Should it stay or should it go?
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The McLaren Formula 1 team board of directors is facing a dilemma.
The problem, evident to everybody in the motorsport world, is the unwavering faith the team has shown in the Honda F1 engine project.
That faith that has been unrewarded, even threatening to take this great team, the second most successful in Formula 1 after Ferrari, down to the ranks of also-rans.
That ranking would be flattering at this point in the 2017 season where not a single point has been achieved.
After round seven, 10 power unit-related failures have been recorded from 14 race starts, the latest while Fernando Alonso was within touching distance of McLaren’s first point of the season at the Canadian GP.
You can add this to the untold number of engine failures in practice sessions.
The financial implications for McLaren are bad enough, but the loss of standing in the sport — the simple loss of mana, for I can find no better word — could continue to have repercussions.
The team has deep pockets and is willing to use whatever resources it has.
But how long can it retain the same talented designers, engineers and mechanics?
Those people have egos and aspirations, just like Alonso. They need to be in a team or organisation where success, or failure, is dependent on their efforts and not subject to the failings of an inward-looking engine manufacturer.
Motivation is a powerful force, demotivation is hard to cure.
It is impossible to estimate the financial cost of this ineptitude by the engineers in Japan to a team such as McLaren.
Loss of huge income from the sport, loss of sponsors, loss of the “rate card” for prospective investors or partners.
And there are more practical effects such as the loss of certain F1 privileges, the demotion in the paddock to the smallest garage area and the worst garage space.
The costs of running a team like McLaren do not diminish. The team needs the best engineers, the best drivers, the best of everything to reclaim its position in the sport.
Unfortunately McLaren does not have the best, or anywhere near the best, power unit to compete on the track.
The reasons that Ron Dennis, the team’s long-serving CEO, decided to align the team with Honda from the 2015 season onwards were valid.
His reasoning was that to win, the team needed to race with a works engine rather than the Mercedes customer engine.
And, with a long-standing, highly successful partnership with Honda in the past, winning multiple constructor’s and driver’s titles, and Honda wanting to rejoin the sport, the association was logical.
Unfortunately, the Honda engine department of the past is clearly not the Honda of the present.
As a past member of the team, I feel not only extreme disappointment in the situation but also an anger that this McLaren team, the team I consider to be the best that the sport has known, should have been brought almost to its knees, by something over which it has no control but is so fundamental.
What control it does have is whether to cut the losses and move on or to keep the faith.
There is no doubt Honda supplies the team with a lot of hard cash, tens of millions of dollars, as well as power units.
That money would not only be lost but many millions more would need to be spent by McLaren to acquire a supply of Mercedes, or any other engine supplier’s, units.
We still hear meaningless comments such as those made by Yuseke Hasegawa, head of the Honda F1 engine project.
“There is still a gap between us and our competitors and we must continue to improve reliability ... ”
The late Soichiro Honda, the genius who began the Honda company said “Racing improves the breed” and “If Honda does not race, there is no Honda.”
If Honda continues to supply power units in the current fashion to McLaren there may be no McLaren in future.
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