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McLaren confirms split with Honda, switch to Renault F1 engines in ’18

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McLaren has confirmed it will be parting company with Formula 1 engine supplier Honda at the end of the 2017 season after three years working together.

In a statement issued by McLaren on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix., the team announced the partnership had been ended by mutual consent before switching to Renault for 2018.

“McLaren Technology Group and Honda Motor Co. Ltd announce they will discontinue their partnership for the FIA Formula One World Championship (F1) at the end of 2017 by mutual consent,” the statement reads.

“The McLaren Honda Formula 1 team will continue to compete for the remainder of the 2017 FIA Formula One Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships.

“Both Honda and McLaren will confirm their future plans in the sport in the near future.”

“Renault Sport Racing and McLaren Racing are pleased to announce they have agreed an engine supply partnership for the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons,” a subsequent release from McLaren and Renault reads.

“The deal will see Renault Sport Racing supply McLaren with Formula 1 power units, while also establishing a close working relationship with McLaren’s engineers and technicians.”

Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2015, working exclusively with McLaren for a second time following an enormously successful partnership in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Coming in one year after the introduction of the new V6 turbo power units, Honda was unable to make up ground on its rival engine manufacturers, leaving McLaren a lowly ninth in the constructors’ championship in 2015.

Progress through 2016 lifted McLaren to sixth in the teams’ standings, only for a redesign of its power unit to backfire and cause the team to plummet to the back of the field in 2017.

With frustration growing through the year, McLaren officials explored a number of different avenues for alternative engine supplies, with Renault emerging as its only option.

A number of meetings were held over the Italian Grand Prix weekend with both Honda and Renault, the latter ruling out supplying a fourth team in 2018 on top of its existing commitments with Red Bull, Toro Rosso and its own works team.

A deal was struck after Toro Rosso agreed to move in the opposite direction, linking up with Honda for 2018, ensuring the Japanese manufacturer remains in F1, much to the relief of the sport’s bosses.

Honda had provisionally been due to work with Sauber next year before the deal announced over the Russian Grand Prix weekend was scrapped following a change in the Swiss team’s management.

McLaren’s announcement puts an end to one of F1’s longest-running sagas, the team opting to sacrifice factory-level backing and a significant level of financial support in its chase for greater success on-track.

“There has never been any doubt over Honda’s commitment and energy to the mission of success in Formula 1. They are proven winners and innovators,” McLaren executive director Zak Brown said.

“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.”

“It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other’s future,” said Takahiro Hachigo, Honda president & representative director of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.

“On behalf of Honda, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to fans who have been very supportive of the team as well as the drivers, team members and everyone involved who shared with us in the joys and disappointments since we began preparing for our return to F1 in 2015.

“Honda will continue the fight together with McLaren all the way to the end of the 2017 season, and then continue its F1 racing activities in 2018 and beyond.”

The decision is also set to have a big impact on the driver market for 2018, with star driver Fernando Alonso long venting his anger about Honda’s performance and considering his future at the team as a result.

Now with Renault coming in, Alonso is expected to extend his stay with McLaren, having made the move across from Ferrari at the end of 2014.

F1 2018 – Engine Supplies

Renault: Renault, Red Bull, McLaren
Mercedes: Mercedes, Force India, Williams
Ferrari: Ferrari, Haas, Sauber
Honda: Toro Rosso

F1 aggressive on COVID-19 testing, social distancing enforcement

F1 COVID-19 testing
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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With big hugs and wide smiles, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown exuberantly celebrated the first podium finish of Lando Norris’ Formula One career. His exuberance earned a warning from Formula One and FIA officials during the era of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent F1 testing.

“Obviously I got excited with Lando on the podium and embraced him after the race,” Brown said with a laugh during a news conference Friday. “You get caught up in the emotion and excitement of the event, but it was suggested maybe I don’t do that again if we get a podium anytime soon.”

MASK WARNING: NASCAR tells teams to avoid ‘complacency’

Now in its second race weekend of 2020, F1 has taken an aggressive approach to maintain a paddock free of COVID-19. Before teams hit the track last week for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, F1 and FIA officials said more than 4,000 tests were conducted over a week with no positive tests.

In order to enter the track, any F1 personnel (which includes drivers and team members) must have a negative COVID-19 test. Private testing was used ahead of those traveling to Austria. After entering the track, personnel are tested every five days with private medical teams at events along with extra screening.

The results of F1 COVID-19 testing also will be made public every seven days. More than 8,000 tests were conducted through Saturday.

It’s a much different tack from NASCAR and IndyCar, neither of which is conducting COVID-19 testing (and with NASCAR recently distributing that warned teams of “complacency with protocols).

Though Brown, who also oversees Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports in IndyCar, demurred when asked whether the U.S.-based series should be taking a cue, he praised F1 COVID-19 testing for being a best-in-class example.

“I don’t know exactly what every other racing series is doing, so it would be difficult for me to say they’re doing it right or wrong,” Brown said from Austria. “All I can really do is speak to what Formula One is doing, and they’re doing an unbelievable job with 5,000 tests, and people flying in from different parts of the world. The minute that someone — and there’s not been many instances – has taken a mask off, you’re getting a letter or a phone call saying put your mask back on.

“I think all sports should be looking at all sports and seeing who’s doing what and what are our best practices, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about how the FIA and Formula One and the countries they’re racing in are executing because it feels extremely safe here.”

Brown said it’s unlikely the European-based circuit will do F1 COVID-19 testing at races in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Canada because the events likely will be scrubbed. Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, was scheduled to play host to F1 on the Oct. 23-25 race weekend but just canceled its MotoGP race.

“We’d very much like to race at all those circuits,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, my opinion is it’s probably unlikely we’ll race at any of those venues this year. That’s obviously due to the COVID situation. … Let’s see what happens, but certainly it seems like the spikes in Texas are pretty severe and Brazil and Mexico and Canada a little less so. But if we miss them this year, we certainly look forward to going back to those venues next year.”