While McLaren-Honda no longer toiled at the back of the grid in 2016, the Anglo-Japanese alliance was still miles off the pace of the frontrunners.
The first year of McLaren-Honda reunion has been well documented across web and print. After such a disastrous season, the only way for the two companies was forward.
While both sides made genuine progress in 2016, particularly Honda, the Woking-based outfit was still nowhere close the the front runners, ending up sixth in the championship. Had Toro Rosso been racing with a 2016 engine, it is fair to assume that McLaren would have slipped down to seventh in the standings.
In 2015, Honda’s achilles was ERS, leaving McLaren drivers vulnerable to rivals on the straights. Over the winter, the Japanese manufacturer made energy deployment their prime focus, making considerable gains in this aspect. It went on to claim that its ERS system was on par with that of Mercedes in 2016.
However, Honda continued to lack behind its rivals when it came to internal combustion unit (engine), which meant that McLaren remained down on rivals on pure horsepower.
While Honda’s power unit was nowhere in the league of the other three, McLaren’s chassis, too, wasn’t the best on the grid. Despite some tall claims by bosses Eric Boullier and Ron Dennis, the weaknesses of the MP4-31 were far too evident at certain tracks.
McLaren’s star driver Fernando Alonso continued to shine in 2016, dragging an inherently slow car/engine package to places it didn’t deserve to finish in. His pair of fifth place results in Monaco and USA showed that the fire inside him still burns, with his feisty drive in Austin being the standout of the year.
Jenson Button, meanwhile, was well off the pace of the Spanish teammate, although he did face the brunt of McLaren-Honda’s technical gremlins. He scored less than half the points of his teammate, although it is fair to say that an early retirement announcement did have an impact on his motivation levels. That said, a below-par season doesn’t take anything away from Button’s stellar career.
2017 opens a big window opportunity for both McLaren and Honda. The end of engine token systems will allow Honda to catch up with its rivals, while a wide overhaul of the car can only benefit McLaren.
However, structural changes in the corporate management of McLaren may have a negative impact on the team. Ron Dennis’ removal after a boardroom coup shows the tensions that existed within the entire group, while Jost Capito’s impending departure is equally a bad news for the team.
Capito had shown his management skills by dominating WRC for Volkswagen, and insiders believe he could have replicated that success at McLaren.
by Rachit Thukral