Rumours have been swirling in the Formula 1 paddock for weeks about frantic behind the scenes talks and negotiations involving McLaren, Honda, Toro Rosso and Renault. The talks involve engine supplier changes and driver movement. The whole scenario was triggered by McLaren wanting to end its contract with Honda as an engine supplier for 2018, after three seasons.
When the Japanese manufacturer re-entered Formula 1 in 2015 as an engine supplier of McLaren, the two partners hoped to recreate their iconic partnership of the 1980s. The Woking-based team wanted to become a works team of an engine manufacturer, hoping to give themselves the best chance to win a championship. McLaren’s then Chairman Ron Dennis did not want to be a customer team of Mercedes and compete directly with their works team.
Is Carlos Sainz on his way to Renault?
McLaren – Honda Partnership
But the partnership has yielded extremely poor results with the Honda engines not delivering on both performance and reliability. In 2015, the first year back for Honda, the underpowered engines pushed the McLaren cars to the back of the field, but also frequent retirements led to frustration all around. In 2016, the engine performance improved slightly and that saw McLaren rise to sixth position, but still very far from its former winning ways for the marquee team. But, in 2017, when the token system restricting in-season engine development was finally abolished and new regulations were introduced, Honda took another big step backward. This has led to McLaren finally losing patience and confidence in Honda’s ability to get things right. A somewhat fractious divorce between the two parties is now on the cards.
New Engine Supplier for McLaren
Before this relationship ended, the big question was who was going to replace Honda as McLaren’s engine supplier in 2018? The Woking-based team’s former engine supplier Mercedes was unwilling to do so. The Silver Arrows team had to consider the scenario that McLaren with a good chassis and the class-leading Mercedes engine in the back could challenge their own works team. McLaren then turned to old rival Ferrari and the Italian team for the same reasons as Mercedes refused to supply them. So Renault was the only engine supplier left that they could approach. Renault is already supplying their works team, Toro Rosso and Red Bull (albeit branded as a TAG Heuer engine). The French-manufacturer felt that supplying a fourth team in 2018 was beyond their capacity. Equally, F1 management did not want Honda to exit the sport if its partnership with McLaren ended.
Toro Rosso – Honda Partnership
So after complex negotiations involving multiple parties, a picture is emerging that would benefit all parties involved. Renault would stop supplying the Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso in 2018 and would supply McLaren instead. Honda would replace Renault as Toro Rosso’s supplier and we could see a Toro Rosso-Honda team on the grid. F1 would benefit from a large manufacturer like Honda staying in the sport and investing significant amounts of money into the Faenza-based Toro Rosso team. McLaren would get Renault engines in 2018 which would surely see the team move up the grid and would help them retain the services of their star driver, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. Renault would switch the teams they supply and they have demanded that the deal for them should be sweetened by Red Bull releasing Carlos Sainz Jr under contract with them to join Renault.
Carlos Sainz to Toro Rosso
Renault is currently eighth in the Constructors’ championship, just six points away from sixth place. The Enstone-based team is 21 points further adrift of fifth-placed Williams with seven races remaining this season. The entire 34 points the team has scored so far this season has come from its lead driver Nico Hulkenberg. The other driver Jolyon Palmer through a combination of his poor driving and bad reliability has not yet opened his account. Carlos Sainz has scored 36 of the 40 points for Toro Rosso and is just above Hulkenberg in the drivers’ title race. After a really poor start to the season for the Renault team, a new chassis and recent updates has seen the team improve significantly. If Sainz moves from Toro Rosso to Renault this season itself in place of Palmer and both drivers score points in the remaining races, Renault can realistically take aim at fifth position. Every position in the Constructors’ championship is worth millions of dollars for a team.
The reports in very respected Motorsport journals this weekend suggest the deal for Sainz to move to Renault is a done deal and we could see the Spaniard drive for Renault by the Malaysian Grand Prix (15th race of 20 races in 2017). This could then lead to a domino effect with all the other deals being finalized shortly.
McLaren and Renault signing the engine deal for 2018. This could lead to Alonso renewing his contract for 2018 and beyond with McLaren. A Toro Rosso-Honda team in 2018 with Pierre Gasly their reserve driver promoted in Sainz’s place for the remainder of this season. If Honda manages to smooth out the glitches and delivers a good engine to Toro Rosso in 2018, we could well see the senior Red Bull team becoming the works team of the Japanese manufacturer in 2019.
A lot of significant changes involving the biggest teams of F1 is underway with this first possible move being Sainz joining Renault.
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