As predicted on this site earlier this year, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing have confirmed Daniel Ricciardo will leave the team at the end of this season.
I’m conflicted. Last week I was sent an advance copy of the Amazon Prime documentary series Grand Prix Driver. This fantastic series offers previously unimaginable of levels of access to the McLaren F1 team as they prepare for the 2017 Formula One Season. Recorded over a period of four and a half months, Manish Pandey, Chris Connell, and Anwar Nuseibeh have produced an in-depth study into the life of a Formula One team with seemingly no topic being off limits. All of which, for a lifelong F1 fan such as myself, sounds incredible. So why am I conflicted?
It is said you should never meet your heroes. After watching Grand Prix Driver, I think this phase should be modified to ‘never watch a documentary about your heroes. I want to make it clear, the production values of the documentary are second to none. To gain the level of trust required to film some of the scenes depicted through the episodes is a testament to the passion, dedication and commitment of Manish Pandey and the team surrounding him. This series is a must-see for any fan of motorsport. Unfortunately, however, it’s also a must-see for anyone studying business management looking for examples of how not to run a successful business, and perhaps most importantly, for Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing on how not to work with a Power Unit Partner.
If you have seen a trailer for the documentary, it will be clear the series charts the breakdown of the relationship between McLaren and Honda on the eve of the 2017 season.
Analysing the series and reflecting on narrative documented, I have tried to break down my assessment of the team into a few key sections.
The key rationale for the McLaren Honda partnership was that Ron Dennis and/ or the team felt it would not be possible for McLaren to challenge for world championships as a customer team. Logic and recent history suggest this assessment is absolutely correct. The mantra throughout the McLaren Honda partnership and throughout this series is that of “One Team” and “We win as a team; we lose as a team”. The documentary shows those words to be largely empty. Relations between McLaren and Honda employees at every level of the business seemed strained at all times. There is a constant feeling of us and them.
An interesting insight into teams using customer power units in Formula One is when the customer receives the power unit. As a customer team, power units very rarely enter the team facility. One unit will be made available for the first time the car is fired up ahead of the season. After this, Power Units will be delivered to the circuit by the supplier and taken away again at the end of a test or race weekend. The benefit of direct / works relationship with a power unit manufacturer should be these limitations are removed. Team and Power unit manufacturer work as one in parallel. Based on the Grand Prix Driver documentary, this unity was never achieved between McLaren and Honda.
The first time McLaren physically saw the 2017 power unit was in the days preceding the first fire up of the unit. This is not an integrated partnership. Heading into 2017, Honda were playing catch up, they decided to overhaul their design philosophy. This decision, it is implied, was one McLaren did not have a say in. After taking such a decision, communication between McLaren and Honda should have been continuous, when it came to installing the power unit there should have been no surprises. As the documentary will show, this was not the case, with components having to be re-engineered on the fly.
The relationship between McLaren and Honda was not a partnership. It was barely more than a customer relationship, where the supplier happened to be supplying power units free of charge.
In speaking to Manish Pandey about the documentary, the topic of humility came up. Manish’s view of humility was interesting. His perspective was that both Honda and McLaren demonstrated great humility as they prepared for the documentary. He and his team made several attempts to get the team to discuss ambitions for the season. Looking for the soundbite of ‘returning to the top step’ or ‘challenging for the championship’. No one offered such remarks. Manish’s view was that this demonstrates the team were realistic in their approach to the season, and on this, I agree.
However, as the McLaren Honda relationship fell apart around them, it was the team’s complete lack of humility that struck me. Throughout the entire series, no McLaren representative takes any level of accountability for the partnership failing. Honda is made entirely responsible for the shortcomings of the team performance. This is wrong. We’ve all had relationships that haven’t worked out, at no time is one party solely responsible for a relationship failing. It comes across as hugely arrogant of McLaren to place all the blame for their performance through the Honda partnership at the foot of the power unit manufacturer.
