Race Blog
Japan 2017

Japanese nuts ‘n’ bolts

It wasn’t like this when Soichiro was alive.

Mr Honda, Japan’s very own equivalent of Enzo Ferrari, had a passion, an understanding of what it takes to be a Formula 1 top dog: power. Respected engineers – hungry for success – fettling the maximum-horsepower engines sitting snugly in the race cars of grand prix and title-winning drivers.

Richie Ginther, John Surtees, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna make for quite a list of F1 racing legends. They all tasted the sweet taste of grand prix winners’ champagne in no small part courtesy of Honda power.

I know Jenson Button did too – but, seriously, one victory in the eight years JB was slowly pushed along by Honda is woeful. How times change – and the warnings were there for all to see.

Trumpeted by all ‘n’ sundry – from the Woking boardroom itself to pliant editorial puff-pieces and clamorously optimistic online forums – as the reawakening of the all-conquering alliance of the late ’80s/early ’90s, the latest partnership between McLaren and Honda has been little short of calamitous. Ferrari? Farrago, more like.   

The commentators, more keen on the sound of their own voices than the accuracy of that which they expound, appeared blindly ignorant of the Japanese manufacturer’s almost totally wretched F1 involvement from 2000 to 2008 – first as an engine supplier to the British American Racing team and then as owner of the Honda F1 Racing Team debacle.

I know we all have short memories these days, but how could anyone so quickly have forgotten the Earth Dreams project?!

From the get-go the McLaren crew were nervous. Waving cheerio to the mighty Mercedes and their High Performance Powertrains guys, they ‘greeted’ the Honda boys. And boys are what appeared to arrive!

Honda make road cars, so, understandably, they have a desire to educate their younger staff in the ways of the world and how competitive automotive sport can improve the brand. Everyone in F1 gets that. But what no-one got, and least of all the experienced and successful McLaren mechanics and engineers, was the arrival of what looked like a work experience outing from the local college!

Honda engine nuts ‘n’ bolts rolling across the spotless McLaren garage floor – only noticed by the ‘kids’ from Japan when handed back to them by a McLaren mechanic – soon became the norm. Many within the team’s pit box were left slack-jawed at the ineptitude of their new partners.

Maybe it’s admirable to have an attitude of promoting solely from within, but in the ultimately cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of Formula 1 it’s more likely just plain ignorant. Honda’s policy of never poaching their competitors’ top technical talent is short sighted and utterly naïve. 

So Honda are off, off to Faenza, and oh my lord what a mess that will likely be…

Toro Rosso are a proper little F1 team staffed by racers who try hard, but, try as they undoubtedly do, the reality is they’re headed only one way. The guys who do the hard work, the mechanics, are a down-in-the-mouth bunch right now. They know full well just how difficult it’s been for their pitlane neighbours from Woking, and boy are they dreading the arrival of the Honda novices.

Team principal Franz Tost puts on a stoic and brave face, but is surely dreading regular, and regularly depressing, telephone calls to his ultimate boss and team owner, Red Bull main-man Dietrich Mateschitz.

A miserable 2018 campaign could be fatal for the proud Italian team. A lack of power, relentless unreliability, curfew-busting all-nighters, untold penalties and driver dissent will likely spread a fissiparous mood throughout Toro Rosso. Maybe - as some suggest - the plan is for Honda to buy the team, but whatever the strategy it’s likely to be a season of abject failure. If you were a multi-billionaire who already owns a world championship-winning team – Red Bull – with the most exciting driver pairing in the sport – Verstappen and Ricciardo – would you keep a bunch of going-nowhere no-hopers? Thought not!

With Stoffel Vandoorne now starting to deliver on the pace he so promised and Fernando Alonso hell-bent as ever to get back on the podium, and both sat in a top-drawer chassis powered by a race-winning Renault power unit, McLaren are surely headed for happier race weekends than of late.

Toro Rosso, not so much.


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