Abu Dhabi this weekend marks the final outing for the ill fated McLaren-Honda partnership after three seasons. It is a momentous date for the Japanese manufacturer as it marks their 400th Grand Prix start this weekend.
There has been plenty of glory along the way in Honda’s various appearances in F1 – 1964-68 as a team; as an engine supplier from 1983-92, and again as an engine supplier and then a team from 2000-08 – but not this time around.
The last three seasons have been disastrous for the company’s reputation and the divorce with McLaren was a sad but inevitable consequence.
The best results were a pair of 5th places in Monaco and Austin 2016. This year’s best result was 6th place in Hungary.
So what are your abiding memories of this star-crossed marriage?
For many the defining image is Fernando Alonso stretched out in a deck chair after breaking down in Brazil. The Spaniard has also memorably criticised the Honda engine on the team radio a few times.
On the positive side, Alonso was the only non Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari driver to top the time sheets in an F1 session this season, setting the fastest time in Q1 at Silverstone.
Together with McLaren they have made 140 starts and while the first era from 1988-92 brought victories and three world championships for Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the 2015 and 2017 seasons are the two worst in McLaren’s modern history.
Honda had a torrid time in 2015 having underestimated the time necessary to master the F1 hybrid turbo technology. They struggled for power and for deployment from the Energy Recovery System. 2016 saw progress and everyone expected a step up, closer to the benchmark in 2017.
But they had made a fundamental mistake in doing a whole new engine; a mistake they will not make again from 2017 to 2018. Sources with knowledge of the programme suggest that they also empowered young engineers on leading the design of the 2017 engine, with not enough experienced engineers giving input.
“From last year to this year, we have completely changed the configuration concept of the engine,” said Honda’s F1 boss Yusuke Hasegawa. “We tried to do a little bit too much, the modification, so that’s why I have decided to keep the concept for next year, so that from a reliability point of view we are pretty much confident.
“So we need to squeeze more performance from the same concept of the engine, so that’s what we are currently doing.”
“I am incredibly proud of how hard everyone in the team has worked this this season,” said Hasegawa.
“I hope that we can end the year on a high, not just for them, but also for the McLaren Honda fans around the world that have supported us during the last three seasons.”
Next season Honda will partner with Toro Rosso, while McLaren will move to the Renault engine, which has won three races and scored 11 podiums this season. The team and drivers have said that these results, achieved by the Red Bull Racing team, provide a benchmark and a goal for them next season.
In recent races there have been signs that the Honda engine is improving, albeit that the drivers are still obliged to take new parts and penalties. Getting the parts to perform and last the required distance will be Honda’s challenge.
Brazil was a stronger race, with Fernando Alonso able to battle all race with Felipe Massa’s Williams and Sergio Perez’ Force India.
Other lasts in Abu Dhabi include Felipe Massa’s last race (after an unexpected comeback); potentially Pascal Wehrlein’s last F1 race for a while; the last race for US TV network NBC Sports (next season the coverage in the US will be on ESPN).
What do you think of the McLaren- Honda partnership and what are your abiding memories? Leave your comments in the section below