McLaren Honda F1 crisis: What would you do next in McLaren’s shoes?
McLaren Honda F1
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Mar 2017   |  4:40 pm GMT  |  534 comments

There are increasing signs that McLaren Honda’s reliability and performance issues, which came to light in winter testing, are much more severe than at first realised and that it is time for some serious decisions to be made.

One option being considered is a switch of engine supplier – but what does that entail?

We have the answers below.

As well as simply getting a car to run quickly and without breaking down, there are many broader factors at play here in any decision on McLaren’s strategy, such as finance, engineering resource and long-term plan.

And there is also the question of Fernando Alonso. He has made it clear that he plans to stay in F1 beyond the end of 2017, he does not want his career to end on a down note, so McLaren’s Eric Boullier has told a leading Spanish media outlet that McLaren has to consider what steps to take to ensure it can keep him beyond the end of his current contract.

“I think Fernando is being honest with us, just as we’re being honest with him. He first wanted to see how the new car was. And how the new regulations are. And I think he likes the new F1. He wants to be competitive because he has talent to show the world and to himself,” the Frenchman told AS.

“And we need to be competitive to keep him happy. If we’re competitive he’ll be happy and if not he’ll take his own decisions…”


So what would you do in McLaren’s shoes?

There are three options:
1. Stick with Honda while they resolve their problems, but insist on a plan involving external assistance to ensure that they get a competitive product going forward.
Advantages: Continuity of $60m a year plus free engines, contribution to drivers salaries, stability, manufacturer support.
Disadvantage: 2017 campaign virtually a right-off, Alonso likely to leave, hard to sell sponsorship for 2018 against low level competitiveness and a negative story.

2. Activate a break clause at the end of 2017 or urge Honda to withdraw and appeal to the other manufacturers for a supply from 2018 onwards
Advantages: Continuity of funding, especially if Honda withdraws and pays-off the team, as it did with Brawn in 2008/9, time to develop a competitive 2018 package
Disadvantages: 2017 season a write-off, low points. Alonso may well look elsewhere.

3. Break with Honda and re-engineer the 2017 car around a new power unit
Advantages: Team would be likely to compete higher midfield from Spain onwards (after starting the season with Honda) and would probably score somewhere up to 100 points, better chance of retaining Alonso, better chance of selling sponsorship for 2018
Disadvantages: Huge engineering exercise requiring two months to optimise, expense and loss of financial support unless they leave funding as in clause 2, embarrassment for Honda, would expose any weaknesses in McLaren chassis. This could lead to Honda taking the rest of the year to develop the engine outside and come back in 2018 or withdraw from F1 if they feel they will not be able to get on top of F1 hybrid engine technology.

Either option 2 or 3 would be controversial, but it’s clear that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the trust and communication between McLaren and Honda and they cannot be ruled out.

Hasegawa Honda F1

At the launch of the MCL32, Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa said that the 2017 Honda unit would be on the same level as the 2016 Mercedes.

“We have modified our engine with a much lower centre of gravity and lighter weight. However, it means we have a great challenge for the development, so I am very proud our team members have made a great job for this season. Of course we are not making any promises for this season, but our aim is to make the progress and catch up the frontrunners so that we keep pushing to make more progress.

“I don’t know how much gain Mercedes is hoping to make. But of course we are aiming to achieve the top level of the PU, which is Mercedes at this moment, but we don’t know how much power they are making now. But I am feeling that we are not behind from them (from start of 2016), but I think we will catch up with them at the beginning of the season.”

Given the reality as it was exposed in Barcelona testing from the outset, that it wasn’t even going to on the level Honda was at in 2016, it appears that Hasegawa wasn’t in possession of the full facts from his engineers in Japan about the engine and neither were the engineering staff at McLaren who liaise with Honda.

Trust is such a strange thing in an F1 team; it’s tough between team mates sometimes as we have seen with Vettel/ Webber and more recently Hamilton/Rosberg. But between a team and its engine partner it is fundamental.

