The third year of McLaren’s partnership with Honda may not turn out to be the worst in terms of results. But it is certainly the most disappointing so far.
Honda returned to F1 in 2015 with a power unit which was both underpowered and unreliable. It was motivation-sapping season for all concerned.
There were clear signs of progress in 2016. The team could justifiably say it was on the right track as they became regular points-scorers.
But year three has been one of abject failure. Promises of quickly being on par with a late-2016 Mercedes power unit have proved laughable. Honda’s power unit fails to work much of the time and gives little power when it does. Only one of the teams’ cars has started each of the last two races.
McLaren have insisted they aren’t about to ditch their current engine manufacturer partner. But rumours persist they are considering a switch back to Mercedes power units for 2018.
The news that Sauber will use Honda’s engines next year opens the door for the Japanese manufacturer to remain in the sport with another team. Should McLaren therefore seize the opportunity to take a customer engine deal elsewhere for 2018?
It is almost guaranteed McLaren’s win-less streak which reach five years at the end of 2017. That is by far the longest such drought in the history of a team which has known barren spells before in the late seventies and mid nineties.
The difference is today the McLaren Group has activities far beyond Formula One. Those interests are being poorly represented by the purgatory of their current Formula One effort. It’s also proved demoralising for their drivers, as Fernando Alonso’s decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix proves.
Being a factory engine team does give them status and, theoretically, the chance to create a power unit which is perfectly tailored for their needs. But both are so far from being true the time has come for McLaren to accept being ‘just’ a customer team – for the meantime at least.
Giving up on Honda, and no longer being a factory engine team, would mean more than just a loss of face. It would cost McLaren an enormous amount, as instead of getting engines for free they would have to pay someone for them. Their Honda deal is rumoured to last for another seven years and may impose financial penalties for early termination.
But perhaps most importantly it would undermine McLaren’s status as one of F1’s major teams. Red Bull’s three wins in the last 63 races shows that even the most well-funded customer team cannot compete for championships given how vital engines are under the current regulations.
McLaren’s 2017 setback should be seen in the context of the developments Honda has made. Having initially rejected following Mercedes’ lead on engine design they have now adopted it. The latest setback is unfortunate, but their chances of getting it right next time have never been better.
The temptation to drop Honda and obtain a supply of Mercedes engines must be strong. But it would bring new disadvantages in terms of how quickly McLaren could develop their own cars and the level of integration they would be able to achieve with Mercedes’ design.
It would also come with a whopping price tag. And it would send a clear signal that McLaren no longer considers itself the kind of top-tier outfit which expects a manufacturer engine deal. Accepting a customer engine supply means joining the league of ordinary teams.
McLaren does not want to be in a situation where it feels the need to let its star driver skip the most prestigious race on the calendar to compete in another event so he has a chance of winning for once. But like Alonso, McLaren exists to come first. Accepting a customer engine supply is not compatible with that aim, at a time when engine performance is so important.
The only way I can see it would be acceptable is as a temporary measure in the expectation that they will agree a manufacturer engine deal for 2021. This is when F1 is due for its next engine rules revision, and is likely to be the earliest time when a new manufacturer would or could enter.
The overwhelming sentiment on Twitter seems to be that Honda are letting McLaren down and Alonso will certainly leave by the end of the year if they don’t turn things around.
— Fezile Bebelele (@fezbe) April 30, 2017
McLaren want to win again???? Go back to Mercedes and Jenson Button. Honda are a waste of space can't make the star!!!
— Stanislav Andryszews (@StanislavAndrys) April 30, 2017
At what point do McLaren have to say to Honda 'Keep your money' and switch to Mercedes. Embarrassing.
— Dom (@DomDen_) April 30, 2017
McLaren rule out 2018 return to Mercedes engines. I see what happens here. Alonso leaves and then Honda will produce and incredible engine!
— Front Foot F1 (@FrontFootF1) May 5, 2017
— Jeremy Ngan (@jeremyvettel16) May 4, 2017
Alonso is in the car…Odds are that this Honda will start up and run for a few minutes…Sorry, tough being a McLaren fan right now!
