As Formula 1 heads toward its second and final pre-season test prior to the season-opener in Australia, they do so with upgrades in mind and a determined hope they can improve on last week’s first test—that is, if you’re anyone but McLaren.
McLaren have had another rocky start to the season—just as they had the last two season tests—and once again, the majority of the focus is on the engine. Honda have not been happy with the results of the first winter season test and perhaps as an answer to that, they have terminated a contract with Gilles Simon who has been an engine consultant for the Japanese car maker’s F1 program.
Simon joined Honda in 2013 having served for Ferrari during the Schumacher era and will not be on a 6-month gardening leave. Honda said:
“It is true that we are ending the contract with him sometime this year, under each other’s agreement,” he said.
“However, as it is a contract issue between him and Honda, we do not disclose further details.
“Honda appreciate very much his great support and contribution to our fourth era Formula 1 project.”
It’s hard to pin the issues the team face all on one man but perhaps the leadership and direction set by Simon has prompted a desire to change. Honda says that the issues it faced in the first test are still under review but in an interview at F1.com, race director Eric Boullier said:
“I think there is a bit more work to be done in Japan to investigate why we had those issues: issues that we absolutely did not expect to have – and for sure neither did Honda.”
“It is fixable, but it was not the plan to have these issues. They are not really serious, as there are no fundamental issues with the design.”
The issues sound as if they are not foundational, which is good, but as Autosport revealed, McLaren are losing patience with Honda and it remains to be seen just how long they will continue the program and perhaps more importantly, who would they find to replace Honda in this incredibly expensive program and just south of the 2020 regulation changes that many believe will alter the entire engine formula?
When Ron Dennis was CEO, he was adamant that Honda not work with any other teams. Even Red Bull Racing, having their own issues with the Renault engine supply, were denied a Honda contract. It makes you wonder if supplying more teams would have prompted a more aggressive program for Honda, more mileage, more vetting, more R&D.
In the end, a Formula 1 team takes time to gel and the technical complexity of these hybrid power units is not easy to get on top of nor afford as Caterham, Lotus and Manor prove. What’s wrong with Honda? Boullier said:
“Because they are still three years behind in time to the others: Mercedes, Renault and Ferrari started in 2010 – and all these three started with an existing organization, as all three were already doing F1 engines. In 2013 Honda decided to come back to Formula One and started from scratch: empty buildings! They had to buy everything – and find the right people. So to be fair you have manufacturers who had seven years and are still struggling – and Honda started four years after the others. These units are so complicated that you have to be really process driven and go step by step. Unfortunately there is no short cut.”
Fair enough but by the time they do get it figured out, the regulations will likely change to a new engine formula and that’s something 2-time championship-winning driver Fernando Alonso should have been thinking about.