When Honda teamed with McLaren in Formula 1 back in 2015, it seemed like a great opportunity to re-enter F1 as a supplier and do so with a historic and title-winning team. McLaren had just parted ways with Mercedes and needed a new, dedicated engine supplier to develop and grow with. I was very optimistic about the prospects as I am sure then CEO Ron Dennis was.
That hasn’t come to fruition and now it seems that new McLaren chief, Zak Brown, is sounding the alarm telling Reuters:
“The executive committee have now given us our marching orders,” said Brown. “We’re not going to go into another year like this, in hope.”
“I don’t want to get into what our options are. Our preference is to win the world championship with Honda. But at some point you need to make a decision as to whether that’s achievable. And we have serious concerns.
“Missing upgrades, and upgrades not delivering to the level we were told they were going to, you can only take that so long. And we’re near our limit.”
Honda delayed their projected Canadian GP upgrades and it now seems that McLaren’s patience is running out. At first blush you might consider it an interesting comment to make publicly but I would suggest that it wouldn’t be made unless McLaren have a backup plan. It is also designed to put pressure, publicly, on Honda an protect McLaren’s brand by suggesting that Honda’s F1 program is the single cause of their performance deficit.
I’ve no line of sight to the situation but I do find it interesting that Brown chose Reuters to reveal this very damning statement and not one of his Motorsport.com networks including Autosport. Perhaps scooping your own story isn’t the best way to build independent news that is intended to place pressure on your partner and Honda may have felt it was a tawdry move to use your own media channels to put them in a spot of bother.
It’s also interesting timing for the comment but I am sure that saying this before the Indy 500 attempt by Fernando Alonso wasn’t the right time or perhaps the failure at Indy was just another straw on the camel’s back.
Brown didn’t elaborate on what the team’s options were but it does teeter close to the Red Bull situation a couple years ago when the Austrian team had reached its limit with an inferior Renault engine. The problem is, these new hybrid engines are so complex and outlandishly expensive that teams can’t easily switch to another supplier.
Effectively they have three option…Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault. I don’t see Ferrari as an option and Renault might be a step forward but I’m not sure Renault is up for it and this leaves Mercedes. McLaren and Mercedes had long and fruitful partnership for many years and while the relationship was soured under Ron Dennis management, perhaps Brown has gone to Stuttgart with hat-in-hand to re-kindle the relationship.
It’s really the only option I can think of at the moment as I have not read any reports of other manufacturers willing to dive into the sport mid-formula and with the engine likely to change in 2020, I’m not sure any manufacturer would want to spend the R&D developing and engine for two seasons. Again, this is an issue with making an engine so bespoke.
I said it in 2014, these engines are a bane of F1 because the performance advantages that Mercedes had was baked in to the next five years and it would be outrageously expensive to catch them. It also shuts the window on all potential independent engine suppliers who lack a car manufacturer budget.
Red Bull was denied a Mercedes or Ferrari engine supply presumably born from a fear that they had the chassis development to beat the engine manufacturers works teams. One wonders if Mercedes will feel the same about McLaren?
“It will all come together,” said Brown, who said there were some big decisions to make in the next 90 days with the team needing to plan for the new car and give Alonso a reason to stay.
“There’s lots of things that go into the decision and we’re entering that window now of ‘which way do you go when you come to the fork in the road’.
Hat Tip: Reuters