Why Daniel Ricciardo’s podium represents more than 15 points for Renault

Vindication. That was the first word that came to mind when Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line and secured a podium finish for Renault at last weekend’s Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Ricciardo celebrates his podium with his team – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

The Australian, who will also have a prodigious sense of justification following his move to the team last year, secured his first podium since 2018. It was the French team’s first top-three result under the Renault name since Nick Heidfeld at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, when the German deputised for the injured Robert Kubica. But Renault’s return in 2016, taking over from the struggling Lotus brand, was supposed to be the start of a brand new era; the beginning of a glorious success story; the joyful culmination of a story of struggle.

But just eight points between 2016 drivers Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer was the crash down to earth that the Parisian name was not expecting – along with the rest of the F1 paddock. The manufacturer that had powered 168 wins in Formula One history has experienced a bruising reality check.

But they have come close – Nico Hulkenberg was denied in Singapore 2017 when he lost air pressure in his engine, and in 2019 when he crashed out of his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim. This was a result that was going to come – Renault were always going to persist – but nobody quite thought it would be four years after their return that they would eventually achieve a top three finish.

They had to watch Carlos Sainz, their former driver, take a podium for McLaren in Brazil – the Woking team beating Renault to this achievement, and let’s not forget: McLaren are powered by Renault engines.

Even earlier this year, Lando Norris and Sainz both earned podium finishes for the papaya team, inspired by the unstoppable spirit of their founder Bruce McLaren – the New Zealander who, in his time, once became the youngest ever race winner in F1.

Former Renault driver Carlos Sainz has now managed two podiums since leaving the Renault – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

This podium will also be of great personal pride to team principle Cyril Abiteboul. The Frenchman has had a storied history with the manufacturer of his nationality. He led the Caterham team in 2013 and 2014 before it went bust, and had already acted as Deputy Director of Renault Sport F1 until 2012. At this point, Renault supplied Caterham, Lotus and, of course, the revered Red Bull team. The engine of immense significance to Abiteboul, a former engineer himself, was in the middle of powering the Milton-Keynes-based outfit to four consecutive world championships with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber between 2010 and 2013.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third world championship in a Renault-powered Red Bull – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Having seen the success, both with his team and as an individual having had the opportunity to lead Caterham, he witnessed the sudden, and very stark downfall.

Caterham ran out of finances at the back end of 2014, and were forced to fold. Abiteboul’s very own team had been taken from him almost as quickly as it had been presented. He returned to Renault, and continued his occupation as Director of Renault sport. Bad, however, went to worse.

In 2014, the turn of the hybrid era had brought Red Bull’s world crashing down, and they were no longer the dominant force they were, In spite of Ricciardo’s impressive three wins that season, Abiteboul had returned to a largely unsuccessful engine supplier, and some extremely unhappy customers.

Red Bull flattered to deceive in 2014 – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Lotus, who had also hit the mud in 2014, jumped ship and asked for Mercedes engines for 2015, with the German manufacturer and now world champions obliging. Red Bull’s fortunes worsened that season, and tensions rose massively between Abiteboul and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Red Bull were unable to find a different supplier for 2016, and agreed to continue paying Renault for Power Units. There was, however, a catch. The Renault name was not to make an appearance on the car henceforth, with the former champions opting instead to sport the Tag Heur brand.

A few wins but plenty of reliability failures later throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018 spelled the end for Renault’s journey with Red Bull. In 2018, Christian Horner made the almost absurd decision to switch to Honda power for 2019, after comments throughout the year which had enraged Abiteboul.

But there was a counter to Horner’s decision. Renault had acquired the services of a driver who had grown tired of playing second fiddle to his team mate – that driver’s name was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull.

Ricciardo made the brave switch from Red Bull to Renault for the 2019 season – Courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool

Renault’s situation, having been improving to the extent of a fourth placed championship finish in 2018, once again fell the following season. While they had to watch Red Bull win races with Honda engines, Renault fell behind McLaren and were emphatically knocked back into the midfield.

Ricciardo and new team mate Esteban Ocon have enjoyed a positive start to the 2020 season – Courtesy of Renault F1 Media

This year though, things are on the up. New-boy Esteban Ocon has been showing signs of improvement following his year out, and the Renault PU is proving to be battling with Honda for the second-quickest motor on the grid. They are quicker than Ferrari, and though they may be fifth in the championship, they are level on pace with McLaren and Racing Point and very much eyeing third in the championship this time around.

