F1: The McLaren Honda Nightmare Is Over

F1: The McLaren Honda Nightmare Is Over
Marina Bay Circuit, Marina Bay, Singapore. Friday 15 September 2017. Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren ref: Digital Image _R3I8884

The McLaren Honda Nightmare Is Over

Well, almost. At the end of the 2017 Formula One season, McLaren Honda will be no more. After three seasons of almost unending woe, the Honda power units are off to Toro Rosso.

Honda’s presence in F1 is creating quite a trail of destruction.

To get a supply of engines that don’t blow up every five laps or so, McLaren had to offload Honda to someone else. Initially, that someone else was Sauber. But with new owners and investors on the scene, that idea was sent packing, as was Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn. Sauber re-signed with Ferrari, and that was the end of that idea.

This infuriated everybody except Sauber’s designers and drivers, one imagines.

Honda’s performances grew worse and worse. Much-heralded improvements yielded more disappointment and more amusing radio outbursts from Fernando Alonso.

The final straw appears to have come at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Honda had promised an update, delivered it, and the engines blew up. Another total disaster, which infuriated everyone except Haas.

Since the Italian Grand Prix, talks have centred around Red Bull’s second team and driver creche, Scuderia Toro Rosso, taking on the troublesome Honda engines. These talks had been off and on for a while but since Belgium, stayed on.

Around and around it all went. McLaren wanted Renault, Renault wanted Ricciardo, Palmer wanted to keep his job, Zak Brown wanted to keep Fernando, Fernando wanted a car that didn’t blow up.

So, on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix, a series of orchestrated press releases and interviews dropped.

The Announcements

  1. McLaren thanks Honda, but seriously, we’ve had enough, so it’s best you leave.
  2. McLaren welcomes Renault, because seriously, anything is better.
  3. Toro Rosso welcomes Honda (and lots of money) because…uh…well, we’re not sure why, actually.
  4. Renault welcomes Carlos Sainz Jr for the 2018 seasons because, seriously, we’ve had enough of Jolyon Palmer. And Red Bull wouldn’t give us Danny Ricciardo.
  5. Red Bull Racing still has Renault engines in 2018 but dammit, that’s it.
  6. Red Bull Racing suggests Aston Martin might come to F1 as a supplier, but probably not.
  7. Jolyon Palmer says f*** and he actually hasn’t yet had enough of F1.

Okay, that last one wasn’t official, but you have to feel for the guy. He found out he’d lost his job on autosport.com. Ouch.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso
Photo: Steven Tee for McLaren Racing

This has all been terribly embarrassing for everybody but hugely frustrating for McLaren’s star driver.

Fernando Alonso has been denied the chance to continue demonstrating his incredible driving talent. He’s not too flash at politics or picking the right time to go to the right team, but boy can he drive. He has consistently driven the wheels off the McLaren, which appears to have a handy chassis. McLaren even let him do the Indy 500 to keep him interested and the sodding Honda in the back of that car blew up too. Apart from Monaco, which clashed with Indy, he has turned up at every race and driven his heart out.

Remember when the Red Bull wasn’t to Sebastian Vettel’s taste and he started to coast a bit? Hasn’t happened with Alonso.


McLaren’s reputation is severely damaged, but no worse than the torrid Peugeot experiment in 1994. They may have built a car to challenge the might of Mercedes, Ferrari and to a lesser extent Red Bull. They may have built a car better than all three. We’d never know.

The Honda power unit is demonstrably worse in 2017 than it was last year. In 2016, Honda appeared to get a handle on things but changed philosophy over the winter. McLaren knew on day one at Barcelona that the 2017 season was already over, so started desperately casting around for a new engine deal. F1 is a tough business but a team like McLaren shouldn’t have to beg for an engine supplier. No team should really, but that’s part of F1’s wider issues.

Part of Honda’s participation meant tipping a lot of cash into McLaren. The situation must be so bad that the rumoured $100m isn’t worth the ignominy.

McLaren Honda is radioactive

McLaren Honda

McLaren Honda, as an overall brand, is now irretrievably tarnished. Without going into idiotic nostalgia, the partnership between those teams is one of motorsport legend. That’s now dead and buried, because today’s F1 fans will remember only the power unit’s unreliability, lack of power and total lack of sensible decision-making at Honda’s F1 operation.

Hopefully that will change in the future, but Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna’s domination with Honda power units now seems like a century ago rather than a mere thirty years.

Carlos Sainz and Renault

Carlos Sainz must be pleased. He’s got an escape from Franz Tost and Helmut Marko’s overly-critical oversight at Torro Rosso. To be fair, they’ve been good to him as a rule, but it must be a difficult atmosphere, especially given STR’s history of turfing their drivers after two or three seasons.

Renault also has a future star in the car to replace Jolyon Palmer and put Nico Hulkenberg to the test. Palmer seems like a lovely kid, but is totally out of his depth in F1. Sainz too needs a challenge, because his STR teammate is the hapless Daniil Kvyat who, like Honda, appears to be getting worse too.

Red Bull and Renault

Renault promptly pulled the pin on Red Bull during the week. One of Renault’s (rumoured) demands was to get Daniel Ricciardo in the yellow and black next year, but they got Sainz instead.

Red Bull spent a lot of time trashing Renault over the past couple of seasons, so retribution was swift. Renault is basically condemning RBR to Honda engines in 2019, the final year of the current engine formula. It could go either way, but if you track Honda’s poor decision-making, it’s hardly likely to be a great engine by then.

That means losing either or both Ricciardo and Verstappen. If Ricciardo isn’t on the blower trying to replace Kimi Raikkonen in 2019, he’s mad.

What now?

McLaren Honda
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren

We wait. Palmer looks like he’s already gone at Renault, so we might see Sainz in the factory colours in Malaysia and a Honda driver in at STR to replace him. The whole deal isn’t especially satisfactory for the fans of most of the people involved here, but it was the least worst result. F1 really has to sort out the over-complex engines, the dull racing and the dumb rule changes that put teams and engine suppliers on the back foot all the time.

But with a Renault engine, at least McLarens can challenge. Fernando in with a shout is formidable and exciting.