By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
McLaren has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2017, mostly due to their incredibly unreliable Honda supplied power units.
The team did somewhat casually reach out to Mercedes about supplying them for the future, but for the time being they are under contract with Honda and are forced to make lemonade from lemons. The best long term strategy, one I have written about several times, would be for them to invest funds from McLaren automotive, their successful road car operation, into creating their own power unit. It would be costly, it would take time, but ultimately it would give the designers and engineers in Woking a level of creative control that they have never had and will never get from the Honda partnership.
Such an idea however is apparently and firmly off the table for now according to Executive Director Zak Brown.
“McLaren Automotive is a different business unit with some common shareholders who we work very closely with,” Brown said. “Their engine is a McLaren engine but the F1 team has a different set of economic priorities and ways to go racing so that is not a conversation that we’ve had. What we can do in 10 years, who knows, but that is not a conversation for now. We are not an engine builder, we are a racing team and a car constructor.”
10 years is a rather generic timeline, but on the face of it Brown is playing the long game. With the FIA’s decision to change the engine formula for 2021, he may feel that it is not worth the considerable investment and time needed for McLaren to create its own power unit when the regulations are set to change in less than four years.
All this means that McLaren may be in store for more than just a long year, but several long years of waiting for Honda to come good. Brown continued, “We are very open with Honda. We are working with them on what is the best way to be competitive as quickly as possible, and then ultimately to get back to the ultimate goal of winning the world championship together, so there has not been a real strain in the relationship. All our conversations with them have been about how we get out of this situation that we are in.”
Fernando Alonso almost finished the Australian Grand Prix, and was running in the points until right before he retired the car, which was a hugely unexpected sign of progress. Will the team be so lucky at the more traditional Shanghai International Circuit this weekend? How long will it take before the team is operating on the level the ended 2016 at, let alone compete for podiums or victories?
It will be fascinating to see how it plays out considering that it is already a dark subtext to the overall story that is Formula One in 2017.