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McLaren-Honda 3.0?

NEWS STORY
11/02/2023

There is speculation that McLaren and Honda could team up once again.

A week ago, shortly after Ford had confirmed its return to F1, in partnership with Red Bull, the FIA revealed the six manufacturers who will provide engines from 2026 under the new formula.

Along with Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine, there was Audi, the aforementioned Ford and Honda. The main teams with which five of these manufacturers are going to partner are already known, but (as ever) there remains confusion over Honda.

No sooner had Red Bull secured its first title with the Japanese manufacturer, which could finally close the door on the nightmare that was its recoupling with McLaren, that Honda announced its withdrawal from the sport.

As Red Bull began the frantic search for a new partner, opting to start its own powertrain division, Honda first announced that it would continue working with Red Bull until 2025 and then went the full 180, hinting that it might remain in the sport beyond that.

Last Friday's announcement from the FIA confirmed that Honda is indeed interested in remaining in F1 from 2026.

The big question is, with whom will it partner?

Amidst the confusion over 'whither Honda', Red Bull had come close to partnering with Porsche but that particular venture came to nothing when the Austrian outfit feared the German manufacturer would want a stake in the team and thereby a say in its running.

Honda, with which Red Bull has now won two drivers' and a team title, remained an option, but Christian Horner admits the situation was too "complicated".

"We have a great relationship with Honda and we've enjoyed so much success with them," he said, according to Motorsport.com. "And that relationship runs to the end of 2025.

"Both the team and Honda will be doing everything possible to add to the success that we've already achieved to the conclusion of those agreements," he added. "We explored the relationship beyond 2025. But it just logistically became too complicated."

Of course, though Honda may have registered its intention to be part of the new formula from 2026, nothing says it actually has to move forward and produce a new engine... indeed, the same could be said of Ford.

"Manufacturers that are registered on that entry today, it doesn't mean a commitment that they're actually going to be there in 2026," says Horner. "We will of course wish Honda the very best of luck in the future. But there is obviously a clear difference between the 2026 program that Red Bull Powertrains is focused on and this relationship with Ford, and the close working relationship with Honda to obviously optimise the best performance we can out of the current homologated engine to the end of 2025.

"We've had an incredible partnership with Honda," he adds. "When they initially announced their withdrawal from Formula 1 in 2020, it was with great sadness. That is what prompted the creation of Red Bull Powertrains to take control of our own future.

"As we set off on that journey, obviously there was a change of plan with Honda thankfully agreeing to continue to supply engines until the end of 2025 while, in turn, we were building up our resource for 2026.

"That contract we have until the end of 2025. We have a great working relationship there. They are an incredible company and, under the current regulations, we will be pushing with Honda all the way to the last race of the 2025 season."

Other than the uncertainty over Honda, Ford's involvement isn't exactly crystal clear, and the American giant, now that the initial fanfare is out of the way, admits that it doesn't have a bottomless pit in terms of the money it is willing to spend.

"We don't have an unlimited budget, as much as racing sometimes wants you to go that way," admits Mark Rushbrook, the company's Global Director of Performance Motorsports, according to the official F1 website.

"We go in strategically with the right partners to win races, but also with a responsible budget," he adds.

Indeed, Ford's Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley has recently hinted at heavy job cuts following disappointing earnings from the American giant, warning that his company has "25% more engineers to do the same work" as its rivals.

As for Honda, which has made clear that it has no intention of buying into an existing team, ironically being part of the DNA now found in Mercedes courtesy of the British American Racing saga, there is talk that it could rekindle its relationship with McLaren.

When the Woking team announced in 2014 that it was to re-partner with Honda, with whom it had enjoyed great success in the late 80s and early 90s, much was made of the pairing's illustrious history.

Second time around however was an entirely different story as the Japanese manufacturer failed to get a grip on the new formula introduced a year earlier.

Far from recreating the fairy-tale of times gone by, the renewed partnership was a nightmare, and one from which the Woking team has never really recovered.

As McLaren sought a way out of the disaster, Honda continued to work on its act, and after partnering the Japanese manufacturer with its 'sister' team Toro Rosso for a season, Red Bull was able to ditch Renault for its Japanese rival.

The rest is history.

Looking at the various options moving forward, Zak Brown is understood to have been talking to a number of manufacturers, with The Race claiming that he has visited Red Bull Powertrains, while Audi has also been mooted as a potential partner.

When McLaren announced in 2014 that it was to partner with Honda, Matt Bishop was head of communications at Woking, and if ever a man earned his money over the next two seasons it was 'The Bish'.

Whether the two can put that last troubled fling behind them and move on, possibly to greater things, no one knows, but for the time being Zak Brown is happy to stick with the Three Pointed Star.

We're very happy with Mercedes,” he said Brown in November. "I'm a believer that you can win a world championship with a customer engine.

"There's obviously benefits to being a works team with the advanced knowledge that you get," he admitted. "We have a long-term contract with Mercedes, very happy with the collaboration, and aren't really spending too much time yet thinking about 2026 and beyond."

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by TokyoAussie, 15/02/2023 3:31

"Works for me, as long as Alonso doesn't want to head to Maclaren again. Talk about a hex."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by kenji, 13/02/2023 1:15

"@Trackrecords...does anyone know the finite details of what the Porsche offer consisted? Yes, there are dubious rumours but I've not seen any detail. Likewise, the Ford hook up is so far shrouded in secrecy as to just how they intend to integrate. My limited understanding is that Ford will be coming into the arrangement purely as an engine partner and will have no participating wayownership of RBR. If that is the case then they, Ford, would have no rights to see/audit any of RB's financial records. I do emphasise however that my understanding has no basis in fact only what seems to be the direction taking place."

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

3. Posted by trackrecords, 11/02/2023 21:15

"I seem to remember that the reason for the Jaguar F1 team's demise was that the various departments didn't integrate and they were more interested in building their own empires within parent company, Ford, and delighting in one of the other department's failures.
Also, Ford is renowned for being a company of accountants that makes cars. Surely, Ford is going to want to see/audit RB's books sooner or later - Porsche is not going to look so bad a partner when that happens."

Rating: Neutral (0)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

4. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 10/02/2023 19:06

"McLaren Honda 3.0 could work for both outfits provided McLaren have the chassis in order rather than the other way round as it was with McLaren Honda 2.0 where the PU wasn't in order (the chassis wasn't great either).
In the should have would have could have past, McLaren should have got Honda into Manor for a season instead of getting rid of Merc a season sooner than necessary, something that Toro Rosso did for Red Bull, though it didn't help Brendan Hartley regarding results (Honda at least thanked him, something TR didn't do).
Honda can now watch and see if McLaren can get near Merc and make a decision accordingly.
A lot of water to go under the bridge yet for both Honda and McLaren though it will be something to watch in future.
"

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

5. Posted by Chester, 10/02/2023 18:58

"I chuckled out-loud reading "Cadillac badged Honda engines". We have such a low opinion of the Standard of the World. "

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6. Posted by Superbird70, 10/02/2023 14:41

"This only works if Andretti comes in with Cadillac badged Honda engines. Supporting a single team will not yield enough data to constantly improve. McLaren risk following Williams on the path to mediocraty if they go it alone."

Rating: Positive (2)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

7. Posted by Endre, 10/02/2023 13:02

"This was my first thought the second I heard about the RB Ford deal. They both need each other and this would be their best chance to win some titles again."

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