to compete with Ferrari and Mercedes. Since VW/Porsche/Audi seem to be focused on Formula E and no other manufacturer has raised an interest in entering F1, McLaren may lose Alonso but keeping Honda, renewing their joint effort and even bringing in engine specialists to help the team seems like a better long-term option.

Fernando Alonso and Michael Andretti watch the start of the final warmup for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama — Photo by: Joe Skibinski, INDYCAR

F1 and the FIA need to step in and help the situation to retain Honda’s involvement. They have limited options for other manufacturers like Toyota, Audi, Mazda etc and none of those companies would want to enter in F1 now because the engine regulations are relatively well matured at this point. Honda has to stay and F1 has to keep them even if they need to assist in development.

What would a Renault engine supply really give McLaren? An Alonso contract extension and more consistent Q3 and top 10 points finishes? Is that enough in the long term? Alonso is a singular talent and arguably the best driver on the grid but long term, Honda could be the best engine resource to get McLaren competitive again.

If the 2020 regulations change but are still anchored to this hybrid format with a V6, I believe Honda will eventually get on top of the situation. Sure, Alonso may leave but McLaren Honda won’t and the entire team need that long-term stability regardless if they aren’t winning races yet. Patience doesn’t come cheap in Formula 1 but prudence can win titles.

Christian Horner: “This engine has done nothing positive for Formula 1 since it was introduced.”

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Van Dieu

Honda have been massively hamstrung be only having one team to work with. From their point of view it should be McLaren AND STR. Alonso is not in a position to be making any sort of demands! The guy is fast becoming mentally unhinged as his obsession with Palmer during the Italian GP betrays!

John Brink

Maybe he is moaning about Palmer so that he can take his place at Renault

subcritical71

This whole Alonso – Honda – Renault – Indy situation simply does not make any sense. I believe there is more going on behind the scenes than is being portrayed (or leaked). Moving to Renault PU’s to only appease Alonso would be a huge mistake. For sure Honda is making slow progress, but I don’t see Renault being that much better at this point, never mind next year. If we were talking a Ferrari or Mercedes PU then that would be a different story. If Alonso is really alienating Honda then how does that effect any Indy-Honda relationship(?) I know… Read more »

Barry

I hate to see F1 lose him though. I would like him in a truly competitive car. I don’t think Vettel and Hamilton would be seen then as they are now. Verstappen, however might be a different story if jointly blessed with both an engine and a car. The same goes for Ricciardo.

Negative Camber

I agree with that as well as Subcritical’s comment. Hate to see him leave and that’s why I felt moving to Renault would make sense but I think he likes the McLaren vibe and ability to race for them in Indycar and WEC or other series. He’s frustrated but the team do give him a chance to race in other series and that’s worth a lot that no other F1 team gives him.

charlie white

I don’t understand why STR would let Renault bolt to McLaren without a (public) fight. This exchange of Honda for Renault customer engines makes no sense. All right, STR becomes the de facto Honda works team but at what cost? Does such a deal make STR more attractive to potential buyers for the team? As for Alonso, just hang up the helmet and retire. I don’t see him going to Williams, the Renault team is a possibility and we’ll see Fred next May at Indy. Or make my dream come true and sign up with Force India.

myusername1234!

My guess is STR will not have much say in things. Mateschitz / Marko will be thinking if they can get Honda on board and developing using STR then if or when the engine finally comes good they can slot it into the RBR main team.

At the moment Red Bull is stuck with a Renault engine that is not going to allow them to beat Mercedes or Ferrari on a consistent basis… this could be their way out.

Marti J Powell BSc

At the moment Red Bull is stuck with a Renault engine that is not going to allow them to beat Mercedes or Ferrari on a consistent basis

This WOULD be true of Mclaren also !!

Negative Camber

Yeah, at some level I am not sure if swapping Alonso’s engine so he can finish in top 10 instead of mid-field is going to make him happy. He wants to win and who can begrudge him of that? I think everyone wanted the Honda deal to work out and take the fight to Mercedes but are we being impatient here? Not sure. IT took RBR six years to take the old Jag team and make it a winner.

MIE

The old Jag team was already a winner before Sir Jackie sold the team to Ford for the big corporate entity to undo all the hard work to get there.

As for Honda, they have had four different attempts at F1. Only one of these has been successful, the rest have given very patchy results at best. History does not point to the company being a good fit for F1. The Senna/Peost era McLaren Honda’s were an exception to the company’s normal performance.

Negative Camber

I understand that, for sure, but I’m not convinced that having a Renault lump is the solution. Short term? yes, long term and through 2020? I’m not so sure. I think McLaren has always wanted a bespoke partner and Ron tried to get this with Honda. Maybe it isn’t Honda in the long run but one has to think they at least have a handle on the silly hybrid regs at a point that another engine maker would have to work up to. Maybe I’m wrong on that.

