McLaren-Honda: A decision is near

After a dissapointing Belgian GP weekend and another upcoming very difficult Italian GP, the decision of McLaren’s engine situation for 2018 is near. We reflect some of the options and showing also the opinion of a long McLaren Fan.

Silverstone, Northamptonshire, UK.
Friday 14 July 2017.
Engineers return Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32 Honda, to the garage.
Photo: Andrew Hone/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _ONZ3713

The speculations that are going on since the first winter test in February, could end finally in the next days – we reported about the engine dilema of McLaren back in the end of July before the Hungarian GP.

The huge damaged partnership between the british racing team and Honda are on the crossroad for weeks now. At the Belgian GP Channel 4 commentator and ex-F1 driver David Couldhard forced McLaren-CEO Zak Brown the deadline, of the decision of the engine deal. The answer: In the next two weeks, at least in September.

The reason of this is clear: As every other teams McLaren working on the 2018 car for weeks now. And now they coming into a stage, where they have to know with what engine they will start next year. But not only for McLaren the time is running, also for the potential new partner of Honda, Toro Rosso have to know at least at the Italian GP this week, with which engine supplier they will start in 2018.

Toro Rosso-Honda – The only way out for McLaren

Despite Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa and Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost denied a conversation between the japanese manufactur and the Italian team, there are conversations right now – McLaren got also a inquiry supplying Toro Rosso with an gearbox next year, as they are the only team that running with Honda engines currently.

 

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.
Sunday 26 March 2017.
Eric Boullier, Racing Director, McLaren.
World Copyright: Sam Bloxham/McLaren.
Ref: Digital Image _J6I3310

It would make sense for everyone. Honda has no longer the pressure of building a winning-engine immediatly, McLaren are free for Renault and could do an engine swap with Toro Rosso, and the italian Red Bull-Junior team could test the Honda engines for an possibly supply for the Red Bull-A team in 2019.

According “Auto Motor und Sport” the Red Bull company is open minded for a deal between Honda and Toro Rosso.

But Honda have other plans. The Japanese people want’s to show the world that they could rise the bad situation into a good one, and this only with McLaren.

Is McLaren-Renault a better solution? – Looking to 2020/2021

On the other hand this could be a big risk, as McLaren will be the big loser if Toro Rosso or Red Bull getting their stuff together with Honda, and Honda will build a stronger engine as Renault in 2018 and also need to pay for that and also looses all the big money from Honda.

Definitly, the solution with Renault, driving the same PU alongside the workteam and also the big Red Bull team as a customer, could not be a long term solution. But it is also known that this solution will be no long term relationship with Renault – It should be giving the team better results till the next engine revolution in 2020/2021, where McLaren will be looking for a new manufactur till that. The new engines, will be probably a V6-Bitturbo with KERS. Many manufacturs showed their interests in the last meetings. So it is more than possible, that McLaren considering this.

But for sure, probably no one would swap the position with Zak Brown, Eric Boullier or the Executive Comitee. The british team has moved themselves in a dilemma. Ferrari and Mercedes don’t wanna supply them and Renault also is not available, as long as they have four teams to supply.

Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Sunday 28 May 2017.
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL32 Honda, on the grid.
Photo: Andrew Hone/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _ONZ0291

McLaren and Honda – The partnership is already broken

There is no question if the partnership from McLaren and Honda is broken – The question is how strong they could recover from that. The pressconference from last Friday showed that the tablecloth between the two companys is at their last breaths.

McLaren lost their trust in Honda – And Honda showed again in Belgian with the Spec 3.6, that they are currently not good enough, to compete against the other manufacturs. After running the new 3.6 Spec on last fridays practise sessions, the mechanics had to changed back the engine to Spec 3.5 on Vandoornes car, after Honda found another issue overnight.

In Belgian both McLaren’s getting passed from every side on the long straight. Everyone knows the end: Alonso retired again and Vandoorne finished only the back of the field – On a track where Alonso drove from P22 to P7 in last years season, where everybody thought that Honda reach the turnaround.

Coming now to Monza, the best known highspeed circuit of the calender, everyone knows how difficult the weekend will be for McLaren-Honda. Probably their best finish will be a place in the Top 15.

But as written about, with Toro Rossos engine deadline end at this weekend, the F1 world will probably know next week how McLaren and Honda continue in F1

The words from a McLaren Fan

We know what media thinks about the matter. We know what experts say.  We know what Alonso and his Fans think. But what a true McLaren Fans, that sticking with the team for many years, with different drivers, different engine suppliers and different people on the board thinking abou the current situation. We talked with McLaren-Fan Owen Davies and asking him for his opinion.

“This is a difficult moment for the team clearly, certainly for new boss, Zak Brown. McLaren will be better placed to make a better educated judgement about what changes need to be made than us fans. From what I’ve read, all I know is the current level of performance seems untenable in the short term (let alone the longer term) for McLaren. In these circumstances, change seems inevitable now to most fans. I trust the team to make the right call for the future though.” – Owen Davis/ @f1mclarenfan on twitter

 

Hungarian GP: Big chance for McLaren?