Honestly, I am amazed McLaren are happy for this lack of humility to be made public. At times I wasn’t sure if I was watching a documentary series set in Woking or a Mockumentary series from Slough.
In the opening episodes, meetings are filmed from outside rooms giving the viewer a feel for events taking place without the content being made public, by the final episode cameras have been invited into meeting with no talking points edited or removed. Whilst again, this is great access, being part of these meetings will be quite distressing for any fan of the sport. Time after time the viewer is shown milestone dates on timelines being missed or management interactions in which it seems almost impossible to offer a clear answer to basic questions. To me this again comes down to accountability, no one in the organisation seems willing to accept their role in the failure.
The topic of sponsorship or partners is something frequently addressed through the series. In a bid to highlight a new beginning for the McLaren team, it was decided that a departure from silver, grey and black tones in the car livery and team environment was required. The origins of this decision and influencing factors are a little conflicted in the series, but the message for change was clear. The ambition being a new livery concept will entice new sponsors to join a new McLaren.
For me, the professionalism around this decision is diminished somewhat by branding being applied on the eve of the launch in what appears to be a corridor. Nevertheless, the ambition is clearly communicated. This desire to rebrand after a challenging period also explains why McLaren are expected to reveal another new livery concept for the 2018 season.
The McLaren team has developed a strong reputation within the technologies sector for its work outside of Formula One in recent years. Major FMCG’s consult with the group on numerous challenges. The McLaren Formula One Team depicted in this documentary is not one many FMCG’s would look favourably upon. I do not believe the McLaren commercial team will look favourably on the way in which the team is portrayed.
Even Handed Approach
In my discussion with Manish Pandey, in an interview for Paddock Magazine (click here to head to the interview) I raised the question of the way in which McLaren and Honda were depicted within the series, highlighting my concern that Honda did not have the opportunity to offer their side of the story.
Understandably Manish did not hold my opinion. The narrative of a documentary is often defined by the events it covers from the perspective of the lead. This is not a Honda documentary. It is a McLaren documentary and the views within it are communicated as such. Again this is not a criticism of the documentary, more a reflection of the brief and the client.
I sincerely hope my interpretation of the McLaren team based on the series is not an accurate reflection of the way in which the business operates. 12 months have passed since this documentary was filmed. With new management structures in place, much-needed process and accountability may have been successfully implemented. I, like many other F1 fans, hope to see McLaren back at the front of the grid challenging for race wins. With The McLaren Team seen through this 2017 documentary, I doubt this would have been possible. Whatever the power unit.
Grand Prix Driver is available on Amazon Prime from February 10th – Click here for more.
Following in the footsteps of fellow former World Champion Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button has launched his own YouTube channel to chronicle his adventures post F1.
VLOG001, released earlier today, features Button and his crew heading to Sepang to test the Super GT Honda NSX he plans to race through 2018. Adopting a style similar to that of Jon Olsson, Button offers almost behind the scenes like insights into his life alongside glamour shots coupled with a chilled soundtrack.
Similar to the only professional racing driver I’ve had the pleasure to share a car with, early on in the Vlog, Button demonstrates the true level of respect racing drivers have for the handbrake of rental cars…
Vlogging, similar to blogging, or podcasting allows the host to present themselves to an audience in a way in which they feel most comfortable. Free from broadcast restrictions, hosts control what they share and when they share it. That being said, this being Button’s first post, the extent to which he posts content through his channel and the amount of his daily life he chooses to share remains to be seen.
Similar to Nico Rosberg’s YouTube Channel, Button’s motive behind this level of engagement isn’t overtly clear. Fan’s will appreciate the access and the feeling of inclusion, beyond this, as Jon Olsson will attest, developing a following in the Vlogging space can prove extremely lucrative and facilitate the fulfilment of the most unthinkable personal goals. (check out Jon Olsson’s Youtube Channel here for more)
Subscribe to Jenson Button TV here
Enjoy Mr Snow!
