Have McLaren left Honda too soon?

For a partnership that started with such hope and a rich history, there is no denying that the marriage between McLaren and Honda has been pretty much a disaster for all involved.

In fact things were so bad this season Fernando Alonso decided that it was better to skip the F1 Crown Jewel Monaco to race at the equally famous Indy 500.  Of course given he had a Honda engine in the back of that car also, it was not really a surprise when that blew up on him as well. 

So there really wasn’t any great shock when over the course of the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, it was confirmed that McLaren would run with Renault engines next season and Honda would move over to Scuderia Toro Rosso.  

Everyone was keen to put the best spin on things and there were lots of handshakes for the camera’s but clearly both parties were left uncomfortable with where things had ended.

For its part Honda felt that moving on was in the best interest of both parties “It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other's future. 

“On behalf of Honda, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to fans who have been very supportive of the team as well as the drivers, team members and everyone involved who shared with us in the joys and disappointments since we began preparing for our return to F1 in 2015. Honda will continue the fight together with McLaren all the way to the end of the 2017 season, and then continue its F1 racing activities in 2018 and beyond.”

Even McLaren via Zak Brown their Executive Director of the McLaren Technology group were prepared to say it certainly wasn’t a question of the commitment Honda had made to their Formula 1 effort “There has never been any doubt over Honda’s commitment and energy to the mission of success in Formula 1. They are proven winners and innovators.

“For a combination of reasons our partnership has not flourished as any of us would have wished. It is certainly not for the want of effort on the part of either Honda or McLaren, but the time has come to move ahead in different directions. As fellow racers, we hope to see the great name of Honda get back to         the top – our sport is better for their involvement. I know this view is shared by everyone in the sport.”

Now Karma is often a funny thing and since the announcement last season the two actually started to show some positive signs on the track over the next few races.

Singapore saw them qualify both cars inside the top ten with Fernando lining up 8th and Stoffel Vandoorne 10th.  Whilst the race saw Alonso out at the first turn, through no fault of his own, Vandoorne was able put in a strong race in changing conditions and grab a solid 7th and pick up valuable points.

The F1 circus then moved onto Malaysia where Vandoorne was able to qualify ahead of Alonso and start 7th with Alonso being 10th on the grid.  The race saw Vandoorne end up right where he stated, for back to back points whilst Alonso ended up just outside the points in 11th.

Now Malaysia is very much a power circuit so going in it had been felt the McLaren Honda would be a sitting duck on the straights.  Whilst top end speed it still very much an issue, scoring points here was a clearly a bonus for the team.

Sadly for the team they couldn’t keep the good momentum going in the home Grand Prix for Honda in Japan, with no points being scored by the team.  Vandoorne had started inside the top 10 in 9th but Alonso with the imposition of penalties started at the back.

So whilst Japan broke the momentum it did seem as if the team was finally putting its best run together.  

There were more points in the run home with for Alonso as he picked up points in three of the last four races including a seventh place for Alonso in Brazil.

That is where Toro Rosso may be very well placed to benefit.  They are on track to get a works engine that has been developed in the heat of battle over three F1 seasons and as it stands seems to be finally coming together.  

Pre-season testing has also been encouraging for Toro Rosso, with no real reliability issues surfacing and pace has been there in the final days of testing.  Of course that pace came on the hyper soft tyres but it saw them inside the top 5 on the time sheets for the final two days.

Making matters slightly worse for McLaren was the fact they suffered issues with their Renault power units early in testing and in many ways they only got a clear run at it on the final two days of testing, which saw some further issues but ended with Alonso finishing in P2 and a combined 93 laps logged.on the final day to follow up on the 151 laps and P6 for Vandoorne the day before.

It is of course too early to call it either way but the question as we head to Melbourne that may need to be asked, did McLaren jump off board the Honda powertrain too soon?