Make or break for Honda as upgraded ‘Spec 3’ F1 engines readied for Austrian GP
Posted By: Editor   |  27 Jun 2017   |  1:27 pm GMT  |  75 comments

After a tough Azerbaijan Grand Prix for McLaren-Honda, the team is focusing on bringing an upgraded Formula 1 engine to the upcoming Austrian GP as Honda hopes to take the pressure off.

Fernando Alonso picked up McLaren’s first two points of the season finishing ninth in Azerbaijan, while team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne finished 12th behind both Saubers.

The Swiss outfit, equipped with the 2016-spec Ferrari engines and currently without a Team Principal after the departure of Monisha Kaltenborn, sits above McLaren in the constructors’ championship with a three-point advantage. Sauber is to use Honda’s engines next season while McLaren’s relationship with the Japanese manufacturer has become strained, with Zak Brown stating that the partnership is at a ‘fork in the road’ in June and Alonso strongly hinting at an exit.

Racing Director Eric Boullier said after the race at Baku, “The two world championship points we scored this evening are a validation of all we’ve worked towards in Baku this week.

“Both drivers raced with their customary vigour, but were also wary about getting caught up in any unnecessary incidents. Fernando drove a fantastic race, taking advantage of every opportunity, and I don’t feel ninth position is really a fair reflection of his achievements today.

“Stoffel also posted an extremely mature drive, and, while he had the pace to close down on the two Saubers – and the chance of a point-scoring position – they were able to keep just out of reach along the long straight that offers the best passing opportunity around this tricky circuit.

“For the strategy team, the engineers and our hard-working mechanics, today’s points are a welcome relief after an extremely tough weekend. They’ll have put a spring in our step as we prepare for better fortunes at the next race in Austria.”

The outfit tested an upgraded ‘Spec 3’ engine in Azerbaijan during Friday’s two practice sessions, according to Autosport, but after Alonso’s gearbox failure, McLaren decided to swap in an older engine to see if the gearbox had damaged the ‘Spec 3’ unit.

With Alonso bearing a 40-place grid-penalty for the race, the decision was made not to use the new engine for the race and save it for Austria (July 7-9) instead.

Honda chief Yusuke Hasegawa said to Autosport that “the gain is more than two or three tenths [of a second] with the new engine.

“From a reliability point of view, we didn’t have an ICE issue, so we can now concentrate on performance and power.

“We don’t see the actual lap time gain [on track], but from the power measuring sensor on the car, we saw the same difference from the dyno.

“We are pleased we could bring a performance update here. But although the upgrade is reasonable, it is still not good enough to catch the other engine manufacturers.”

When asked if there was a tangible gain in performance from the new engine, Alonso replied: “It’s difficult to say because we came from Canada and obviously you get here with race preparation in FP1, so we didn’t use the normal programme of fuel load, the normal programme of deployment [and] DRS.

“We were not using all these things as we were just in race preparation. We trust the data and if the data says the engine is delivering a bit more power, it’s welcome, but obviously the deficit is still quite big so we need to keep moving in that direction.”

Hasegawa said after the race at Baku that the ‘Spec 3’ engine, involving modifications on the internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H, will be available for both McLaren drivers in Austria.

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It must be break then, given yesterday’s failure. Don’t understand why it’s a cost issue to Mclaren’s billionaire owners, especially when the Honda liaison is so brand damaging. The engine is woefully underpowered and has god awful reliability. Honda have got to be ditched.

The ApexPredator

The answer for McLaren is simple. An engine manufacturer that knows how to build turboed speed. Honda hasn’t built an exciting car since the S2000. I guess maybe the civic type R but that was until recently a natural aspirated rev machine. McHonda needs to change to the makes of the REAL godzilla. Become McNissan.


I see ron is selling his stake for 275 million. Sad to see him go completely. Who will buy- can afford his stake?


Alfa Romeo – This not only give them shares in McLaren F1 but the entire McLaren Group. For a car manufacturer like Alfa, the 275 Bar asking price will therefor be pocket change having access to such a diverse automotive technology partner.


What are the chances of mclaren building a new chassis over the summer break and then using a mercedes engine for second half of season?. Could that be the reason for alonso being alot happier at baku.


Rules don’t allow it

Chassis is homologised at start of season


Shouldn’t the title start ” Make and likely break…”?