The signs are pointing to better times ahead for Renault, and as well as a tattoo for Abiteboul, this podium represents the start of an upwards journey and, finally, the road to success for the soon-to-be Alpine F1 Team.

Honda to leave F1 at the end of 2021

Honda has announced that it will be withdrawing from Formula 1 as a power unit supplier at the end of the 2021 season.

The Japanese manufacturer stated its desire to realise “carbon neutrality by 2050” as its reason for withdrawing.

“Honda needs to funnel its corporate resources in research and development into the areas of future power unit and energy technologies,” a statement read, “including fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies, which will be the core of carbon-free technologies.”

Honda only returned to F1 back in 2015 as a supplier for McLaren. This relationship – which lasted until 2017 – was fraught with unreliability and performance issues.

They have, however, since made improvements. They joined forces with Alpha Tauri (then named Toro Rosso) in 2018 and Red Bull in 2019 and have powered them to a combined five race victories, making them the only power unit supplier to win races with more than one team since the start of the hybrid era in 2014.

Their withdrawal, though, now leaves both Red Bull and Alpha Tauri in something of a limbo and with not much time to find a new supplier.

If they are unable to find an alternative, then Renault are bound by the regulations to supply them. This is because Renault currently supply the least number of teams, with Mercedes and Ferrari already at the maximum permissible number of three.

However, Red Bull’s split from Renault in 2018 was acrimonious to say the least and it would no doubt be with great reluctance that both parties rekindle that relationship.

Honda’s withdrawal might also have implications for Japanese F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda is a Honda-backed driver and there were rumours that he was set to be promoted to Alpha Tauri in the near future. However, with Honda now out of the picture that promotion is uncertain.

Red Bull have said that they “acknowledge” Honda’s decision, and have thanked the manufacturer for “its exceptional efforts as power unit supplier”.

Honda, From Nadir to Zenith

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JUNE 30: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 celebrates during the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2019 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

‘Success represents the 1% of your work which results from the 99% of failure’ Soichiro Honda.

In 2015, Honda returned to Formula 1 and powered McLaren’s cars. That season, the Japanese manufacturer supplied Alonso’s and Button’s car with the Honda RA615H 1.6L engine. It was a tough season for McLaren and a difficult return in F1 for Honda, the engine was unreliable both drivers retired 12 times combined in the 2015 season. Kevin Magnussen, who replaced Alonso in the Australian Grand Prix, didn’t even start the race because his engine failed while he was driving to the grid.

In general, it was a disastrous season that everyone in McLaren and especially Honda would like to forget.

The following year, McLaren-Honda finished 6th in the constructors’ standings. Progress was made, considering the 9th position in 2015.

“Half happy and of course we are not satisfied at our current position,” said Hasegawa.

In 2017, Honda redesigned their engine and named it RA617H. Changes applied in 2017 rules, FIA dropped the regulation for limited engine development during one season, that gave the chance to the Japanese team to design a reliable motor. Honda’s official, Yusuke Hasegawa described the new design as “very high risk”.

“The concept is completely different. It’s very high risk, we don’t know a lot of things about that new concept. We know it will give us a performance advantage but the biggest risk is whether we can realise that potential this year.” Said Yusuke

Long story short, it was another disastrous season for McLaren-Honda. The engine was unreliable, Fernando Alonso finished 15th and Stoffel Vandoorne 16th. Jenson Button, who replaced Alonso in Monaco, retired due to suspension damage.

During the season, McLaren announced the end of the partnership with Honda, after three years.

Honda is a great company which, like McLaren, is in Formula 1 to win,” said Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, McLaren Group Executive Chairman and Executive Committee principal.

“It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other’s future,” commented Takahiro Hachigo, President and Director of Honda Motor.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA – JUNE 30: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2019 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Last season, Honda partnered with Toro Rosso and scored 33 points, more than the years with McLaren combined.

Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley retired three times due to engine issues, whilst in 2017 McLaren’s drivers forced to retire nine times for Honda related problems.

The positive results and the signs of improvement convinced Red Bull to offer a two-year contract to Honda for 2019 and 2020.

In Melbourne, Max Verstappen secured the first podium for Red Bull Racing-Honda. That was the first podium for the Japanese manufacturer after their return to Formula 1 in 2015.

