The worst kept secret in Formula 1 has now been made official: McLaren is ending their partnership with Honda in favor of Renault for 2018, with Toro Rosso going in the opposite direction.
It seems like we've been speaking about this deal forever, but it is finally official, so we can move on with the more exciting business of racing. Before that, however, Renault Sport F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul had his say on their new partnership with McLaren and how it would affect the factory Renault team.
The McLaren-Honda marriage has been nothing short of a failure. Honda has scored just 11 points and sits ninth in the F1 constructors' standings, just ahead of Sauber. Last year, McLaren-Honda scored 63 points and finished sixth in the standings. In 2015, it was a ninth-place finish and 27 points for the Honda-powered outfit.
McLaren finished a strong fifth -- with 181 points -- sporting Mercedes power in 2014.
“It’s part of Renault’s history to supply engines to great teams,” said Abiteboul. “Irrespective of what we do, whether we are a works team or we don’t have a works team, that is what we do. We have 13 years of relationship with Williams, 12 with Red Bull -- all of them very successful. It’s never been done in history with Renault, this McLaren tie-up, so that’s something that we’re very proud of.”
At the less power-dependent circuits, McLaren has demonstrated that their chassis is one of the best on the grid. Especially at the Hungarian Grand Prix, it is entirely possible that, had they had a little more power, a podium finish could have been possible.
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While Mercedes and Ferrari decided not to supply McLaren due to the risk of being outperformed, Abiteboul says that Renault is not yet in a position where this is a risk that is of concern to them.
“Absolutely we are prepared for McLaren to finish ahead of us, I think that we have to accept that,” said Abiteboul. “We are not exactly in the same position as Mercedes and Ferrari. We are aiming to -- that is where we want to be in a couple of years’ time, but we have to accept that, for the time being, we are playing catchup in every single aspect. Engine performance, chassis performance, driver strategy also. So, to a certain degree, the strategy that we have today has to be slightly different.”
The breakup between McLaren and Honda has been far from clean, but all parties were smiling for the camera in the paddock on Friday, possibly with relief that the troublesome three-year saga has come to an end.
McLaren Technology Group executive director Zak Brown said: “There has never been any doubt over Honda’s commitment and energy to the mission of success in F1. They are proven winners and innovators, but for a combination of reasons, our partnership has not flourished as any of us would have wished.
“It is certainly not for the want of effort on the part of either Honda or McLaren, but the time has come to move ahead in different directions. As fellow racers, we hope to see the great name of Honda get back to the top -- our sport is better for their involvement. I know this view is shared by everyone in the sport.
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“Today’s announcement gives us the stability we need to move ahead with our chassis and technical program for 2018 without any further hesitation. As an organization, McLaren has always worked extremely hard to form lasting partnerships with its technical suppliers, and we’re convinced that we can bring real value to Renault Sport Racing as we work alongside it to develop this current power unit into a regular race winner.”
Part two of the announcement for Honda sees Toro Rosso leave Renault to join forces with Honda. With Renault also calling time on their relationship with Red Bull for 2019, this could be a deal that leads to a larger relationship with the former championship-winning team.
"We are very pleased with our new partnership with Honda and the opportunities this presents, and we start to work immediately,” said James Key, technical director for Toro Rosso. ”It will be a question of adaption of our plans rather than a wholesale change, and we are in the process of replanning our design and production activities in conjunction with Honda to ensure that we both hit all our important deadlines.
“There are some challenges to face given the time of year, but Toro Rosso has faced many difficult tasks with timing in the past and has the flexibility to deal with it. We will be working hard not to only redesign the PU installation but also ensure that this has minimal or no effect on the ongoing development work for 2018 -- that is our current target. The architecture of the car will change in line with the PU requirements, and our chassis and gearbox designs are currently under review to be adapted accordingly. Similarly, we will be working closely with Honda on the performance aspects of the PU installation that the chassis will influence to ensure we maximize the potential of the package as a whole from the outset. We look forward to a strong, stable and proactive partnership with our colleagues at Honda."
By Sam Hall
Formula 1, Racing
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