Shane Dunn

I think they should go the whole hog. Get rid of Alonso, save his wage… what’s that 20 Million (I’m guesing) and buy the technology off Honda employ some engineers (some Honda ones to who wknow the lump) to redesign it and rebadge it McLaren. This is a long term plan not short fix I know. That’s why the letting Alonso go part is an easy choice as he won’t want to stay because he’s to old to wait. But if it works 5 years down the line they have a good engine that they control…and is that time any… Read more »

myusername1234!

Exactly, which is why it might be short sighted of McLaren to ditch Honda just to please Alonso (if that is indeed what is happening).

For McLaren the big gamble is whether or not Honda will ever come good. As an organisation Red Bull can take a chance by throwing a Honda engine in the back of Toro Rosso knowing there is little to lose and potentially a lot to gain.

Negative Camber

I’m just curious if Red Bull might not think long about picking up Honda supply and throwing some serious RBR weight behind development. They have the same issue as Macca with Max on payroll and keeping him happy but perhaps start with STR and then develop to a point that it can work for RBR? Just a thought.

Glenn

I agree McLaren are shooting themselves in the foot, its really a no win situation for them. That said, its more than likely sly dealing by RBR who will have STR take on the under performing Honda and if/when Honda get it right then RBR will step in and take over the winning engine supply just like they did when they switched from Ferrari to Renault in 2007 with the Ferrari contract being passed to STR and we all know what happened after that.

myusername1234!

McLaren are desperate to keep Alonso because he is the only top level thing about their team at the moment. On present form and without Alonso McLaren become irrelevant and are basically just another Williams… a has been team that is nice to have on the grid for nostalgia sake but are not a serious contender to win anything.

Having said that, I do agree with this article. Ditching Honda in favour of Alonso would be short sighted and probably a mistake.

Negative Camber

I understand your point for sure and I would just add that the folks in Woking know what they’re doing with the chassis. I think they have a good chassis as well as Alonso but as we both agree, a long-term strategy for serious shove in the back of the car is important.

някой си

We don’t know how much of this McLaren chassis performance is coming from the Honda engine – low COG, less kilograms, better balancing, etc. Driving with Renault engine could be completely different story.

Negative Camber

That’s true. Good or bad. Maybe with Renault, it would work better. I think the chassis and people are there to get it done, just need a long-term partner to take the entire scenario seriously and put the time and resources into the program to win, not just run. I am sure if you asked them, they would say they are taking it very seriously but F1 is a tough game and whatever they are doing, it’s not enough.

myusername1234!

But would the chassis still look good if they had another X number of horse power going through it? Plus as others have pointed out how are we to know how it would perform with different engine characteristics, layout, etc.

I find it hard to believe that they really have a chance to beat Red Bull or Renault using the same engine, let alone the works Merc or Ferrari.

Raj

If McLaren continues with Honda, they stand losing sponsors. They will also not attract talent. It would be then better to withdraw from formula1 as it would not be viable option. Honda should have listened to McLaren and hired people rather than using their team who had no head and tail knowledge of formula1 having being away from sport.

Negative Camber

They may but I believe Honda brings a very large portion of their sponsor dollars as it is.

Marti J Powell BSc

Mclaren DON`T have (that many) sponsors – NO title sponsor
What IS Zac Brown doing?!!Mclar

If Mclaren drop Honda – last 3 years for NOTHING
All the DNF`s would be WASTED

Another team WOULD benefit from Mclaren`s woes
Mclaren WLOULD simply be HANDING the title to SOMEBODY else

Qarbon Nubia

Similarly who is going to sponsor McLaren if they don’t have Alonso as their Number 1 Driver?

Barry

I think Alonso and should stick with McLaren and McLaren with honda. When Honda comes good all will be happy. If necessary, bring in the added engine gurus . It will help in preparing for the new engines. I never understood how Mercedes got a 2 year jump on everyone else.I know they were in on the thinking during the rules forming, but I would have thought there would have been a start time for planning that would have made the period of development even across the board. I know Mercedes are very clever, but I didn’t think they were… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

I think Ross Brawn got Mercedes to get working on the hybrid technology as soon as they could and sacrificed their results during the Red Bull domination years. Worked out pretty well.

adaptable1

Alonso is one of the oldest drivers on the grid making the top end of the pay scale. McLaren can bring in a pay driver and achieve nearly the same results. While I would love to see Alonso in a car that could win races, I think his years in F1 are numbered. Maybe Jensen pee’d in his seat at Monaco after all!

