Is Honda really up for F1 return with McLaren?
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Nov 2011   |  8:59 pm GMT  |  156 comments

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.

The JA on F1 2011 limited edition collectors’ review of the year “Vettel steals the show” is now ready to pre-order. A large format 240 page paperback, it comes out on December 12th, costs £9-99 plus postage and can be sent anywhere in the world. All copies bought through this site are personally signed by James Allen.

To order your copy, click HERE

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What are the possibilities of a BMW return to F1 as an engine supplier for Mclaren? BMW powered Mclaren sound familiar? the iconic Mclaren F1 road car was powered by a BMW unit.




“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.”

Any proof of that?


Frankly I dont get why Mclaren would be in such a rush to look for a new supplier. I would think their priority would be agreeing to an extension in using Mercedes engines.

One of the best engines in the field, the best KERS…both Mclaren and Mercedes benefit from the partnership..

And when was the last time we seen a Mercedes engine give up on a driver in the race? The things are as close to bullet proof as can be.

Im not sure why Mclaren wouldnt want a Merc engine..


If talking about Honda we known very well about their V6 turbo charge engine in the past, ferari is dominating because of their controversial thing that they do to win and always back up by FIA but since cost control rule Ferari never can cope their different performance about force inductions engine ferari really re ally had poor performance in this area its proving during the force inductions era, who dominated by renault and Honda, the possibility of Mclaren Honda is need real deep analysis cause Honda is really uncompetitive when Variable lifting valve is banned and when the composite engine is being restricted, in my personal opinion Mclaren must play wise to take the matter with the Mercedes Benz no need to rush about it. The great change is by use VW engine who has proven the landmark on Turbo engine with their Audi R8,R10,R12 at present, so who knows what future hold for Mclaren


McLaren cannot seem to risk on a gamble on making their own engines as they might risk their competitiveness at this level when it and Ferrari are running after Red Bull, plus the not-so-far-off resurgence of Mercedes under Brawn when they sort out their predicaments. It would be a win-win for both McLaren and Honda since McLaren knows that Honda, historically, are capable of making good engines while Honda comes back to F1 without having the risk of their previous shamble works team


James, I thought the McLaren-Mercedes partnership last till 2015? Why is this talking about 2013-14 now?


People here keep talking about Honda not having any turbo engines on their road cars, but how about Honda’s current work with the new V6 Turbo engine for the IndyCar Series?

Totally unrelated, but it surely will provide valuable experience.


If Honda of Japan is not interested, perhaps its U.S. subsidiary Honda Performance Development (HPD) might be. HPD has a long history of building near-flawless V8 engines for IndyCar and LeMans. With new engine rules, these have become a 2.4L twin-turbo V6 and 2.8L twin-turbo V6 respectively. It couldn’t be a better fit with F1 moving to a turbo V6.

While some note that another engine freeze would disinterest Honda, I believe these days it is now the KERS engineering challenge that would keep Honda interested.

There is some interesting info on their 2009 KERS here:

Anyway I can see a dozen ways in which it is a perfect opportunity for Honda. Time to seize the challenge.


Hello James,

I apologise that this is off topic but it was announced that after the MP4-12C, Mclaren’s next road car would be called the MP4-27.

I think almost all of us would expect Mclaren’s 2012 F1 car would be called the MP4-27. With this announcement what would be the name of Mclaren’s 2012 F1 car? Are we expecting some major development in the Mclaren setup?


It’s not clear, maybe the MP4-27 is just the new F1 car. The road car is known as P12 (project 12?).


I would wager that Honda wants back into F1 dearly. It just isn’t financially feasible at the moment for them.


Boy, this topic sure sparks a lot of commentary.

At any rate, how about the return of Mugen-Honda as being a more likely candidate?


Honda would be good…

Porsche would be better! What happened to the VAG/Porsche rumblings, James?


Why do people think McLaren want to make their own engines?

I’ve read so many posts on this topic saying:

‘Now McLaren are a road car manufacturer, it make sense to build their own F1 engines.’

This is mental.

McLaren are building road cars to diversify away from F1, why would they throw more money into F1, especially at a time when they are gambling on an £800 Million investment in the production of road cars.


Why people think McLaren want to make their own engines?

I’ve read so many posts on this topic saying:

‘Now McLaren are a road car manufacturer, it make sense to build their own F1 engines.’

This is mental.

McLaren are building road cars to diversify away from F1, why would they throw more money into F1, especially at a time when they are gambling on an £800 Million investment in the production of road cars.


I have always preferred the idea of manufacturers supplying engines while leaving the chassis and the racing to specialist teams, so would welcome another brand’s engine in the back of a McLaren, especially one with the history of Honda. From what I read, the company needs some pep right now and F1 could be very affordable if the work was undertaken in Europe.

McLaren’s presence in the supercar and imminently sportscar markets would seem to limit its options.

Sadly, VW-Audi, which has been suggested as an alternative, probably does not need F1 as it has turbos, diesels and big bangers all covered already via its rally, Le Mans and DTM programmes.


Here’s a crazy thought. McLaren is one of the few teams with the strength in depth to diversify and assume a demanding development and manufacturing initiative; surely McLaren is the one team that doesn’t need a manufacturer just someone with deep pockets? So what about a fully in-house built McLaren Samsung for 2014?


