You’d be hard-pressed to find a Formula 1 fan that wasn’t at least somewhat concerned about McLaren’s prospects in 2017 regardless if they are a fan of the team or not. Testing didn’t go as well as the team would have hoped and it seems the all-new for 2017 power unit from Honda has had its share of issues already.
Honda haven’t made the kind of progress many had hoped for since entering the series as a supplier and sponsor of McLaren’s and while I have praised former McLaren CEO Ron Dennis for his luring Honda back to F1 as a massive revenue stream for McLaren, I am wondering now if that was the best idea?
There have been many figures thrown around about how much Honda pay McLaren as a main sponsor of the team and supplier/partner. Let’s just agree that it is a large number and leave the speculation where it belongs. What struck me initially about Honda and McLaren’s relationship started back in the second season of their return to the sport.
I recall then that Ron Dennis explained how the cultures were different and created some communication issues and challenges. It became a talking point throughout the season and the random mention of some ethereal culture assimilation challenges was occasionally given as a reason for the team’s poor performance evolution.
Now, with Ron vacated as CEO, the team are still claiming that Honda is having a complete inability to get on top of what the F1 culture is and how best to approach the series.
“They only need one thing, which is to understand and integrate the F1 racing culture,” Race director Eric Boullier told Autosport.
“What I mean by that is: the way we behave in racing and Formula 1 is all driven by a calendar, by some fixed targets, fixed dates, lap time gains; we always try to go to the best solution as fast as possible.
“Where a car manufacturer is running a project, you can have a few weeks delay and it’s not going to change the product, it’s not going to change the business model.
“In racing, if you don’t bring your upgrade for race one, in race one you will be nowhere.
“That is this racing mentality. It’s as far as going to suppliers and making sure that if they do something in one month, the next time they do it in three weeks, and from three weeks to two weeks.
“We value more the time gained than the money spent. This is a different approach from the rest of the world.”
This comment, after all this time in F1, made me wonder if there was too much deference given to Honda due to its paying position versus a true customer/supplier relationship. Would Honda be afforded this additional time and meandering path to prosperity and performance if they were simply a supplier of engines that McLaren were paying top dollar for? As a customer, pressure, timelines and demands can be given to a supplier to meet and these expectations have a different posture when they are something you’re paying for as a customer.
As it is, it seems this partnership is moving at the speed of a Japanese corporate boardroom and in Boullier’s defense, he’s right, that won’t win titles. Honda needs to be more integrated in the F1 process, timeline and trajectory in order to compete at the tip of the spear. Being close and integrated with McLaren is what Boullier suggests.
“This is why Mercedes is based in England, and I guess they benefit from the supply chain, from people with experience of F1,” Boullier added.
“Our suppliers maybe cost twice as much [as Honda’s] but are three, four, five times faster.
“In some ways you can realise the corporate influence is not helping to be efficient.
“The more you behave like a corporate company, the more process inherited from a corporate company, the slower you are, the less agile you are, which doesn’t fit the racing culture.”
The point here is that McLaren are being more vocal, publicly, about what they are struggling with in regards to Honda and how they feel engine-supplier needs to assimilate. This lack of assimilation has been going on for too long, to be honest, and it is costing both entities in the long run.
Honda, surely, isn’t assuming they can operate at their own pace and logic while the storm of F1 rages around them? McLaren, surely, can’t assume that Honda’s pay-to-play position as their supplier is going to promote the immediacy they feel they need to be competitive in F1 as they understand the culture the series thrives on?
A tough position but the first race hasn’t even started yet and the team are already drop-kicking Honda in the press. Not a good situation at all when you are mere hours away from the season-opening race.
Hat Tip: Autosport