McLaren at ‘fork in the road’ with Honda

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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. 

Options

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

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15 Comments on "McLaren at ‘fork in the road’ with Honda"

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J. Doug Patterson
Editor
One wonders if McLaren has painted themselves into a corner here. You’re right to bring up the concern about McLaren having the chassis development resources and expertise to potentially eclipse a works team, and this generates reluctance on the part of all three of the other current engine manufacturers in Formula 1. The only other option would be for a new, or returning, manufacturer to enter the scene, but the only two manufacturers that would make any kind of sense, BMW or Toyota, I’m sure have no interest in throwing good money after bad. I think this shackles McLaren to… Read more »
jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl
Your alternative question is the crucial one Xorpheous. “Why is the Honda F1 effort an ongoing failure?”, and what can they do about it? Are Honda talking about these things? I haven’t seen much from them recently telling their side of the story. The deal has been bad for McLaren, and has already ruined a few careers, but for Honda it must be a catastrophe. They have invested how many hundreds of millions of dollars and resources? And are failing consistently and very publicly. With, or without, McLaren they’ll be looking for a way to turn this story around, or… Read more »
Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

The incredible thing is how with such an ongoing failure, with virtually no running in FP1 and very few laps in FP2 does Alonso manages P7 just +1.310 seconds off top time and that with a hug difference top speed at speed trap?

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

Shows what can be achieved with 3rd best chassis on the grid, and one of the top 5 drivers. Especially when that driver is 100% determined to show what he can do at every occasion.
It just needs Honda to deliver on its contribution, and McHonda could be competing for podiums with the full package.

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

Agree. wish I have the time to talk some more with you, have some hard facts and numbers from FP1 and FP2 to talk over, but that will have to wait another time.

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg
OK JAKO, Am back so while we wait for FP3, here it goes. Re Alonso/Honda/mclaren (mchonda), I am 100 % Convinced that Honda are in fact having to limit the maximum output of their PU in a big way to salvage some sort of reliability, if Honda will overcome most of their reliability problem, but do not improve their PU output, they will still for sure be giving both RB cars a run for their money with just one car with Alonso at the wheel. that is because although Vendoorne said he found the speed, he have yet to show… Read more »
jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl
Hi Salvu, I saw bits of FP2 and Quali, so haven’t got a very comprehensive picture of how the weekend is going across the whole Grid. It certainly does seem that Honda are down on power, hopefully that is by choice, not because that’s all they can achieve. I’m assuming that there must be some radical features in that p.u, otherwise I’d imagine Honda would have a reliable but slow p.u. Good spotting on the change in top speed of the Mercedes. I guess a fair few teams added extra downforce after FP2, that was a real spin-festival. Having the… Read more »
DrumPhil
Guest
DrumPhil

Didn’t Audi attend an F1 motors meeting a few weeks ago? At the time I thought it was a sign that Audi might consider bringing a full works team to F1, but maybe they are quietly considering becoming an engine supplier. Just a thought.

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

Many, mostly all engine independent manufacturers and car manufacturers attended that F1 motors meeting.

MIE
Editor

Facts from Autosport:
“The only non-current party to be represented was the VW Group (given the close ties between Alfa Romeo and Ferrari).”
http://www.autosport.com/premium/feature/7561/is-f1-in-audi-postle-mans-plans

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

I do not know what the Autosports reported, But FACTS are the VW group/brand was represented by Stefano Domenicali of Lamborghini back at that meeting.

MIE
Editor

So as Autosport reported, the VW group was represented.
Not as you stated, “all engine independent manufacturers and car manufacturers”

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

Yes all engine (F10 present and (independent) manufacturers, all car manufacturers, and all or most formula one suppliers and those involved plus the VW group being represented.

MIE
Editor

So who was representing Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Cosworth, Ilmor, Judd ?
Or were the only manufacturers present those currently in F1 & the VW group?

Salvu Borg
Guest
Salvu Borg

You can ask autosports, or better still the FIA itself. both me and you have different sources. and do you mind if I add “Mecachrome”, which my source lists?