MCLAREN GET A BETTER ENGINE ALONSO STAYS IN F1 RENAULT GET A STRONGER DRIVER LINE-UP HONDA CAN DEVELOP AWAY FROM THE SPOTLIGHT AND RED BULL FIND A LONG-TERM SOLUTION TO THEIR ENGINE SUPPLY
This all looked very clever. But after it had been agreed, Renault chucked in a hand grenade. They told Red Bull they would not extend their contract beyond 2018. There are contractual complications that mean this cannot be set in stone yet, but right now it’s very likely that Honda will be supplying both Red Bull teams in 2019. And that might not be so clever of Red Bull after all. An extension of their relationship with Aston Martin, which has just been upgraded to title sponsorship for 2018, is all very well, but they cannot build an F1 engine unless the rules change significantly for 2021, and, right now, that looks to be extremely unlikely.
Meanwhile, if Honda do not improve significantly, the chances of Daniel Ricciardo staying on at Red Bull are slim. And Max Verstappen will be looking for the exit, too.
“FERRARI WEREN’T WHERE THEY ARE TODAY 12-24 MONTHS AGO. SO WHILE IT MIGHT SEEM THAT RENAULT IS THE THIRD BEST ENGINE, THEY ARE NOT FAR OFF. SO IT WOULD BE EARLY TO ASSUME THEY ARE GOING TO REMAIN THE THIRD BEST ENGINE” MCLAREN’S ZAK BROWN
Ricciardo is out of contract next year, and there are seats potentially available at Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault, all of whom are interested in him. Verstappen is contracted to Red Bull until 2019, but there are clauses in his contract that mean he might be free at the end of 2018. Even if he is not, his enthusiasm for using a Honda engine in its current state of competitiveness will not be great. Mercedes and Ferrari are both interested in Verstappen, even if partnering him with either Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel could lead to fireworks.
With their top-line drivers considering leaving the team and a potentially uncompetitive engine, Red Bull could find themselves in 2019 where Mclaren are now.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF MCLARENRENAULT?
At Mclaren, it’s all optimism. The team believe that the Honda engine is 50kw (just under 70bhp) down on a customer Mercedes in race trim, and the Renault about 35-40kw better than the Honda. That’s a power hike of around 50bhp, which equates to about 0.8s per lap on an average circuit, around 20 per cent more at Baku, Montréal and Monza, and around 20 per cent less at Monaco, Hungary and Singapore.
That doesn’t take into account the fact that Honda have the worst hybrid deployment of all the engines, which negatively affects Mclaren’s race pace. Comparisons are hard because having more power lets a team run more downforce, since it changes the calculation of what is the best compromise in terms of downforce and drag on a given circuit. And having the Honda engine means Mclaren have to work to a different efficiency ratio from, say, Mercedes.
But, taking all this into account, Mclaren’s data tells them that their chassis this year is on a par with Red Bull’s. So assuming both progress at the same rate over the winter, they should be close in 2018. “I think we are going to have some great racing with Red Bull next year,” Brown agrees. “They are a great team, great drivers, they have a good head start on understanding the power unit, but I think we can race them hard.”
The rest depends on the progress Renault make in closing the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari over the winter.“renault have won a lot of races,” Brown adds. “We are aware of their plans, we are confident in their plans. These things ebb and flow, right? Ferrari weren’t where they are today 12-24 months ago. So while it might seem that Renault is the third best engine, they are not far off. A lot can happen in the offseason. So it would be early to assume they are going to remain the third best engine.”
At the time of writing, Alonso had not yet signed a new Mclaren contract. But the big stuff – his salary, for example – was all agreed, leaving only details, and it was considered an inevitability by the team. Publicly, Alonso was insisting he had not yet decided, but it’s hard to see what else could happen. So, assuming he does sign, what is it going to feel like to be fighting for podiums and, potentially, wins once again?
“Normality,” he says.