Tag Archives: Honda

Formula One: Zak Brown’s strategic masterstroke?

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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

 

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Formula One: Are Cosworth the solution to McLaren-Honda’s woes?

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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.

Formula One: Motorsport Network set to acquire stake in Mclaren?

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Over the past 12 months the Miami based business, Motorsport Network, has implemented a strategy of rapid expansion through acquisition across the motorsport industry. Motorsport Network, having installed Zak Brown as CEO following his departure from Just Marketing International, acquired the Haymarket Group, publishers of titles including  Autosport & F1 Racing, along side the purchase of Amalgam Models, Forix Stats, Motors TV. Most recently the group have purchased a shareholding in Formula E. At this point the strategy behind this rapid growth is unclear. The Motorsport Network is owned by Russian Billionaire Mike Zoi.

Since the announcement of Zak Brown’s appointment as Executive Director of Mclaren Technology Group, in effect succeeding Ron Dennis’s position within the group, there have been questions around Zak Brown’s plans to combine his position within the Motorsport Network and Mclaren. Zak Brown has commented combining the roles is manageable and his ultimate focus is with Mclaren.

As Formula One heads into the 2017 launch season, Mclaren have stolen the limelight in suggesting the team will introduce a new look for the team of which a new livery will form the basis. Given the recent growth through acquisition model applied by Motorsport Network and the senior management position held by Zak Brown in both organisations, can we expect Motorsport Network taking a shareholding in Mclaren to be the next logical development for both groups?

Despite his removal from a management function within the Mclaren Group, Ron Dennis retains a 25% shareholding in the business. As the F1 team appear keen to embark on a new chapter in the life of the team, going as far as to drop the MP4 naming convention implemented by Ron Dennis, it would not be a surprise to see the sale of his remaining shareholding in the team. With backing from Mike Zoi, Motorsport Network have the funds to takeover the shareholding and present Ron Dennis with a freedom to pursue new projects.

As the covers are removed from the MCL32 on February 24th it will almost be a surprise not to see Motorsport.com (Motorsport Network) branding on the car, the question will be the extent to which the network become involved with the team moving forward.

Credit to Tim Holmes for providing concept MCL32 livery design with the inclusion of Motorsport.com branding.

Thanks to the MsportXtra collective for support in connecting fellow motorsport enthusiasts.

Formula One: Button sets his sights on Schumacher

The 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix will mark Jenson Button’s 300th start in Formula One. With a career spanning 17 years to date Jenson Button ranks 3rd behind Rubens Barrichello (322) and Michael Schumacher (306) in most F1 starts in the history of the sport.

In this incredibly open interview for Mobil 1’s The Grid. Jenson highlights this statistic and references a desire make his way to the top of this ranking. Only time will tell if the falling of the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi will mark the end of Button’s F1 career, for now retirement from F1 is not on his mind. The Brit makes it clear 2017 for him will be a year in which he can take time for himself, he has a contract to race in 2018 with Mclaren if both he and the team desire, and should anything unforeseen happen between now and March 2017 there is no reason to think he would not be the team’s first choice reserve driver.

Jenson Button’s F1 career is far from over, it is hard to imagine him not wanting to experience F1 machinery under the new technical regulations. For 2017 however he states ambitions to compete in the Triathlon world championships and sample other forms of motorsport.

 

Formula One: Button not a fan of the revised Silverstone layout

In the build up to the British Grand Prix this weekend, Jenson Button talks to Mobil 1 the Grid about his feelings towards the track. Whilst acknowledging changes made to the circuit in 2011 were made with the ambition of increasing overtaking opportunities, Jenson misses the fast flowing challenge of the circuit of old.

This in no way diminishes his will to perform strongly around the circuit. Despite never winning at his home Grand Prix, the atmosphere created by the fans make the event one of his highlights of the season. Come rain or shine the British fans are guaranteed to come out in force to support their drivers.

Formula One: Michael Kors joins Mclaren

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McLaren-Honda have announced a new partnership with Michael Kors. The internationally renowned luxury accessories and ready-to-wear brand becomes the official lifestyle partner of the team.

Both McLaren-Honda and Michael Kors celebrate design and speed, with the partnership strengthening and amplifying both brands’ embodiment of a fast, jet-set lifestyle.

“Michael Kors and McLaren-Honda are pioneers in their respective spaces, and we firmly believe that McLaren-Honda is the right partner for our entry into the Formula 1 racing world,” says John D. Idol, Chairman and Chief Executive Office of Michael Kors. “This is an exciting moment for us, especially as we continue to grow as a men’s lifestyle brand.”

The Formula 1 audience is a new one for Michael Kors, providing a prime opportunity to familiarize the European consumer with all facets of the Michael Kors world. Additionally, the legendary McLaren-Honda brand and its renowned Formula 1 drivers are an exceptional representation of the Michael Kors man—sophisticated, international and successful, with an appreciation for living life in the fast lane.

