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

F1 Racing (UK) - - YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS -

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.

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