The long running and majorly disappointing partnership between McLaren and Honda has come to a bitter end in which the French squad Renault, has agreed to supply the British team from 2018 onwards.
The team has filed for divorce from the Japanese company after three disappointing years into a partnership that had been intended to last a decade or more and dominate F1.
Failure from the start?
When the iconic partnership reunited in 2015 under the watchful eye of long-serving McLaren principal, Ron Dennis, many hoped that McLaren would be finally back to winning ways. The historic red and white livery driven by Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the late 1980’s to the early 1990’s led to such dominance and glory, many great things were expected early on for the reforged reunion.
Honda initially found the new generation of power unit a tough nut to crack and despite having two former world champions, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, only managed 27 points between them. McLaren finished 9th out of the 10 teams in the championship and recorded McLaren’s worst points finish since 1980.
A statistic that McLaren wouldn’t want to have would be just one of the many engine penalties they would have to bear through-out the partnership. At the Belgian GP, McLaren was given a record 105 grid penalty places for changing power unit components.
2016 was far more promising with retaining Alonso and Button, McLaren progressed from backmarkers to competitive mid-field warriors. Alonso’s near death crash in Australia prompted Stoffel Vandoorne to drive at Bahrain and scored the first points for the team. An important result for him and for his future at the team. Improved results and reliability, albeit from Alonso’s constant radio rants pointing the blame directly in Honda’s direction for so little power. McLaren finished 6th with a more respectable 76 points but still there was work to be done.
Button retired from F1 and took on the reserve role. McLaren launched the MCL32 in a new colour scheme, orange and black. Vandoorne was promoted alongside Alonso who was given the chance to miss the Monaco GP to race in IndyCar. Alonso did extremely well in the Honda powered McLaren Andretti car and was awarded rookie of the year despite an engine failure which limited him to 179 laps. Taking the team’s first points in 9th at the crazy Azerbaijan GP, Alonso lifted the team just above Sauber.
McLaren’s idea of giving Alonso the chance to miss the most challenging and rewarding race on the calendar, was risky. Typically, for many teams and drivers, it would be the best chance to score points. But to try to keep Alonso interested for 2018, it seems to have paid off. Alonso’s private test performance, which was broadcast as a live stream through IndyCar’s social media channels, with combined live viewership of the test was estimated to be in excess of 2 million in which both fans of F1 and IndyCar thoroughly enjoyed.
The blame has been very directly pointed at Honda. Out of the 3 years, Honda has proven to be the worst engine manufacturer with the most failures and penalties by far. McLaren are known to have one of the best chassis on the grid behind, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and this was proven at the Hungarian GP where both Alonso and Vandoorne scored points. So where does the blame point now? The drivers? Alonso has driven to an exceptional standard as always and for Vandoorne, it’s been a slow learning curve but the Belgian does well and truly have a place in the sport. So it’s back to Honda.
Honda’s own attempt to gain more reliability looked to be a very good shout with signing a technical agreement with Sauber for next season. But after management change, the Swiss team reversed the decision and fallen back to Ferrari. The benefits would have been very significant, Honda would double their data pool and increase their presence in F1. A possible sensible decision by Sauber but then again time will time if it was a poor one.
The Future with Renault
Since its first competitive season in F1 back in 1966, McLaren have had several engine partners. Renault now add to the list which includes: Ford-Cosworth, TAG-Porsche, Lamborghini, Peugeot and Mercedes engines over the course of their history.
Although attempts with Mercedes and Ferrari fell flat, Renault looked to be the only option left. McLaren believe it is a significant step forward over the Honda engine with estimations around of somewhere in the region of 45-60bhp. The next few years up until the end of 2020 will be for McLaren to solidify their place and show everyone that they still can be competitive.
The new engine formula comes in for 2021. Then, all sorts of possibilities could open up, including perhaps even making their own engine or sticking with Renault.
Did McLaren act too quick bringing Honda in so early? If Honda was given a year of practise and to gain knowledge before entering, would it have helped? If so, why are McLaren now not in a winning position? Was too much of the blame pointed at Honda? McLaren needed to change. Having a Mercedes engine in the back competing alongside the dominant factory team, they could see that the only change would be to change engine supplier.
Looking back now, things have definitely changed when Honda came into the sport. Fernando Alonso’s goal and ambition to win a 3rd championship crown with McLaren combined with Honda was shattered before it was even started. Formula One in general mocked Honda and McLaren for its never-ending failures, prompting people to engage with the sport. Ultimately the blame will always be pointed at Honda.
Honda’s overview and reputation will have suffered a bit. Keeping Honda in the sport was and still is a priority for everyone including both governing body the FIA and the new owners of the commercial arm Formula 1 Management, and for the sport to have a variety of engine manufacturers to choose from.
I genuinely thought 2017 was going to be a more successful year for McLaren, writing down predictions for constant top-10 finishes and podium results. Many thought and hoped for the same result but again they were let down.
Maybe the reunion of McLaren and Honda was just simply “too good to be true” and at least we won’t have to listen to any F1 commentators say “another McLaren Honda engine failure.”