McLaren and Honda

The German magazine Auto Motor und Sport is a well-respected outlet and it is reporting that it has picked up rumours that suggest that McLaren may be trying to put together a new alliance for the future with Honda, which was its partner back in the 1980s and 1990s, when the team enjoyed huge success. The report says that the aim is for McLaren to use a Honda V6 Turbo in 2014. This would not be a surprise. The current deal with Mercedes Benz goes until 2015 at least but this can be terminated. The company is just going through the motions of buying the final 16 percent of the team that was previously owned by the German car manufacturer, the German competition authority began looking at the final transaction last week and clearance is expected shortly. The team is thus in a position to negotiate new deals as it pleases. There has been talk of the team doing its own thing on the engine front but this would be very expensive and the argument in Woking is that the logic of a racing engine department would require the sale of a lot more cars than is currently the case. A new alliance with a manufacturer is the logical next step if there is no in-house plan and Honda is an obvious choice for an engine. There have been rumours from Japan for some time that Honda was planning to return to F1 and is ready to go as soon as the board gives the go-ahead. The new generation engine with green technology to the fore is just what Honda wants to be associated with.

The company is still headed by Takanobu Ito, who took over in 2009 and made the decision to pull Honda out of F1 at the time. Ito has been with Honda since 1978, beginning as an R&D engineer specializing in chassis design. He was in charge of developing the all-aluminum uni-body frame structure for the mid-engine NSX sports car that went on sale in 1990. In 1998 he went to the United States to be Executive Vice President of Honda R&D Americas, where he became actively involved in the development of the Acura brand’s first sport-utility vehicle and was then named head of Honda R&D in 2003 and has been a key decision-maker in motorsport activities since that era, in addition to being head of the Suzuka factory.

In a recent interview with Asahi Shimbun, Ito said that Honda must become een more international a company because of the strong yen as exporting cars from Japan to other markets is no longer cost-effective and the plan is to move production to local markets.

“Japan can no longer be a global center in terms of a manufacturing and exporting base,” he said. “Over a 10-year period, we will gradually shift to a system in which production and sales in each of the regions is about the same and exporting as a supplementary measure to make up for those products that are lacking in foreign markets. We will maintain the current structure of manufacturing 1 million vehicles in Japan. We will increase domestic sales to make up for the decrease in exports. We want Japan to continue to remain as the global center of knowledge and development.”

62 thoughts on “McLaren and Honda

  1. I think of Honda every time I hear my infant daughter singing ‘You do the okey-cokey’ (sic?)…in-out, in-out……

    They were once great and could be again. Worth writing off the first season (at least) as they would be shell-shocked to be dealing with a real team, of real achievers, and proper management (no more Nick Fry, Earth Dream/Nightmare, top notch facility versus units wedged into an unsecure site opposite Tesco!

    All ‘joking’ aside, this is the right partnership for both parties, so fingers crossed it becomes a reality….

  2. I did wonder if Honda might come back with the new engine formula. I do think there aren’t enough engine manufacturers in F1. Could Toyota and Ford be tempted back too?

  3. Honda has always called itself an engine company first. Motorcycles, cars, race-cars, now planes have all been made to utilize and expand their engine building skills. Even ignoring the great McLaren-Honda history, this would be a great move to showcase their engines. When they’re not distracted by building chassis and in conjunction with their turbo F1 history, I think their next F1 engine could be class leading. The original NSX was “designed” by Senna, perhaps their next iteration will be massaged by Button/Hamilton. We should also remember that the Brawn F1 Championship was really a Honda-Brawn car, and so they have very recent Championship winning roots.

  4. I read elsewhere that if the RRA collapses the manufacturer (car or energy drink) backed teams will be able to outspend McLaren. I guess the real question is do McLaren want a manufacturer partner and how hard are they looking?

  5. So Honda sacrifices a wdc and wcc and loadsamoney, but gets to swap places with Mercedes. Seems like quite a good deal to me!

  6. I remember similar rumours in the early to mid-2000s when Mercedes engines were cooking themselves on a regular basis.

    I’d be surprised if the Japanese manufacturers were to come back again so soon.