So there will be some tough and frank conversations going on now about what happens next and it will be fascinating to see which way the partnership goes.

If they go for Option 2 or the ‘nuclear’ Option 3 then the team needs to adapt to a customer engine from one of the other manufacturers. The new rules say that one of the other manufacturers must supply them.

While McLaren and Ferrari have always been culturally estranged, Ferrari is well equipped to supply a new team having dropped Toro Rosso from its roster. They have enough people to staff that. Likewise Mercedes, after losing Manor from its customer roster.

Renault do not have as many people on staff, having gone from two supplies to three for 2017.

As for the engineering, although the rules say that the main mounting points have to be standard, it’s far more complex than that. Brawn famously engineered its 2009 car at late notice around a Mercedes engine and more recently Toro Rosso had a very late call to switch to Ferrari engines.

Honda F1 engine

So here is what it takes to switch F1 engines.

Phase 1. Answer the big general questions: What are the heat rejection figures? How are the oil and water cooled and where do the pipes go? What is the cooling layout? Are there areas in the sidepods that need re-allocating? How does the rear suspension fit with the new engine? How does it connect to the gearbox?

Phase 2. Answer the physical questions: Where are the drives, the pump drives, the shafts coming out of the engine to the fuel pump, the ERS drive? Sometimes things are built into the back of the chassis, moulded around the oil tank design for example and if they are well out with the new unit it could mean a new chassis design. This could also mean having to re-homologate the chassis with the FIA and repass crash tests.

Phase 3. Electronics: The control unit for the battery can be placed quite differently for different power units. Some place them above the battery. The battery is around 30cm x 30cm with a depth of around 120mm and is located underneath the fuel tank, just behind the driver. Moving its control unit could be a real pain.

Phase 4. Finer details: How do the wiring looms run? Everything is as tightly packaged as possible under the skin of an F1 car and modifications can require revisions to the bodywork and that means valuable wind tunnel time. Gear ratios are another key consideration. They are set for the season based on power and torque numbers. But a new engine will have different numbers and this may require new ratios. Some take 10 weeks, others 4 weeks and are fabricated by outside suppliers.

In the case of McLaren going for Option 3 ideally you would like to have a month to do the redesign and manufacturing and another month to test it on a chassis dyno rig. But manufacturers are sensitive about rival manufacturer’s staff being around when these things are tested.

Fernando Alonso

A new F1 car typically gets around 4,000km of testing at Barcelona before the season starts. So from the point at which you started running your new engine in the chassis, you’d have to allow at least that much running with the new package before you were confident of reliability.

That’s around 800 laps of a typical F1 circuit and would mean that the first four races after you relaunched would be challenging. So if you went for a change now, you’d be looking at racing from Spain onwards and then around Baku in June you would have a settled package. So that leaves 12 races to make the most of it. It’s a massive undertaking and a massive headache, especially during the season.

But they have a headache already. So what is the answer?

So what would you do in the circumstances? Leave your comments in the section below

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I say ,stay with Honda and they will fix it… Honda is a serious builder and they prooved it with all they championships… They face adversity before and they came out on top. I do beleive they will find the solution before mid season.


