Why McLaren with Honda makes sense
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Mar 2013   |  12:20 pm GMT  |  310 comments

There has been a lot of speculation in recent days about Honda and McLaren reviving the famous partnership, which brought domination of F1 in the later 1980s and early 1990s.

It began towards the end of last season, but has grown in intensity recently. This is probably due to the fact that attention is now focussing on the major engine changes in 2014 and McLaren has every reason to want to move away from Mercedes, despite having an option to use their new generation hybrid engines in 2014 and 2015.

In the last few years Mercedes has withdrawn as a shareholder and major investor in the McLaren team, poached Lewis Hamilton and has been busy doing the same with technical director Paddy Lowe. That’s not one body blow, it’s a pummelling.

To say that there is no love lost between the two would be putting it mildly.

On top of that they will be aware that the 2014 Mercedes engine will be precisely what Mercedes wants it to be from their own chassis design point of view. The customers, like McLaren, will have to make do with what they are given.

For a team with McLaren’s self-esteem, the loss of Hamilton and this customer status is too much; they have to act to restore their pride.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh did little to dampen the Honda speculation when he told SKY, “There’s a lot of speculation and I’ve heard Porsche, Hyundai, Honda, all those sorts of names. I hope for Formula One that these manufacturers come back – we need them in the sport. In the longer term, who knows what’s going to happen.”

Yesterday at the Geneva Motor Show there was a lot of discussion about this subject. Speaking there to Rolf Ganter, the senior automotive analyst from UBS, he sees the market conditions for Honda to return to F1 as highly favourable,

“Honda is not so well known in Europe; they are focussed on Asia and the US. But F1 engagement could bring them back to the European table,” he said.

“And don’t forget what is happening now with the Japanese producers. Look at the currency; how much the Japanese yen weakened – around 20% versus the dollar and the euro. And that puts these companies on a more competitive situation. This means that they can make more profit on their cars or put in more features or even sell the car cheaper.

“Honda was always famous for having high revving engines and for them it’s a good place to be back in Formula 1. As a stock I like it and as a company I like it and I think it would make sense.”

Another compelling reason to return is that the 1.6 litre hybrid turbo engine is core business for Honda, where 2.4 litre V8s are not. Few manufacturers are making production V8 engines any more.

However, Honda is well aware that Formula 1 is a cruel business: if you are winning and doing well, it can boost your brand image globally, as it did for Honda in the Senna and Prost era with McLaren.

But if you are doing badly, as Honda did from 2006 to 2008, it can actually damage your brand image. You are then spending millions to damage your brand, as Jaguar did for example, and that makes no sense at all. Honda was not cut out for team ownership, but partnership with a top team like McLaren is different.

Arguably since the Honda team withdrew from F1 it’s model range has lost some of its glamour and sportiness and this would be restored by fighting at the front of F1 again.

History suggests it would be an engagement with a finite time period, Honda doesn’t tend to stick around for more than seven or eight years, but F1’s global footprint these days matches their key markets and supplying engines is much cheaper than running a team.

From a business perspective it makes sense. And as business is usually the driver for all decisions taken around F1, there is likely to be more than a grain of truth in it.

One final note – if a McLaren Honda partnership were lined up, sources say it would not happen before 2015 for logistical reasons. There would also be variations and changes from the Technical Working Group during the first year and Honda would benefit from observing that.

This would leave Mercedes supplying its engine to McLaren in 2014, knowing that Honda engineers would be crawling all over it from later this year onwards.

They would be very uncomfortable about that.

* To hear more from my discussions with Rolf Ganter about manufacturers and F1, check out the first JA on F1 Podcast of 2013, which will be live here on the site by Monday.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

But still, have mclaren won anything the latest seasons? or do they become favourites now? I dont think so, there is much work that needs to be done even though its a great partnership they are making


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I doubt Honda will want or need any IP from Mercedes, after all, they have plenty of experience in building race winning engines.

What they will get is enough information from McLaren to be able to calculate the exact torque and power curves of the Mercedes engine and to then extrapolate the approximate graphs for the other 2015 engines. In other words, they will know exactly what they have to aim to achieve to beat their rivals and will have plenty of time to complete development and testing of their power unit.


