When McLaren decided to reunite with Honda in 2015, many fans dreamed of the iconic partnership of the Senna–Prost era. Unfortunately, that fantasy was quickly and cruelly snuffed out very early into the season. Some forgave them as it the first season of their partnership and were not expected to hit the ground running immediately.
However, when the team’s struggles continued in the following seasons, that faith began to wane. Then the blame game began between the two as their relationship began to sour steadily. Interestingly, Japanese magazine, Number, claimed that reports of a rift between the two were false. Many were under the impression that McLaren showed Honda the door and washed their hands off them completely.
Instead, Number claims that McLaren wanted Honda to extend their deal even further. The original contract was set for three years with an option for another two, but McLaren were hoping for three. When the 2017 season came about, the Woking team were left with two choices, either extend or part ways.
According to Number, “McLaren’s contract with Honda was for three years, with a two-year option for extension. We had to make a decision on whether to exercise that option at that time. We wanted to renew the contract, but wanted a 3-year extension rather than the original two years. This was because we viewed 2017 as a wasted season, with Honda failing to fulfil their contractual commitments. We viewed the extra year as compensation for the low performance.”
Thought-provokingly, Red Bull motorsport advisor, Dr Helmut Marko met with Honda representatives at the time. Two months later, McLaren announced that they will not be continuing with Honda for 2018. This was because Honda were unwilling to sign an extension and Toro Rosso were waiting in the wings.
The magazine continued, “Yes McLaren helped us learn a lot about the sport, and it’s true that the power unit we supplied them was lacking in competitiveness. However, to win in F1, you need performance from both the PU and the car the PU is installed on. When considering the technical ability to build a competitive car, and management that can attract great talent to build such a car, Red Bull was our only option moving forward.”
Red Bull were eventually going to snap up Honda, but for 2018, Toro Rosso was the guinea pig. After a seemingly successful Toro Rosso stint, Red Bull performed their messy split with Renault and took on Honda as a partner. They were obviously satisfied with the Japanese manufacturer’s progress and they delivered this year. A handful of podiums and a victory was enough proof of how far Honda have come. Meanwhile, McLaren have been saddled with Renault and are performing fairly decently. In fact, they are close to being the ‘best of the rest’ behind the Big 3 teams in Formula One.