McLaren accuse Honda of lacking F1 cultural assimilation…again

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

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Paul KieferJr

Somehow, this “assimilation” thing is starting to sound like a buzzword for “get your butts going”. Not exactly doing anyone any favors there.


This is all a bit puzzling, since Honda is in top-level motorsport with motorcycles for ages and quite successful. They should know all this. And can McLaren really afford to loose them? They would then have to pay for engines, while sponsors are running away all the time.

Fred Talmadge

Honda had issues in Indy Car which finally seemed solved for this year. Their NSX racecar is a success right out of the box. I don’t really know what’s going on.


McLaren giving Honda some stick is fine but all the reports from testing suggest that the car itself isn’t much good in the corners either. In reality McLaren are living off past memories and reputation as they have achieved nothing of note in nearly a decade… they perform like a small team despite having huge resources. Just imagine what Force India or Williams could achieve with McLaren finances.


Agree….Additionally, starting the blame game is wasted energy that could be better spent on finding the cause(s) of the engine failures and determining the appropriate corrective measures. I certainly get that McLaren have every right to throw Honda under the bus but at this point, the job of Mr. Boullier is to circle the wagons and bring the team together instead of being a divisive figure that only makes the bleeding worse.

Salvu Borg

Correct and to the point, read my last post addressed to JAKO.


None of these issue proved unsurmountable in 88-92 under Osamu Goto. I think it’s also a question of management and priorities and the personality of the individuals in this exercise. One thing that keeps popping up is how blase Yusuke Hasegawa seems about it all. The way he speaks, acts. At the launch it just struck me because I was waiting to see who would do it… When the champagne was handed out at the end he was the first to drink it. It’s something small, but even that gesture (especially to a Japanese) is not a sign of knowing… Read more »

Zachary Noepe

He is pretty chill. Maybe that’s a strength under pressure but it’s hard to see it.


Replace “McLaren” with “Red Bull” and “Honda” with “Renault” and this story sounds awfully familiar.

But of course, Honda was dreadfully unsuccessful on their own, for probably exactly the same reasons.

Salvu Borg

at the winter test/start of the 2014 season (new power unit formula) Renault was in a much worse state than Honda was/is in.


Boulier’s comments do sound like the Horner and Tost’s comments towards Renault in 2015. And given how few changes Renault made their p.u for the RBR to suddenly become competitive in 2016 (basically change the cam covers for TAG ones), I suspect RBR’s car was a big contribution to their problems. I suspect the same is true of McLaren. Lecturing Honda about rapid prototyping for their p.u’s? Honda do it consistently and brilliantly in MotoGP, so they have people who know how to do this stuff. If it’s not working with McLaren, I doubt very much that it is JUST… Read more »

Salvu Borg

no it is not JUST a Honda problem, at least last year for sure it wasn’t. like it was the same situation with Renault engine and the RBR chassis in 2014.

Salvu Borg

JAKO, Please read the following (latest), (Yusuke Hasegawa) “trouble was caused by vibration of the CAR, it was not only a problem with the ENGINE. the trouble caused cracks in a carbon pipe on the side of the CAR- with the harness getting detached, however I don’t know if these problems will not occur again if the engine vibrations stop. it is also certain that the cars rode over the kerbs in Barcelona and this caused some vibration, if we have such a weakness in the side of the car, than it is worrying”. I wonder what Eric Boullier will… Read more »


I think for the last couple of years McLaren have been in total denial about the lack of performance from the car and not just the engine, I mean at one point I recall Ron & Eric claiming they had the third best car which was laughable at the time. You know the car is bad when two quality drivers like Button and Alonso look like they are mud wrestling a hippo while going through the corners. With Honda & McLaren now publicly slating the other I get the feeling a divorce is on the cards soon. In addition to… Read more »


Honda launch a missile back at McLaren!
I guess we’ll never know the truth of these things, but it looks like Honda aren’t going to lie down and let McLaren take free kicks at them.
Just watching FP2 on Sky, and Martin Brundle is saying the McLaren looks the least stable car in turn 3.
The cars do look good, even the Mclaren’s

Salvu Borg

As I said last time, if Ron Dennis was still around this Boulier ass hole wouldn’t have let such farts out of his mouth, it looks that now that Dennis is gone he is reverting back to his Lotus/Renault brain farts time. I personally believe that Honda have both the financial resources as well as the talent and know-how to overcome/solve their problems without the need of outside help including the need to be based in the UK.


It also occurs to me that if this is a problem now, it will likely be a problem later. Even if Honda eventually get’s the engine up to par, how will they will always lag behind when changes in the status quo happen. Not a place McLaren wants to be, I would think.


Just happy Honda aren’t paired with Red Bull. Horner, Marco and company would have to be placed in a pharmaceutically induced coma until Honda come good.

Zachary Noepe

I feel like it’s such a canard to continue to focus on Honda as THE problem, I’m not saying that motor isn’t garbage but McLaren is pathetic, has been for years, can’t do anything. Listening to the analysis from Barcelona, this car is junk and the team is listless and ineffective. The Autosport preview had plenty of it, NC’s own interview with Steve Matchett had plenty more.

Once you realize this, it’s a little easier to resolve the mystery everyone’s puzzling over – why are Honda so great in every other form of Motorsport?

Michael Redfern

With Ronny Ron now gone from McLaren, is there a chance Zak Brown would now give the go ahead for Honda to supply other teams and expediate development. Honda being exclusive to McLaren was just Ron’s caveat wasn’t it?

Kevin Kelly

It doesn’t take a new CEO to see that Honda’s engine is even worse this year than the last two years (if that is possible). Sticking with Honda guarantees another year of failure, and guarantees losing Alonso next year.

Fred Talmadge

Maybe they keep Honda around as a scapegoat. Always good to have someone to blame to hide your own problems.


Keeping in mind how rude such public criticism will be perceived by a japanese company, this looks like Mclaren have already decided to switch the supplier for next year. And I don’t really subscribe to this engine-formula theory. The Mercedes customers are nowhere relative to the top, the same goes for the Ferrari customers and Red Bull easily beats Renault – all of that only because of the part between the engine and the tyres.