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Why McLaren should not ditch Honda

There are rumours in the Formula 1 paddock that the McLaren-Honda partnership could soon come to an end. It would be a big move considering the millions of dollars’ worth of investment from both sides: McLaren-Honda, Honda-McLaren.

If the rumours are true the sun will set on the partnership at the end of the year and next year we will once again see the rise of McLaren-Mercedes. A good idea? Perhaps not.

McLaren-Honda partnerships have often been amazing. In the late 1980s they beat a path that others followed. They set the standard. But what of the modern iteration? If this season the team cannot replicate previous success then we need to give it more time. The team should be allowed the time to re-establish its F1 crown – they’ve done it before and can do it again. McLaren-Honda earned its place at the top through skill, ability and valour. Part of the problem is that they arrived late to the party; the other teams had a year of development on them. Headlines and column inches were written and they’ve struggled to shake them as much as they’ve struggled to find the extra power from their power unit.

Stopping short of success, though, and signing up with Mercedes-Benz, will send out the message that McLaren cannot cut the mustard by themselves, they also need Mercedes.

I feel it is necessary for this partnership to be in the wilderness for a few years, and not be afraid to be so. In the end the fight back to the top will be respected and remembered as such. With the eventual (possible) success respect would be returned and both parties could show their ultimate abilities once again. They can’t leave until they have succeeded – it’s too expensive to fail. Mercedes-Benz has attributed a growth of 260,000 new car sales to their F1 success in 2014 alone, which makes the F1 team’s budget appear a mere snip.

Let’s not forget that when Mercedes returned to F1 as a proper team for the first time since the 1950s it took time. Michael Schumacher was brought in and the team was slowly built up from the post-Brawn slump. The harder the climb to the top, the easier it is to stay there.

The reformed partnership has certainly been producing headlines and column inches, perhaps taking more of a share than rival teams who have produced better results so far, this season. This could be evidence of enormous public interest and that the struggle is to still be admired.

We understand the issues around sponsorship in this difficult situation, and the impacts that has on the short-term business plan. People often offer lukewarm support to situations that need some work, but perhaps we should consider the costs on short term loss against long term gain. Rather than end contracts that still have years to run (which will presumably be expensive for McLaren), they could concentrate on moving to their position towards success and away from a position of the fragile state it is today to one that ends up ultimately stronger (tomorrow) as a result. The positive effects in business of this phenomenon have often been proved to offer a disproportionate gain. The harder the struggle the greater the respect and returns.

Is Honda’s commitment to solve the issue in question? I feel not. The possible deal with Sauber shows they have noted the importance to move forward in development and regain their place in F1 history as a success, and not leave as a failure. You bet against them achieving this outcome with your money, not mine.

Could it turn out that any future victory depending on Mercedes will be almost pointless for McLaren? Possibly, they will always be in debt to Mercedes (again) when they are selling their own success. They may gain success quickly, but they will never be in control. Keeping their crown will always be in the hands of Mercedes. Will McLaren will be able to keep Mercedes friendly and faithful, like they might with Honda?

The well reported MCL-32 has all the hallmarks of an excellent chassis, and that bolted to a Mercedes power unit could be just wat is needed to slow down those prancing horses rising glory.

Mercedes will no doubt been driven to their decision by the hope that is drowned in a Mercedes dominant finishing grid, the TV screen filled with Mercedes-AMG, Force India – Mercedes, Williams-Mercedes, and McLaren-Mercedes graphics, as it could have easily of been the case in Russia. Each team’s success equally likely to boost the Mercedes brand alongside their own… Each glory will in effect, be a double glory.

Is there a risk this may lead to a certain amount of supporter disgust aimed at the company? From an opposite angle, Mercedes could find their brand in an equally fragile state creating a possible detrimental effect on business,

A recent interview by Ricciardo who answered a question regarding a possible Ferrari seat replied “Sure, you want to put yourself in a winning car at some point and have a chance” This may suggest McLaren do not need to worry too much about drivers, they are all in it for themselves, they will follow the points paying teams.

It could be that McLaren deliverance will prove to be of no avail if it does not depend on itself. The reliability, consistency and durability of its true fans and sponsors may just depend on its own valour.

By Steve Barby

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