McLaren and Honda share a storied Formula 1 history with four championships won between 1988 and 1991. And when Honda announced it would rejoin McLaren’s grand prix program in 2015, fans believed it would be a return to the brand’s glory days.
Yet Honda’s contribution to the team’s recent performances has McLaren seething over engine failures and delayed upgrades that correspond to a lack of pace.
With these ever-present issues, the partnership appears to be in jeopardy. McLaren’s executive director Zak Brown told Reuters the team is at a “fork in the road” in deciding whether to stay with Honda next season or move to another engine manufacturer, possibly returning to Mercedes-AMG.
“Honda’s working very hard but they seem a bit lost,” said Brown. “We were only told recently that we wouldn’t have the upgrade coming [for Montreal] … and we don’t have a definitive timeline, which is concerning because the pain is great and we can’t sit around forever.” And in a racing series like F1, two years of development hell could have massive ramifications in terms of sponsorship deals.
Brown’s comments come on the heels of those made by ever-forthright McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, who has expressed his continued displeasure with the pairing for the last two years. His public unhappiness led to Brown and McLaren collaborating with Andretti Autosport to allow Alonso to race in this year’s Indy 500, missing the Monaco Grand Prix, F1’s preeminent venue. At Indy, Alonso piloted another Honda-powered car, which coincidentally also had its engine give up during the race. With that abject failure compounding Alonso’s irritation, his most recent statement to the BBC doesn’t really come as any surprise. “We have to win,” he said. “If we are not winning before September, when I will make a decision [about my future], I will not stay.”
Alonso added, “I joined this project to win the title. If you are not in a competitive position, maybe you change [the] project.” Earlier this year, the Spaniard put it even more bluntly, “We have only one problem, and that is the power unit. There is no reliability and there is no power.”
Both Brown and McLaren’s board appear to be as dejected as Alonso, with Brown saying, “The executive committee have now given us our marching orders. We’re not going to go into another year like this, in hope.” Brown didn’t want to get into the specifics of which engine manufacturer the team was looking at—though Mercedes-AMG would be a good bet due to the brand’s history with the marque as recently as 2014—but maintained that McLaren’s “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.”
Technically, it’s still possible McLaren could see the podium by the end of the year for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, at least mathematically. But when you consider that the team will go into this week’s Canadian Grand Prix again without a solution to its power and reliability issues, Alonso’s teammate Stoffel VanDoorne not being as competitive as the team would like, and a dejected Alonso who knows he has zero chance of winning, the situation appears unlikely to improve in the near future.