That was the beginning of a new era for Honda, eight races later, Verstappen wins the Austrian Grand Prix, the first win for Honda in the hybrid PU Era and the first since 2006.

Honda boss, Toyoharu Tanabe, had no idea what to do for Austrian GP podium.

“I was surprised when I was told to go [to the podium], I had no idea what I should do and that’s why I got to the podium later than other people. Normally you need to stay before the National Anthem – I thought I should be there for that but I was a bit late. But I joined after that. This was my first time – I was worried about what to do and no one told me!”

Max Verstappen had a bad start, dropped from second to seventh, but managed to recover and after some tremendous laps, passed both Bottas and Leclerc and reached his first victory in 2019.

The Japanese never give up, even when they face difficulties, they find the courage to fight back and overcome all the obstacles to reach their goal.

“We were strong, but for the next race, I cannot guarantee we’ll be a strong as in Austria” said Toyoharu Tanabe

As Formula 1 fan, I truly hope that Honda will remain competitive and will deliver reliable engines to Red Bull racing and Toro Rosso. The sport, needs strong teams to keep the competition high and increase the action during the races.

The Red Bull-Honda collaboration could become the new F1 powerhouse

Max Verstappen showcased that a Honda-powered Red Bull is capable of winning, even in the 9th race of their collaboration.

Honda is a colossal company, an immensely powerful player in the automotive industry, immune to the ‘group trend’ that other manufacturers have gone into. Since its return in F1, though, back in 2015, it has been hit year with multiple reliability problems, publicly blamed for the misfortunes of the McLaren collaboration, to the point that nobody thought it could be able to stand back on its feet and rise to the challenge in this hybrid era.

The move to Toro Rosso in 2018 was a crucial one for Honda and its F1 plans, because it gave them the opportunity to make a fresh start, with a team that has minimal aspirations, fighting for the best possible result in the midfield battles. McLaren is a team that is used to be a front-runner, Fernando Alonso is a driver who wants to be the protagonist, not a bystander, and that played a huge role in the McLaren-Honda relationship through that 3-year spell. Toro Rosso, on the other hand, have been just the sister team of Red Bull, the first step for young Red Bull Academy drivers to make their way into F1.

Now, Honda had its chance to make everything the way it wanted it to be. No pressure, no strings attached.

Effort and grind run in the Japanese people’s blood. Japan is known for its commitment to work hard, trying and succeeding. And Honda does represent that mindset in the best of ways.

When the Red Bull-Honda collaboration was announced during last year’s French Grand Prix, it became apparent almost immediately that this is not a project that could give a championship in its first year – not even in its second.

Even though RB had all the essential data regarding the Japanese power unit from Toro Rosso, it was crystal clear that this is a long-term relationship, planned out thoroughly, with patience and determination to succeed.

“When they came back into the sport they had a very tough time in the years that they were with McLaren,” said Christian Horner.

“They then moved to Toro Rosso last year and they had some time to get their house in order and start to progress.

“All we have seen is a real dedication and determination, and that is why having won that race, Tanabe-san went to collect the trophy for the constructor.

“After all the effort that they have put in, it is great to see Japan represented up there and Honda picking up the constructors’ trophy.”

This has always been the right path for Honda in this era of F1, with the complexity of the engines playing a big part in a team’s success. McLaren didn’t realise that when it mattered, and the rest is history. Red Bull did understand that time would be needed for Honda to make the difference and bring back the championship to Milton Keynes.

The Austrians have built a well-run organisation, where people understand their role in the company, and fully commit to the goal, whichever that is. It is no coincidence that, even during the adversity with Renault over the last 5 years, they were able to win races and fight for podiums consistently.

This is the case in 2019, too. Honda has started a new cooperation with a team that can really help them propel their growth and get the coveted land as soon as possible.

Winning in Austria, in their home race, with hundreds of thousands of Verstappen fans cheering for him, is really the stuff of dreams. It is certain that Red Bull targeted that race, and took all the necessary measures to be able to fight for the victory in Red Bull Ring – the first with Honda.

Verstappen himself stressed the importance of the timing of this win:

“I’m just very happy that it happened today and it just gives us a lot of confidence as well to the boys and maybe a few doubts are going away because of it.”

The Dutch driver is the noncontroversial leader of this outfit, and that’s very positive for them. Last time there was an alpha-dog in that team was the Sebastian Vettel era and they won 4 consecutive world titles.