Mr. James:

I am from Brazil and I am very happy with this article. Remenber the brazilian pilot Ayrton Senna with a powerful Mclaren-Honda? Brazilian people love the Japanese automaker. Honda Fit, Civic, City, Crv and Accord are popular in my country. Honda has a very great technology. Sorry for may poor English.

Please, read this article from Japanese Asahi Shimbum:




I have two questions

1)Is the Mercedes McLaren contract regarding Engine supplies so water tight for 2014 & 2015 as per contractual obligations, that Mercedes should supply the Engine that they are using in their own F1 program. Or if Mercedes can supply a B specification engine to McLaren to avoid the technology going to Honda.

2)Are Honda reliable engine suppliers as others are over the past years. Once thay have lost the Podium chances they have retracted from F1. Will McLaren be worried about this on along term.


2014 – Emirates Mclaren Honda.


Yes, finally an excuse to go back to the classic white and red colour scheme!


Honda does make sense in general – but much the same as any other marque (esp from the VW range)

Honda does not make sense however if the engine is not as good as the Mercedes. Even if the Mercedes engine does not fit the car perfectly, it would be a courageous choice to move away from one of the best to an also ran (especially when engine performance is going to be a big differentiator next year)


BTW, if we’re gonna be stuck with a spec engine, why not just have one engine from Ilmor and re-badge them for each “manufacturer?”


2 words, Corporate Pride.


I don’t really get a lot of peoples comments regarding “company x makes V6s week in week out so therefore they will make a better v6 F1 engine”.

Racing engines are a whole different ball game to production motors. There is the argument that technology developed on the track finds its way back to road cars, that is true for some things. VW/Audi have a lot of technology in their engines developed at Le Mans and Ferrari have some very clever electronic systems in their cars developed in F1.

This does not and will not happen the other way round though. Back in the 60s/70s and maybe even 80s engines may have been based on production blocks but now a days the engine is so specialised I doubt this is possible. I doubt even the companies that had experience of making V6 turbos in F1 before (Ferrari, Honda, Renault) will have an advantage such is the advancement in technology.

The company that builds the best engine will be the one that hires the best engineers and the one that interprets the rules to their benefit in a way that none of the others do.

I just hope that continued engine development is allowed, I am looking forward to the engine being a key performance differentiator as it should be.

As an aside for anyone that’s interested I was watching a very interesting clip by Koenigsegg the other day about an engine they are working on with fully hydraulic valves, that is no cam shaft at all and infinitely variable valve timing.


Perfectly logical.

In order to spread the cost amongst purchasers there could be twenty teams on the grid running three cars each.


I think a sixty car F1 field would be great, but since Bernie can’t even tolerate eleven teams with two cars each I’m not getting my hopes up 🙂


Not enough people willing to field an F1 team which costs 100s of millions of pounds to run every year, plus coverage would be diluted between the cars so the sponsors wouldn’t be so willing to invest. If the F1 fan base was 3 times bigger then maybe.


Addendum – In answer to #94


With all the poaching between McLaren and Mercedes will we start seeing rumours of Ross Brawn to McLaren Honda? I would love to see Ross in a partnership with Honda which we were denied in 2009. Or are there certain egos too big now to allow this to happen, ie Ross vs Ron and Martin?


hello james, i think you’re spot on on this as always. from nikki lauder,s comments on video about the lowe story suggests things are not button (smooth) between mclaren and mercedes.

i also suspect honda regretted not taking part in the 2009 season.

returning with mclaren would be advantageous to them because mclaren has the c12 and p1 from which they could learn how to make better sports cars.


Here’s something I want to run by you guys – but fair warning, it might be complete rubbish.

Right now teams are restricted to eight engine for the season – that makes sense in regards to cost cutting. Less engines, less cost. Simple 🙂

But next year we have a new engine that has cost millions to develop, and so the cost of the engines (or power units as they will be called) will go up dramatically.

Some teams will change suppliers next season, but for the sake of argument let’s assume everyone is staying with their current supplier:

Not including themselves (and I assume RBR as a de facto works team), Renault supply three teams, while Ferrari and Mercedes each supply two teams.

Teams will be restricted to five engines for the season. That means that (with no failures) in 2014 Renault will sell 15 engines, while Ferrari and Mercedes will each sell 10 engines.