  7. Just wondering here Joe, but would it not be wise (for McLaren) to actually see and test one of these V6 turbos before signing a contract to use them? Surely there is a lot of risk involved signing blind, because if the Honda engine was just “off” the new Renault engine say, RBR would surely romp to another season win!

    If I were McLaren I’d want to see the figures for prototype engines from everyone building one, then sign a contract with the best…

  8. So, Vodafone is red & white, Santander is red & white, Honda is red & white. What chance a red & white striped McLaren?

  9. That’s all very well, but part of the reason Brawn won the 2009 Championship is because when they dropped the Honda motor out and put the Merc in, they gained 80bhp straight off. I can’t see how a 5 year gap would help!

  10. If Ito took charge in 2009, did he really make the decision to sell up? Did he arrive at the start of that year and make the decision very quickly, or was just a typo? I can’t honestly remember when the sell-up was announced, but I thought that it was some time in ’08, albeit probably very late in the year, what with the hectic rush that resulted. Apologies if I’ve repeated other as-yet-unpublished comments.

  11. Hmmmm…. Nostalgia from McLaren? It’s not the 90s anymore…

    One of the main reasons for BrawnGP’s success was the fact they were able run Merc engines, and throw away the Honda engines, which were universally derided as unpredictable and undriveable.

  12. Perfect niche for Honda would be to reemerge as an engine supplier only, to McLaren and anyone else looking for motive power. Not to mention supplying super output engines to McLaren’s road cars.

    Unfortunately I think it would be the death knell for Cozzie, but I think they are more then half way to the grave right now.

  13. Joe,
    You were at McLaren this week, what is your take on the deal with Ricardo to build the 2,000 or so power units for the MP4-12C road car.
    I would have thought that a few years down the road, that McLaren would have their own engine’s for the road car’s, and also for the F1 team, after all if they are wanting to go head to head with Ferrari and Lamborghini, who build their own engines, and other marks, then having your own engine would be the way forward.
    If the engine – power unit is great, it then sells the road cars all by themselves.

    Do you think that they could have a engine by the time 2015 rolls around and they drop the Merc, thereby not needing a Honda unit?

  14. The new specs suggest that we may see more F1 engine manufacturers in IndyCar and vice versa. Due to similar engine architecture, a motor-maker in one series is already halfway to being involved in the other one. Can’t wait to see what happens…

  15. Surely the best, and easiest option, would be to simply just stay with Mercedes – albeit with far more of a supplier-customer deal in place. Would seem strange to end a successful relationship, unless they were given no choice.

  16. Absolutely, yes please. I have the utmost respect for Honda – they are an engineering led company, and their products reflect this. I don’t think I’ve ever used a crappy Honda product.

    As far as I know, Honda has never sold a V8, and are culturally opposed to more than 6 cylinders (better to make it light than add more power to overcome excessive weight). A V6 turbo sounds IDEAL for the NSX replacement…

  17. Where is Nick Fry these days? (other than counting the Merecedes cash he got from the Brawn sale on a beach somewhere)

    I for one would love to see Honda back in F1, true engineering company with a perfect marketing tie-in with McLaren – bring it on!

  18. Considering how few cars McLaren Automotive are looking to sell, and the markets they are looking to sell to, it makes no sense for them to develop a full-blown engine division when they can outsource development for ‘bespoke’ units – whether this is in association with Ricardo as per the MP4-12C, Mercedes as per the SLR or BMW as with the F1 – or Honda in the future.

    The F1 team is better served by an engine supplier bringing money in for development costs in return for branding on the car.

  19. Honda know turbo charged engines.
    I’d venture to say that the Japanese manufacturers have more experience with turbo racing engines than any other region in the world.
    They also have a long history with F1, and with the “greener” V6 iteration, they can then sell their street versions with a “made using F1 technology” badge, even if the only similarity is the logo.
    If Honda can see a return on investment in their forecast figures, they’ll be in. Especially as they don’t really need to start from scratch and are using familiar technologies.

  20. Just finished watching Senna the Movie which had footage of the honda emblem on senna’s McLaren steering wheel.

    Welcome back Honda.

