It has emerged in recent weeks that Mercedes could consult Honda on improving its hybrid-engine’s reliability and power, although Mercedes has consistently declined to comment on this matter.
Since the debacle of the first test in Barcelona, when the new Honda engine was revealed to be both hopelessly uncompetitive and unreliable, the debate has been whether Honda, McLaren’s power unit supplier, could receive help to help achieve a degree of parity between them and the other suppliers: Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. The fear is that Honda may withdraw from F1 if things continue as they are.
A move towards parity is one of the areas, along with cost control, that were at the heart of talks between teams, manufacturers, the FIA and F1 Management, which resolved to retain the hybrid turbo engines to 2020.
Based on a simulation in which engines would be analysed on their performance around the Barcelona circuit on identical cars, the idea would be for the performance difference between engines not to exceed 0.3 seconds per lap.
There is a lack of options for the Strategy Group in terms of intervention, and it’s most likely that Honda may bring in Mercedes consultants to rapidly diagnose necessary problems with the reliability and performance problems that the hybrid-power-unit has suffered from since pre-season.
The Japanese manufacturer’s F1 chief, Yusuke Hasegawa, said to Autosport: “Of course we have many people from Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault – so from that point of view we are ‘spying’ on their ideas.”
Red Bull is believed to have spoken up against the plan to help alleviate Honda’s woes, arguing against the use of shared engine plans as teams wouldn’t disclose aerodynamic secrets to each other. Red Bull had made a strong pitch for a supply of Honda engines in 2015, but was rebuffed, during the confusing period in which it did not have a supplier for the season ahead.
Renault, which supplies Red Bull, have also had reliability issues stemming from pre-season testing.
If Honda and Mercedes agree to co-operate, there is no tangible power to veto the arrangement from any of their rivals.
Intervention is a tough task because the FIA has already tightened the cost-side of engine regulations, by reducing the customer price of power units by €1 million this year with a limit on the number of power units allowed per driver to four.
Later this year, and in 2018, the FIA states that “constraints on power unit part weights, dimensions and materials, and on boost pressure will be introduced”, to reduce the amount of parts by nearly 50% and reduce engine costs by €3 million by 2018.
McLaren has only finished one race this year with Stoffel Vandoorne having finished 13th in Australia. Both Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso have failed to finish in China and Bahrain last weekend.
Honda’s Sauber supply deal inching ever closer to fruition
JA reported last week that Honda has made major steps in its engine performance after testing in Bahrain, and a deal to supply Sauber is becoming increasingly likely now. Honda has had conversations on and off with Sauber in the past so this is not a new concept. However the circumstances were not right before. Since Haas came on stream as Ferrari’s close ally and partner, Sauber has not enjoyed the same position as before.
Sauber is still using Ferrari’s power unit from last season, the final 2016-spec engine which was introduced at the Italian Grand Prix in September.
A deal with Honda will need to meet the deadline – to notify the FIA which teams a manufacturer will supply – on May 6th.
McLaren’s Racing Director, Eric Boullier, told Autosport, “I think more teams is better and more engine running is better. But there is a price to pay for that, which is deviating more resources into building more engines.
“Whatever happens, we are partners, so at some stage there will be a second team supply question, and I think we’ll have to support this. But we want to make sure it’s not detrimental to our partnership.”
After Sauber’s financial difficulties and its acquisition by Longbow Finance SA in July 2016, the deal came to light. Last summer, Honda also expanded its Milton Keynes base to increase capacity in case a second customer team was found.
The Swiss outfit might find it more commercially viable to source an engine from Honda next season, particularly with the aforementioned engine rules working to reduce costs, particularly in customers teams’ favour.
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