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The end for McLaren-Honda?

Fernando Alonso in the driver's seat for McLaren-Honda. (Image: Takayuki Suzuki/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)
Roar Guru
13th June, 2017
4

When the name McLaren-Honda is uttered in motorsport circles, one reminisces in awe of the dynasty these marques built during the 1980s and 1990s in Formula One.

The iconic red and white McLarens roaring to multiple victories at the hands of legends and Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna powered by Honda engines, was one of the most definitive periods of domination in the sport and symbiosis between two entities.

This legacy has been put into jeopardy however, following the reunion between the two heavyweights in 2015, with the renewed partnership yielding no success to date.

Formula One has heavily evolved since Honda were last present in 2008. The sport made its foray into hybrid technology, which is something the Japanese have been prolific with in their road car divisions.

With the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari making significant strides entering 2017, the onus was on Honda to move forwards into the realm that Renault currently reside in with their mid-field level engine.

Instead what has transpired, is that Honda have gone backwards and worse than that, is they’ve even fallen further in arrears than where they were in their debut campaign in 2015.

McLaren face their worst season to date, having scored no points being seven races into the championship. Let alone even reach the chequered flag – which has been achieved on only one occasion, as the titans of the past sit last in the standings.

The remarkable optimism shown from the start of 2015, when both parties faced the mountain they had chosen to climb, has finally reached the end of its tether, as McLaren begin to publicly cite that they’re ‘near their limit.’

Newly appointed CEO of McLaren in Zak Brown came out after the Monaco Grand Prix and stated “We were only told recently that we wouldn’t have the upgrade coming [for Canada] and we don’t have a definitive timeline, which is concerning because the pain is great and we can’t sit around forever.

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“We were eagerly awaiting this upgrade as were our drivers and it’s a big disappointment that it’s not coming. It’s not lack of effort, but they are struggling to get it to come together.

“Our preference is to win the world championship with Honda. But at some point, you need to make a decision as to whether that’s achievable. And we have serious concerns.

“Missing upgrades, and upgrades not delivering to the level we were told they were going to, you can only take that so long. And we’re near our limit.”

Therein lies the fundamental issue with Honda in this iteration. Their lack of urgency and stubbornness, of the principles required to be successful in modern Formula One.

Being separated across two different continents does little to improve the cohesion between both camps, which in this hybrid-formula has proved to be crucial, when marrying chassis with power-unit.

Honda’s stubborn attitude towards receiving external aid, which the likes of the benchmark Mercedes-Benz factory have been offering to improve their reliability, highlights that their culture is unfortunately not suited to the competitive nature of Formula One.

“The team [McLaren] are all ready to win, expect Honda,” were the words used by Fernando Alonso during pre-season testing, as the Spaniard prepared himself for another year of turmoil and non-finishes.

Fernando Alonso Portrait

(GEPA pictures/Red Bull Content Pool)

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Alonso once again felt the pain at the Canadian Grand Prix, having retired on the penultimate lap with a loss of oil pressure in the maligned RA617H power-unit – while so close to scoring a solitary point in tenth place.

Returning to McLaren in 2015 in pursuit of that elusive third world title, Alonso’s own role in the revived McLaren-Honda partnership can be surmised as a tragedy. While his old rivals in the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have been winning multiple races, and contending for world championships, a driver of Alonso’s esteemed calibre has been left to toil with the backmarkers.

The venture to the hallowed Brickyard last month for the Indy 500, was in a sense an attempt to retain Alonso’s services beyond his contract which expires at the end of 2017. Even though the foray was quite significant for the McLaren brand undergoing revitalisation under Brown.

Ultimately, Alonso’s ambition to challenge for the Triple Crown of Motorsport indicates that there is little chance of achieving that third championship in Formula One – with McLaren or elsewhere.

Even the most optimistic individuals can surmise from this situation, that little prosperity can be attained by this duo. Time does not stand still and neither does the world of sport, which is constantly an evolving battleground.

Perseverance can only go so far and when one party cannot hold their stipend, it is time they best part ways. As unfortunate as it is for the rich history between McLaren and Honda, a split is best for their prestige.