Normally I’d say tough it out with Honda, fix the issues given the massive financial & technical undertaking BUT Zack Brown made a good point one would normally overlook as a spectator which is the other sponsors already onboard with McLaren who put in money to advertise on a winning car. McLaren Honda do get a lot of “visual air time” which shows a lot of the sponsor logo’s but the only sponsor who could spin a good advertising commercial would be Chandon doing a don’t drink and drive bit where “drinking and driving could put you in a McLaren F1 car which next would show Fernando Alonso crawling out from under his car in Australia 2016 after its horrendous accident or law enforcement hand cuffing you after a short high speed pursuit driving drunk ( cutting to the drunk guys mental picture of him speeding away in his F1 McLaren Honda car dusting the police blood shot eyes deviously laughing) back to reality where as he is placed in the cop car in the backround the reality shot of the emploded McLaren Honda F1 car smoking after the actual chase never making it out of the parking lot lol..
Anyway, in reality Honda is no closer today than the 1st test in Barcolona 2015 which is so insanely odd. Im sure details of the other manufacturer engines are secret but I struggle to not believe the basic platform is there to build from, and again Honda claiming that they thought the engine would be competitive as the 2016 Mercedes engine this year but struggle to get out of the pit box. It makes no sense to me and if I was the man to decide to cut the umbilical cord I’d do it now.Obviously Honda’s promises are pretty empty going backwards not forwards and shown to be disloyal in the past anyway screwing Brawn. right before the 2009 season.
Brawn turned it around but we all know that was pure accident and likely. could not happen twice…McLaren will take a much more financial hit in the end than it would to switch to. a Mercedes power unit. Not Renault or Ferrari, it would have to be Mercedes.
We know Zack Brown was brought in for his expert sponsorship selling and managerial skills but even he can’t be expected to sell a shiny wet turd


AB has summed it up correctly in my view; it’s time to jettison this experiment immediately and start all over again with a redesign around a Mercedes or Ferrari engine and see what can be salvaged from the tail end of the season. That way there’s a good chance of McLaren next year still having what they had a few years ago and being able to fight for winning drives. Any more time now messing around with Honda and they’re well on the way to loosing Alonso and staying at the back of the mid-field for the foreseeable future.


McLaren build their own road car engines so why can’t they build their own F1 engine this year by bringing on board the necessary people for that project to be ready for 2018 & break ties with Honda to avoid further embarrassment?


Let’s face it, Japanese manufacturers are very average at best in Auto Racing. Toyota’s record in F1 was abysmal despite a huge investment. Same thing in WEC, WRC, Global Rallye Cross, etc,,,when facing European or US manufacturers, they got it handed it them in a big way…


What concerns me in the potential impact this is having on F1 from a manufacture point of view. We all know that to be at the top you need to be a constructor like Ferrari or Mercedes (and red bull).

If Honda have took 3 years to get to this point, and spent £100’s of millions of pounds and are still at the back of the grid, having their name and brand dragged through the mud, why on earth would manufactures such as BMW and Toyota come back, or even tempt new manufactures such as Audi into F1?

Audi, BMW, Toyota have hybrid road cars already, but not interested in F1, so how relevant is the technology really?


From and engineering standpoint it is less expensive and more reasonable to use whatever divorce and transitioning budget was to help honda import resources and fast track development.


The car seems to have issues with the chassis not just the power plant. This team needs money. It has next to no decent sponsorship and the car obviously is suffering from a lack of development.


It’s very sad to see Honda and McLaren in the situation they currently find themselves in.
The blame has to rest firmly at Honda’s door, particularly as they seem to insist on doing everything in house and are not prepared to recruit engineers with experience of building these fearsomely complicated power units.

What McLaren does from now on has to depend at least in part, on the contract with Honda. After their debacle giving away what turned out to be a Championship-winning team to Ross Brawn, can Honda afford the embarrassment by giving up on their F1 engine programme ? That would be much worse than giving up on their team because Honda have always claimed to be a company very much engineering-led.

But is that reputation still deserved ? While nobody makes better bike or lawnmower engines and at least their smaller outboards are superb, their cars are mainly bought by the elderly and are at best aesthetically challenged.

McLaren will know that without a very rapid infusion of engineers recruited from other F1 manufacturers, there appears to be little prospect of a rapid turn-around. That can’t happen with engineers locked into contracts with extensive gardening leave clauses and is compounded by F1’s ridiculous restrictions on undertaking any further testing away from race weekends.

Yet the alternative of going back to Mercedes engines will be unlikely to result in a championship-winning package. The best that could be hoped for would be to dominate the mid-field. That is unlikely to satisfy the new management at McLaren any more than it does for Sir Frank and Claire Williams.