  21. Can McLaren source an engine from Renault, Mercedes or Cosworth but badge it as their own as they did with the Tag? I would presume yes, but that there is a cost increase due to the lack of marketing value. On the flipside of that, if McLaren were to go to Renault, would they be able to negotiate a much cheaper rate on the basis they could win the Constructors Championship, whereas Team Lotus or Williams are only ever going to run around at the back (unfortunately).

    Joe, off topic, but I hope of interest…I was reading about the death of the England all-rounder Basil D’Oliveira, and how his actions impacted on apartheid. Could you do a post about F1’s involvement in the 1980’s, any negative or positive views on it? I know James Hunt had some thoughts on the subject…

  22. Has Honda actually got the money Joe? They must be on their uppers as are the rest of Japan’s industries, many years of stagnant or falling production with greatly increased raw material costs have drained the coffers of many major players. Japan has never really recovered from the collapse of the Kiretsu system. Though a few have survived.
    Ito seems to be the name that gets things done in Japan, we had one in Pioneer, he was willing to make decisions and commit to them (unlike the other 99%) he was in the main board last time I heard.
    Obviously one needs to move production centres to places of lower cost for raw materials and parts manufacturers, but with another objective being to raise the company profile the lowest cost centres are out (India, Thailand, Vietnam etc) so It looks like GM could be getting some more home grown competition on it’s doorstep. (though I thought Honda already produced in the USA)
    Ito mentions “over the next ten years”, well things are going to change beyond all recognition in the automotive world during that period. The move to electric will be strong. The huge Bakken oil/shale field will be in full swing providing the USA’s oil fuel, but at several times the current cost and with serious problems regarding the vast amounts of water needed in the process. (and the disposal of the polluted outflow) So what petroleum products there are, will be as expensive, or more so than they are now in the UK. This fact will push toward electric cars. New spray on super efficient photovoltaic film will by then be fully established (also about a tenth the cost of current photovoltaic roof panels)

    Of course this may be set back in the UK by the current government’s reneging on the previous one’s guaranteed feed-in tariff in fact it will kill most of the industry in the UK. (Bit of a backward step there David!)

    It could be PURE that throws the spanner into the works if they actually have enough money, the staff and the designs to convince teams that they will build the engine from scratch, get it right and for it to be competitive. But they need to have a customer base lined up or they cannot go ahead, on the other hand no one doubts that Merc, Renault, Cossie or Ferrari can make the new engine so why should anyone take a punt at a new no experience outfit that does not exist?

  23. 日本では現時点では、とここに良い情報源からあなたは80%正しいです。これは、しばらくの間上マルドのしている…しかし、マクラーレンの接続から聞いたことがなかった。面白い、モグラがアクティブになります…

  24. I just wonder,did Honda and Mercedes agree something about this already in 2008 when Honda decided to give up on the HondaF1?
    “Let us call the team anything else then Merc in 2009 and give Mclaren to us when the new R4 or V6’s come in some years”?

  25. あなたが日本語を理解していれば私は非常に感銘を受けた。しかし、私はアメリカ人です。私たちは、かろうじて英語を話すことができます。

  26. Well, Honda has been testing a turbo V6 for a couple of months for Indy racing. Different beast, I know, but it does give them some knowledge of current racing V6 issues and racing with direct injection.

  27. paxdog57

    > Just finished watching Senna the Movie which had footage of the honda
    > emblem on senna’s McLaren steering wheel.

    And not just the emblem… the wheel appeared to be made of the same plastic with the same texture as the wheel in my bride’s long-gone ’87 Civic Si… looked downright mundane…

    I had forgotten that once upon a time a steering wheel was, well, just a steering wheel, not a Romulan control center…

  28. The only way I can see Ron going for an outside engine deal in the future is if it was exclusive. Producing high end road cars with a “McLaren” engine in the back (or front) and then having a Renault or Cossie in the F1 car does not fit with Rons ethos.

    My guess is if they can get the numbers to work they will do their own engine. If not they will try to get an exclusive. Until then they’ll stick with Merc.