The Hungarian Grand Prix could be one of the biggest chances for McLaren-Honda to score some points and start to catch up the midfield. But while the focus is on track performance, the big question remains if the long-suffering British-Japanese alliance will be still competing together in 2018.

Steven Tee/McLaren

The upcoming weekend in Budapest will be the big hope for the third year in a row for McLaren. In the last two years, the team’s best results of the season have been achieved at the Hungaroring, where a good chassis is much more important than on most of any other tracks in the current calendar.

While Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finished fifth and ninth in the disaster year of 2015 both McLaren drivers made it to the third qualifying session in last year’s Grand Prix.

With the MCL32, probably the best McLaren chassis in the last few years, showing significant progress at Silverstone, this race should be a good opportunity.

Also (currently) Alonso doesn’t have to worry about a grid penalty this weekend: this is due to the fact that McLaren changed all parts of the engine in Silverstone, to protect Alonso from grid penalties in Budapest.

Steven Tee/McLaren

With the good chassis, there is also light on the other side of the garage.  Stoffel Vandoorne was able to show a clear uptrend in the last races: most recently his Q3 appearance at Silverstone, in which he outqualified his teammate for the first time this year.

“I’ve won in Hungary before, in GP2, and I enjoy driving on this track,” Vandoorne said. “Although we’ve been a bit unlucky, I feel that my performances have been consistent and improving race-by-race.

“I’ve been working hard with the engineers and I feel confident in the car—my weekends are coming together better now in the first part of the season and as a team we are progressing every weekend. We have to be patient, keep working hard, and I hope to see the reward for our efforts paying off soon.”

McLaren have to score points in Hungary. Just in mind: even in the painful 2015 season, the team had more points than now. With only two points in the  bag, the ex-winners still hangs in the last place of the Constructors’ World Championship.

Sutton/McLaren

Reliability

Unfortunately, there is still a big concern for this weekend: and there it is, the big topic of the last weeks: Honda. While the Japanese were able to bring more power with the latest upgrade, the engine is still hurt by massive reliability issues—the latest being on Alonso’s car in Silverstone, when the Spaniard had to drag his McLaren back into the pits with the words, “No power”. Reason enough for the star pilot to think about the reliability:

“The important thing for us, as always, is reliability,” Alonso said. “Even if our car could perform better in Hungary, we need to have a trouble-free weekend to take advantage of every opportunity for points.

“We made some big decisions in Silverstone in terms of taking grid penalties in preparation for this race, and hope that’s paid off so we can put ourselves in the best possible position for points this weekend.”

A current statistic from Speedweek.com shows the worse numbers since 2015. They put the rate of DNF’s from Alonso’s F1 years from 2005–2014 in comparison to his last three seasons with McLaren-Honda. The shocking result: while Alonso had a failure rate of less than 10% in the first few years, the Spaniard failed to finish 40% of his races in the last three years.

Andrew Hone/McLaren

McLaren and the engine question

Regarding the competitiveness of the engine, more and more people have been wondering how the McLaren-Honda partnership could continue. If all the media reports tell the truth, McLaren would probably start with four different engines in 2018. From the obvious Mercedes comeback, to a branded Alfa Romeo-Ferrari engine, and finally the possibility of Renault.

The fact is, McLaren and Honda have an existing contract and Honda Motorsport boss Masashi Yamamoto spoke to the media last week and made it clear that Honda has no intention to leave McLaren or the sport, or consider the possibility of McLaren using another engine until the Japanese company solves its problems:

“There is a contract between us and the premise of the talks with them is to continue,” he said. “We exclude the possibility that McLaren will even temporarily use the power unit of another manufacturer. I am always talking with president Takahiro Hachigo and the board members, and there is no intention to withdraw from Formula One.”

After comments to the media from both the McLaren leadership and from the drivers, the words of McLaren boss Zak Brown and the whole Woking team have been much quieter since the Austrian Grand Prix.

Sutton/McLaren

While Mercedes and Ferrari don’t seem to want supply McLaren, the talks with Renault as an engine partner continue. But the chance of seeing McLaren and Honda together on the 2018 grid is getting more and more likely. Not only because of the loss of money, but because time is also playing against the British team. But there are other reasons why McLaren will probably stay with Honda:

  1. There is maybe time until October to decide what engine should be in next year’s car—but remember that the Renault engine has a completely different layout then the Mercedes or Honda engine. Honda copied the Mercedes concept after getting to the performance limit with their 2015/2016 engine layouts. According to Zak Brown, the building of the 2018 car begins now. That means that the team has to build two different chassis, one for a Honda engine and the other for a Renault engine. That will definitely be no help for 2018.
  2. If McLaren break the current contract between them and Honda while not having another engine deal in the pocket, they will not only pay much money for breaking the contract. The FIA Rules say: The manufacturer with the fewest teams to supply will be forced to supply a team which has no engine. And you know what manufacturer that is? Bingo! It’s Honda.

Remembering these facts, McLaren will probably be forced to keep Honda as partner next year and hoping for a massive improvement.

Whatever is going to come out at the end of this engine-war, a decision will probably be taken in the coming weeks. So the team and the fans will have no choice, but to make the best of the situation and believe in something similar as two weeks ago in Silverstone,  where a McLaren finished a session (Q1) fastest for the first time since India 2013.