Perhaps the best long term prospect of a return to the glory days for Williams and McLaren would be to both use Mercedes power until the shape of the power unit to be used for the next decade is known. Hopefully that power unit will be simpler and a lot cheaper.

If so, perhaps if the money can be found, these two quintessentially English teams could get together and develop a new joint engine package ?


Just supposing that Mclaren were to do the unthinkable and announce tat they want to ditch Honda. They would probably have to go with Renault as Mercedes and Ferrari would probably refuse and stick two fingers to the Fia if they tried to force the issue. At that point would Reg Bull want to jump in and take over as Honda partners. If they happenned to believe that the Honda could be made good it could petentially be a better PU than the Renault sorry TAG Heuer. Red Bull would have to attach strings to the process to insist on having people inside Honda but it could work for them. Didn’t Red Bull have some informal discussion with Honda during their own PU crisis? Just saying like.


McLaren the new Manor ( with lots of money that is, but not the drive to compete)


What’s the situation regarding engine penalties. I can see honda using their seasons allocation just by melbourne alone. What happens then ?. Do they receive a penalty at each race?.
Hope I’m wrong but can see them using in excess of 50 engines at this rate.


It’s still a penalty for every engine you use over the permitted four. But you cannot stockpile now. Only carry forward the most recent engine you took.


You’ll never beat a works team. Either ban all work teams or stick with honda. If you think Mercedes will let another merc powered car beat the works team then you’re dreaming.


It may not be all the Honda engine but how the hell can you dyno it and know what’s going on without the chassis attached. They both need to be made close together or failure is inevitable.


I’m not an expert by far but it must be a lot easier to get a new Honda PU built vs switching engines. And what was their reasoning behind an exclusive contract with Honda anyway (ok it was the Dennis era).

That said, a lot of experts say that the chassis McLaren has built is awful as well (see interviews on SkyF1) so it’s not all Honda. They need to work closely together an make this work. There’s a big distance (both literally and figuratively) and they need to close that gap. Honda has a lot of history and they have what it takes to do this.

Besides all that, where are McLaren going to get the money from to pay for an alternative engine? Vodafone? West? Those days are long gone.


On Honda…

Both my lawn mower & snow blower are being powered by Honda engines. They run flawlessly and will start with two pulls.

I think I still have faith in Honda.


I would change the engine now it has been too longwith honda not making any significant improvrments. For jenson and alonso 2 world class winners the frustration levels must have been very hign. Change the engine and start a new era.


Didn’t we have this exact same conversation about Red Bull and renault


Scorched earth. Bury Ron Dennis era and deals…..survive now while laying groundwork for next engine formula. Hope for Honda miracle this year while focussing long term. Forget Alonso go Van D and youngsters. Accept short term pain for…..Lean on Liberty.


1. Stay with Honda.
2. Buy Manor and have it as a McLaren B team from 2018 onwards.
3. Use the Mercedes power unit for the 2017 McLaren.
4. Further develop the Honda power unit with Manor. Perhaps this will allow Honda to develop the engine without restrictions as they are not competing in the 2017 season?

This way McLaren can honour their contract with Honda without further damaging their brand. It will also enable them to prepare young drivers for their A team. A bit like Toro Rosso and Red Bull are doing right now.


There is no quick fix in formula 1.
Ride the storm. Having Alonso is special, with or without him McLaren has to move on.


testing was a bit up and down for mclaren and honda.
no doubt they had a big list of things to go away and solve.
You would think they are just sitting there frozen and helpless reading all these posts the way people carry on.


Dammed if they do, dammed if they don’t, I think they should stay with Honda and work it out as a team together, Honda have F1 history and I’m quietly confident that they can get back to the front of the grid given time, there’s no doubt that they have underestimated the new F1 engine formula and its complexity’s


It feels like the difficult questions aren’t being asked. Surely they would have learnt their lessons from the past seasons, but it would seem not. they’re surely doing something fundamentally wrong or not doing something that they should be doing.


Renault want a budget cap.

I wonder why ???

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