When McLaren announced that it was joining forces with Honda for the 2015 season, minds were instantly cast back to the glory days of the McLaren-Honda partnership of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Unfortunately things haven’t quite gone to plan, as the only similarities between then and now are that the team has one of the sports best drivers and…erm…well, that’s about it.
Under Ron Dennis McLaren always prided itself on its image, with all sorts of strange rules being imposed at the factory, like staff members not being allowed to wear white earphones or every blade of grass at the having to be exactly the same length (probably). But unfortunately image has joined performance as something that has plummeted during the partnership with Honda.
The teams racing director Eric Boullier claims that the bad results and consistently bad press from having terrible engines has made it difficult to attract new sponsors. In an interview with F1.com, Boullier said:
“When you look at the last three years it’s been a proper disaster for us in terms of credibility and getting new sponsors. And then you have to take the long-term view: in the next five years I am absolutely sure that we will go back to where McLaren belongs. And with this bouncing back we get our credibility back and it will rebuild our sponsor portfolio. It might take two to three years.
We are ninth in the championship – with a top engine I think we would be fourth right now and just on the FOM money we could cover the engine side, so it will not be a big risk on the monetary side. Thanks to the shareholders who have been brave enough to take a sporting choice and not hurt McLaren. They could have said, ‘Let’s wait until Honda wakes up’.”
This was supposed to be the year where Honda finally got things right, but a spate of failures during pre-season testing made it obvious that the team was in for yet another season filled with miserable Fernando Alonso team radio messages and a smorgasbord of hilariously over-the-top grid penalties. Boullier said that because of the awful start, the team started to consider its future before the first race of the season had even happened.
“The crucial moment was after the Barcelona testing, when we tried to work and help Honda to improve the situation in a very short time, including having discussions with the other engine manufacturers, and without going into details, it became obvious that they again would miss the target that we had agreed for the season. Then by the summer we knew that we had to take a decision, to stay or not to stay. I can’t say a date, but there had been a couple of targets missed by summer.”
Boulier added that splitting from Honda was a difficult decision to make given the historical significance of the partnership.
“[It was] very hard. The whole story for them, as it was for us, was to recreate the legacy of the past. On paper everything looked right. Just the way it’s been done was not right, obviously. Luckily we managed to make it an amicable settlement and they understood that all the investment that they have made, they should get a reward from that at some stage. We can’t wait – but they can get the reward with somebody else.”
He also said that he’s happy Honda managed to stay in F1 by partnering up with Toro Rosso. Probably because that’s at least one team he knows McLaren will definitely beat next year!