This weekend there have been rumours that McLaren and Honda may be looking at getting back together to chase the coveted number one plate they carried during the classic partnership which dominated F1 in the late 1980s. But is there really a business case for it as far as Honda are concerned?
The Honda era for the McLaren team was a real landmark, with 44 victories between 1988 and 1992 and Prost and Senna in their prime. Recently we’ve seen the revival of the Williams-Renault for 2012 onwards, so retro brands are in vogue.
German magazine Auto motor und sport suggested this week that a McLaren source had indicated that the team was keen to try to work up an alliance with Honda for the new generation 2014 engines.
It’s not hard to see why McLaren would want this. They are no longer a manufacturer backed team, since Mercedes bought its own team. They cannot afford to be left behind, especially when engines become a major performance differentiator again in 2014 with the new hybrid turbo formula.
The map is changing with these new rules in mind, powerbases being built, with Renault overtly promoting Red Bull as its factory team. McLaren likes to think of itself as being at least F1’s second most important team after Ferrari, with aspirations to overtake it somewhere in the future. But neither team can allow Red Bull to dominate the sport for long.
But would Honda want to come back to F1? The company quit the sport abruptly at the end of 2008. At the time they owned a team, which is far more expensive undertaking than being an engine supplier.
I made some enquiries in Japan over the last couple of days and it seems there are some significant hurdles to them coming back.
First the company’s share price has slumped by over 30% in the last 9 months and the mood I’m getting from sources close to the manufacturer is that there are bigger business issues to deal with before they start thinking about F1 again. The aftermath of the Japanese tsunami as well as the floods in Thailand are high priorities.
The there is the issue of exchange rates, which are making Japanese goods very expensive overseas at the moment and making it hard to be profitable. However the flip side is that with rates as they are at the moment any spend on European based activity would be 40% less expensive than when they were last doing F1 in 2008.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle would be one of confidence within the Japanese company; when Honda was last in F1 they were far from being the most competitive engine. Their unit was heavier and less powerful than the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault units.
The 2014 engine rules were put together with the idea of attracting new and former engine manufacturers to participate. Honda stayed across the discussions which culminated in a finalised agreement on specification in June of this year. Although small capacity hybrid turbo engines are more Honda’s cup of tea than the current V8s, there hasn’t been any clear sign that they are engaged in building prototypes at this time.
If it turns out that they are – and Japanese sources say not – then it could get very interesting.
Toyota has categorically ruled out a return any time soon.
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