McLaren has confirmed that Renault will not be referenced in the official team name designation for the 2018 season. Whilst Renault branding will feature within the team environment and livery as would be expected in a customer power unit relationship, the team will not be referred to as McLaren Renault.
As speculated on this site in September 2017, such a move will facilitate a single focus for the McLaren brand and enable consistent naming conventions should the team implement its own Power Unit solution under future F1 regulations. Unlike fellow Renault customers, Red Bull Racing, McLaren have not taken the route of rebadging their Power Unit.
The Renault Power Unit supplied to Red Bull Racing has been badged TAG Heuer since 2016, in an agreement which saw the LVMH owned brand end a long-standing partnership with McLaren switching to the Milton Keynes based team.
The naming convention surrounding Toro Rosso’s relationship with power unit partner Honda is yet to be confirmed.
As the F1 world awaits confirmation of the widely expected split between McLaren and Honda, attention has turned to the team name and branding for the 2018 season and beyond. It is fairly certain McLaren will switch to Renault power unit supply for next season in a deal which will see the Woking based team become a customer team for the remainder of the current iteration of Formula One Power Unit regulations.
Through social media, Fans and F1 pundits have been speculating on the likely name under which the McLaren Renault partnership will operate, with the overriding sentiment being that legacy of the respective brands not quite sitting well together. With almost every brand within the Renault-Nissan Alliance being touted as a possible fit for the partnership, from McLaren Infiniti, to McLaren Alpine, McLaren Nismo, and my personal favourite McLaren Dacia, the most logical naming convention appears to have been forgotten.
Zak Brown, Executive Director McLaren Technology Group, has been quoted as suggesting the team will consider producing Power Units under the McLaren brand under the new technical regulations, should costs not prove prohibitive. With this in mind it should be expected that the Renault agreement for 2018 will be delivered under a white label agreement, as already in place with Red Bull Racing who included naming rights to their Renault Power Unit in their partnership which LVMH, which sees the Power Unit branded Tag Heuer.
McLaren as an automotive entity in its own right will likely brand the white label Renault Power Unit as McLaren. Suggesting to the casual F1 follower or fan that the team is already producing its own power unit. Such a move will serve to further enhance the credibility of the McLaren Automotive Group and remove confusion around relationships between the road going cars and track based power unit partnerships.
After three of the worst seasons in the team’s history, it is highly unlikely McLaren will be in a position to sign a title sponsor for the 2018 season, the team must rebuild its reputation with brands and partners. As such when the 2018 team listing is announced expect McLaren to be listed simply as McLaren with no reference to any power unit supplier.
Should, for what ever reason, the Renault Power Unit fail to elevate McLaren from its current plight expect to hear some awkward interviews in which an unbranded power unit is held accountable for challenges facing the team.
If you’ve caught more than 10 minutes F1 coverage or spent anytime on popular F1 news aggregator sites over the last few weeks you would be forgiven for thinking the Mclaren Honda divorce was complete. Based on all confirmed sources this is not the case.
F1 media, as with any media, has a tendency towards sensationalism. A controversial headline will attract readership. I have to admit, I’m not adverse to the occasional sensationalist headline here on JWGP.
So, whilst the F1 world awaits formal confirmation from both Mclaren and Honda around future plans, now seems as good a time as ever to reflect on the last “SENSATIONAL” Team and power unit supplier fall out. When with no official word from either Red Bull Racing or Renault, after 18 months of continuous headlines around a fallout, their split was announced by the media. Except it wasn’t. Two seasons later the partnership is still alive. Yes it has been modified, but the fact remains Red Bull Racing and Renault are partners. Below is a screen grab of just a few of the credible outlets that “confirmed” the news.
So while we wait for official news from Mclaren and Honda about the future of their partnership, one fact to bare in mind;
As per FIA sporting regulations, Honda and Mercedes have already confirmed power unit supply plans to the FIA for 2018 (see story with verified sources here). Within this confirmation, Mercedes will supply the same teams they are in 2017, Honda will supply Mclaren and Sauber.