Smee

YOU ARE DREAMING! Honda will never come good. They will play catch up for the next 4 years. Lack of horsepower is only one issue. Reliability is the other. Trying to catch up will force them to continue to push the envelope, and you think we won’t keep seeing more performances like Monza? YOU ARE DELUSIONAL! And its THREE more years – 2018, 2019, 2020 under current regs, then they switch to the new formula and you HOPE they will be competitive. Even under the previous much simpler engine formula they were not. Stick with Honda and McLaren will become… Read more »

Negative Camber

LOL…isn’t that just grand? I’m delusional, dreaming…anything else you’d like to add since we’re immediately attacking people? How else can I make you feel better about your opinion? Can I email you some things you can personally attack me with? Maybe share some of my insecurities so you can highlight those and make your opinion as one that can be written on a rock? Good grief. Now, back to reality. Honda has not come on song but they know where they suck. They know the regs, they know where Merc is gaining and where to focus. They may not be… Read more »

Smee

So telling you that you are “dreaming”, or “delusional”, is now considered an attack. Got it. If you need a safe space, I’d suggest that writing opinion articles open to comment isn’t for you. Maybe you should just stick to commenting on other peoples articles like the rest of us. And in case you haven’t noticed, Mercedes didn’t have these pathetic reliability problems in their first year with this engine. They were winning in year 3 of their program, and they just keep getting faster and more reliable every year. Honda can’t even finish a race after 3 years, and… Read more »

Negative Camber

Charming. We have one, simple rule here. post comments with decorum & civility. that means no personal attacks. It’s not a safe space issue, it is a issue of collegial attitude toward the community here. having the decorum to disagree without marginalizing other’s opinion via comments about them personally. this isn’t a case of, “oh, this is an editorial so prepare to get called names and if you can’t handle it, you need to stop writing editorials”. This isn’t a question of me not being able to handle being called names or having my character attacked, it is about the… Read more »

p1ngu

Respectfully, I’d say you’re being more than a little hopeful about Honda’s capability. I think they’re up the creek and are still deciding whether they need a paddle. Fernando may or may not be the greatest driver on the grid – it’s pretty hard to tell when he’s driving at 15mph and then retiring the car – but he’s toxic. For that reason I’d not keep him in the team unless I had no other option, but I suspect that’s where McLaren are, at least for the coming year. There are no other credible, experienced, drivers available (or willing), and… Read more »

Pete

Pretty sure that mclaren didn’t lose Mercedes engines they chose to go with Honda instead at least according to both mclaren and Mercedes .

Negative Camber

Hmmm. My understanding is that Mercedes and Ron had a falling out over the Brawn supply deal and then Mercedes bought Brawn GP and that effectively ended their relationship.

Shane Dunn

Don’t believe what they tell you in a press release.

Ron threw his teddy out the pram over the brawn deal.
I think the pram followed the teddy too

Dmian

Change “Alonso” for “Senna”, “Schumacher”, “Clark” or “Fangio”. Rephrase the article. “Yeah! Ditch Senna, you should think long term…” Does it still make sense with those names? Do we see F1 only because of the teams? I want the talent of Alonso be put tu good use, as fast as possible. I’m tired of the Mercedes “cruising to victory” show. I need racing. Current F1 is a mess, and the engine regulations are the cause…

Negative Camber

I want Alonso in top team too but he did have a hand in making the moves he did. I want Max in top team as well as Hulk and many others. I didn’t write this from a driver perspective, I wrote it from a team perspective. Williams, Force India bot have Merc engines…they aren’t winning. McLaren, if they can get it right, could have a great partner in Honda and one who doesn’t have a works team to try and beat.

jakobusvdl

And before 2014, F1 was a mess and aero regulations were the cause……
F1 isn’t really a mess, lots of things about F1 work very well indeed, but the myth that F1 delivers close racing persists.

Guy Fawkes

I’m fairly new (6 years) as an F1 fan and I kept hearing and reading about how wonderfully close the racing used to be. I’ve since watched quite a few older races and…no. It still looked remarkably similar. Perhaps more cars had a chance of winning, but individual races were still one car or team running away and the next down the grid chasing in vain. Not always, of course, but in general.

jakobusvdl

That’s the way I remember it. That and the high levels of attrition, particularly in the first turbo era.

Guy Fawkes

I’m a former NASCAR fan and it’s the same story there. So much romanticizing the past. I think it’s human nature to remember the “good old days” fondly, even when they weren’t so good.

Ion Gordun

This is not a Honda vs Alonso issue. What all at McLaren know is they have a winning team, bar the engine. I knew from day one and said it that Honda would not deliver – the past 20 years or so are proof of their inability to raise to the top, not just in raw power, but also in reliability. Renault have done that – they won numerous championships. They also demonstrated a better rate of improvement recently, to the tune of winning races with Red Bull. The best arrangement is for Toro Rosso and McLaren to switch engines.… Read more »

Junipero Mariano

Is Honda going to have some Aha moment and come out equal to Mercedes?
Ferrari and Renault haven’t had one yet.