I can foresee McLaren ditching Honda and then Honda taking over Sauber after finally delivering a good PU in a few years time


There is a lack of vision in the current Honda leadership and as such I have no trust in any of the engine upgrades that is set for release this season and I don’t believe there is a reliable power plant in Honda’s immediate F1 future.

Honda’s fundamental engine architecture is flawed and they are using valuable time and resourced trying to fix fundamental issues rather than addressing the real design flaws. It is impossible to develop enhanced performance, efficiency and reliability from an unstable power base unit where the fundamental baseline design structures are compromised. One just have to consider the 2006 – 2008 failed F1 experiment to realize that it is not Honda’s first rodeo at F1 failure.

Mercedes to help Honda catch up: – In a confirmed meeting between Zak Brown, Mansour Ojjeh & Toto Wolff, Toto confirmed that they are not doing anything to assist Honda with their engine technology. In a separate but unrelated article Toto Wollf also indicated that he is not prepared to become a third party in the engine issue. I strongly believe there is more to this saga and that some bridges needs mending before a power unit agreement between Mercedes and McLaren will even be considered. The bitter pill which is Ron Dennis insistence on a exclusive F1 engine deal, McLaren F1 vs. Mercedes SLC Super car debacle and the eventual Brawn F1 deal is still digesting and the bitter taste of that divorce may outweigh the sweet taste of what could be a short honeymoon.

The McLaren Group have activities and interest beyond F1 and these are poorly represented by the current F1 performance and tough executive decisions need to be made. With the Honda / McLaren partnership set to last for another seven years (2024) an early termination may impose financial penalties, and such a move will effectively also refer that they would loose their “Factory Team” Status which they consider important. In addition they will incur enormous cost, as instead of getting free engines they would now have to pay for them. However, with the enormous budgets required to fund F1, McLaren just can’t afford or continue to pay the school fees for Honda’s R&D program. F1 points = money and revenue is what they need.

50 Years of McLaren Goodwill and tradition is at stake here and the barren spells of the seventies and mid nineties, followed by a 5 year win less streak at the end of 2017 season should be more than adequate reason to wish Honda “bon voyage”.

Even well funded teams within F1 (Red Bull – 3 victories in 63 starts) understand that you cannot compete in the F1 championship given how vital engines are under the new regulations and any signing considered by McLaren must have this understanding firstly and fore mostly in mind.

Perhaps the McLaren / Alfa Romeo Branded Ferrari partnership is the best and more exiting option – Be good to have the Alfa name back in F1.

For now McLaren must accept being just a “Customer Team”.


Here is a good read that might shed some light on the complexities faced by the engine manufactures. The current F1 engines are so far removed from anything used in the v8 or v10 era that it’s like finding the space shuttle 50yrs befoe the kitty hawk flew.


The ability of McLaren to build a good car is not in doubt.

If they want to have any chance of keeping Alonso ( and who wouldn’t ), the Honda engine needs to be a second quicker almost immediately and certainly by Silverstone, or McLaren have no choice other than to do a deal with Mercedes for 2018.

Mercedes engines should immediately put McLaren ahead of everyone in the midfield unless Paddy Lowe’s influence has a really big effect on the 2018 Williams. However, a resurgent McLaren will then show up the deficiencies in the current Williams Driver line up.

On balance, it doesn’t look like Zac has much choice, does it ?

Unless Alonso already has a Mercedes contract in his pocket………………..


Is the 3 in “spec 3” a reference to the number of laps the engine is expected to last or the number of seconds per lap slower the car will be than the leaders ?


Hats off to Honda. Sure their engines are dogs in F1 but I don’t see any of the other engine manufacturers investing in the two premier motoring championships.
F1 and MotoGP and even Indy for that matter. They won at Indy this year. They frequently win in motogp and they are on the grid in F1. Like to see Ferrari, Mercs and Renault spend that much on motorsport….. Unlikely

18 premier championships in bikes
5 in F1
12 Indy 500
Not bad for a little Japanese manufacturer

I’m a fan of someone having a go and Honda are having a go.

If only they had a Jack Brabham guiding them like he did in the 60s.


James, are you sure this is the full spec 3 PU and not an upgraded spec 2? From what I’ve gathered, it is more like a 2.5.


Hasegawa San referred to the upgraded PU for Austria as “Spec 3” so I guess it must be Spec 3…
“For the next round in Austria, we are scheduled to bring our updated Spec 3 PU for both cars following the successful test in Azerbaijan. In the meantime, we will continue our development with our best efforts in order to continue closing the gap.”