— Andy Banfield (@CurlingRacer) May 3, 2017
I hate seeing Alonso in that car, such a waste of entertaining talent, no signs of improvement this far into the Mclaren Honda partnership 😏
— Hollie Something (@holzalina28) May 1, 2017
— ALO_P1 (@ALO_P1) April 30, 2017
I see Honda have a deal with Sauber. Can Honda now let McLaren prosper with Mercedes, please?#F1
— Babalo (@BabaloZAR) April 30, 2017
With Sauber getting Honda engines for next season, then I'm pretty sure McLaren will get a Mercedes engine
— A (@JurgenKop96) April 30, 2017
— Stotty© (@Stotty2910) April 30, 2017
How long can McLaren and Honda hide behind optimism when they've had such terrible results after promising statements? Fans are tired of it.
— Scott Knowles (@wsrphoto) April 30, 2017
Well done Valtteri Bottas🏎Absolutely gutted for Fernando Alonso.. Bloodly McLaren Honda😡😡x
— Sharon Pickard (@SPickrad) April 30, 2017
— Mayur Jain (@Jainopedia) April 30, 2017
— Nate (@zufelt16) April 30, 2017
Another woeful race for McLaren Honda don't seem to be getting anywhere
— pete holden (@holden_pete) April 30, 2017
McLaren Honda – definition of 'mare in F1
— Tanvir Khan (@TKPhotographee) April 30, 2017
Why oh Why would Sauber want Honda engines in their cars after they are seeing what is happening with McLaren? might be cheaper but come on.
— Shane Ryan (@RewindRyan) April 30, 2017
The Honda engines have got to go for McLaren
— pongo (@Lb8068) April 30, 2017
— Troy Sowers (@TroySowers) April 30, 2017
Another debacle from Honda, as far as Fernando is concerned. Hoping for some break-clauses to free McLaren from this torture
— Beatrice Zamuner (@ZamunerB) April 30, 2017
Honda are destroying McLaren. Just an absolute disaster. #SkyF1
— Matt (@matty_boiii) April 30, 2017
— Chester Luna (@chluna_) April 30, 2017
— Tufty McTavish (@TuftyMcTavish) April 30, 2017
The sauber-honda deal is a breakthrough for mclaren, so they'll have always 2 cars behind
— Hanno (@Hannomondoloco) April 30, 2017
— Aman Dutt (@aman_dutt) April 30, 2017
With Alonso out, how come Honda is engine negotiating with other teams? Shouldn't McLaren's performance be an indication?#RussianGP
— Rucha Sharma (@ruchasharma) April 30, 2017
— Meer Shah (@meershah96) April 30, 2017
— machewcoy (@jamespenarejo) April 30, 2017
I am completely disgusted at Mclaren and Honda, have no interest in f1 without fernando alonso
— Dawn Townsend (@edandawn) April 30, 2017
Unacceptable what is occurring with McLaren and Honda.
— cwb (@US_WEC_Fan) April 30, 2017
— ㅤ (@ZachRogacion) April 30, 2017
McLaren-Honda are an absolute joke, Alonso deserves to be in the best car on the grid, they can't even get him on the starting grid.
— Joe (@timmssports) April 30, 2017
This is Formula One for crying out loud!!! Honda have had five years to sort their engine out! Fernando Alonso is a Wasted Talent at McLaren
— George Skinner (@GeorgeSkinner01) April 30, 2017
— Ness✨ (@vanessafayex) April 30, 2017
The McLaren Honda is a joke
— Tom Parkinson (@Parkins0n_) April 30, 2017
Honda is slowly choking McLaren to death… Poor Alonso, McLaren get a Mercedes engine and leave Honda to their lawnmowers and motorboats
— Andre Theys (@TheysAndre) April 30, 2017
Such a shame to see Fernando Alonso's talent being wasted, in that god awful McLaren Honda car! 😡🏎 #RussianGP
— Graham Beaton (@GrahamBeaton) April 30, 2017
Getting ridiculous how bad the Mclaren Honda engine is, can't even complete the formation lap. I give Vandoorne 10 laps before his fails too
— Aaron Cross (@Crossie94) April 30, 2017
— Nate (@zufelt16) April 30, 2017
— Daniel Button (@D_Button) April 30, 2017
Another frustrating week for McLaren Honda… pity Alonso man
— 笑 (@Jimmy_Pastore) April 30, 2017
Rumor of McLaren dumping Honda for Mercedes? Hope that's true. This is ridiculous with Honda right now #RussianGP
— Brendan (@Brndn75) April 30, 2017
— OlorunFunmi (@Omis____) April 30, 2017
— Sanyam Jain (@sanyam1989) May 7, 2017
McLaren F1 team, terminate the partnership with the cancer called Honda for your name sake#F1
— Casper Seloane (@CasperSeloane) April 30, 2017
For the 2nd race in a row one of the McLaren-Honda cars doesn't start the race. Humiliation added to embarrassment. Becoming a sad joke now.