They have a clear path if Max decides to continue believing in this team and this project, because he is a driver that can be the star of this sport for the next 15 years. He is a talented young driver, a proven winner, and having him as their leader, it just makes everything easier for them and their road to a title.

It is really fortunate for Red Bull (and Honda, subsequently) that Verstappen does support this collaboration, despite his comments about the power of the engine, or his surprise that he was able to win in Austria. He just puts pressure on them, but not in a negative way.

Having said that, it’s necessary to remember that this project is not short-term. It’s a five year planned out cooperation, and no one stops either side to extend that contract and 2021 is going to be their breakthrough year.

Even if the new regulations don’t provide many changes to the technical side of the sport, Red Bull and Honda understand that this is the best timing for their push to a championship-winning campaign. They will try their hardest to keep Verstappen, and if they do, they will have all the ingredients to get to that trophy.

Red Bull has that reputation of a team that can exploit every change in the regulations every time they change drastically (namely, 2009), and Honda will by then have an even better PU to provide to them, better suited to their needs.

F1 is all about long term commitments, plans that run through the next 4 or 5 seasons – it’s the only way a team can reach the top.

Honda understands that, Red Bull does, too. No one can guarantee that they will get their chip fast or easy, but they will be contending.

McLaren abandon IndyCar 2019 plans but leave door open for Indy 500

McLaren team principal Zak Brown has admitted that the team have been forced to put their plans for a full-time IndyCar entry on hold after engine negotiations stalled. The failure of the deal is a partial legacy from the explosive McLaren-Honda relationship in F1, with Honda reluctant to supply the team that criticised them so heavily during those turbulent years.

Admittedly, it was all getting a bit late in the day for a new entry anyway, given that there are only a few months until the new season gets underway in March next year. If McLaren were serious about being in IndyCar full-time, a deal would have been sorted out months ago. They have, instead, made the decision to focus on their F1 project, which certainly needs some sorting out!

Earlier in the year, it was said that the McLaren shareholders were less than keen on the team entering IndyCar for 2019, again based on the fact that they need to get their F1 performances back to a respectable level before they allow themselves to get distracted by IndyCar.

Even with all of McLaren’s internal problems, the biggest issue for them was always going to be engine supply. IndyCar has just two engine suppliers: Honda and Chevrolet. The dawn of the universal aero kits has brought the two closer together than ever before, but Honda have rather stolen a march on their American counterparts, taking the drivers championship and nearly locking out the top ten with only Penske getting a nose in for Chevrolet.

This means that, in an ideal world, McLaren would want to team up with Honda, especially given that they are the suppliers of Andretti, who McLaren were looking to do some sort of partnership with. However, all the aforementioned F1 shenanigans has made that nigh on impossible. A Chevrolet deal hasn’t proven any easier, because the only team that realistically has enough resources to accommodate McLaren is Penske, and they’ve said that they’re not interested in such a partnership.

That has left McLaren in a tight spot and, despite some rumblings about a potential Harding link-up or even buyout, they’ve been forced to put their IndyCar aspirations on the shelf, at least for now.

Zak Brown has, however, not ruled out the potential for an Indy 500-only entry for Fernando Alonso, presumably in association with Andretti again. This would be no mean feat for the Spaniard though. It will not be as easy for him as it was in 2017 because of the universal aero kits which have closed the field up and made it much more difficult to jump in and be fast straight away.

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Sunday 10 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST0758

To win the mystical ‘Triple Crown’ Alonso would realistically have to look at a full season of IndyCar, and even that holds no guarantees of Indy 500 success, something that any IndyCar driver would agree with.

All of this really begs the question of just what Alonso will do in 2019. He’s yet to make any announcement or even drop a cryptic clue on Twitter about it, leaving everyone guessing. If he is to do IndyCar it won’t be with McLaren, but surely McLaren wouldn’t be talking about doing an Indy 500 entry if they knew Alonso was going to another team. Maybe he isn’t going to do a full IndyCar season after all?

If it’s not IndyCar, then the sky’s the limit for Alonso. It really is anyone’s guess as to what he’ll do next season, but it’ll probably be more than one series, given that he’d race every weekend if he could!

Anyway, while 2019 may be off the table for McLaren, they have reiterated the fact that they do want to do IndyCar at some point in the future. The time just isn’t right for them yet, but hopefully it will be soon.