In retrospect Looking back at the “confirmed” Red Bull Racing Renault split, the story ensured continual press coverage for a team performing well below expectations over a 12 month period. This coverage was arguably greater than that which Mercedes received whilst fighting for the championship. A masterstroke in marketing by a true marketeer Dietrich Mateschitz. In November last year, Mclaren replaced Ron Dennis with marketing guru Zak Brown.
How many newspapers are giving midweek coverage to Mercedes win on Sunday?
Away from incredible on track performances this season, recent Formula One news has been increasingly fixated by the prospect of ‘divorce’ between Honda and McLaren, with a number of respected outlets and leading pundits suggesting the separation is already all but finalised.
Whilst frustrations around the on track performance of the McLaren Honda partnership are plainly visible for all to see, with senior representatives from McLaren doing little to calm stories, one key factor appears to have been forgotten. The FIA Sporting Regulations.
Within the FIA Formula One World Championship Sporting Regulations, all power unit manufacturers are required to submit a list of teams they will supply in the following season by May 15th. Under this regulation both Honda and Mercedes have already informed the FIA of the teams which will be using their power units for 2018
“No power unit may be used in a given Championship season unless the Power Unit Manufacturer supplying such power unit accepts and adheres to the following conditions.
Each of the Power Unit Manufacturers of an homologated power unit must :
i) provide the FIA, before 15 May (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units are to be supplied, with the list of teams (clearly identifying the appointed “works/factory” team, if any) to which a supply agreement has been concluded for the given Championship season ;
ii) if called upon to do so by the FIA before 1 June (or such other date as agreed in writing between all the Power Unit Manufacturers and the FIA) of the season preceding that in which such power units were to be supplied:
T = 111-A/B-C
– A = Total number of teams (including “works/factory” teams) having a supply agreement concluded for the given Championship season with a New Power Unit Manufacturer.
– B = Total number of manufacturers of homologated Power Units for the given Championship season.
– C = Total number of New Power Unit Manufacturers for the given Championship season.
provided that if the result contains a fraction then the fraction shall count as a full team (e.g. 11 teams divided by 4 manufacturers = 2.75, each manufacturer must, if called upon to do so by the FIA, supply at least 3 teams).”
Earlier today, confirmation was sought from both Mercedes and Honda as to the contents of the lists provided to the FIA in accordance with this regulation.
Honda stated their list submitted to the FIA documents Power Unit supply intentions for both Mclaren and Sauber. Mercedes confirmed their submission to the FIA references three teams, Force India, Williams, and the factory Mercedes team.
No provision is made within the Sporting Regulations around deviation from this commitment. With both Honda and Mercedes having stated intentions around 2018 it seems highly unlikely any change is planned or possible without the consent of all teams participating in the championship.
Earlier this morning, the Sauber F1 team confirmed a new partnership with Honda set to commence from 2018. This Swiss-Japanese partnership will involve extensive strategic and technological realignment and creates a news basis for the team moving forward. Following the change in ownership of the Swiss based team, switching to Honda Power for 2018 demonstrates the team’s desire to return to the front through exploring all opportunities available to them.
Speaking on the new partnership Monisha Kaltenborn, CEO and Team Principal commented
“It is a great honor for the Sauber F1 Team to be able to work together with Honda in the coming seasons. Our realignment is not just visible through the new ownership but also now with our new technological partnership with Honda. We have set another milestone with this new engine era, which we await with huge excitement and of course we are looking for new opportunities. We very much look forward to our partnership with Honda, which sets the course for a successful future – from a strategic as well as from a technological perspective. We thank Honda for making this great partnership happen.”
Katsuhide Moriyama, Chief Officer, Brand and Communication Operations, Honda Motor Co., Ltd:
“In addition to the partnership with McLaren which began in 2015, Honda will begin supplying power units to Sauber as a customer team starting from next year. This will be a new challenge in Honda’s F1 activities. In order to leverage the benefits of supplying to two teams to the maximum extent, we will strengthen the systems and capabilities of both of our two development operations, namely HRD Sakura and the operation in Milton Keynes. We will continue our challenges so that our fans will enjoy seeing a Honda with dominant strength as soon as possible.”
