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No regrets, insists McLaren chairman of Honda split

NEWS STORY
27/11/2018

On paper, 2018 was McLaren's best season since 2014, its final year with Mercedes engines in the back. Back then (2014) the Woking team finished fourth in the standings with 181 points.

Then came the much-anticipated re-partnering with Honda, which, over the course of three turbulent seasons, saw the multi-champions finish 10th, 7th and 10th (again), respectively, gaining a total of 133 points over the entire three years.

Eventually, the pair opted to go their separate ways, and while Honda hasn't taken the significant step forward many were expecting, its performance with Toro Rosso has been enough to convince Red Bull to end its own turbulent partnership with Renault.

Meanwhile, for the second time in its long history McLaren partnered with a French manufacturer, though again the results have hardly been inspiring. Despite a strong start to the season by the time of the summer break the Woking outfit - like its fellow multi-champion rivals at Grove - had become a sad footnote in the 2018 standings.

Though the Woking team finished sixth overall, its best result since 2014, let's not forget that Racing Point Force India finished just ten points behind, despite contesting just nine races, and that over the course of those nine races McLaren scored just ten points.

If nothing else however, 2018 put an end to McLaren's ludicrous claims during the Honda partnership that it had the best car and that the power unit was the root of all problems, for this season the MCL33 was a dog.

Despite this however, McLaren chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa of Bahrain insists that he has no regrets in parting ways with Honda.

"On the one hand, it was frustrating," he tells BBC Sport. "On the other, we are committed to this.

"The way we were heading, the change was bound to come," he says of the split. "Tremendous respect for Honda but the relationship wasn't working and so we had a civilised discussion and we decided to part ways.

"We will see this through," he added. "Frustrating, because we are racers at heart, but you just have to power through."

With free engines and financial backing, the Honda divorce is said to have cost the Woking team in the region of $100m (78.8m), a figure in which the few new sponsors the team has attracted has barely made a dent.

"We're confident we know why we haven't been able to develop this year's car," says Sheikh Mohammed. "There is a fundamental problem, and we think we've addressed it.

"I don't know if we want to disclose what we have discovered and why, but we have taken steps, and the development of next year's car has helped us understand what went wrong here."

Admitting that the issue was not discovered until "after the summer break", he says: "Had we discovered that in April we would have had a B car, but it was too late."

In an effort to get the team back on track, Sheikh Mohammed reveals that Mumtalakat, investment fund of the Bahraini government, is pumping more money into the team, which earlier this year saw Canadian businessman Michael Latifi invest 203.8m.

Though the fruits of this investment have yet to be seen on track, behind the scenes there are big changes, with James Key recruited from Toro Rosso - though currently consigned to his garden - and Pat Fry returning to his spiritual home after his time with Ferrari. Indeed, the 2019 car will be the work of Fry and Andrea Stella who headed to Woking at the end of 2014 from Maranello along with Fernando Alonso.

One way or another, 2019 is going to be a crunch year for the Woking team... in the meantime check out the live betting odds.

Check out our Tuesday test gallery from the Yas Marina, here.

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1. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 27/11/2018 18:05

"A lot has been said about McLaren doing the right thing or not regarding the split with Honda.

Looking at this from Honda's point of view, imagine what would have happened if they had been with McLaren this year.

Honda would have been blamed for the slow car rather than McLaren being showed up by Team Renault and Red Bull.

In a way the split has benefited Honda more than McLaren.

The split did benefit McLaren (not fiscally) in that at least McLaren can focus on getting the car sorted out without blaming the PU. Maybe the flaws in MCL33 would not have even been found and 2019 would be a repeat of 2018.

Then again, 2019 could still be a crap year for McLaren if they do not do something significantly innovative and that isn't easy when the rules are quite prescriptive and testing is limited. Which is why it is very hard for anyone to chase down Red Bull, Ferrari and especially Merc who have "invested" a lot of money in covering all bases."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 27/11/2018 17:05

"Come back Ron. All is forgiven!

RBR appear to have 'Bet the Farm' on Honda having burnt their bridges with Renault. Luckily I've now run out of cliches...
This year's RBR car is VERY tightly packaged around the PU - allegedly part of the reason for it's decent performance despite a power deficit. Adrian Newey's cars are usually designed like this, and Honda will not be popular if they produce a larger lump...."

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3. Posted by klmn, 27/11/2018 13:55

"Alonso told what was good and bad for Mac and left behind a big mess. "

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4. Posted by imejl99, 27/11/2018 13:36

"If i can read between the lines (or tea leaves) from Max`s statements, McLaren needs to stop being stubborn and rigid. Or that one size fits all orange clothing line could end up to tight.

(PITPASS, Verstappen: Honda is making strides, NEWS STORY, 15/10/2018
Asked where he believes the partnership with Honda will succeed where that with McLaren didn't he says: "By telling Honda that they need to develop the best and fastest engine, but not as small and compact as possible.

"We indicate that we want as much power as possible and in return we will make it fit in the car. That is a very different approach than they had at McLaren.")"

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5. Posted by Mad Matt, 27/11/2018 13:33

"We can't really know if their claims about last years chassis are valid or not as they didn't race a Renault engine in it. All we know is that this years chassis was a bit of a mare and that it took them an age to work out why.

Let's hope that things work out better next year."

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 27/11/2018 11:52

"The permutations on disaster for this one are near infinite and the permutations for success are more bounded. Either way... we the fans who are now addicted to off track action have a blinder of an off season as this plays out and the McLaren laps 3 seconds off the pace in the first season test...thankfully they are gaining focus by producing road cars and establishing and IndyCar team. May-be they should partner with Lewis for a clothing line... one size fits all orange...."

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