Kurt Verlin
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F1 Strategy Group to Discuss Helping McLaren Honda Team

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McLaren Honda F1 car

I’ve written plenty about McLaren Honda’s woes since 2015. What was once one of the top teams in Formula 1 has fallen all the way to the bottom, or nearly there, and with the first three races and in-season test of 2017 now behind has shown no signs of improvement.

At a meeting tomorrow, the F1 Strategy Group will discuss the possibility of approving a plan to assist Honda in bringing its engine up to par with the competition—a plan that would be approved by its rivals Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault.

The move was put forward by McLaren and the FIA, the latter having made clear last year that a key goal for 2017 was achieving engine parity. The engines are currently the biggest performance factor on the grid, which contributed to Mercedes’ dominance from 2014 through 2016, and though Ferrari seems to have finally caught up this year, Renault is still slightly behind and Honda isn’t even in the ballpark.

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Engine performance is even more important in 2017 now that the increased aerodynamics of the new cars require the engines to do more work to achieve the same speeds as before. The current turbo hybrid regulations will stay in place till 2020, which should theoretically give the manufacturers time to catch up, except that the Honda engine has only gotten worse compared to last year.

The FIA said it would analyze the potential of each manufacturer’s engine after the first three races of 2017 and intervene if the difference between them exceeded more than 0.3 seconds in a simulation around the Barcelona circuit, where pre-season testing took place.

McLaren racing director Eric Boullier has been keen on pointing out that it will be fairer for F1 to have a level playing field, and that this would surely would be more exciting for the fans, but as a fan myself I can’t help but think the FIA could be making a mistake.

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Formula 1 is not a spec series and never has been. At its core the sport is primarily an engineering competition. In the past, many teams have never come close to competing with those at the top—three of which recently dropped out entirely as a result—and no interventions were ever discussed to make them more competitive. Introducing balance of power, in the style of the World Endurance Championship, would go against the heart of what Formula 1 is about.

Clearly, McLaren believes it is deserving of special treatment because of its history in the sport. But then it should know as well as anyone else that handouts is not something you get in Formula 1.

Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.