Formula One saw the return of one of the sport’s prodigal sons this week when it was revealed that Honda would revive their iconic partnership with McLaren in 2015. This would make 2014 the last year where Mercedes continues to supply engines for McLaren. With the formula shifting to 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines from 2014, Honda would be an engine supplier to McLaren just like in the late 80’s when the partnership witnessed one of the most intense rivalries in the sport between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. The potent combination won both the driver’s and the constructor’s championships four times in the period between 1988 and 1992.
Back in 1988, McLaren partnered with Honda in the final year of the turbo era when Formula One’s tryst with turbo engines had resulted in such astronomical levels of power that the formula was reverting back to naturally aspirated engines from 1989.
The Honda engines in 1988 were immensely powerful , their 1.5 litre turbos generating almost 900 bhp at 12,500 RPM in race trim. When this phenomenal engine was bolted on the Gordon Murray – Andrew Nichols designed MP 4 /4 , driven by the legendary pair of Prost and Senna, it resulted in one of the most dominant cars in Formula One. The MP 4/4 went on to win 15 of the 16 races that season and was consistently atleast a second faster than the rest of the pack – a feat that has never been eclipsed to this day. Amazingly, the only time either car didn’t end up on the podium was when Senna – who was in the lead – had an accident while lapping one the backmarkers during the Italian Grand Prix. The car was a marvel of modern engineering and tales of how Senna drove the car at Monaco have now become part of Formula One folklore.
However, while the brand made a wonderful impression during its years with McLaren and Lotus in the 80’s, Honda’s stint as a manufacturer was mired in troubles and disappointment. Honda left Formula One at the end of the 2008 season, and Brawn GP ( which is now Mercedes ) was born out of its ashes. Ironically, had they stayed in F1 for another year, they would’ve ended up world champions. Instead, leaving the sport played an integral part in how Mercedes – and Michael Schumacher – re-entered Formula One.
And come 2015, the McLaren-Honda partnership will be renewed after a gap of nearly 21 years.
The last time a McLaren-Honda raced on a track was when Ayrton Senna was competing in the World Championships and Michael Schumacher had just entered Formula One.
If there aren’t any changes, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez would be the drivers who benefit from this partnership. It is to be noted that McLaren will have access to Mercedes’ turbo powerplant next year and they were quick to acknowledge that this will not benefit Honda’s engine development which incidentally has made good progress at it’s R&D facility in Tochigi, Japan.
With Honda re-entering the arena and that too with McLaren which has a rich history of producing competent cars it is hoped that the partnership will be successful. All things said and done, it is definitely a good sign for the sport that manufacturers are starting to take interest, once again proving that changing the formula to be in sync with on-road concepts will turn out to be popular instead of detrimental for the sport. Besides, we now have 4 players in the engine war in 2015 – Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes and now, Honda. The only news that would trump this now if BMW re-entered the turbo wars in 2015!