McLaren F1 and Honda – The Best Option for Each Other
The FIA’s announcement of the list of supplier registrations for the next rules cycle in Formula 1 may have overstated Honda’s commitment to an engine program for 2026.
FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem mentioned “the confirmation of six power unit manufacturers competing in Formula 1 from 2026”, giving the impression that Honda’s participation, along with the five other manufacturers, was definite.
However, this is not considered to be a foregone conclusion. The list of engine suppliers can lead to two deductions: Honda must search for a team to collaborate with, and any team seeking a factory-backed engine supply has limited choices.
Therefore, if Honda does eventually participate in the 2026 season, its partnership with a team may result more from necessity rather than a deliberate choice.
This brings us to the topic of McLaren. It is reported that initial discussions have taken place between the former partners who had a troubled relationship, which resulted in their collaboration ending abruptly after only three seasons in 2017.
There are slightly conflicting reports about which side initiated the contact, but as each side evaluates its limited options for 2026, the idea of renewing their partnership has emerged as a potential possibility.
If McLaren believes that it requires a factory-backed partner, Honda appears to be their only option. Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault (Alpine), Red Bull Ford, and Audi (Sauber) are all closely aligned with specific teams, leaving McLaren as a customer and nothing more if they were to partner with any of them.
Last year, the CEO of McLaren Racing, Zak Brown, declared that he believed a team could win a championship with a customer engine. However, this has not been achieved during the current era of V6 turbo-hybrid engines.
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In a highly competitive environment where even small advantages can make a difference, McLaren is unlikely to overlook the modest yet significant benefits of being a factory-backed team in terms of car and engine design and integration, as well as prioritization. Being a customer means having a lower priority, which was what motivated McLaren to partner with Honda previously.
Additionally, McLaren needs to close the performance gap in order to catch up to, if not surpass, its current engine supplier.
McLaren is relying on its extensive infrastructure projects, which will be fully implemented for the 2024 and 2025 cars, to provide most of what it lacks. However, the gap that McLaren is trying to close is substantial, making it ambitious for the team to bet on being able to compete as an independent underdog with full factory support.
Ultimately, the most straightforward argument is that a full-fledged factory partnership is always appealing to any team. Regardless of previous events, Honda has the potential to offer this to McLaren, which is something that their other options cannot provide.
As for Honda, they also have limited options when it comes to choosing a team to partner with. Williams might be a possibility, but they are further behind in terms of competitiveness compared to McLaren. Given Honda’s recent success with Red Bull, which has likely fueled the company’s renewed interest in Formula 1 back in Japan, it is highly likely that Honda will opt for the best available option in the short term.
It is almost certain that McLaren will carefully consider every viable option to ensure they are in the best position possible, while Honda will be an attractive option for any independent team on the grid.
Therefore, even if there have been preliminary discussions between McLaren and Honda, it is possible that they may end up partnering with different teams (or in Honda’s case, they may choose not to participate in Formula 1 in 2026 at all).
An important factor that has not yet been assessed is the level of willingness among senior executives at McLaren or Honda to collaborate with each other again.
There are valid reasons for why both companies might be hesitant to work together again. Honda had previously let McLaren down with an engine that was often lacking in both performance and reliability, and they felt mistreated and embarrassed by their partner’s actions and statements. On the other hand, McLaren was also let down by Honda’s engine and faced criticism for their choice in partnering with Honda. Thus, both companies have reasons to be cautious about entering a partnership again.
Their relationship was incompatible and the timing may not have been right. The McLaren-Honda partnership became marred by conflicts, blaming, and disagreements and they both needed to separate in order to resolve their issues.
Since their separation, both companies have improved. McLaren realized that it needed to improve its own organization and infrastructure, while Honda streamlined its operations and found a better balance between its ambitions and management.
On the other hand, McLaren has secured partnerships with Renault and then Mercedes, which have helped it to become a competitive and consistent front-runner, challenging for podiums and wins. It has also made significant progress in its internal structure, establishing itself as a team to be reckoned with in the sport.
Given their past experiences and recent successes, it’s uncertain whether McLaren and Honda are willing to come together again for the 2026 Formula 1 engine program. There may still be lingering doubts and unresolved issues from their previous partnership that could impact their decision-making. However, with limited options for both parties, the possibility of them reuniting cannot be completely ruled out.
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Yes, that’s true. The leadership and organizational structure of both McLaren and Honda have changed significantly since their last partnership. It is possible that they might approach the possibility of working together again with fresh perspectives, open minds, and a more collaborative attitude. However, the previous experiences and negative feelings towards each other may still linger and need to be addressed. It’s not certain if they will be able to overcome those obstacles, but it’s possible. Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to work together again will depend on whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks and challenges.
Exactly, both companies have come a long way since their last partnership and have had the opportunity to reflect on what went wrong. If they were to come together again, it would be based on their current circumstances and the benefits that a partnership would bring to both parties. The focus would be on the present and future, rather than the past, and how they can work together to achieve their respective goals. Ultimately, it will come down to the level of mutual trust, respect and cooperation that can be established between the two companies.
This is the key question that both McLaren and Honda need to answer if they are considering a reunion in 2026. There are certainly many factors to consider, such as past grievances, and the evolution of both companies’ leadership and working styles. But at the end of the day, what matters most is whether the two can work together effectively and achieve success. Only by carefully weighing the benefits and risks involved can McLaren and Honda make an informed decision on whether a reunion is worth pursuing.
And that is what makes this a compelling possibility. Both teams have come a long way since their previous partnership, and have learned a lot about themselves and the other. It is possible that the improved circumstances and better understanding of each other’s needs could lead to a much more successful collaboration this time around. However, only time will tell if this potential partnership will come to fruition and what impact it will have on the Formula 1 grid in 2026.
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