Looking at McLaren’s performance on the Malaysia track, it looks like Honda is making progress. Could McLaren be making a mistake by switching to Renault for next season? Honda engineers have been under constant pressure since their return to F1. After the engine token system has been scrapped, Honda engineers are now going all out.
Then the break.. McLaren’s star driver pushed to break the McLaren-Honda contract. Red Bull, through its satellite team Torro Rosso will take up the Honda engine instead. Freeing up a Renault engine for 2018, which McLaren can take up. Renault then confirmed it wouldn’t be renewing a 2019 engine deal with the Red Bull main team. Effectively condemning Red Bull to Honda engines in 2019.
When confronted with Stoffel van Doorne’s recent Malaysian success, McLaren’s Zak Brown was asked whether McLaren might have made the wrong choice.
“Obviously if Honda starts to win in 2018 and we’re not, we will look silly,” Brown told Spanish newspaper Marca.
“But I think everyone has to make their decisions and then accept the outcome. I think the moment you make any decision there is always an element of ‘What if I’m wrong?’
“But I think everyone has done their homework and it was a group decision that was not easy,” Brown said.
“It’s like Indianapolis. Some said ‘What if Alonso is injured?’ ‘What if we lose a great opportunity in Monaco?’ But fortunately, Alonso drove perfectly and Button had to start from the pitlane.
“We have to look forward and not back,” Brown added.
Can van Doorne’s Malaysian success be attributed to Honda? Hard to tell, as Malaysia isn’t a power-only circuit. There are two big straights in Malaysia but there are also enough high-speed sweeping bends that are more imposing on the chassis. Measurements indicated that the McLarens were lacking nearly 20 km/h on the straights.. That would indicate this recent success can be attributed more to the chassis than the engine.
What cannot be denied is that in order to have a good finish, you have to finish first. The Honda engine didn’t break and that abandons Honda’s streak sofar. Honda engines are reported to break even in video games as of lately…
The modified relationship has changed goals, at least for Honda as it looks set to slow down the engine updates for McLaren for the remaining races of 2017.
Yusuke Hasegawa was quoted in spanish El Confidencial that Honda wants to “minimize the engine evolutions” released to McLaren for the rest of the season
“Previously, we prioritized performance, as any improvement would be also for next year,”
And in Italian Autosprint: “Now we would like to get maximum results. We will no longer work with Stoffel and Fernando next year so it means we can focus on McLaren’s results this year.”
Obviously Hasegawa is referring to not wanting to take penalties for replacing more engines, but naturally this is more a “you have made your bed, now lie in it”.
As I wrote in previous articles, I would think Honda-RBR would be an excellent combination. RBR has a big chip on the engine shoulder, and Honda needs a partner that doesn’t want to make it a scapegoat, and is highly motivated to develop the engine.
McLaren will take a step forwards in 2018, but I do expect Honda to be far stronger in 2018 too.
2018 already sounds exciting!