On the eve of qualifying for the 2017 Spanish Grand Prix, Auto Bild, a German motoring website, reported the McLaren-Honda project has broken down and the two companies are facing an “imminent separation”
The article doesn’t openly state the split as confirmed, but said the two parties “are close to the separation.”
Auto Bild also acknowledges perhaps the biggest misconceived fact about the whole power unit debacle; this split will occur at the end of 2017 and certainly not during the regular season.
Honda has been under pressure in 2017, after their power unit has proved both slow, and unreliable. McLaren-Honda currently sit last in the Constructors World Championship and have suffered three DNFs and two DNSs in the first four rounds of the season alone.
The main evidence pointing to the separation was a reported meeting between McLaren Managing Director Zak Brown, McLaren Shareholder Mansour Ojjeh, and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Chief Toto Wolff, which took place after Fernando Alonso’s spectacular power unit failure during FP1.
The purpose of the meeting was presumed to be regarding a 2018 power unit supply, but this cannot be confirmed.
The only evidence of the existence of said meeting is a circumstantial response from Toto Wolff. When asked, by an unknown reporter, whether the two teams had met, Wolff reportedly replied, “Yes, we met.”
So, the evidence isn’t all that compelling, but, as a matter of fact, the source is.
Auto Bild has had a phenomenal track in 2017, correctly reporting Force India signing a deal with BWT and breaking the news that the Mercedes W08 was indeed overweight.
They also point out the plausibility of such a split.
Honda recently signed a deal to supply Sauber from 2018 onwards. This is slightly suspicious, as when Honda first entered Formula 1 with McLaren, both parties signed a contract stating Honda could only supply another team at McLaren’s discretion, which the latter initially made out as unlikely to happen.
Therefore, the plausible possibility is that Sauber may have actually picked the 2018 works contract previously held by McLaren.
The FIA also introduced a new rule for 2017 where they can now force a power unit manufacturer to supply a team engines if said team’s existence in Formula 1 is threatened.
This means, if McLaren have dropped Honda, the FIA can force Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault to supply the Woking team.
Mercedes, understandably, would be reluctant to supply McLaren, given the strength of their MCL32 chassis, best highlighted by Fernando Alonso’s outstanding P7 finish in Spain’s qualifying session.
All of this makes it difficult to predict what’s really going on.
But, what do you think? Is Auto Bild’s report that Honda and McLaren will split at the end of 2017 will become their third correct piece of breaking news they’ve reported this year? Or, is it all just rumors?