Red Bull continue to bash their engine partner Renault. McLaren are starting to lose patience with Honda. Audi are looking in to the bizarre bubble of F1 with great interest and a select few know what is actually going on. So let’s try to shed some light on the latest behind-the-scenes moves.
Return of a legend?
For McLaren and Honda it was supposed to be the return of a world beating partnership. So far it’s been an oily stain on an immaculate history. Publicly all the sound bites are positive and the drivers – most of the time – are staying ‘on message’ but the chatter about disharmony is growing.
Even though it is less than a year in to the partnership, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that McLaren and Honda could split. McLaren are no strangers to dumping engine partners mid-contract having split with Peugeot in 1994 after only 1 year. Honda – a company steeped in honour and tradition – bowed out from F1 last time waving the white flag after their works team offered only a solitary win. Of course for McLaren the move ushered in a period of near domination with Mercedes power. For Honda it was an ignominious end that ironically coincided with them finally producing a championship winning car. But enough of the history lesson.
Is there life after Honda?
If McLaren dump Honda it leaves them with few options. Quite logically they decided that a works engine deal and partnership was needed to take on the ‘in-house’ Mercedes and Ferrari outfits. Of course with Audi sniffing around F1 there might be an option there but the smart money seems to be on a Toro Rosso takeover and/or supply deal with Red Bull to replace their battered and bruised partner, Renault. Thus the likelihood of McLaren tying up with Audi seems unlikely and at any rate would find them back at square one essentially.
The prospect of McLaren going back to Mercedes on bended knee seems even less likely. It is hard to picture Ron Dennis asking Toto and Nikki for the privilege of paying for a supply of engines. Equally a tie up with Ferrari seems unthinkable if only from a brand perspective. McLaren are a super car manufacturer in their own right; partnering with such a direct rival makes no commercial sense.
The other option
There is of course the intriguing question around Renault. Battered by Red Bull repeatedly (I believe in order to force Renault out in order to tie in with Audi quicker than their existing contract allows) they seem destined to have no teams from 2017 onwards, if not from 2016. But here is a different perspective: whilst the Renault is not world-beating it is more powerful, reliable, driveable and fuel efficient than the Honda. We’re McLaren and Honda to split McLaren could become the de facto works team for Renault. That would meet the criteria for McLaren and would offer Renault a more enthusiastic partner than Red Bull that can arguably offer greater scope for progress given McLaren’s signing of several aero specialists and Red Bull’s post-Newey era. Rehabilitation for both would make Renault a more palatable option for other teams as well.
(Another) Dishonourable discharge
For Honda, a split would severely damage their F1 aspirations. Outside of a rumoured Manor deal there are effectively no teams that would be interested in a supply deal. Williams and Lotus would not swap their Mercedes unit and I’m assuming Audi are in the Red Bull and Toro Rosso mix. Sauber is a risky option in terms of their financial situation and Gene Haas’ team is a Ferrari B team despite what the founder says publicly. In short if this partnership with McLaren doesn’t work, Honda will likely face another ignominious exit from F1. Personally I hope the McLaren Honda partnership makes a breakthrough soon and gets back to the front of the grid, together.