Three tenths of a second isn’t much when you are over a second behind, but its something they might be able to build on. With improved mapping and and a few other small gains maybe they can get to the upper part of the midfield. This latest spec 3 engine will definitely be Honda’s last chance.
My guess is for Alonso to move to Renault next year and McLaren might go too.


I really hope the thing delivers and that they can keep it together for a race or two. It’s so good to see Fernando doing so well with poor equipment but that said it would be even better to see him challenging for the WDC again.


I’m surprised not to have seen more said about both Hondas surviving the weekend at Baku. I suppose it’s not very exciting compared to the drama up front, but it was the first time for yonks that both McLarens finished the race AND neither had an engine change over the weekend. It’s a real achievement compared to the farcical unreliability we’ve been seeing week after week.


Did you miss the bit about 75 grid penalties being incurred before qualifying?


If McLaren go to Mercedes it will be a sad day for F1 it will result in Toto and Co having so much influence in terms of driver selections and power unit preferences. FIA need to entice more manufactures to enter the pinnacle of motor sport.


Wouldn’t it be great if this marks a turning point for Honda and they turn up next year with the best power unit and with Alonso still on board. What a story that would be. I’m loving the way Fernando is driving and he deserves a chance at late career glory.


Keep working Honda…

Spec 4 is a joint collaboration between the guy that cleans out the toilets, the canteen dinner lady and godzilla.


McLaren just need to get out of that Honda contract and take the Mercedes supply until they can find a sole supply from someone else. A spring in the step of team members after scoring two points for ninth place?! That has to be s joke!


I hope that they are lying, and that the improvement is much more than 3/10ths! It was embarrassingly easy for Vettel and Hamilton to simply accelerate past Alonso in Baku.


Good news here.
I hope it lasts past FP1!


Could Alonso be going to Renault? he posted all the karts at his museum/ karting school now sporting Renault livery on all of them.


2-3 tenths would appear to make the engine about the same as last year’s Ferrari. At least with better a aero and chassis package McHonda may start to reliably beat Sauber…


3 tenths quicker for those 10 laps it will manage.


Honda stated the upgrade was about 10bhp. But apparently alonso was 15kph faster than vandoorne through the speed trap. Would take alot more than 10bhp to find that.
What is the real gain and any info on the next stage upgrade?


Honda F1 doesn’t have an ICE issue, they have an insanity issue.


But Honda Road cars are proper cool ICE.
which I mean Inter City Express 🙂


What’s Japanese for “good luck with that” ?


What ever miracle this spec 3 is going to provide i doubt it is going to take them to the top 6…
In Spanish media it was hinted today by boulier that they might go for a temp break from Honda till they sort their engines out and revert to another engine provider for the time being and take full advantage of their chasis…..
Honda is stuck in the past and needs a serious wakeup call in today world of globalisation being stuck with centuries old customs is no longer going to work in a sport like F1….

Tornillo Amarillo

Too little, too late.
If Alonso wants to win with this car, this spec 3 Honda won’t do Alonso win this year.
But if Alonso can overtake on track both Saubers, one Renault and maybe someone else with troubles with this Honda upgrade, …would that be really exciting?


Wow a whole 3 tenths….. look out mercedes at the rate honda are working they should have the best engine in f1 by 2027.


In a normal situation, finding 0.3secs would be a great achievement, but McLaren-Honda are not in a normal situation. It’s like their currently in a different series. I expected their first major upgrade to be significant, to at least half the deficit, which would still be a some way off from Mercedes and Ferrari. I had hoped by years end, after hundreds of penalties, they’d be between 0.3-0.5secs behind the leaders. It doesn’t look like they’ll be able to achieve that.


Is it only ICU which is spec 3 or they are bringing spec 3 power unit god help them if they are competitive we would have relishing 3 way championship fight. Wake up Honda wake up


James, I’m curious of your opinion on them swapping out the spec3 engine at Baku. Do you feel it was a good decision? To me they could have had valuable information from running it during the race. They are trading it for mileage, but…if it fails in Austria then it would be worthless.