Opinion: Why Fernando Alonso’s charm is wearing thin

Fernando Alonso has never been the humblest of drivers, nor the most understated. He’s also infamous for his fairly horrendous career choices that have left him frustrated in underperforming cars, which is exactly where he finds himself now. His angered, but often humorous, radio messages during his time at McLaren have turned the Spaniard into the ‘meme-king’ of F1, but his off-the-cuff comments are, to some at least, starting to become repetitive and tiresome.

If you had a pound for every time Alonso’s called himself the “best in the world” or a performance the “best of his life” you would be very, very rich. These comments come seemingly every race weekend with the two-time champion desperate to remind everyone just how good he is… even when he’s often knocked out in Q1.

This weekend at Japan he called his qualifying lap “one of the best laps of my life,” saying he didn’t leave anything out on the challenging Suzuka track. That statement is more than credible when taken out of context, but when you add in the fact that he qualified eighteenth and that it’s definitely not the first time he has said that this season… well, this is where I’m coming from.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. .
Sunday 30 July 2017.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _R3I4275

You get the sense that part of Alonso’s reasoning for saying these kinds of things is to tell the world “look how good I am. I’m not bad, the car is”. The Spaniard is well-known for his harsh criticism of underperforming machinery, as Honda found out during their three-year partnership with McLaren. However, these actions, most memorably of which was him shouting “GP2 engine!” over the radio, have already come back to bite him with Honda reportedly denying him an IndyCar drive with a Honda-powered team, not wanting to restart their ever-so-fractious relationship.

If you turn back the clocks to Alonso’s Ferrari years, he often came across as a bit grumpy and generally anything but humorous. He seems to have mellowed somewhat in his challenging years at McLaren, with stunts like the deckchair and rather questionable camera-work in consecutive years at Brazil increasing his popularity.

This was furthered by his trip to the Indy 500 last year where he proved he could fight with the best IndyCar has to offer, though it’s tough to say what would’ve happened had his Honda engine hung on until the end of the 200 laps.

Race driver Fernando Alonso of Spain pulls out of the pit area as he practiced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Wednesday, May 3, Alonso plans to miss the Monaco Grand Prix this year to drive in the Indianapolis 500. 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) ORG XMIT: OTKMC103

His antics have gained him countless fans, loving his outbreaks of personality in amongst the supposedly cold, media-trained youth, but you can’t really say it’s helped him in the matter of trying to get a decent drive. Red Bull said they didn’t want him for his trouble-making tendencies and teams like Mercedes have shied away from him for his potential volatile temperament, not wanting to upset intra-team harmony.

This has left Alonso in the massively underperforming McLaren-Renault that, despite a relatively strong start to the season, has promised much and delivered little. Undoubtedly, Alonso has grown frustrated with this situation and is therefore branching out to find ever more ways to remind everyone of his talent, be it WEC, IndyCar or kart races around his own track. You can’t blame the man for trying!

The problem is, the world hasn’t forgotten how good Alonso is, and it certainly doesn’t need constant reminders by the man himself to know that. Many drivers and teams would say that they like to do their talking on the track but with a lacklustre package, that’s not really an option for Alonso, hence the situation he has found himself in.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary.
Saturday 28 July 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, puts on his helmet in the garage.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST0511

In truth, words can only get you so far, if you are all talk and no trousers, people are going to start taking what you say with more than just a pinch of salt.

His charm is wearing thin on quite a few F1 fans, but it hasn’t worn through and maybe the change of scene next year (wherever that’ll be) will be what Alonso needs, effectively pressing the reset button and, hopefully at least, getting him back to being competitive.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the late great Juan Manuel Fangio that perhaps Alonso should’ve heeded long ago:

“You must always strive to be the best, but you must never believe that you are.”

What went wrong for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren?

Belgian driver Stoffel Vandoorne is to leave McLaren at the end of the 2018 season, with Lando Norris set to replace him. Two miserable years with the Woking-based team have led to Vandoorne being shown the door and, with Fernando Alonso having made the decision to retire at the end of the year, McLaren will walk into 2019 with the all-new driver line-up of Norris and Carlos Sainz.

Where, however, did things go so wrong for Vandoorne?

There was a promising future for Stoffel Vandoorne prior to joining McLaren at the start of the 2017 season. The Belgian won championships in Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0, and GP2, and was hotly tipped to be a success as part of McLaren’s young driver programme.

