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Brown: McLaren, Honda nearing ‘fork in the road’

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McLaren executive director Zak Brown says the British Formula 1 team is nearing “a fork in the road” with engine partner Honda amid continual struggles and delayed upgrades.

McLaren and Honda rekindled its famed partnership from the late 1980s and early ’90s in 2015, but has failed to enjoy the same kind of form that yielded multiple world championships in the past.

McLaren ailed to ninth place in the constructors’ championship in 2015 as Honda tried to get up to speed with its rival engine manufacturers, and made improvements that lifted the team to sixth the following year.

However, an attempt to redesign the power unit layout for 2017 appears to have backfired, leaving McLaren at the foot of the constructors’ championship with zero points after six races.

Relations between McLaren and Honda have appeared strained for some time, but both parties have been firm in their commitment to one another in the past.

Speaking to Reuters, Brown admitted that the struggles were now taking the partnership close to breaking point, revealing that the update promised for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix has been delayed.

“Honda’s working very hard but they seem a bit lost. We were only told recently that we wouldn’t have the upgrade coming, and we don’t have a definitive timeline, which is concerning because the pain is great and we can’t sit around forever,” Brown said.

“We were eagerly awaiting this upgrade as were our drivers and it’s a big disappointment that it’s not coming. It’s not lack of effort, but they are struggling to get it to come together.”

Brown said that McLaren’s upper-management has made clear that it cannot afford a repeat of this season in 2018, prompting the team to consider its options.

“The executive committee have now given us our marching orders. We’re not going to go into another year like this,” Brown said.

“I don’t want to get into what our options are. Our 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.

“Missing upgrades, and upgrades not delivering to the level we were told they were going to, you can only take that so long. And we’re near our limit.

“There’s lots of things that go into the decision and we’re entering that window now of ‘which way do you go when you come to the fork in the road’.”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.