I’m trying to stay positive, I was quite buoyed by Red Bull and their work on mapping and with Exxon (along with Renault) they seem to have closed the gap. I wonder if Honda and BP still have a lot of improvement on that front, or if they really feel everything is pure power based. If this spec3 improvement is to be believed, Mclaren should be clearly ahead of Sauber, Toro Rosso and possibly Haas (given they say they have the fourth best car). The next race weekend will be the key decision maker in the Honda and Mclaren relationship…it should be exciting at the very least..



Whatever Alonso decides to do by September – stay or leave the team – it will {ought to} be the wrong decision xD


Let’s all hope he leaves then….


I ran into Alonso, yesterday. He had a Honda on a trolley. I said: “where are you going with that?”
Fernando said: “the psychiatrist.”
“Why?”, I replied.

“It’s had another breakdown.”



@gpfan –


I read the other day he even turned down the Brawn Gp seat. With his luck I imagine next year sauber will end up winning the constructors with Honda’s spec5 monster engine.


Or rather, he can destroy any team, even Mercedes if he joins them


“… he can destroy any team, even Mercedes if he joins them.”

Did he? How many?


@Deweberis – Thats harsh but that maybe the pattern isnt it?

Though I am still unsure iwhat the pattern signifys – “Wherever Alonso goes next will struggle next year OR If Alonso Leaves Mclaren, it will mark Mclaren’s rise towards the top end again.”

Lets break patterns 😀


It would be absolutely delightful if Spec-3 is not a linear progression but a direct jump to the top of the field above Mercedes and Ferrari. They are in no man’s land anyway, so that kind of a final gasp effort for glory is a realistic expectation.

It would be unreal watching Fernando trying to get into a Drivers championship battle with an 8 race handicap. I am sure he would not let that stop him, which would really make it confusing for the current title protagonists Vettel and Hamilton. While Max V has a habit of getting in that mix every now and then (like Canada), the last person they would want to get in that mix is Alonso!! 😀


You’re on the wrong site – this not the chat room for aspiring sci-fi writers.


“coz if you don’t have a dream…”

The Spec-3 engine was in the back of Alonso’s McLaren in FP1 & 2 at Baku and he didn’t look remotely close to troubling the Mercs or Ferraris


The Spec-3 engine was in the back of Alonso’s McLaren in FP1 & 2 at Baku and he didn’t look remotely close to troubling the Mercs or Ferraris

@The new JC- I am hoping they were seemly doing reliablity checks in the Practise and being cautious without trying for Max power.

Stephen Taylor

0.3 improvement won’t get Alonso in WDC contention this year . If the upgrades were worth a just over a second maybe but three tenths no. Also in terms of points Alonso is the equivalent of just over 6 race wins behind Vettel . It would take the mother and father of all collapses from Vettel and Hamilton to put Alonso anywhere near a title challenge -either that or they would have to both suffer incidents with season ending injuries . Those scenarios are very very long shot and not likely to happen at all. You are truly living in some delusional other universe . Alonso will not be challenging for the title this year


Those scenarios are very very long shot and not likely to happen at all. You are truly living in some delusional other universe .

@Stephen Taylor-

When I say Alonso will still challenge.. it doesnt mean its realistically possible to still get the WDC, but knowing him he will still not let go off the hope and drive like a manic animal if he finds himself in the top mix.

If that happens.. that will be a very exciting variable in the Vettel vs Hamilton Fight.

Whats there to be dellusional about? I said it would be great if such a situation arose.

So yeah everyone knows Alonso will not be challenging for the title this year and yet, he could play a stronger role in deciding it – SHOULD he find himself at the top sometime later this year.

PS- lets not get personally disrespectful now? Remember.. behind the Screen names, there are real people 🙂


Well I’m hopeful of a Honda revival. 3 10ths will not win races, but if they can make it to the Checkered Flag points are on the cards.
That would be quite a turn around.

Stephen Taylor

The problem is the other manufacturers can find 3 tenths ( should some of customer teams start to be challenged by McLaren for points) pretty easily meaning Honda will be back to square one again pretty quickly


2-3 tenths implies that’s somewhere between 20-30 horsepower, which certainly isn’t enough to close the gap significantly to the top teams, although at a short circuit like Austria there’s always a chance they could get themselves into a competitive position against teams like Williams and Haas.

The other thing to keep in mind is that they may have been running de-tuned power units since Australia due to the level of vibrations that they’ve had. If this update fixes that then perhaps they can be more aggressive in terms of how much power they can actually utilise.