It was even a promising start to life in F1 – he deputised for the injured Fernando Alonso at the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, after the Spaniard’s huge shunt at the previous race in Melbourne. Vandoorne out-qualified Jenson Button in the other McLaren, and took the team’s first point of the season with a P10.

Monza, Italy.
Saturday 1 September 2018.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, prepares to get into his car.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST7751

Vandoorne was rewarded with a drive for the 2017 season after Jenson Button retired at the end of 2016, but after all the hype and promise surrounding the future of his F1 career, things have not gone well at all for Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was partnered with Alonso for 2017, and since has been out-qualified by him 30 times over the period of the whole of last season and the first fourteen races of 2018. Vandoorne, by stark contrast, has out-qualified Alonso just three times since the start of their partnership, and Vandoorne has been an average of 0.3 seconds slower than Alonso. It’s a big margin.

Vandoorne’s average finishing position in 2018 has been 12th, with Alonso’s being 9th, and he is currently 36 points behind the double world champion in the championship.

Vandoorne has visibly struggled for pace in his McLaren, regardless of the comparison with Alonso, who is after all a double world champion and arguably one of the best ever drivers in the sport. The Belgian hasn’t looked comfortable, and has struggled to be on the pace in many of the Grand Prix since the start of 2017.

This is strange. After all, he did a superb job in 2016 in Bahrain, and it was then when many keen eyes in F1 turned to him as a future world champion. The performance issues could potentially have been down to the radical changes to the cars made between 2016 to 2017, or due to the pressure that he may have felt having to try and compete with Alonso.

Earlier this year, Alonso leapt to Vandoorne’s defence and said that past team-mates have been “a lot further away” than him. He was stated that there was a major issue with downforce on Vandoorne’s car, and even urged the team to analyse data to try and resolve the issue.

A lot of scepticism greeted these comments, and many have suggested that Alonso was merely trying to convince us all that Vandoorne’s lack of performance has been the fault of outside factors.

The claims aren’t without substance though. Honda – who were ridiculed for three hapless years supplying McLaren, with reliability failures littered throughout the tenure – have worked very well for Toro Rosso this year, and McLaren have shown little improvement with the Renault engines they expected would take them much further up the field, suggesting a serious problem with the McLaren chassis.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, arrives on the grid.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _2ST5204

This will be of little consolation to Vandoorne, because the circumstances of being in a poor car up against Alonso have still meant that his F1 future dangles on a string.

The car has, however, been very unreliable and slow. The Renault engines have not treated customer teams McLaren or Red Bull well at all this season, and Alonso said after the Italian Grand Prix that McLaren have “taken a step backwards” in terms of reliability this year. That being said, Vandoorne and Alonso have each had two reliability failures this year, and Alonso has still managed to easily out-perform him this year.

Where next for Vandoorne? There is still hope for him. Williams, Haas and Toro Rosso are all still yet to announce their driver line-ups for next year. There is no secure future for Brendon Hartley or Romain Grosjean after disappointing seasons thus far for them, having been out-performed by Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen at Toro Rosso and Haas respectively.

Gasly is moving up to Red Bull to replace Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo for next year, meaning that there are potentially two seats available at Toro Rosso, with Daniil Kvyat linked with a potential return to F1 with them.

Lance Stroll is set to move to Racing Point Force India following the buyout of the team by his father, and Sergey Sirotkin may yet be dropped by the British team. Sauber are set to keep Marcus Ericsson because of his funding, but Charles Leclerc may well be off to Ferrari if Kimi Raikkonen retires at the end of the year. Rumours are now floating around that Ferrari have agreed a deal with the Monegasque for next year.

Let’s not forget also that, as it is, Esteban Ocon – despite having done such a good job for Racing Point Force India – may well be forced out of the team if and when Stroll is signed to partner Sergio Perez because of the ownership by his father. That then means that he will also be looking for a team for next year.

There is yet hope for Vandoorne, but after such a torrid time with McLaren, his hopes of staying in the pinnacle of motorsport are hanging in the balance.

Red Bull in talks with Honda

Red Bull to Honda, a gamble worth taking?

Formal talks between Red Bull and Honda started earlier this week for the possibility of the Japanese giants to supply the team for the 2019 season onwards. Informal talks where held prior to the hectic Azerbaijan Grand Prix between Red Bull’s Helmut Marko and Honda’s Masahi Yamamoto.

