“This win­ter is crit­i­cal for one of the great­est part­ner­ships in the his­tory of For­mula 1 – Mclaren-honda”

F1 Racing (UK) - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

In spite of hav­ing two cham­pion driv­ers, 2015 was an ap­palling year for th­ese two gi­ants of the sport, and my heart has bled for them. With only two top-six places from 19 races to show for their con­sid­er­able ef­forts, now is crunch time. Will they con­tinue to lan­guish at the back when the new sea­son be­gins or will they have learned from their fail­ure and be­come com­pet­i­tive?

It all seems like a bad dream to me. I’ve seen Mclaren grow from a twin­kle in Bruce’s eye to be­come su­perb mul­ti­ple cham­pi­onship win­ners, and I was in the Isle of Man for the mo­tor­cy­cle TT races in 1954 when a fact-find­ing mis­sion of Ja­panese (headed by a chap named Soichiro Honda) ar­rived to suss out what they needed to do to com­pete. They re­turned in 1959 to win the team prize, and since then they’ve dom­i­nated ev­ery cat­e­gory of mo­tor­sport from 50cc mo­tor­cy­cles to tour­ing cars, sportscars, Indycars and F1. So when Mclaren’s Ron Den­nis an­nounced that Honda were pro­duc­ing a “jewel of an en­gine” for their re­turn to F1 with Mclaren there was an as­sump­tion that Mercedes, Fer­rari and the rest had bet­ter watch out.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. Honda started years af­ter their ri­vals with the de­sign of the most com­plex power units in the his­tory of F1 and were ham­pered by lim­ited test­ing. They un­der­es­ti­mated the mag­ni­tude of their task, pro­duced a less than op­ti­mum de­sign (not helped by Mclaren’s in­sis­tence on in­hibit­ing aero con­straints) and never caught up. The re­sult was that no mat­ter how much Mclaren im­proved the car – and they did – it never had enough power to get the job done.

So what are the chances of a bet­ter 2016? Con­sid­er­able, I be­lieve, and here’s why. Honda have lost face in a big way. Like Re­nault, they have spent vast amounts of money, which has been coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. They’ve tar­nished their im­age with tech­ni­cal mis­judge­ment and rac­ing fail­ure and that hurts. Glow­ing mem­o­ries of Keke Ros­berg, Nelson Pi­quet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Ayr­ton Senna win­ning race af­ter race and ti­tle af­ter ti­tle have been re­placed by those of Fer­nando Alonso and Jen­son But­ton de­mean­ingly strug­gling at the back of the grid.

So the mid­night oil will be burn­ing 24/7 in Ja­pan this win­ter as Honda strive to put things right. But they have bright peo­ple, un­ri­valled re­search and de­vel­op­ment fa­cil­i­ties, deep pock­ets, years of ex­pe­ri­ence and de­ter­mi­na­tion. They’ve also had a year of learn­ing to align their very dif­fer­ent cul­ture with that of Mclaren. If you put all that to­gether you can ex­pect re­sults.

My one reser­va­tion is that Honda are in it for the long haul, whereas Mclaren need suc­cess now. Not just to be able to hold their heads up high again, but for com­mer­cial rea­sons, too. With the loss of spon­sors Voda­fone, TAG Heuer, Hugo Boss and, if ru­mours are to be be­lieved, John­nie Walker, the team’s fi­nances must surely have been ad­versely af­fected.

Plus, of course, the fact that if Mclaren and Honda make progress over the win­ter, their ri­vals will, too. But, what­ever, I’m ex­pect­ing a re­ju­ve­nated Mclaren to grace the grids in 2016. They are one of the truly great teams of F1 and if Wil­liams can re­vive their for­tunes, as they so bril­liantly have, then I like to think that Mclaren can do so, too. Fin­gers crossed – I’d hate to see the su­perb tal­ents of Fer­nando and Jen­son be­ing frus­trated by in­ad­e­quate ma­chin­ery for yet an­other year.

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