BUT…what if there were no restrictions on engine usage? Then Renault would sell 60 engines over 20 races, while Farrari and Mercedes would sell 40 engines.

That would seem like a massive cost, but as I see it it’s the same as any new technology; initial costs are high, but the quicker more units are sold the quicker costs come down.

By selling 4x as many engines they could recoup their development costs much faster and so actually sell the individual engines much cheaper than they might do in 2014, and in the end the costs would come down much more quickly to the current V8 costs.

As I said, that might well be a load of rubbish (and feel free to tell me so :)), but it was just a thought.


You think those mid and back end teams have money for this plan?


Not sure they have money for the new engines period to be honest, but I do see your point.


It doesnt work. you are still selling the development cost to the same people. so if you sold 1 engine or 100 to a team the development cost would cost the team the same. but the team has still to buy 4x as many pistons ect. so the cost would be higer.

Example 5 engines per season =£15mill

Development cost £5mill

5 Units cost £10mill

to supply 10units

Development cost £5mill

10 units cost £20mill = £25mill £10 mill extra.

I no that is all simple maths and might not be correct figures, its just an example of how it would work.


For sure it wouldn’t work in the real world, but it was just a hypothetical. My thinking was short term loss for greater mid to long term gain…maybe.


I believe Manufactures of engines or parts should be encourage to sell their wares to other teams specially the smaller teams to cut cost and it would speed up the development of the parts/ideas etc…(maybe giving the manufacture say 1 point to add to their tally (of the constructors title) if that car wins)…just my thoughts.



they are in f1 to advertise their engines by winning races and not to make money directly from selling race engines to f1 teams.


Thanks James for the best F1 site with in house rumours and factual info.

a place where true F1 fans can comment and give their thoughts…likes/dislikes and what matters to them…(knowing you are respected by those who make up the FI paddock I’m sure all the teams read and post under alias 🙂

More engine manufactures can only add more variety and hopeful reliability.

For my part I think it’s time for McLaren to make it’s own engines or buy out cosworth, to take the next step in a great company/team to really compete with Ferrari both with road cars and F1.

Williams need a good long term proven engine contract and some good drivers to get back where they belong.

I like what I see at Lotus but time will tell there…maybe Melbourne will show us more.

RedBull keep doing what you are doing, it works 🙂

PS: James keep your contract with 10/HD1 love your reports 🙂



It’s renewed. Looking forward to working with 10 again this season, lots of cool stuff planned for Melbourne


Honda have a great base to work from, their 1.5 liter turbos dominated with McLaren in 1988. Their engineers would not have to “crawl” all over the Mercedes engine, plus they can’t, the engines are sealed. However, McLaren can get HP readings from their dynometers, the weight of the engine, it’s dimensions, mount points etc., and give the data to Honda. Honda would then have benchmarks to work with. As for a second team, Williams would be great, though I doubt that would happen. Lotus would be a good option as well!


The engines are sealed? Give me a break! All teams keep hold of their engines for a good long while you know. The rule is that they are returned to the manufacturer but Mclaren have a running example of each of its cars with their original engines.That’s because at least one or 2 examples of each engine remains with the team. Mclaren will apparently receive the dimensions and installation requirements for the new Mercedes engine in April as will Force India. They will also receive a mock up of it for offering up purposes. All this data will be retained by the team but it won’t be forgotten by them once the switch supplier.

Stone the crows

Thanks for a great report James. Before Honda left Formula one they had a good engine, a bit heavy in comparison to it’s contemporaries, but still pretty good. As someone else posted here, they’ve been supplying engines to Indy car for years and switched to providing turbo V6’s last year, so they have an experienced engine department. This would be a very advantageous arrangement for Mclaren, in that they will be able to work with the Mercedes V6, which will undoubtedly be very good, and with that knowlege be able to have Honda build an engine for them that will suit them perfectly.


The Honda V8 was probably the worst on the grid when they left the sport, but I think thats the only time in their involvment with F1 that thats been the case, the V10 , the turbo’s and even the 60’s engines were all considerd very strong.

As for the IndyCar engine, that comes from Honda Performance Development in the US, whereas the F1 engine is likely to come from a Japanese base so I doubt there will be too much crossover in engineers.


“…the IndyCar engine, that comes from Honda Performance Development in the US, whereas the F1 engine is likely to come from a Japanese base…”

Why would you think that?