  29. Hope this comes off. I’ve allways had a soft spot for Honda, allbeit this lessened a bit when they (seemingly) unceremoneously dumped Williams after Frank’s accident. Of all the Japanese manufacturers they have the best racing heritage and are responsible for one of the most beautiful F1 cars (RA272). Carwise, as opposed to HRC’s success in MotoGP, they have had more success as engine suppliers than constructiors. Just hope it doesn’t take them too long to come up to speed. Long term I think this makes good sense for McLaren, but they may have to accept a couple of years being off the pace. Incidently Joe, what are your views on Renault staying as an engine provider?

  30. Joe,


    I guess these Honda engines (if they come to fruition) will also be available to customer teams besides McLaren. Recent history suggests that when a customer team takes on a Japanese engine, there is often a Japanese driver that comes with it. Any thoughts on young Japanese drivers coming up through the lower formulae that might fit the bill?

  31. “Keith – I would have thought that a few years down the road, that McLaren would have their own engine’s for the road car’s”

    Ermm, engines are designed by McLaren and developed in partnership with Ricardo.

  32. It’s an interesting thought. Lots of people seem to think it’s still too early, but they would still have a lot of useful IP from a couple of years ago, and it’s not beyond the wit of Honda (or indeed many other manufacturers) to put together a competent V6 turbo for F1, given that it’s essentially a “clean slate” premise, as (as per 1961 and a half dozen other times in the championship) the formula will change for everybody.

    But of course what people aren’t seeing is that this is a rumour – and as you’ve pointed out, Joe, the current Honda CEO is the same who took the decision to end the Honda F1 programme two years ago.

    But on the other hand, seeing the media storm – and the fans’ joyous cries of “McLaren-Honda back? Yes please” just MIGHT swing the deal 🙂

  33. Joe, Well their drivers’ helmet colours are close to those worn by the McLaren Honda drivers in 1988 and 1989!! So will they repaint their cars red and white also?

    1. RobbieMeister

      Every automotive engine since the 1912 Peugeot has antecedents. In McLaren’s case it was the Menard engine. However it is simplistic in the extreme to think that it was not completely re-designed to make it work for the purpose in hand.

  34. Honda has a good reputation in motorsport, on both 2 and 4 wheels. However, the Honda of today is not the same company it was ~10-20 years ago. A lot of the company’s recent products have been failures. Witness the billions lost in its attempts to match Toyota’s Prius range. They are also losing ground to the Korean manufacturers, especially in key markets like the US. Their recent proft downgrade suggests that they are starting to feel this financially too. Whilst 2016 is a long time away, I would not discount the possibility that they pull or delay their program until they get their core business back on track.

    Would Ron risk the team’s performance on a multi-year deal with a struggling Honda? Your Renault article points out you need people who know how to win. Are there any of these left within Honda? My guess is Ron will have learnt from Frank’s mistakes and covered his bases with a Mercedes option.

  35. By leaving at the end of 2008 Honda at least prevented Toyota winning in 2009. There was a race or two in that year the Brawn won from a Toyota, and if we presume it would not have done that with the Honda lump in the back instead of the Merc…

  36. IDIOCY…engines were not the determining factor in f1 racing in 2009, aerodynamics were and had been for a while, the key to the brawn winning was the double decker diffuser, it was also the reason why bar honda were horrible in the dry but great in the wet, where predictable (good) engine torque curves and mechanical grip shine (BAR strength). to that end, honda poured millions of dollars into aero, and absorbed super aguri aerodynamicists who I believe were the ones who came up with the ddd. add to that honda made the engine lump a more tightly integrated and lighter package, i’m sure it would have been even more phenominal with it’s real engine in the back instead of that hack job at the first practice of 09.

  37. it’s also the reason why mercedes with all their money can’t reproduce 2009, if their engines were that good to begin with they should dominate right?

    bottomline, millions poured into aero over two years was the key. a former weakpoint that brawn addressed by scrapping development on the 08 honda.

    the fact that engines were sterile in influencing wins probably took a lot out of honda’s interest and is why this rumor has any credit. hopefully suzuka specials will return as well.

  38. McLaren Honda – 4 constructors titles in 5 seasons
    McLaren Mercedes – 1 constructors title in 17 seasons

    Wonder why they are thinking of changing back?

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