Or a McLaren-Buffet, McLaren-Slim, McLaren-Batista, McLaren-Gates…rsrsrs good insight.


I would love to see Porsche/Audi/VW take a crack at being an engine supplier. AT the moment, Audi are very much involved with small powerful turbos and BMW are in the midst of moving in that direction with its current production lines being the last of the normally aspirated motors.


H’mmmm, Phil R even if Macca wanted to I wonder if RBR have the power (clause) to veto a Macca/Renault alliance. Would make Horner & Newey smile so much they’d split their lips if that was he case. Poetic justice?


Horner has done nothing but moan about the power unit, so would probably love to swap the Renault for a Merc.


Yeah Scott but 2014 wipes the slate clean & it all starts again. How many gee gee’s a v8 has now is irrelevant.


Hello James,

It’s very interesting news and a few questions have come in my head and perhaps it would be interesting to hear your opinion:

1. I would like to highlight that though Mclaren and Honda had great success together, that was 20 years ago! On top of that, like you have said in your article, in Honda’s most recent involvement in F1, 3 other engine suppliers have superior engines. How would this give confidence to Mclaren?

2. With Mclaren now going into the business of road cars with their 1st product being the MP4-12C, has Mclaren looked into the idea of producing their own engines? With KERS and hybrid technology being the thing for the future, wouldn’t Mclaren be able to use their future experience in F1 engines and apply to their road car business?

3. This could be a naive question. How much know-how has Mclaren got from Mercedes from the last 3 years with regards to KERS technology? Would Mclaren’s future engine supplier benefit from Mclaren’s acquired know-how (if they have any)?

4. In relation to question 2, by going straight into producing their own F1 engines from 2014, is it a step too far for Mclaren and hence they are looking for a engine supplier now to supply them the hybrid turbo engines for a period of time before they start manufacturing their own engines?


I don’t know why Mclaren don’t set up there own engine division, There must but lots of engine guru’s from BMW,Toyota,Honda days. They could then also make there own production car engines. That would make them the only British Car Manufacture in UK would it not?


That’s a great idea, I’d be fascinated to know more about F1 and apartheid. It briefly came up recently in relation F1’s lamentably apolitical approach to dealing with Bahrain, but I’d be very interested to hear about what drivers, team owners etc thought back then.


James, do i get a cookie for thinking loud about such a possibility in the ‘Cost of Competing in F1’ thread a week ago ? This is what i said and i quote : “If i were Whitmarsh, i would be sending “feelers” to Honda by now. Honda loves engine challenges and have never been really good making chassis ( just follow the HRC history esp in MotoGp). Mclaren-Honda have historic relationship which is almost legendary. If Mercedes are to back their own works team, Mclaren will really be out their on their own and will need a new partner.Honda could be the perfect fit.”

Jee! I should take making prophecies as a full-time vocation!


There you go!


Hi James,

Since Mercedes came back into the sport with a works team it’s been clear that the McLaren partnership would come to an end eventually.

After Dennis left the team the rumours have tended towards McLaren building their own engines for 2013 (now 2014) and that Ron wants to see McLaren become the English Ferrari etc.

Do you see this as a realistic option, and if not, are there any other manufacturers in the picture?


Honda powered McLaren would be good providing it can be at least as good (power and reliability)as the best. I don’t think McLaren would currently have the capacity to design and manufacture an F1 engine as volumes of the MP4 12C ramp up, and anyway I expect the two activities are entirely seperate. Also F1 engine design is a very specialised area to step into without previous experience, and knowhow does have to be built up. I do wonder if Ricardo could have some involvement as they have with the 12C, but obviously if Honda could surmount their present difficulties it potentially may be a partnership made in heaven for McLaren.


Whilst I’d like to see Honda come back into the sport I don’t see them linking up with McLaren, more likely a mid pack team and not for several more years until after the new regulations have settled.

I think more likely would be for a VAG sourced engine, most likely badged as Audi or Porsche. The new regulations would fit in well with the group’s line ups and ambitions whereas in the past the business case couldn’t really be made. If they do move into F1 I don’t see them linking with anyone other than a top team. At this point the only option would be McLaren as all the other teams are de facto manufacturer teams – RedBull Renault, Ferrari, Mercedes.

I wouldn’t think it out of the question that McL would start building their own engines, but I believe that it would take a longer build up and a more stable set of regulations to make it a safe bet. Also, it would mean a loss in money as they would have nobody else funding the engine, would be a major sponsor down and would all be taking place as they are launching new road cars in expensive manners.


I don’t think we will see a Porsche or Audi badged engine in a Mclaren, after all, both marques are going to be direct rivals to McLaren when they produce their second road car – strongly expected to be a 911/R8 competitor.

I had my name down on the waiting list for the MP4 12C but sadly the price was more than I could afford or would be prepared to pay for a car.

In a telephone conversation I was assured that a 911 competitor would follow – hopefully I’m near the top of that waiting list !

Without Honda, or an ongoing deal with Mercedes, it seems likely that McLaren will have little choice other than to work with Recardo and design their own engine.

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