2017 was supposed to be a turning point in performance for McLaren and Honda on the back of two difficult years with the Japanese engine manufacturer. Winter testing in Barcelona would suggest anything but a turnaround, with a slow and unreliable package which might not even see if off the back row of the grid in Melbourne and not even make it to the end of the race.
Such is the difficulty that the team face, even members at the top level haven’t denied that there are problems. Lead driver Fernando Alonso clearly said during testing that the team were ready to win, apart from Honda, while both Zak Brown and Eric Boullier have acknowledged their shortcomings.
Many have said why don’t they change engine supplier, which in the long term is always possible, but in the short term the car is designed for a Honda package and would take considerable work to reorganise the car, which would leave the team even further behind in the development race. There is also the question of the long term deal they have with Honda, and if there is a way for them to get out.
The deal with Honda was a reaction to McLaren losing the ‘works’ Mercedes team title, and with considerable funding being put into that team conceded that the only way to beat Mercedes was forge a new future with a different manufacturer. Two years behind in development compared to Mercedes, at the time the best engine on the grid, the 2015 Honda engine was so behind on performance and reliability that it left them at the back of the field, the very last row on the grid at the Australian Grand Prix, with one of the cars even breaking down on the formation lap. A replication of that could happen again.
So talking to Mercedes should come at no surprise, given the loss of Manor, it would leave an opening for McLaren to return. Boullier even said that McLaren would be winning again if they had the Mercedes engine. Reports from Germany have suggested that the two have talked about a ‘short term’ deal, although that would require the consent from Honda, who are currently committed to the engine programme.