McLaren Honda: A Challenge to Find Performance

Alonso isn't used to being a back marker, but is willing to put in the effort for the prize.
Alonso isn’t used to being a back marker, but is willing to put in the effort for the prize.

This isn’t the first rodeo for McLaren Honda. Any difficult endeavor that we, as humans, undertake begs to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s what professional sports figures and teams do. The real players always want to go beyond what is in the moment, whether that’s chasing a dream or finishing a home project. There’s always room for improvement. and there will always be a sense of never being satisfied.

The Formula 1 team of McLaren Honda are proof of this mindset. Turning their power-plants up to full horsepower is risky as they’ve only had one race in the first half of the FormulaOne season where they didn’t experience reliability problems. What do they have to prove? Nothing. They have to prove that they are willing to risk blowing motors in their quest to make it back to the front of the grid. They have nothing to lose.

The publically touted mandate of tuning their engine to its limits is allegedly so they can match the strength of Ferrari. That’s a tall order. When any race motor, jet aircraft engine or outboard motor is in development, full horsepower reveals any flaws the chassis/boat/airframe may have.

This weekend the Belgian Grand Prix returns with full force after the long, but much needed Summer break. Let’s not think for a minute Honda is brushing off grid penalties. They’re sure to be a setback when money is handed out at year’s end. But that’s why McLaren Honda is doing this in the first place. If they can’t improve during competition, they can improve on the track, in the garage or at the factory while they prepare for next season. That’s the bottom line: McLaren Honda is using 2015 as an in-season test, engines and grid penalties be damned.

Whether Jenson Button stays at McLaren Honda or goes, he's put in the effort that should pay off.
Whether Jenson Button stays at McLaren Honda or goes, he’s put in the effort that should pay off.

The token upgrades mainly consists of combustion characteristics. These changes deal with compression ratios, intakes and exhausted air, as well as fuel. It’s quite boring, unless you are me, but all in all, Honda should have the hang of it by the end of the season, surely by the European leg. The consequences are difficult to ignore. Obviously, this will account for more power. More power upsets the dial of handling. Spa is the best place for this new spec of unit. High speeds are maintained throughout the whole circuit. It’s literally going to be a hit or miss with Honda. How will this impact their weakest point? Competition?

The Honda motorsport boss, Yasuhisa Arai, explains the “MK3” is the next step before the “MK4” which will be next seasons engine. The team is expected to use every token available for this final upgrade to take the punch to Ferrari power units. Arai believes the performance of their engine is already better than Renault. So what makes Arai say that? Renault powered cars have both outraced McLaren for the past three races.

McLaren Honda still has a tall hill to climb if they’re taking the technical route. It’s best for them to make this decision now, as next season they are aiming to be more than ready to fight the competition. The uniqueness of the Honda built plant will have every manufacturer rethinking their own efficiency. McLaren will suffer penalty after penalty going into this weekend and future race weekends. Arai said so himself: “The Belgian race will surely be a difficult one for the team and drivers, with expected grid penalties and a long unforgiving power circuit.” Nevertheless after Spa, McLaren should have total confidence in Honda in Italy and Singapore.

One can only hope this is true as after practice 2 for the Spa race both Button and Alonso are 3 seconds off the pace.

It’s going to take more than horsepower alone.

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