The news of the legendary Mclaren-Honda partnership’s return that had been speculated since 2011 is now confirmed with the declaration made last week. McLaren, starting from 2015 onwards, put an end to its 18-years partnership with Mercedes and made an engine supply agreement with Honda.
Even if it is not valued neither Ferrari nor Mercedes, Honda is actually one of the most devoted constructors of the sport. They were always a part of the game during the 49 years since the year of their debut to the sport, in 1964, till today with a few exceptional times. Furthermore, their landing up at Formula 1 only 4 years after starting to produce road cars indicates how F1 perception is penetrated into the DNA’s of the company. In short, we as F1 fans should be grateful to Honda for the support they give to the sport.
Honda had a lot of success during their 49 years history but the most memorable was the success that was a result of the partnership with McLaren and made today’s Red Bull dominance look as nothing compared to this success. Honda expanded their success in the sport every year after coming back to sport in 1983 with Williams and finally, they won the championship with Piquet in 1987. In 1988, the legendary McLaren-Honda team started to dominate with Senna and Prost in all the circuits. In 1988 the team won 15 pole positions and 15 race wins out of the 16 races. In the only race with no wins in Monza, Senna retired because of a backmarker’s mistake during lapping. The team won 4 championships and a 2nd place out of the 5 seasons between 1988-1992. In short, they showed a brilliant performance. If we get excited when we see these names together, McLaren-Honda, it is because of these golden era.
And now, Honda returns with McLaren to F1 to which had taken a break after the fruitless Bar-Honda and Honda Racing days. Let’s examine this news with 6 questions.
Why have Honda returned to the sport?
Obviously, the engine suppliers don’t come to Formula 1 without any goals. They try to carry know-how from their main business to F1 and from F1 to their business. If these two field branches have no connection between themselves, then it can’t be anything but the publicity to the brand. When Honda left F1 at the end of the 2008 season, they had only one win to their accounts and that came in an eventful and rainy Hungarian GP. The engine, the most expensive part of an F1 car as it is still, was a 8 cylinder engine and this wasn’t a technology that Honda used on their road cars.
However, the turbo charged V6 engine that will be used starting from 2014 is an engine kind that Honda have been producing and using on their road cars for many years. While possessing such a technology, it wouldn’t be a reasonable move not to enter F1 which has a high advertisement power already. Especially if you enter to the sport with the 2nd most successful team of the sport’s history, then it can only be called as cherry on the cake.
How will it affect the McLaren/Mercedes relationship?
Not badly as expected, but not well as unexpected. How so? Namely, the engine suppliers are not only in charge of supplying engines to the teams with their deal. Engine /aero / tyre variants influence each other, so these 3 forms should be in a very good harmony and bond. In this context, Mercedes will fulfill their basic responsibilities to McLaren. That’s what I mean with “not badly as expected”.
Then what does “not well as unexpected” mean? In the long-term engine supply deals (and McLaren-Mercedes is the best example of it today) the parts of the deal work more closely than normal. They exchange their comments about the main structure of the next year’s car. McLaren will lose this extra special status. But it won’t make a significant effect.
Is it a risk for McLaren?
Of course it is a risk for McLaren that they will use the engine produced by a team that were out of sport for five years. Especially, while the other teams will be racing with the engines in 2015 that were fixed and cleaned of the errors thanks to experimenting and learning from them in 2014. McLaren is a big team and it can’t bear the similar unsuccessful experience that Williams went through with Cosworth. Probably what gives comfort to McLaren is the truth that Honda are experienced in turbo charged V6 technology. In short, yes it is a risk but not a big risk.
What are McLaren’s advantages?
McLaren have two big advantages:
1.Instead of paying 20 million Euro per year, keeping this amount on the pocket. Of course McLaren didn’t take this risk without any price. Honda’s returning with one of the most successful teams of the sport had a price and it is thought to be the free engine supply.
2.Finding an engine supplier that only works for it. If we remember; Honda were, especially in 2008, very generous about the budget, they made to the team the highest expenses of that season. The situation will be similar and McLaren will have the luxury to use all Honda’s sources in 2015.
Will the old days come back?
It wouldn’t be correct to call it impossible. Many remembered and got emotioned the legendary red white colours of McLaren-Honda and Senna years after the news was released. It is very normal. However, McLaren and Honda and Formula 1, they all changed. Williams-Renault got united again in the sport but the expected result didn’t come. The Senna surname came back to F1 but it only helped the old Senna fans to sadden. I mean, F1 changed so much and nostalgia doesn’t make the cars faster.
To see the overwhelming dominance of those years again in F1 is very difficult if not impossible. FIA has interfered to the sport to break the dominance of first Ferrari then Red Bull in the last 10 years.
This duo can be champions. Today everyone knows that Renault engine is not stronger than Ferrari nor Mercedes but inside the Red Bull chassis Renault engine became champion in the last 3 years. When Mercedes-engined Brawn became champion in 2009, other Mercedes engine McLaren had a lot of trouble for a long time. In short, in the balance of engine /chassis, chassis has the upper hand over engine. If the great days are to return, we should expect it from McLaren not from Honda.
Another subject is that McLaren-Honda had two legendary drivers like Senna and Prost. Expecting from Button-Perez duo to improve McLaren and to put a huge dominance is quite senseless. McLaren have to hire a driver like Hamilton again for its driver line-up. Who knows, maybe this driver will be Vettel.
What does this return mean for the sport itself?
As I said before, Honda are one of the huge fans of this sport so their return is great news for the sport. Especially after Cosworth’s leave because of not finding turbo engine interesting, it would be a bad scenario for F1 to be left with only 3 engine suppliers. Honda’s coming back will be both a big help for the teams that will suffer economically from the over 20 million euros costs (because Honda will probably be the cheapest engine supplier) and F1 will regain one of its frequenters.
I think this news will trigger the other Japanese engine supplier, Toyota, to return to the sport. Toyota produce turbo charged V6 engines and have this technology. And we know how insistent they were to have success in F1 once. They will also keep an eye on Honda and will be ready to catch an opportunity to return. I hope my forecasts prove right in the future.