Blessing in Disguise: How Honda get a Second Chance in F1

Nobody will be looking at a potential Toro Rosso-Honda partnership in 2018 with keener eyes than Red Bull Racing, who have had a shaky relationship with Renault in recent years and are of the firm belief that you can’t really win titles as a customer team.

With the McLaren-Honda divorce confirmed and the Woking team set to become a Renault customer team for 2018, Honda are looking like the ones with the better divorce lawyers, and the break-up is looking like a blessing in disguise.

The move from McLaren’s perspective is likely to keep Fernando Alonso at the team, with an immediate boost to performance expected next season with what is being reported as a multi-year deal with Renault. It makes sense for the immediate future, but Alonso’s Formula 1 career seems to be intertwined with Sod’s law, so Honda are probably going to get it right in 2018. Would you bet against it happening?

Supplying Toro Rosso with Honda power gives the Japanese manufacturer greater scope in terms of its potential. It could also allow them to develop their power units at a steadier pace given that the prestige at McLaren demands immediate performance, whereas a junior stable that is contempt with top ten finishes and serves as a platform for younger drivers to cut their teeth lacks a personnel and fanbase who demand race wins and silverware in every campaign.

Source: Red Bull Content Pool

If it works next season, then Red Bull could quickly find themselves escaping the “customer team” bracket at last, and a new iconic partnership could be formed.

The move gives Honda a two-tier system to operate within: Show up in 2018 with the current level of performance, and Toro Rosso aren’t going to be infuriated given the likely, omnipresent target of sixth in the Constructors standings. But if Honda does turn up in Formula 1 with the promise that we all expected from day dot, and achievement unlocked! Honda will gain access to a top tier team and supply Red Bull in the future, who will be more than happy to work with them.

These engine deals also shuffle up the driver deck, with Carlos Sainz expected to leave the Red Bull family and grab a works drive with the Renault team. This switch could even happen before this season is concluded, which doesn’t bode well for Jolyon Palmer. Given that Daniil Kvyat is serving the final year of his contract with Toro Rosso, and with performances so far not really exciting the team, the Red Bull junior team could easily be fielding two brand new drivers in 2018.

Red Bull junior driver and 2016 GP2(F2) Champion Pierre Gasly has been heavily linked with one of the seats, and the other vacancy at the team could be available for a Honda-affiliated driver. F2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita is a possible candidate, although he currently lacks enough points for the required super license to race in F1. It puts pressure on the young Japanese driver, who needs to finish third overall in this season’s standings to qualify for the super license. He’s currently sixth overall and with four races to go, it’s a very tall order.

The end between McLaren-Honda is the book-end in what has been a painful partnership. It has reduced McLaren’s presence in Formula One, and damaged Honda too. The partnership remains an iconic one from the past, and this present rendition will only be remembered as a sinking ship, with Ron Dennis flipping the bird in a life boat that floated off at the right time.