McLaren & Honda. A Messy Divorce?
McLaren Honda fans, Look away now. Your not going to like this post one little bit.
The once mighty McLaren was riding high with a long-term Mercedes engine partnership, until Martin Whitmarsh played Knight-in-shining-armour to the remains of Honda’s last disastrous attempt at F1. Stuck with no engine after the team owner and engine manufacturer walked away from F1, Ross Brawn came to Mercedes Cap-in-hand desperate for someone to power his self-named cars. So the story goes that Whitmarsh played a blinder in helping the troubled team get a customer deal with Mercedes.
We all know what then followed in 2009, McLaren dropped the ball and produced a horrendous car, whilst Brawn hoovered up the championships with the Mercedes in the back. This inspired the bigwigs in Stuttgart, they could buy out Brawn for a bargain, have their own works team and get massive exposure.
You can forgive McLaren for looking over quite enviously at the Mercedes team who’ve just won three drivers and constructors titles on the trot, and are smashing the lap count at Barcelona in pre-season testing right now.
The McLaren senior management, none of whom have a job with the team anymore believed that as they were no longer a Mercedes works team, there was no way they could win again, best to tempt back a different engine partner to build bespoke new power units and rekindle former glories. Step in Honda, making McLaren fans all over the world swoon with delight at the former successful partnership getting back together. The feeling at Woking was like they had got the Beatles back together.
Fast forward to the beginning of year 3 of the McLaren Honda partnership. A partnership that has bred 0 wins, 0 podiums and 0 happy faces. At pre-season testing yesterday a matter-of-fact Fernando Alonso commented that the engine has “No Power and No Reliability”. In the 6 days of testing so far McLaren haven’t produced a run longer than 11 laps, and have been going through power unit components like a child eats haribo.
Don’t forget that 2017 has 20 races, and for those 20 races you are only allowed 4 power units. At this rate, One of McLaren’s drivers might be lucky to reach the end of the Australian Grand Prix having used all 4.
Such is the sad state of affairs that after two years with poor results it feels like they’ve gone back to square one, and the new McLaren management can’t sugar coat the disappointment any more. Going all out and attacking the engine supplier, making it clear to all who’ll listen that the car is amazing but its the engine that is letting them all down.
The trouble here is that it’s not strictly true. Eric Boullier attempted a poor Donald Trump impression claiming that people who talked down the chassis were circulating ‘fake news’. Which seems to be the fashionable way to respond to news you don’t want to hear. The truth is that the chassis isn’t perfect. Many a pundit stood aside the Barcelona track during testing has noticed that a lesser-spotted moving McLaren is giving its drivers trouble getting into corners with a chassis imbalance which knocks the drivers confidence.
What we are seeing is Bouiller defending like crazy, pointing the finger at anyone who’ll take the blame. Honda has clearly got it wrong, big time, I wouldn’t bet against them getting it right eventually but time is really not on their side. McLaren need to take a long deep look within because all inside is not gold, or even orange, and the only way back to the top is working together in harmony with the engine supplier.
A messy divorce with Honda adds another 3-5 years of trial and error with someone else before getting close to being competitive. I don’t think Fernando can hold on that long.
So grip on McLaren & Honda, this might be a bumpy ride, but it sure as hell can’t get any worse. History has a funny way of repeating itself but please McLaren don’t cause your own downfall. again.