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Honda Success Would Make McLaren Look ‘Silly,’ Zak Brown Admits

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McLaren boss Zak Brown has admitted that the Formula One team would look “silly” if Honda took a big step forward in 2018. McLaren will be splitting up with Honda at the end of the 2017 season after a difficult three-year partnership. Honda will instead power Toro Rosso and McLaren will go to Renault for its engines.

The key question is whether Renault will actually provide better long-term engine performance for McLaren compared to Honda. At the moment, both are playing catch-up to Mercedes and Ferrari, and while the Honda engine has been the slowest and least reliable early in the season, it has shown steady signs of improvement. Stoffel Vandoorne finished seventh at the Singapore Grand Prix, a track thought to favor the strengths of the McLaren chassis—but then accomplished the feat again at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, where the long straights had been expected to hurt the McLaren’s overall race performance.

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“Obviously if Honda starts to win in 2018 and we’re not, we will look silly,” Zak Brown told the Spanish daily MARCA. “But I think everyone has to make their decisions and then accept the outcome. I think the moment you make any decision there is always an element of ‘What if I’m wrong?’ But I think everyone has done their homework and it was a group decision that was not easy.”

It’s easy to see how it would have been a hard decision. Both Honda and Renault are large, financially powerful companies who are investing heavily into Formula One. Both have a successful history in the sport and both have shown some potential to reproduce that success in the future. But one—Renault—is showing more short-term promise and McLaren may not care about the long-term after three years of bleeding sponsorships. If they don’t stop the bleeding now, they may not just lose the sponsors but the technical talent necessary to stay at the top.

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The problem is that this puts the team back in the same uneasy situation as in 2014. When McLaren left Mercedes—which had by far the best engine on the grid—for an exclusive partnership with Honda at the end of 2014, it was with the logical reasoning that it would never win a championship with an engine supplier that has a vested interest in putting its own works team at the front. The only Mercedes-powered car that would win a championship was Mercedes-AMG F1, the only Ferrari-powered car that would win was Scuderia Ferrari, and thus McLaren would need its own exclusive engine partner. Red Bull came to the same conclusion after Renault began investing heavily in the Renault Sport F1 team and has since been looking for alternatives, which it potentially found in Aston Martin and, thanks to McLaren, in Honda.

So while McLaren may, at first, do better with Renault than it has been with Honda, it is highly unlikely to win championships with Renault and ultimately that is all McLaren really cares about. Therefore it seems almost inevitable that in the long term, McLaren will indeed look “silly” for cutting short its partnership with Honda.

News Source: MARCA (Spanish language)