With Red Bull currently using Renault, and their junior team Toro Rosso using Honda they have the unique capability to review both power units. Red Bull have partnered Renault since the 2007 season. Success peaked with the Red Bull team winning four Driver and Constructors Championships in a row.  Since the 2014 season though when the complicated hybrids were introduced, the relationship has become very fractious publicly and it makes those years seem much longer ago than they were. Renault have had enough and multiple sources late last year said that they want to stop supplying the team.

Cyril Abiteboul from Renault Sport have made it clear to Red Bull they need to know the situation prior to the 15th May. This is the date when they have to provide information to the FIA for next season in regards to which teams they will supply engines too. They need to start organising the amount of parts they need, so Red Bull – Honda will have to conclude discussions pretty quickly. If nothing is completed by that set date Renault are forced to continue to supply Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso with the 2017 Mclaren Honda. Image courtesy of Mclaren

Red Bull’s interest has grown due to Honda coming on leaps and bounds since last season. Throughout pre-season testing they performed with far greater reliability and speed than previous seasons.. It seems from the performance of Toro Rosso thus far, McLaren may have made another mistake to add to their collection in recent years. All the power units are getting closer, its just that Mercedes have that so called party mode to exploit in qualifying. The unreliability of the Honda engine the in the McLaren of previous years wasn’t solely down to Honda, which McLaren, have confirmed since.

So far in 2018 season it seemed all the reliability Honda had in pre-season was lost when Gasly had to retire his car due to a MGU-H problem at the Australian GP. They have had no major problems noted since then. 

Renault are not without their own faults this season. Two most major ones happened at Bahrain. Verstappen suffered from an unexpected power surge causing him to lose the rear end of the car. This made him a passenger as his car collided into the wall ending his qualifying. On the Sunday an energy store problem halted Ricciardo’s drive from a strong position. This ironically gave Gasly a boost up the order, to which he finished an outstanding 4th, after an amazing qualifying on Saturday. This was the best ever result for Honda powered car since their return to the sport.

The talks are ongoing. F1 has recently announced new aero rules have been  for 2019, so albeit 4 races into the season, preparations for the next season will start earlier than usual. The Spanish Grand Prix is when major upgrades are shown and we start to see what the 2018 prototype cars are really capable of. With the forthcoming 15th of May engine deadline falling a few days after the Spanish GP, we are likely to see announcement very soon, if not before the GP.

If Red Bull as expected do move to Honda power, only time will tell if this was the right choice. But do they have any other choice as they have burnt many bridges already in F1?

Featured image courtesy of Redbull content pool

McLaren-Honda: Contract is terminated

World Copyright: Steven Tee/McLaren

According to German media, the contract between McLaren and Honda has been terminated. McLaren is set to take the last details of the contract with Renault, while Toro Rosso switched to Honda.  Fernando Alonso will stay at McLaren.

For few days now, media stations reported the divorce between McLaren and Honda. Now the very reliable Michael Schmidt from ‘Auto Motor und Sport’ told in his latest video that the ex-dream partnership broke down on Monday.

While the whole world of F1 is waiting daily for an announcement of news in the engine drama, the teams and manufacturers are planing the last details in their contract, for example the drivers and payments.

According to Schmidt McLaren’s plan to “blackmail” the FIA, in terms of leaving Honda and say that they are need a engine in hope to receiving a Ferrari or Mercedes engine, failed. The ruleholders showed the british team the regulation that say, that every team has to tell the FIA his engine partners before the end of may.

The decision of being with Renault next year will be a indicatory for McLaren. CEO Zak Brown told Sky Sports that this will be probably the most important decision for the woking based team ever. Now it seems to be done.

For more information what this deal mean: We already reported a week ago about the scenario:

McLaren-Honda: A decision is near

Alonso will stay at McLaren – First signs on Twitter?

Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren

Also Schmidt is saying, that after that new engine deal is done, two time worldchampion Fernando Alonso will stay at McLaren.

The Spaniard maybe showed the first signs of the lost trust in Honda and the end of the McLaren-Honda era on Twitter.

While he had a picture on his twitter baner, with his first kart that is coloured in the original iconic red-white of the McLaren-Honda  alongside the real MP4/4 in his museum, there are now his own Fernando Alonso carts on the baner.

Also he doesn’t following Hondas twitter pages anymore – Ironically the same happened as he leaved Ferrari back in 2014. Back then he unfollowed the twitter page of the italian brand before the whole story got official.