“We’re delighted to announce a brand-new partnership between McLaren-Honda and Michael Kors, the world-famous award-winning designer of luxury accessories and ready-to-wear apparel,” says Ron Dennis, Executive Chairman and CEO McLaren Group.

He continues, “Like McLaren, which has raced in Formula 1 all over the world for the past 50 years, Michael Kors is also a truly international company, operating stylish and successful stores in some of the most prestigious cities in the world, including New York, Beverly Hills, Chicago, London, Milan, Paris, Munich, Istanbul, Dubai, Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

“Moreover, I firmly believe that the corporate cultures of both McLaren and Michael Kors encompass a common dynamism and adventurism, as well as a shared commitment to a similarly relentless pursuit of perfection, and as such the two brands are extremely well suited to a long-term partnership. That brand fit is very important to both of us: both companies have built their reputations on being the very best at what they do, and, as we now march forward together, we’ll both become stronger still.”

As the team’s official lifestyle partner, Michael Kors branding will feature prominently on both the driver overalls and the McLaren-Honda MP4-31 car.

To celebrate the launch of the partnership, Michael Kors has created a limited-edition men’s leather jacket. The 50 specially produced black leather jackets will be sold exclusively on the men’s floor of the new Michael Kors London flagship store, while supplies last. The jackets feature both the Michael Kors and McLaren logos, as well as a limited-edition plaque with each piece’s unique production number.

“This partnership is about the convergence of style and speed, which is inherent to both the Michael Kors and McLaren-Honda DNA,” says Michael Kors. “There is an energy, sophistication and confidence to both of our brands, and we wanted to create a limited-edition piece that spoke to that.”

Formula One: Montréal set to challenge power unit reliability

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The seventh round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship looks set to be most challenging circuit on power units of the season to date. The long straights demand maximum power for just over 60% of the lap. The longest straight on the circuit is the Droit du Casino at 1,064m and top speed will be in excess of 330kph, the highest speed seen this year so far.

There aren’t enough braking points on the circuit to allow the K to recover the full FIA allowable amount. This, along with the high fuel consumption at this track, makes for a
delicate balancing act during the race to stay within the 100kgpermitted fuel load, average fuel usage per lap is 1.48Kg, with the race taking place over 70 laps usage at this rate would exceed the permitted fuel limit by more almost 4KG. Drivers will be hoping for an early safety car period to avoid finishing the race in heavy fuel saving modes.
Renault will complete the roll out of the B-Spec power unit with both Renault Sport’s Jolyon Palmer and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen having access to the unit in race conditions for the first time.
Speaking on the power unit Renault Sport’s Nick Chester commented:

 

“It’s a good step forward and we have it in both cars in Montréal. In Monaco we were able to benefit primarily from the improved driveability whereas Montréal is more a power track thanks to its straights following slow corners. This means we should really see the power unit stretch its legs.”

 

The nature of the circuit will put this upgraded unit under significant pressure, reliability will be a watch out over the weekend.
It is expected Honda and Ferrari will also introduce Power Unit upgrades over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. With Mercedes coming to end of the cycle of it’s current unit in effect out of sequence to the other teams, expect the power output of teams to be a little close than normal over the weekend. Whilst this is unlikely to threaten the works Mercedes team, customers teams may fall further off the pace than otherwise expected.

 

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Formula One: Alonso checks out MotoGP Mugello

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Mclaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso attended the Mugello round of the MotoGP championship this weekend with the Repsol Honda Team.

Speaking to championship world feed broadcaster Alonso complimented the series on the great atmosphere around the circuit, the packed out grandstands a stark contrast to the poorly attended Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. Alonso commented on how impressed he was by the skills of the riders and the bikes themselves.

Despite attending the race as a guest of Honda, Alonso commented he would like to have seen a Rossi (riding with Yamaha) win for the fans and remarked how different it was to see the bikes in real life as oppose to on TV.

To see highlights from the Mugello Round of the MotoGP check out the series You Tube channel here.

Remember, you can win a Full size Fernando Alonso Helmet with Mobil One’s The Grid through this link:

 

Formula One: FIA – Convergence is coming as tokens are dropped

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At the Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, the FIA earlier today held a press conference with Head of Powertrain Fabrice Lom & F1 Director Charlie Whiting, chaired by Matteo Bonciani, to discuss the developments in the Power Unit Strategy from the governing body.

The full transcript of the press conference can be found here

Changes explored in this press conference are set to be implemented from 2017 onwards.

In essence the FIA have broken the power unit strategy into 4 pillars:

  1. Addressing the cost of current Power Unit technology
  2. Obligation to supply
  3. Convergence of Power Unit performance
  4. Reviewing the sound of current Power Unit technology

For details on each of the pillars I highly recommend reviewing the press conference transcript, particularly the area regarding engine supply plans (pillar2), as referenced on this site earlier this week.

One other area of specific interest is that of power convergence. Fabrice Lom explains the need and enabler to the topic here :

“The third pillar was to help performance convergence. So, to do that the first big thing that people thought was important is to have stability in the regulations.”

