According to BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson McLaren are close to agreeing an engine supply contract that would bring Honda back to Formula 1 for the 2015 season with the team continuing to use Mercedes power next year.
With new engine regulations coming into effect next year Honda have been evaluating a return to the sport for a long period with rumours linking them to McLaren as far back as 2011. The new regulations will see teams use 1.6l V6 turbo charged powertrain with a much greater emphasis on the use of energy recovery systems.
While the new regulations have come under fire from many the engineering challenge of developing all new engines has been met with optimism from numerous manufacturers. Honda will look to use Formula 1 as its training ground for technology and engineers just as it did in the eighties and nineties.
Even though Honda left Formula 1 in acrimonious circumstances following the 2008 season. Honda has struggled during the previous years and the cost of investment in their racing team could not be justified in an ever worsening economy. The team eventually was purchased by Ross Brawn at the eleventh hour and rebranded as Brawn GP with Jenson Button winning the World Drivers’ Championship in the team’s only season.
Even with their exit from Formula 1 fresh in the paddocks mind Honda has been courted by numerous teams throughout the last two years and for McLaren this deal will surely be seen as a coup.
The team has seen their once ultra-successful and close relationship with Mercedes inevitably strain since the German manufacturer purchased Brawn GP. Losing their status as a “works” team and becoming a customer has not hurt McLaren in the last three years but that was due mostly to a stable period of engine regulations.
With the new regulations it is increasingly important to align oneself with full factory support. It was with this in mind that Lewis Hamilton jumped ship from McLaren to Mercedes this season. With only a customer contract McLaren would have seen their reputation suffer and a slide down the grid would have been difficult to avoid.
As it is the Honda deal should secure their long term future and give them a solid foundation for continued success. The history of their relationship will mean that dominance will be expected but much has changed in Formula 1 since the late eighties, as Honda can attest given their failure as a factory team, but with new rules and new engines it is clear that the sport has come full circle and having factory engine deals will be much more valuable from next season onwards than has been the case in recent years.