Is developing the F1 hybrid PU just a steady time consuming process that Mercedes got a jump on?

Moving to Renault for McLaren or Alonso next year may increase reliability (unless you ask Max) but they won’t be giving Ferrari a hard time, let alone Mercedes. Championships for McLaren is going to take long term thinking, it won’t happen next year, or even the year after.

Dmian

From what I’ve read, Honda engineers have been obnoxiously stubborn with the engine development, not accepting any outside opinion. That’s why it’s taking them so long. They’re now getting help from Ilmor, but only because they have run out of excuses, and are clueless. Their corporate culture is what prevents them from having a competitive engine by now, and that’s why Alonso said he needs to go to the factory and see they have changed their ways before trusting they can be competitive anytime soon.

Sergio

At the end of three long years of Honda incompetence that have damaged Alonso’s career and McLaren’s reputation boils down to a Honda vs. Alonso? The prize for the bad work of a giant car manufacturer is to blame Alonso? To punish him after destroying his best years? All respect for Alonso? No way at all, no respect even for fair & square sport and consequences of good or bad work.

Negative Camber

So those days at Ferrari and the fist time at McLaren?

Paul KieferJr

Okay, I’m going to be the contrarian here: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. McLaren has tried time and again to get Honda to produce a competitive engine. Each time, it has failed miserably. We might as well face this fact: Honda can’t build an engine worth a damn. How many levels of incompetency do you have to have to build something that doesn’t do the job, and how many levels of insanity do you have to have to stick with something that doesn’t work despite… Read more »

Gaetano Colosi

You do realise that with Alonso’s sense of direction career wise, the moment the Honda is powering a different car to the one he has his backside in it will become class leading. TR will then lead the midfield pack in ’18 and RB will install it in their cars the following year and become title contenders again.

Moyti

This is not about Fernando. This is about winning. Everyone is missing the whole point. Whoever you put on the car with a Honda in it will just be dreaming of making the podium, much more finishing the race. Everybody’s leaving McLaren now because they’re not winning. They have to, they need to. They’ve suffered enough. The bleeding has to stop. Winning is in their DNA and they’ll do anything to achieve it.

F1 fan

This could be a very clever move by Red Bull, Honda will no doubt come up with a great engine (given time). So put the Honda engine in their junior teams car and let it evolve, Red Bull can then switch to Honda and become a works team, once the engine out performs Renault. Hence why Horne stated they would not veto Renault suppling MC. Just a thought.

Achim

I admit, hindsight is a great thing, but I think the whole Alonso signing was a huge mistake by Honda from the start. They wanted to come back to the sport with a bang, and they failed miserably. Renault’s approach last year coming back as a works team was a lot smarter. They knew they were going to suck in the first year, so they went with a rather low-key driver lineup. And so no-one noticed or even cared. This year they got better, they knew they were going to get better, so they also improved by signing Hülkenberg. Honda… Read more »

kcabmi

There is a third change that really needs to happen, without which things won’t improve enough.

The man in charge of the Honda engine development needs to go.It is he who isn’t delivering, either because he doesn’t know technically or can’t alter the corporate mindset.

Change THAT man and a better engine will follow.

By then Alonso will have retired, so get a fresh young driver for next season and get rid of the endless moaning.

Khürt L. Williams

So it seems you think that Alonso should pay the price — McLaren dropping him — for McLaren’s decision to go with Honda despite their inability to produce an engine that can perform?

So let’s say McLaren drops Alonso but Honda still can’t deliver who will they get to drive for them? Which current F1 driver do you think wants to lose almost every race to engine failure?

jakobusvdl

I’m certain that McLaren are fully aware of the advantage that being a p.u supplier’s primary team should give them, and a split from Honda would lose them that potential long term strategic advantage. However, McLaren are the only ones who get to see into the Honda organisation and see how they work and what their true engineering and adapability capabilities are. If they do make the decision to switch to the Renault p.u, then in my mind that will be a massive of a condemnation of Honda’s ability to be an effective p.u provider and partner to the F1… Read more »

Daniel Sebergsen

For once the norwegian f1 commentator made a good analysis of the whole thing. Red Bull could use toro rosso as mule car to develop the Honda engine. By the time it comes on song Red bull will have a very competitive engine. If this goes down I would think McLaren value Alonso over a long time partnership.

As you point out. What will McLaren get out of that? A bit more consistent car/engine than they have now. Is that enough for mr. no more radio?

jospep4

I really disagree with your point of view, McLaren have given Honda three years to provide them with a decent PU, Honda has failed miserably as we all know so the prospect of Honda turning it around is a huge gamble for McLaren to take, they tried it, it did not work and apparently it will not work for the short term, we all hope that for the long term it will, but there is no assurance that it will, especially if we consider Honda’s last stint. I don’t understand why most of the comments are disregarding Renault’s ability to… Read more »