Regulations stability closes the door to dropping hybrid technology for the FIA and ensures the series Power Unit Strategy remains relevant to the automotive industry:

“There was a lot of discussion of changing completely the regulations, going back to normally aspirated engines, no hybrid. Firstly, nobody wanted that because the trend of the world is to go hybrid and to go low consumption.

But also they thought if there is a big change there will be a redistribution of the cards and there could be a big difference in performance between the power unit manufacturers, so they said stability of regulations would help a lot. So this is the first tool for convergence.”

The current token system around Power Unit development would not facilitate an environment in which manufacturers would be able to achieve a convergence of performance. However to ensure there is no ‘free for all’ the FIA will be implementing specific restrictions around such developments:

“Then we free the tokens, because the ones that are a bit behind wanted no limitation of development to try to recover. We also put limits on some performance related dimensions. This is a bit technical and you all have the regulations but for example we put limits on the crankshaft dimensions, on the weights of some parts, so we are sure that there are limits on the development on these items. These limits were put where the best one is today, so that people know the target and also allow us to stop the best ones to develop more, to go lighter or smaller, so that we put something like a bit of a barrier to development.

In addition to this we put limits on the boost temperature, so they cannot develop too much their cooling and also a bit of packaging on the energy store and control electronics to avoid having to redo all the energy store to help the chassis performance.”

Following this overview the FIA opened the press conference to the floor. In this session further questions around convergence were addressed.

When you do the power convergence, how are you going to ensure that whoever your benchmark is is actually not sand-bagging at the time to be artificially low, so that you can ensure that you have there actual performance to ensure that they don’t gain an advantage after the convergence date?

Fabrice: So clearly the package is to help convergence. We are not mandating convergence; there is no prescribed convergence. So we just put measure that should help convergence.

Naturally the convergence will come with the stability of regulation and we try to speed up the convergence by having these measures but there is no prescribed convergence.

What’s the timeframe for sorting this convergence out, because they have talked about 0.3s per lap around Barcelona. When would expect that to be in place and what if it’s not? What if one of the manufacturers has found something and is suddenly 1.0s clear?

Fabrice: So this figure of 0.3s is apparently something that went in the media. There is nothing prescribed, as I said, but we will measure it at the beginning of each season and if it is considered to be not at the level that we expect to be, we will come back to the Strategy Group and just report, and then what will happen will be a decision of the Strategy Group, according to the F1 governance we have today.

It remains to be seen how in reality a convergence system will work. Given limitations around Power Unit components through a season, manufacturers will  a limited opportunities to introduce updates without penalty. The sport should also question if convergence, which is tantamount to standardisation, is the direction any sport representing a pinnacle should be taking. That being said ‘the show’ element of Formula One can be assured through these actions, which may encourage further investment and a new audience to the sport.

At this time Formula One Management have made no comment around the FIA’s Power Unit Pillar Strategy.

 

 

Formula One: Alonso could have split the Williams

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Mclaren Honda continued their resurgence to the top of the grid this weekend with both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finishing in the points, finishing 6th and 10th respectively.

For the first time since his return to the team Alonso appears able to push the car with confidence:

“Fernando drove a brilliant race, displaying all the guile, aggression and opportunism for which he is so well known” commented Racing Director Eric Boullier

The team are confident the result could have been even more impressive. Fuel efficiency is still an issue for the Honda power unit, the Sochi circuit represents most challenging event for fuel consumption on the 2016 calendar. Yusuke Hasegawa Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer commenting:

“We knew that our longer stints were good here, but it was a job well done for our team and drivers to manage our one-stop strategy and fuel-saving during the race, which led to today’s results. 

Eric Boullier went on to comment:

“We can see that we are the team that have a lot of fuel saving for obvious reasons, But with Fernando you could see towards the end of the race he was more than 1.2s faster [per lap]. without fuel saving we’d save another 50s which we would’ve had at the end of the race.”

Had Alonso been able to approach the race without a fuel saving mindset and chased the 50s Boullier refereed to he would have had the pace not only to pass Massa, but also challenge Bottas, elevating his finishing position to 5th, challenging 4th.

Considering challenges the team faced through the 2015 season, progress seen through 2016 to date has been deeply impressive. Honda have 14 development tokens available to them through the 2016 season, leaving the scope to make further advancements significant. Boullier has been keen to point out the Mclaren Racing and Honda are not the only factor contributing to the teams resurgence;

“This race showcases the collective efforts of the entire organisation – not just McLaren Racing and Honda, but also our key technical partner, Mobil 1, whose oil and lubes have played such a key role in our ongoing development. To our partners, too, their faith and belief is starting to be repaid”

Improved performances from the team could make them a formidable challenger by the end of the 2016 season and a genuine contender for 2017. A competitive Mclaren in 2017 could add further spice to ‘silly season’ with many driver contracts expiring at the end of this season.

Mclaren Honda now sit 7th in the  Constructors Championship with all 3 of the teams drivers having scored points this season.