Further details around the new partnership will be made available in due course.
Follow this link to check out the 2017 Sauber F1 Team Merchandise Collection from Errea Sport.
McLaren Honda’s announcement that Fernando Alonso will compete in the 101st running of the Indy 500 this week came at the perfect time for both the team and driver. After a more than challenging start to the 2017 season the team were in dire need of some positive press coverage. The move towards Indy, initialed by Zak Brown (Team Principle) has achieved exactly that.
There are a plethora of reasons as to why this move will be a positive for McLaren Honda moving forward, this article will seek to explore these from driver, commercial, and team perspective.
Driver: Fernando Alonso’s contract with McLaren expires at the end of the 2017 F1 season. Mclaren Honda’s failure to provide Alonso will a car capable of challenging for regular points let alone podiums or wins has been seen by many as a waste of Alonso’s talent. Should Fernando seek to remain in Formula One beyond his current agreement McLaren Honda will have their work cut out to convince him they can deliver a car that will allow him to challenge for a 3rd world championship. Zak Brown and the team realise this, and as such have begun to explore other ‘benefits’ they can bring to the table that other teams may struggle to offer. Running at the Indy 500 is one such benefit. With Honda power supplying half the grid in Indycar, slotting Alonso into a front running team was not a challenge. Realistically only McLaren could offer an active works F1 driver this opportunity.
Will this alone be enough to convince Alonso to stay? Beyond money, which at this point in his career may not be an incentive, what else could they offer him? Running in LMP1 at Le Mans for the foreseeable future would prove very tough for McLaren to offer to Alonso. With only Porsche and Toyota capable of challenging for a win, it is doubtful a manufacturer drive would be open.
Through Zak Brown’s involvement in the Motorsport Network he has a connection to Formula E (Motorsport Network are minority shareholders of the championship) in addition McLaren supply ECU units. Could the team offer him a drive in Formula E alongside F1 from 2018 and beyond? Equally Zak Brown runs his own endurance racing team, could this be used to entice Alonso to events such as the Daytona 24hrs.
If McLaren can find Alonso success in other categories could they convince him to remain with the F1 team whilst they rebuild? Or could it show him there is more to life than Formula One.
Of course this assumes Alonso would perform well in other categories. The flip side of this strategy would be if Alonso struggles at the Indy500 or other events the team ‘allow’ him to compete in, he will devalue his own stock. He may make himself less appealing not only to F1 teams but also to other championships. In running at Indy Alonso risks limiting his own options when it comes to negotiating new a new agreement with McLaren.
Commercial: McLaren Honda’s recent struggle to retain and entice new partners has been well documented. With another underperforming season in prospect the team’s ability to ‘stop the rot’ is unlikely. Partners join Mclaren on the basis of front running exposure. They are not receiving this. Media coverage the team does receive is largely negative or not focused on racing.
Alonso running at the Indy 500 has created a good news story for the team, media coverage has been extensive and positive. This will continue into Indy. Through running a McLaren livery at the Indy 500 with all Mclaren’s partners gaining exposure, Mclaren will be able to make up for any exposure shortfall they may have faced as a result of disappointing performances in Formula One. Running at Indy will also give Mclaren’s partners additional exposure in the US, a key strategic market. This will help the team in future partner discussions.
The counter argument to this is that existing partners may realise they can achieve expansive coverage, greater than that of F1, simply by partnering with a top driver at a single event. Any partner / sponsor questioning a future with the team may be presented with a new strategic direction through this gimmick / project.
