Maybe Those Honda Formula One Engines Aren't So Bad After All

Illustration for article titled Maybe Those Honda Formula One Engines Arent So Bad After All
Image: AP Images

After three of years of listening to McLaren bitch about their bad luck with Honda engines, Toro Rosso figured that they could work with the Japanese manufacturer to make their car successful. We all called them crazy when the Red Bull junior team paired with Honda for 2018, but in only the team’s second race with the engine, Pierre Gasly stuck up a (metaphorical) middle finger to the haters. By hauling the car up into Qualifying 3, starting the race in 5th, and racing his way to 4th by the time the checkered flag fell, he managed more with that engine than even Fernando Alonso could.

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Gasly was aided in his efforts by the failure of both Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen, who had qualified ahead. He certainly was not the fastest car on the circuit, either, finishing over a minute down to the leader, and running a slightly slower personal best lap time than teammate Brendon Hartley. He did manage, however, to stay on the lead lap, which only the top six cars can boast. The team had a good strategy, and Pierre’s qualifying efforts the prior day certainly helped.

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While the team suffered a double failure in Australia a couple of weeks ago, they’ve rebounded in the best way possible, putting in one of their best races in years. It does good to remember that 2018 is Gasly’s first full season in Formula 1, having run only five races last year. The twelve-year-old team has only one victory in its tenure, the rainy Italian Grand Prix of 2008 with a young Sebastian Vettel. Something tells me this feels almost as good as that moment a decade ago. They put in a hell of an effort, and they beat the legendary McLaren with the engine they threw away.

Who does McLaren have left to blame this season?

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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DISCUSSION

gearboxtrouble
gearboxtrouble

I can see why McLaren did what they did but they’re going to regret moving on from Honda over the long run. Yes they’re doing ok with the Renault engine but the truth is that Renault’s focus will be on its works team first and McLaren will find it hard to mount a legitimate title challenge over the 3 years left on this engine formula. Cutting Honda also meant losing over $100m in funding which has already had a material impact in terms of staffing issues delaying their big aero upgrade package. McLaren’s problems with overheating in testing and Australia show that some of the unreliability Honda showed was because of McLaren’s (wrong) philosophy of prioritizing rear end packaging over all else. Their lack of straight line speed vs the other Renault powered teams this season shows that their aero philosophy is extremely draggy at the moment and certainly contributed to the Honda’s lack of performance as well.

Toro Rosso and Gasly did really well today but the STR-Honda relationship is really just a testbed for a 2019 Red Bull Honda works deal. Its an open secret that Max Verstappen visited Honda’s engine factory at Sakura prior to signing his new contract. STR Honda look like a competitive midfield team in 2018. Red Bull Honda will be able to mount a title challenge in 2019. McLaren might have ended up going through 3 seasons of pain only to end up losing all the eventual benefits of that development to Red Bull, not to mention $100m a season in budget.