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McLaren approaches Mercedes over possible F1 engine supply

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McLaren has made a provisional approach to former engine supplier Mercedes over a possible deal regarding Formula 1 powers units, according to multiple reports out on Thursday.

McLaren enjoyed a long-running partnership with Mercedes between 1995 and 2014, yielding drivers’ championships in 1998, 1999 and 2008, as well as one constructors’ crown in that period.

McLaren cut ties with Mercedes at the end of 2014 as the latter’s factory team became its focus, moving to rekindle its partnership with Honda that ruled over F1 in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Such form has been hard to repeat, with Honda instead struggling to catch up with the other power unit suppliers in F1, resulting in continued struggles for McLaren.

The issues came to a head in pre-season testing when drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were forced to sit on the sidelines for much of the running.

The ongoing struggles have led to questions about McLaren and Honda’s future that only intensified following reports on Thursday that the team was exploring other options.

As per BBC Sport and motorsport.comMcLaren has made what the former called an “exploratory approach” regarding an engine supply from Mercedes in the future should its deal with Honda come to an early end.

Mercedes has one F1 engine supply up for grabs after originally planning to work with the Manor team in 2017 before its closure in January.

The German manufacturer’s power units have been the class of the field since the introduction of V6 turbos in 2014, with the works Mercedes team winning three straight world title doubles.

However, McLaren racing director Eric Boullier stressed over testing that McLaren and Honda remained committed to one another and were working hard to get through the current rough patch of form.

McLaren has not won a race since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, and last scored a podium finish in 2014 at the season-opener in Australia. Since teaming up with Honda, it has finished no higher than sixth in the constructors’ championship.

The new F1 season kicks off at Albert Park in Melbourne in March 26.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).