McLaren Shouldn’t Dump Honda for Mercedes…Yet

Honda have caused no shortage of headaches for McLaren since the team switched to the Japanese engine manufacturer for the 2015 season. Now, following two disappointing pre-season tests, it appears McLaren are finally reaching the limits of their patience.

In recent days, the Woking-based team has been in contact with their former engine supplier, Mercedes, according to the BBC’s Andrew Benson. “McLaren’s contact with Mercedes was characterised by sources as informal and brief and has not led to any resolution on either side,” he reported.

However, a switch back to Mercedes makes no sense…not right now, anyway.

The MCL32, McLaren’s 2017 car, was designed, built and tested for and with the Honda power unit. Remember, the whole reason McLaren switched from Merc to Honda engines in the first place was to accrue the same benefits as the teams that design and build their own engines in conjunction with their chassis.

Despite racing director Eric Boullier’s optimism, slapping a Merc power unit into the McLaren car right now would leave them as the fourth-best Mercedes-powered team, behind the factory outfit, Williams and Force India, not to mention Ferrari and Red Bull. In other words, they wouldn’t be in much better shape than they are now.

Therefore, it makes sense to give Honda one more year to right the ship. By all means, keep whispering in Mercedes’ ear about jumping back into bed together in 2018—if nothing else, it might serve as an additional motivator for Honda—but switching now would mean admitting that 2017 is a lost year while the car is redesigned around a new power unit. It can’t be much worse with Honda.

Meanwhile, the potential upside is that Honda finally do get their act together and McLaren maintains their cherished sole-partner relationship. After all, it was only 17 months ago that Boullier said, “If you are a customer of an engine manufacturer you can’t be world champion,” per ESPN F1’s Laurence Edmondson. (Side note: How happy are Red Bull right now that McLaren blocked a potential Honda deal, helping force them back into Renault’s arms?)

Besides, McLaren’s problems run deeper than just an underpowered, unreliable engine. Back in 2014, the Woking outfit did have Mercedes engines—the ones that powered the Merc factory team to 16 wins in 19 races. McLaren scored just two podium finishes (really only one, but then Daniel Ricciardo got disqualified in Australia) and ended up fifth in the constructors’ standings. Sure, their chassis has probably improved in the intervening two years, but a Mercedes engine is not a panacea.

All that said, if Honda are still struggling to produce a competitive engine by this summer, midway through their third season back in F1, their would be no shame in cutting them adrift and returning to the comforting embrace of Mercedes’ reliable arms.

After all, it is better to be a customer of a good engine than a sole partner in a bad one.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.50.34 AM

McLaren year-by-year performance in the V6 hybrid engine era.

(Featured image via McLaren on Twitter)


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