The Long Road Ahead of McLaren-Honda

The McLaren-Honda relationship has been one of the centerpieces in the 2017 season – but their story is far from over.

The adage of “what goes up must come down” has proven to be painfully truthful for the folks over at McLaren. It’s a safe bet to say that there isn’t a living soul within the organization that would have wished to see the legendary team undergo such a harsh fall from grace. And yet, rock bottom is precisely where McLaren finds themselves–there aren’t many other terms to describe where you’re at when your star driver is hit with a 30-grid place penalty due to constant part swaps.

The blame has been rightfully shoved at the feet of Japanese manufacturer Honda, but the hopes of severing ties with Honda has begun to look like a distant possibility as time crawls along. Thus far, two of the biggest and most successful engine manufacturers–Ferrari and Mercedes–have swatted aside any speculation that they would be supplying the Woking-based outfit with a customer engine for the 2018 season. Unfortunately for McLaren, the hyper-competitive atmosphere of Formula One doesn’t often lend itself to moments of altruism–especially at the hand of rival competitors. It should come as no surprise that the rest of the grid would hesitate to help raise McLaren out of their Malaise. Hell, their three-year dry spell is the best thing that their competition could ask for.

“We’re a great team, McLaren has shown the ability to win races and championships. But I think several other teams enjoy seeing us where we are today. They fear we can go back to being a threat, a fear which is understandable.” – Zak Brown

As the 2017 season progresses, the truth for McLaren is beginning to crystallize: they’re in this mess because of Honda, but they’re in it together. Even the visibly upset and irate Fernando Alonso has conceded that he might stay with McLaren in the future–provided that Honda are able to ramp-up their development pace.

“We ultimately think that Honda can get the job done, they have in the past.

We need to make sure the development comes at a faster pace. We’re starting to work on our 2018 car now and you can only go so far before you need to know the architecture of what you’re doing.

So, I think around the summer time, which obviously isn’t far away, we need to finalize what we’re doing with Honda moving forward.” – Zak Brown

We may never receive conclusive information regarding what the hell actually happened over at Honda to produce such abysmal results for three years running, but the general consensus around the paddock is that the Japanese manufacturer simply underestimated the amount of work that would be required for them to field a competitive engine right out of the gate–let alone contend with the unending in-season development.

At this point, everyone–perhaps even the competition–just wants to see McLaren finishing races and fighting for points. The concept of parity has long been a running joke in the world of Formula One, and the last thing it needs is more races with a team whose car can barely limp back into the pits.