The McLaren-Honda partnership was meant to last for 10 years, but it’s coming to an end after just three. Still, at least there are plenty of good memories to look back on. Oh no wait, that’s not right, is it?
From the disappointment of the first tests to the…well, the disappointment of pretty much every race since then, the combination we were all so excited for has ended up being one of the most embarrassing chapters in recent F1 history. Here are 12 of the absolute worst moments.
The news that Honda was coming back as an engine supplier to McLaren for the 2015 season got F1 fans salivating. It conjured up memories of Senna and the gorgeous Marlboro-liveried cars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and many hoped it would see the team change its livery to reflect the new partnership.
But after all the speculation and concept liveries we were treated to…well, more silver and grey with red flashes. It was a massive disappointment, and even a livery change for the Spanish GP wasn’t much better.
Still, it didn’t matter because the performance would put the team back at the sharp end again and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?
If the livery was a disappointment, then testing was an absolute nightmare. Across the 12 days of pre-season testing, McLaren-Honda completed just 380 laps, whereas Mercedes managed almost 1,000 more, with 1,340 laps completed. Even Force India, who missed the first test entirely, managed 669 laps.
Problems with the engine were of course the cause of McLaren’s lack of track activity. In the first test the team couldn’t even run it at full power – not that it would have made much difference to the team’s pace…
Little was expected of the team at the first race in Australia, and so it proved when Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen (who was subbing for Fernando Alonso, who was concussed in a testing crash) locked out the back row of the grid, some three seconds away from the front-runners.
That made it the worst qualifying session for McLaren since Monaco 1983, when Niki Lauda and John Watson were 22nd and 23rd on the grid. At least they were ahead of some people though…
Even though Honda was given a few special concessions and an extra engine by the FIA, the Japanese manufacturer quickly burned through its allocation because the engines were so unreliable.
At Spa Alonso was hit with a 55 place drop and Button with 50 places. Not that it made any difference to their weekend – they’d only qualified ahead of the Marussia’s anyway.
The one bit of good luck was that the FIA had recently dropped the rule that meant unspent grid penalties would have to be carried over to the next race, otherwise they’d still be dropping places from that weekend today!
Fernando Alonso went to McLaren because he thought that the only way to beat Mercedes was to do something different. With three-quarters of the season done though it was clear that progress was pretty much non-existent, and he chose an important time to publicly air his frustrations – Honda’s home race in Suzuka.
When car after car breezed past him on the straights, he came on team radio and called it “embarrassing”. Then, later on, he referred to his Honda unit as a “GP2 engine”. I don’t think it was that good, Fernando…
In Baku this year both McLarens received a combined total of 70 places worth of grid penalties. In Mexico 2015, Button managed that many on his own. It was initially ‘only’ 55 places and he didn’t even bother with qualifying, but by the time of the race that had swelled to 70.
That’s a rather unwanted record, and one that’s going to take some beating. But if Toro Rosso sticks with Daniil Kvyat next year, throw a few driving penalties on top of the inevitable engine ones and he might have a chance…
A legendary moment that’s bad not because of the memes it gave us, but because it showed how the situation had got so bad that Alonso and Button had gone past anger and frustration and just started laughing about it.
First Alonso broke the internet when he broke down in Q1 and sat sunbathing in a chair, giving us the glorious Places Alonso Would Rather Be meme.
Then he and Button went up on the podium, if only to show that they still remembered where it was.
It was good to see that the one thing that wasn’t breaking with McLaren-Honda was the driver’s sense of humour. Ron Dennis must have been furious!
2015 was McLaren’s worst season in F1 since 1980, but in 2016 things were actually quite a lot better. The cars were more reliable and more competitive – Alonso and Button frequently scored points and the team looked a lot less of a shambles than it had in 2015. Sure, sixth in the Constructors’ Championship was still way off where the team had hoped, but at least things were heading in the right direction.
That wasn’t the case at Suzuka though. The MP4-31 was way off the pace in qualifying and the race, and Alonso and Button finished only 16th and 18th – McLaren’s worst ever two-car finish in a Grand Prix.
McLaren and Honda had shown serious improvement in 2016 so hopes were high for 2017. Ron Dennis was gone, orange was back in the livery and Stoffel Vandoorne joined Alonso in the line-up. Honda claimed its performance would be up there with Mercedes.
Unfortunately, Honda had also decided completely redesign its engine and the team found itself in a similar position to in 2015: a limited amount of mileage in testing and an engine unable to cover more than a few laps before going wrong. At one point the team got through four engines in five days as a huge amount of vibrations meant the power units were literally shaking themselves to bits.
The season hadn’t even properly started and there were rumours McLaren was looking for an alternative engine supplier.
Across the Bahrain GP weekend the McLaren drivers suffered an enormous five MGU-H failures. Stoffel Vandoorne had three of them, the last of which happened on race day and prevented him from even starting the race.
Following the GP weekend was a test at the circuit, and on one of the days the car didn’t break down at all. Good news, right? Not quite – the team had no idea why things weren’t breaking.
Following a disastrous weekend in Canada which ended with him visiting fans in the grandstands following yet another breakdown, Alonso said that his car was so slow on the straights that the speed difference between him and the other cars was dangerous.
This was also the weekend where McLaren boss Zak Brown started to publicly criticise Honda’s approach, suggesting that an imminent split was becoming a certainty.
One of the more bizarre stories of the year came during qualifying at Spa. Alonso looked on course to snatch a place in Q3 but had to abort his lap because he lost power.
After examination however, it was revealed that the engine hadn’t gone wrong at all. What happened was that Fernando took Pouhon flat-out for the very first time, which confused the electronics and stopped it from deploying battery power because it didn’t realise that he’d done the corner.
With six races left to go this season there’s still a bit of time left for some more unfortunate moments, and hopefully some more amusing Alonso team radio message.
What are some of your favourite memories of McLaren-Honda over the past three seasons? Let us know in the comments!