Rumours surfaced earlier today that McLaren have approached former engine supplier Mercedes as a result of a disastrous pre-season for the Woking-based squad. McLaren should put their faith in Honda for now but they are perilously close to oblivion…
“We have only one problem, that is the power unit”.
Those were the words double world champion Fernando Alonso used to describe his and his team’s dire winter testing in which 425 laps was the grand total of its sweat, blood and tears in Barcelona.
Alonso spent the second week of testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya bemoaning the lack of power and reliability from Power Unit supplier Honda. His concerns were echoed by team boss Eric Bouiller as the team faces a season propping up the rest of the grid, with the Frenchman describing as the relationship between his team and Honda as strained. Up until now the team has maintained a steely defence of the Japanese firm but it would appear now that cracks are beginning to form.
For a team described as being in a state of crisis, to have only one issue could be seen as a blessing. That issue, however, appears to be huge and McLaren head to Melbourne firmly on the back foot.
Formula One fans the world over will look upon the start of the 2017 season wondering just what has become of one of the sport’s most decorated teams.
A decade ago the team were preparing to launch Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso into a year-long struggle for the title with their counterparts from Maranello. Fast forward ten years and McLaren has plummeted. The team is faced with a monumental struggle back to the peak of the sport where it clearly belongs. One thing for sure is that in its current guise the team is unrecognisable from the Ron Dennis led “Manchester United” of old.
The team will inevitably put a brave face on things for now but in reality Zak Brown and the others in power at McLaren face the tough decision between sticking to their guns or crawling back to Mercedes its tail between its legs. At the end of the day, Formula One is a sports business and the team may have to scrap its current partnership in favour of results, sponsors and money.
Who knows, Honda may miraculously turn things around and at some point this season be in a position to supply its aerodynamically-sound MCL32 with the PU it so deserves. The marque’s die-hard fans must be commended for their patience and understanding but Alonso’s is draining and at present it looks as if he will jump ship come the end of the season.
A swift upturn in performance is at this moment nothing more than a pipe dream and although the rumoured contact with Mercedes is intended to spur Honda into pulling their fingers out, it may develop into a full scale divorce. The intention of the marriage was to rediscover the glory days of years gone by but leave it much longer and the words “McLaren Honda” could become synonymous with failure, tow trucks and blow-ups.
So how do McLaren put the embarassment of pre-season behind them and rediscover their form? One thing’s for sure: Eric Bouiller is in an unenviable position and has his work cut out to at the very least force the smiles and hope for the best.
In the interests of the sport, whatever direction McLaren decide to take, we must hope that their recovery is swift and they can join the other giants at the front. If Liberty Media deliver on their promises and the team return to their former position, we could be in for a real treat.
For now, the talents of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne will probably lay dormant until a solution can be found and that is such a shame. They can work their magic in the corners and wring as much out of the car as physically possible but if the power unit is woefully underpowered or conks out halfway down the straight then their efforts will yield next to nothing.
If Honda get to grips with their issues, recover performance and stop the PU from shaking itself into oblivion then the team should stick with them and the rewards will be sweet. However, if they continue to under-deliver it will be time to call it quits and put the experiment behind them.
Can Honda return from the abyss or will Mercedes be deemed the only option?