— Ian S (@iannlou) April 30, 2017
— Anak_Dazit (@AzfarAPA) April 30, 2017
— Paul Ingram (@pm_ingram) April 30, 2017
— NICO (@nicofornara) April 30, 2017
McLaren Honda is a waste of a F1 team
— G o i t s e (@Goitsy_1) April 30, 2017
McLaren need to sack Honda #F1
— danny (@fannydarrar) April 30, 2017
Why are McLaren sticking with a Honda engine?! Ridiculous
— Aaron – אהרון (@xGrujic) April 30, 2017
This is embarrassing for McLaren and Honda, really is not acceptable #RussianGP
— Thekie25 (@kieran_30) April 30, 2017
— Moriarty (@MoriartyExp) April 30, 2017
We're a couple races away from someone with McLaren choking a Honda dude on live TV
— NBA blogger Worf🏀🌷 (@JawnMalkovich) April 30, 2017
— David (@x6bmer) April 30, 2017
What a joke McLaren are, their Honda partnership is one of the worst I've seen in F1. Total unreliability
— Joe Taylor (@joey_t9) April 30, 2017
Feel sorry alonso… he's so much better than this mess of a team. Time for mclaren to bin Honda. They shouldn't be anywhere near F1!
— Matt (@Matt_Saddler) April 30, 2017
I feel sorry for Alonso. DNS for him. McLaren Honda just not working. #RussianGP
— Oba (@Ori_Ire) April 30, 2017
— Abdullah Khan (@LahoriGooner) April 30, 2017
Honda have to sort themselves out. I really don't see why Mercedes would give McLaren an engine. They would absolutely be a rival #RussianGP
— Vasos Panteli (@vasospanteli) April 30, 2017
Just when you think the McLaren-Honda partnership could get any worse…. This is beyond a joke #RussianGP
— Graham Chapple (@Graham_Chapple) April 30, 2017
— Jean-Simon Demers (@jsdemrs) April 30, 2017
#RussianGP, what a bummer for McLaren. Faulty power unit again, this Honda unit is a waste of space.
— George Hill (@georgehill7111) April 30, 2017
The damage being done to the Honda and McLaren brands right now. #sochigp 😣
— Robin Clarke (@robinsclarke) April 30, 2017
This is embarrassing for McLaren- Honda, I think Fernando Alonso deserve more.
— Solly Musetha (@SollyMusetha) April 30, 2017
This is just… surely there’s people at Honda and/or McLaren who can fix this? Like, they’re smart people?
— Nikkipedia (@Dutchie15) April 30, 2017
Mclaren really need to ditch honda
— Scott Forsyth (@scottyfor) April 30, 2017
Honda are a shambles. McLaren need to cut ties NOW!
— Sam Kinnaird (@samkinnaird) April 30, 2017
McLaren Honda are a joke 😂😂
— Joe Young (@joeyoung1998) April 30, 2017
How can a company as big as Honda make an engine as bad as that Alonso is wasted at McLaren #RussianGP
— Graeme tighe (@graemetighe) April 30, 2017
McLaren/Honda are an actual disgrace to motorsport. Fernando Alonso is one of the greatest drivers in this sport and they're wasting him
— ☆MrWez★ (@MrTeamWez) April 30, 2017
— Trebor902 (@trebor902) April 30, 2017
— Ally Turner (@gingemigo) April 30, 2017
If McLaren *are* ditching Honda, surely their season will just become a series of engine tests? Stoff already taking engine penalties anyway
— desmarkie (@desmarkie) April 30, 2017
Should McLaren sacrifice its desire for a manufacturer engine deal in order to get rid of Honda engines? Or is that a compromise too far? Cast your vote below and have your say in the comments.
Do you agree McLaren should end their relationship with Honda even if it means no longer having a works engine deal?
- Strongly agree (19%)
- Slightly agree (14%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (5%)
- Slightly disagree (21%)
- Strongly disagree (40%)
- No opinion (2%)
Total Voters: 367
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Debates and polls
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- Which new drivers belong on the F1 grid in 2018?
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- Should McLaren give up on Honda for 2018?