The long-running tragicomedy of McLaren’s reunion with Honda could be given its last rites at the Singapore Grand Prix this week, as a deal with Renault nears fruition.
McLaren’s decision to ditch Mercedes power heading into the hybrid era has backfired spectacularly, with Honda always playing catch-up to their manufacturing rivals – a deficiency that has left one of the sport’s great exponents, Fernando Alonso, woefully misplaced on the grid.
The unhappy marriage is set for divorce, however, with Renault reportedly agreeing to supply power units for McLaren in 2018 and beyond.
But the story is not quite that simple, with the futures of Toro Rosso, and especially Carlos Sainz Jr, also tangled into a complicated web of deal-making and repositioning…
WHY MCLAREN ARE MAKING THE MOVE
McLaren-Honda was a combination previously synonymous with one of Formula One’s most commanding teams. Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna’s domination of the grid came on Honda power – between them the legendary foes won all but one race in 1988, with the Brazilian coming out on top in that intra-team battle, the first of four-straight drivers’ and constructors’ doubles.
The last two and a half years have done severe damage to that reputation, however, with Alonso, Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne lagging in midfield at best. The team have scored points at just two races so far this season.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) September 3, 2017
Of the four power units currently in F1, Honda’s is by far the weakest, but the proposed move to Renault speaks volumes of McLaren’s desperation to ditch a partner that currently provides free engines and pays most of Alonso’s salary.
Red Bull have made no secret of their frustration with the French manufacturer over recent seasons, having seen their pre-Hybrid dominance of the sport transferred to Mercedes, and Ferrari overtaking them as the Silver Arrows’ most meaningful rivals this year.
WHAT NEXT FOR HONDA?
Honda’s malaise was deepened in July when Sauber reneged on a deal to take their power units from 2018, instead striking a fresh agreement with Ferrari.
The Japanese brand are set to remain in the sport, however, with Renault unable to simply add McLaren to their portfolio of customers – meaning Toro Rosso will take the plunge with Honda.
It has even been suggested that Red Bull could end up with Honda power, should they be enthused by the junior team’s progress – bizarrely mirroring the desire to quit a supplier which has seen McLaren head for Renault.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE ALONSO/SAINZ?
Alonso was previously expected to quit McLaren at the end of this season, but the promise of a more competitive package should be enough to keep the two-time world champion around for at least one more year.
Sainz is expected to end up in the Renault works car, as they seek a competitive edge over McLaren and Red Bull – both capable of putting together much sleeker chassis as it stands.
The biggest victim of the situation looks set to be Jolyon Palmer, who could even lose his Renault seat to Sainz before the season is over.