Expectations for the renewed partnership between McLaren and Honda were high in 2015, but the return of this legendary combination turned out to be a major disappointment. “GP2 engine”, many will remember the words of Fernando Alonso, when he was overtaken by Max Verstappen in the Toro Rosso on the Suzuka circuit. Six years later, the same Verstappen is world champion with the Japanese engine.
“I wonder how he has looked at Honda’s performance over the past year,” said former Formula 1 driver Anthony Davidson in an exclusive conversation with the Dutch edition of Motorsport.com know. The Brit, who currently works as an analyst for Sky Sports F1, has a long history with Honda. He was a test driver for BAR-Honda for many years and drove for Super Aguri in 2007 and 2008, which also used the Japanese power unit. “From my past experience with Honda I know that sometimes it can take a while to see progress, but in the end they always get it done,” said Davidson. “You just have to let them find their way and do it their own way.”
After McLaren set Honda aside after three difficult years, the Japanese manufacturer switched to the current AlphaTauri for 2018 to also provide Red Bull with power from 2019. The fact that Honda is doing a lot better at Red Bull than before at McLaren, would mainly be due to a difference in approach. McLaren forced Honda to go a certain way with engine design by opting for a very slim chassis. Red Bull gave the engineers in Sakura much more freedom in that area. It eventually resulted in a power unit that was even smaller than the one that was supposed to fit into McLaren’s size zero concept, but was just as powerful as the Mercedes.
Davidson: “I wonder if Fernando is now like, ‘If only I had been a little more patient and given it a little more time’. Of course, no one can see into the future. But I’m curious how he looked at Honda, now that they had such a strong power unit. Would he think things like, ‘If only McLaren had kept working with Honda and I had just kept driving there’? If they still had that power unit in the car and Fernando would still have driven there, we would probably have had a very different scenario now.”
When asked if he thinks Alonso and McLaren would have fought Hamilton and Mercedes for the title: “Well, no idea. But then McLaren would have gotten the factory backing from Honda that Red Bull had had in recent years. Of course McLaren is currently running a Mercedes engine that is as strong as the Honda power unit. But it is also about extra budget that they would otherwise have had. That is perhaps the most important point. Otherwise, they could have invested the money they spend on leasing engines in the development of the car.”
‘Honda is coming back’
“It’s a shame they’re leaving,” said Davidson of Honda’s Formula 1 farewell. “I had a great time with them myself and learned a lot riding for them. Many of the faces from then were still there last year. It’s a shame they’re leaving just now that they’ve come up with an incredible power unit that rivals that of Mercedes. It is always a shame if someone leaves after they have just accomplished something beautiful.”
“These types of companies come and go. We’ve seen it happen many times,” said Davidson, who is convinced Honda’s absence is temporary. “They will come back one day. Just like other manufacturers at some point returned after leaving earlier. But it is always a shame to lose a manufacturer. The sport is nevertheless lifted to a higher level if a party like Honda goes for it. I have no idea what impact it will have on Red Bull. Stability is very important in this game.”