16 May 2013
McLaren may have to share Honda engines
McLaren will probably have to share its Honda engine supply, with F1 rules insisting that manufacturers be ready to supply a minimum two teams.
Thursday's confirmation that McLaren will use Honda engines from the start of the 2015 F1 season made no mention of the word 'exclusive', and the Woking team will likely have to share the new V6 powerplants with at least one other team.
That was always likely to be the case with the regulations stipulating that any engine supplier, but McLaren managing director Jonathan Neale confirmed that there was no exclusivity clause built into the deal, which was officially confirmed at a press conference in Japan.
"All manufacturers and engine suppliers coming into F1 know that they do so with an expectation that, should they be required, they are prepared to supply more than one team," he emphasised, "At the moment, we are the only team working with Honda and we've got no illusions about how much work we have to do to be ready for a 2015 season."
Other teams, notably Sauber and Lotus, have expressed an interest in Honda's return, while minnow Marussia has yet to confirm a supplier for the 2014 season, with current partner Cosworth not expected to produce a powerplant fitting the new turbo V6 specification.
McLaren's deal, however, is understood to guarantee a free supply of engines, returning them to 'works' status following the end of a similar agreement with Mercedes. The Woking team, which has used German power for the past 18 years, is currently having to pay in the region of €8m a year for its engines, and will be subject the same sort of price hike as its rivals when the new-spec units are introduced next year.
With Mercedes also supplying Force India, as well as its own factory team, since 2010, McLaren status has diminished slightly, but Neale is confident that reuniting with Honda – with which it enjoyed five years of near-unparalleled success between 1988-92 – will keep the Woking team relevant for years to come.
"If we are going to compete at the upper echelons, then we need to be punching at that weight," he noted, all too aware that his team is suffering something of a nightmare in 2013, "Getting together with a powerhouse like Honda enables us to punch at that weight."
Confirming that informal talk of a reunion began some time ago, Neale said that nothing could be certain until Honda officially announced the deal, which will take effect on-track from the start of 2015, leaving the team to work out the last year of its contract with Mercedes next year. Contrary to speculation that the Woking team could be in for a tough time if its engine partner decides to scale down their partnership, Neale insists that all will remain the same to the end.
“We've given undertakings to Mercedes," he said, "Our relationship spans two decades, and we are very careful about protecting each other's intellectual property. They've been respectful about giving us all the information that we need, but not giving us more than we absolutely need to get the job done. And, certainly, there will be no poaching or dismantling of parts [by us]."
McLaren already has one former Honda pilot on board, in the shape of 2009 world champion Jenson Button, but confirmed that – despite typically positive PR comments from both on the release accompanying Thursday's announcement - neither the Briton or team-mate Sergio Perez is currently contracted into the first year of the new partnership with Honda.
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