So if they are 130 Bhp behind with a Honda , where would they be with with a Mercedes engine? I’m convinced pretty high up the order. Saunter could be financially secure but 5 laps down next year.


Am I the only person sick of reading about how mediocre the McLaren Honda set up is? Seriously Force India could have been one/two if Ocon had no been driving with his head up his rectum. Let’s talk about what a fantastic job they are doing. McLaren will revert to Mercedes power, Alonso is off to the Mercedes team, let’s focus on the teams doing a great job


It is trite of Macca to whine endlessly when they could have pulled the plug at anytime in the last three years. When does the responsibility for their own decisions become theirs?

Its a shame that Macca are performing so badly, I would really like to see them back at the front, but they must do it themselves. Perhaps FI can give them some tips?



… if Ocon had no been driving with his head up his rectum.

I do not think it is possible to operate a formula one car in this manner. The cockpit is far too tight. It is the tightness of the cockpit that is also creating concerns for a Kubica return.

Hope this helps.


If Ocon cannot operate the vehicle because of the cockpit dimensions then maybe they should find someone who can


How could the Force Indias been 1-2 when they were the one that caused the red flag which, without it I think wouldn’t caused the headrest problem of Hamilton.


@stoic – Woah! 😀


I understand from another site and tweets that Force India are “stirring the pot” with regards to where Alonso is heading.


Maybe…. just maybe people talk about mclaren because they are one of the top f1 teams who also have one of the best drivers in the world. Also in case you’ve missed it force India have been given a fair bit of credit for the job they do. Yes force India could have got a 1-2 finish but they didn’t. Williams also could have had a 1-2 finish as well so could have redbull… but they also didn’t.


Yes like back when Williams were a great F1 team. But Williams haven’t been able to find any mechanical grip for the last 3 years and McLaren can’t seem to find an engine supplier. McLaren was a great F1 team, now they are a very well funded bookend for the grid


Well, according to L’Equipe, the separation, or “El Divorcio” as Fernando Alonso would call it, is more or less ready to be activated, at least by late July/early August. Time to call in the divorce laywers then…………

Honda’s comeback has been a shambles, what makes them think this new “upgrade” will be any better? Einstein’s definition of insanity was to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and yet expect a different result each time………which kinds up sums up Honda’s miserable efforts of the last few years. I expected them to struggle in Year 1/2015 being 12 months later on their project, but to be woefully off the pace 3 years in? Unacceptable…..

To become a Formula 1 constructor, you need to pass a “competence” test to get the necessary operating license – perhaps engine manufacturers should have to pass a similar competence test too? At least it would have put McLaren out of their misery and they could have signed a deal with Mercedes, and at worst be half competitive!


Einstein’s definition of insanity was to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and yet expect a different result each time

@Gaz Boy

I learnt a new Phrase for this situation – Sisyphus complex

“In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity. Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as Sisyphean “


Agree though I don’t think its a divorce just a separation until Honda fixes their problems. in Baku, Boullier said, “If you can run a [different] engine for the time being until Honda is competitive, then why not? This is one of the various scenarios we may have considered.”
My understanding is, that a Mercedes engined MCL 32B awaits for Spa onwards. It is almost unprecedented for this to occur effort / money wise but that shows how desperate McLaren is to improve. Of course it won’t run well initially but I really wish them well with it.


I ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ man, as soon as the divorce is announced you know Honda are going to come out with an epic PU! As it goes with the bearded Spaniard.


Sad but true


I don’t think anyone would have expected them to be on par with the leading engines, even after 3 years; but they would have expected the engines to get to the end most races without failing.

Even with the previous generation of power units Honda was off the pace. Brawn took the Honda out and stuck a Mercedes in and won the world championship. He even stated that they would not have won with the Honda unit, even with the blown diffuser.


Agree 100%. There should be a minimum standard expected from all competitors including engine manufacturers.

This is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Fans pay a fortune to watch F1. It should not be a testbed for useless engines.

I do not want to see Fred Flintstone tootling around the track. Honda’s failures have been tolerated for too long.

Be competitive or get out.


Three tenths! Seriously what is the point? By the time Honda are at Merc 2017 power levels everyone will be transferring resources to the new regs. Just give it up!


Sauber are grateful for Maccas continued testing/ development of their future engines!


The Sauber chassis with a Honda engine will be about 5 laps behind the rest. Assuming the engine makes it that far…

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