Team. There is no I in team. As fantastic as it is to see a current F1 driver taking part in the Indy 500, but Zak Brown and McLaren Honda management can’t for one second forget that they have fundamental problems to address within their own team. Issues that no PR stunt will overcome. There is talk that Mercedes have agreed to support to Honda in overcoming some of their Power Unit shortcomings, assuming the support leads to a turnaround in form, perhaps there is a light at the end of the Honda struggle. McLaren must focus on this. There is no point ploughing resources into keeping Fernando Alonso happy if the situation around overall team performance does not improve.
A side comment on the offer of Mercedes support. It is impossible to imagine a scenario in which Mercedes will give Honda sufficient information to enable them to challenge for outright performance. Will a Honda Power unit developed with Mercedes not just become an incredibly expensive customer power unit which similar to a Williams or Force India will not be allowed to win?
Could McLaren Honda heading to the Indy 500 also be a comment to the FIA ahead of discussions around future power unit regulations? If they find success in Indycar will Honda start to camping for the same power unit to be used in F1? Are McLaren in sufficient a position of strength to threaten to switch to Indycar should future F1 power unit regulations not shift in their favour?
In conclusion. Zak Brown’s commercial minded approach to management of McLaren Honda and their issues is hugely refreshing for the fan and for sponsors. I look forward to seeing this same dynamic approach being taken to resolving team performance issues.
Credit to Tim Holmes for the concept Mclaren Indycar livery imagery supporting this article. Follow Tim on Twitter here
On the eve of the 2017 F1 season McLaren Honda head into the third year of their partnership with little cause for optimism. Despite the FIA’s removal of the Power Unit development token system which previously limited manufacturers ability to modify / redesign technology, Honda solutions seemingly remain at odds with the F1 Hybrid era.
2017 pre-season testing saw Honda introduce an entirely new Power Unit, a fully integrated unit developed around the MCL32. In a bid to improve performance and resolve drivability issues which plagued the 2015 / 16 design, Honda engineers have taken inspiration from the solutions seen with their immediate competitors. This approach, in the short term at least, appears to have failed. McLaren have reported extensive issues with vibrations within the power unit limiting any ability to push for out right performance. Neither team nor engine manufacturer have been able to validate design concepts through pre-season testing and have minimal expectations around the team’s ability to complete a race distance let alone score points in the opening races of the 2017 season.
The situation is unsatisfactory for all parties involved.
In recent days it has emerged McLaren may have made preliminary enquiries towards Mercedes around future power unit supply, some media outlets going as far to suggest a mid season switch could be possible. The reality of this is highly unlikely, both from a commerical and technical perspective the strategy defies logic and any form of long term thinking.
McLaren maintain an ambition to compete for and win world championships. Using Williams Martini Racing as a prime example, despite access to the dominant power unit for the past three seasons, customer status with Mercedes limits their ability to challenge. This should not be the strategy McLaren seek or accept. It may resolve short term frustrations with partners, but it will not deliver world championships.
Instead McLaren may need to seek an alternative solution. It is understood Honda support the team and power unit development to the tune of $100 million per season. On the recommendation of McLaren, Honda could look to redirect this finance to a third party. The third party in question being Cosworth.
When the Hybrid F1 regulations were originally outlined in 2010, Cosworth, similar to Mercedes, dedicated significant resource to develop a new power unit for the sport. The intention had been for Volkswagen to badge the Cosworth power unit, however as the implementation of the new regulations grew nearer VW reneged on their F1 ambitions. This left Cosworth with a concept power unit 4 years in the making but no manufacturer budget to bring the power unit to the grid.
Cosworth have stated in previous years that with budget the power unit they developed could be on the grid within 6 months. They remain confident that the solutions they engineered would be competitive. In theory it would be possible for the Cosworth power unit to become the 2018 Honda F1 Power Unit. It is fair to say there would be a certain amount of pride to overcome between all parties involved, but ensuring future competitiveness may ease the short term pain.
To those who see the suggestion of Honda badged Cosworth Power Unit as the future of the McLaren Honda relationship as far fetched, take a look at the companies house registry for the list of directors at Cosworth. Top of this list you will find Mr Zak Brown, Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group.