With the Japanese carmaker notably struggling since re-entering F1 with McLaren in 2015, the once-great British team is reportedly now considering breaking its contract and buying Mercedes engines for 2018.
Spain’s Marca sports newspaper says new team executive Zak Brown has reached ‘his limit’ with Honda, while Diario Sport says a 90-day deadline has been set.
But another Spanish sports daily, AS, said McLaren’s deadline will actually come sooner than that.
“AS has found that the first grand prix after the summer break (Belgium) is the limit for Brown and (Eric) Boullier, although they already expect to be competitive by Hungary,” the report says.
“But the deadline is Spa,” correspondent Manuel Franco claims. “If they are not at a proper level in Belgium, comfortably entering Q3 and fighting close to the top three, McLaren will decide to resume talks that have already begun with Mercedes.”
Fork in road – Zak Brown
McLaren’s deal with Honda has not worked so far and the team are now approaching a “fork in the road”, executive director Zak Brown said yesterday.
Speaking to Reuters in his office at the Formula One team’s headquarters, Brown indicated clearly that a parting of the ways was a real option under consideration by management.
“Honda’s working very hard but they seem a bit lost,” Brown told Reuters, who replaced Ron Dennis at the helm late last year.
“We were only told recently that we wouldn’t have the upgrade coming (for Montreal)…and we don’t have a definitive timeline, which is concerning because the pain is great and we can’t sit around forever.
“We were eagerly awaiting this upgrade as were our drivers and it’s a big disappointment that it’s not coming. It’s not lack of effort, but they are struggling to get it to come together.”
“The executive committee have now given us our marching orders,” said Brown, we’re not going to go into another year like this, in hope.”
“I don’t want to get into what our options are. Our preference is to win the world championship with Honda. But at some point you need to make a decision as to whether that’s achievable. And we have serious concerns.
“Missing upgrades, and upgrades not delivering to the level we were told they were going to, you can only take that so long. And we’re near our limit.”
McLaren have sounded out former partners Mercedes about a possible supply of engines, according to media reports.
“It will all come together,” said Brown, who said there were some big decisions to make in the next 90 days with the team needing to plan for the new car and give Alonso a reason to stay.
“There’s lots of things that go into the decision and we’re entering that window now of ‘which way do you go when you come to the fork in the road’.
Brown said the decision to partner with Honda in what has so far been an exclusive deal was “100 percent right”.
“However, so far it hasn’t worked,” he added. “A year in Formula One is an eternity. Three years is a decade. And you just can’t go on forever.”
Brown said there were clear advantages in a ‘works’ partnership but pointed to Red Bull and 2009 champions Brawn GP as examples of ‘customer’ teams who won titles.
“Do I think you can win with a customer engine? I think you can,” he said.
Honda contribute more than $100 million a year to McLaren’s budget, according to informed sources, and some have questioned whether the team can afford to lose such sums.
“When you actually look at the impact of loss of FOM (Formula One payments) money and loss of sponsorship, it starts to diminish the commercial benefits of what Honda brings to the table,” he said.