Is Honda Preparing To Withdraw From Formula One?
Rumors of breakups with McLaren and Sauber swirl in F1's inner circles.
In April, Sauber and Honda confirmed a partnership for the team's 2018 engine supply, alongside the factory team of McLaren. Now, however, there are rumblings that the Sauber-Honda deal has dissolved, and that Honda's factory partner, McLaren, is soliciting other engine makes for the 2018 season. According to Autobild, Honda agreed with Sauber under Monisha Kaltenborn to be the team's meal ticket for 2018, but the internal fracture that saw Kaltenborn leave Sauber lastmonth has apparently made Honda reconsider supplying the team. If true, this would leave Sauber without an engine next year, as the deadline to switch engine manufacturers passed in late May. Emergency action would have to be taken by FOM to ensure that it does not lose a team (or two) next year if Honda is indeed pulling out.
According to Czech motorsport journalist Petr Hlawickza, Honda has dismissed these rumors as "pure media speculation," and reaffirmed its relationship with Sauber.
The word choice does not rule out a future break with Sauber, however, as PR departments are tasked with balancing the politics of their business with staying truthful and literal. What a PR agent does say is as important as what they don't say.
On the other side of the Honda fence sits McLaren, who have been waiting patiently since 2015 for a competitive engine from Honda, to no avail. According to Gazzetta, the Woking folks are done waiting, and have submitted an "exploratory" request to use Ferrari engines for the 2018 season. Whether or not this is a political move to pressure Honda, or a genuine
attempt to shed the dead weight of their Japanese partner is not yet known. If legitimate, this would mark the first time in the history of McLaren that their Formula One cars would be powered by a Ferrari engine, as the two teams have been rivals in the sport for 51 years, since McLaren's first entry in 1966. This may satisfy the team's star driver, Fernando Alonso, who has threatened to bid his team goodbye to escape the Honda engine's underperformance.
If the Sauber-Honda deal is deteriorating, and McLaren is willing to beg their bitterest rivals for help, then Honda's time in Formula One may again be at an end.