Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix McLaren end ill-fated engine tie-up with Honda af­ter three years

Team to switch to Re­nault power but Ja­panese man­u­fac­turer will re­main in F1 with Toro Rosso

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union - Giles Richards

“I be­lieve suc­cess can be achieved only through re­peated fail­ure and self-anal­y­sis,” the founder of Honda, Soichiro Honda, once said.

The For­mula One engine man­u­fac­turer has ex­pe­ri­enced no short­age of ei­ther in re­cent years but with no sign of the tri­umph they presage, the com­pany and McLaren for­malised their sep­a­ra­tion in Sin­ga­pore. It ended a part­ner­ship whose scale of fail­ure would have given the en­gi­neer and in­dus­tri­al­ist cause to think his words were be­ing taken to an ig­no­min­ious ex­treme.

At Ma­rina Bay yes­ter­day an­nounce­ments con­firmed what had been known was to hap­pen. McLaren are to drop Honda af­ter three years of un­der­per­for­mance and un­re­li­a­bil­ity and switch to Re­nault en­gines for the next three sea­sons.

The con­vo­luted machi­na­tions that had ac­com­pa­nied the deal were also for­malised. Re­nault will no longer sup­ply Toro Rosso, who will take on Honda power units for what is thought to be a three-year deal and Re­nault in turn have se­cured the use of Car­los Sainz Jr from Toro Rosso for next sea­son, to re­place Bri­tain’s Jolyon Palmer.

The process has been long-winded and in­volved the sport’s owner, the For­mula One Group, which was keen to en­sure Honda, as one of only four engine man­u­fac­tur­ers in F1, re­main in the sport. They have achieved this end and Honda has an­other chance to turn fail­ure into suc­cess but for McLaren it is the divorce at the end of a dis­as­trous re­la­tion­ship.

Honda wheeled out some big-hit­ters to deal with the fall­out. Kat­suhide Moriyama, the chief of­fi­cer for brand and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, felt the need to in­voke the mem­ory of Soichiro. “For Honda, F1 started with the dream of our founder,” he said. “For our com­pany F1 is very im­por­tant, it is in our DNA. We have gone through a very tough sit­u­a­tion and no­body was sat­is­fied with the re­sult but quit­ting F1 was never an op­tion for us. It is our goal to over­come this tough chal­lenge and get back to fight­ing with the fron­trun­ners.”

His op­ti­mism was tem­pered by the rare ad­mis­sion they had not been good enough, hav­ing en­tered the sport af­ter the other man­u­fac­tur­ers. “I re­alised F1 tech­nol­ogy is very high,” said the com­pany’s mo­tor­sport man­ager, Masashi Ya­mamoto. “For Honda that joined a year later, it has been a real strug­gle for us to keep up with the new tech­nol­ogy.”

Em­u­lat­ing the heady suc­cess of the late 80s and early 90s, when Honda-pow­ered McLaren swept to four driv­ers’ and con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onships was the team’s aim. When the deal was done in 2014 McLaren made it clear they be­lieved they could not win a ti­tle as a cus­tomer Mercedes team com­pet­ing against the works out­fit. It was a rea­son­able ar­gu­ment but one based on the as­sump­tion Honda could en­ter an es­tab­lished engine for­mula and catch and pass Re­nault, Fer­rari and Mercedes. A task that has proved be­yond them.

The 2015 sea­son of­fered a poor start, with McLaren fin­ish­ing ninth, al­though there was im­prove­ment the next sea­son with sixth. This year was sup­posed to see their chal­lenge come to fruition. It had been the in­cen­tive of­fered to Fernando Alonso in bring­ing him to the team. But the new Honda engine proved hope­lessly down on power and un­re­li­able and the writ­ing was on the wall from the mo­ment the car strug­gled in test­ing.

McLaren’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion was clear. The team have lost spon­sor­ship and suf­fered a ma­jor drop in con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship pay­ments ow­ing to poor re­sults, Honda was bring­ing a very large bud­get to McLaren but such was their des­per­a­tion and loss of con­fi­dence they have cho­sen to forgo that. A bold move, ac­knowl­edged by the team’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Zak Brown.

“You take risks in busi­ness and sport that’s what makes it ex­cit­ing. We need to get to the front of the field,” he said. “Our share­hold­ers are very com­mit­ted and we would not have made this de­ci­sion if we were not pre­pared to work though the short term loss in the wake of it. The team will be­gin a new era next sea­son.”

On the track, Red Bull proved strong on the down­force-de­pen­dent Ma­rina Bay cir­cuit, with Daniel Ric­cia­rdo top­ping both prac­tice ses­sions. Fer­rari, also ex­pect­ing their car to suit the cir­cuit, were play­ing their cards close to their chest, par­tic­u­larly on the short runs. Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was mid-table in the sec­ond ses­sion but will have more to come.

Lewis Hamil­ton, who leads Vet­tel by three points in the world cham­pi­onship was a solid third for Mercedes in the fi­nal ses­sion.

Today’s qual­i­fy­ing is go­ing to be cru­cial – over­tak­ing is very dif­fi­cult in Sin­ga­pore and track po­si­tion could make all the dif­fer­ence.

Clive Ma­son/Getty Images

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, sec­ond in the driv­ers’ stand­ings, guides his Fer­rari round Ma­rina Bay dur­ing prac­tice for to­mor­row’s Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix

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