If you have a facility thay already builds turbo V6 racing engine why would you start from scratch someplace else?


F1 and Le Mans will have common eengine specs for petrol motors from 2015 so there is synergy there.

Have you ever seen the Honda Advanced Research place? It’s the size of Manchester. I woudln’t be surprised if they had a team of people working on it since the 2014 rules were announced just in case they decided to come back. Now they will just put more people on it and ramp it up fully.

Also, there is a contributor to the F1Technical site that claims Honda already has engineers in situ at Woking and with the rumours of the Honda/Mclaren reunion emerging 12 months ago that probably means it had been planned well before. There’s no smoke without fire as they say.


Because in all likelyhood the HPD facility is running at near capacity with its LMP and IndyCar projects. There’s also not likely to be much crossover between the two turbo plants.


Honda in the past has tended to quit F1 when they have a poor powerplant relative to the competition. They left after 1992 when they had a heavy and not particularly competitive V12, and again after 2008 when their V8 was, by all accounts, 40-50 bhp down on the competition.


Mclaren/Honda would bring back so many memories, fanastic, but im sorry, they really need a top flight driver in there (Yes, IMO Jensen is not) they remind me of Williams now that Lewis is gone.


When Mercedes entered as a team it surely signaled the beginning of the end for the Merc-Mac relationship. I agree that if Mclaren want to grow -both in F1 and in road cars- they need to build their own engines. Definitely merging with Cosworth should be a consideration.

I’m really surprised that Porsche is not considering F1 as engine supplier. (maybe it still is). I cannot think of a better V6 turbo builder than them. VTG- Variable Turbine Geometry- was a genius development by them. They have also invested in hybrid /ers for the new car projects (918 springs to mind). I’m sure their stretched rather thin with GT, Sports car development programes. When F1 looks at reducing costs-beyond 2015 it might be a good time to join and as you mention James they will have a handle on how the others look by then.

I also believe Honda will need time to be competitive as a supplier. Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari have over a year head start and many millions of euros already invested. 2015 for any new engine supplier makes perfect sense from here on in.


Don’t they already build their own engines for the road car?

Craig in Manila


So Honda have 2013 to design and build an engine and get it put into the Marussia for 2014.

They then have 2014 to develop it before 2015 when McLaren Honda F1 re-emerges and Marussia is bought-out by Honda and becomes Honda F1 Team with, wait for it, Ross Brawn in charge.

Sounds like a decent plan to me.

If Marussia announces a Japanese test/reserve driver, then we’ll know for sure that something is afoot !


I don’t think that would happen. Honda may enter with a few teams, but not with Marussia alone. There wilk be a flagship team when they enter.


can honda not design. build and develop the f1 v6 turbo engines in the same time frame as renault and mercedes have done?

Adrian Newey Jnr

To me this makes very little sense other than from a cost perspective.

F1 is being divided into various loyalty camps by engine manufacturer. Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari are able to spread their costs across multiple teams as well as gain valuable engineering data by having say 6-8 cars every race. By signing up to a Honda engine, McLaren would be exposed to a manufacturer that has been out of the sport for the past 7 odd years. Thats a long time in the sport. Its last engine program wasn’t exactly encouraging either.

So in summary, it would be allied to a manufacturer that has no other teams in which to spread development costs, only has information from 2 cars each race, has no recent experience in the sport and a clean sheet untested design. Unless El-Ron is getting these engines for free (a strong reason), to me the team is losing out on all other fronts.

Perhaps the team is prepared to take this risk with the view to gaining independence from the other manufacturers and to make up any power deficiency in the wind tunnel. However, the sport has not been kind to these sorts of all-or-nothing strategies! There is a reason why teams choose tried and tested packages, especially when hundreds of millions are being spent annually.


Suddenly Lewis jumping ship makes sense. Doesn’t it?


I’ve been watching the races during the McLaren Honda era. Speed was awesome except for the turbo sound which really does not impress me at all after all these years. Am still in favour of the present V8 cutting edge grind, can’t help it. Well.


McLaren keeps saying they want to be the “British Ferrari”. To be that they need to have there own engines in their F1 cars and their road cars.

Anything less than that is not good enough.

Them running Hinda engines in their F1 cars is admitting defeat.

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