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