Sauber-Honda F1 Team May Be Announced in April
Why this partnership would be beneficial for Sauber...and for McLaren.
Japanese Formula One blog F1-life.net is reporting that the Sauber F1 team will be announcing a change to Honda engines in April. At present, Sauber is using 2016-spec Ferrari engines in its cars due to budgetary constraints. The team's cash is stretched so thin, it would have been forced to withdraw from the sport if it had finished behind Manor F1 at the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix, which would have left it eleventh in the World Constructors' Championship, and thus outside the prize pool reserved for the top ten teams. Sadly, this meant the demise of Manor, whose F1 team folded in January—though it means the venerable Sauber team can remain on the grid.
Because of its money woes, Sauber cut a deal with Ferrari, and are using the outdated 2016 engines at a steep discount, much in the same way that Scuderia Toro Rosso used Ferrari's 2015 engines last season. The use of older engines is a more severe handicap than ever before, however, as 2017 rules regarding engine development have changed. This year, the token system, meant to restrict in-season engine upgrades, has been scrapped, which means the already-obsolete 2016 engines will only continue to get less competitive as the season draws on. Thus, any chance to upgrade to a current engine spec, regardless of how flawed, is a golden opportunity.
Honda is Sauber's chance to stay relevant as the season progresses. It is speculated that Honda is offering its engines with a bargain price tag (if not outright paying Sauber to use their engines) as Honda's current reputation in Formula One has suffered due to the faltering relationship with McLaren.
McLaren has suffered since the start of its partnership with Honda in 2015, due in large part to the fact that Honda promised McLaren the world, and then showed up with a globe. Honda is not entirely to blame for the bad situation, however, as the simple fact is that it is fed barely a third the data that other engine manufacturers are receiving— Honda was supplying only one team throughout 2015 and 2016, whereas Renault, Mercedes, and Ferrari were all supplying a minimum of three teams with engines each, so they were getting three times as much live-fire experience as Honda was.
If Honda does provide Sauber with engines, it will have a larger amount of data on the problems with its engines, and thus, its development program will progress faster than before, propelling the disgraced McLaren back toward the front of the field where they belong. This deal may be make-or-break for the McLaren-Honda F1 pairing, as the quickened pace of development may bring the Honda engine up to scratch enough for the pair not to divorce.