Hot on the heels of Toro Rosso’s confirmation of its Honda engine deal for 2018, the remaining pieces of the multi-part puzzle fell into place as expected, with the Italian team’s Renault powerplants heading for McLaren and its star turn behind the wheel, Carlos Sainz, jumping over to the regie to partner Nico Hulkenberg next year.
McLaren had been expected to kickstart the announcement avalanche but, in a mirror of its season as a whole, found itself trailing Toro Rosso in the news stakes. However, the PR offensive – when it did come – cemented what many had expected for some weeks, as the Woking giant attempts to turn its fortunes around (and keep hold of a clearly disgruntled Fernando Alonso into the bargain).
The two parties, reunited to great fanfare three seasons ago, chose to discontinue their partnership ‘by mutual consent’ and will go their separate ways at the end of the 2017 campaign.
“Honda is a great company which, like McLaren, is in F1 to win,” McLaren Group executive chairman Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa commented, “Although our partnership has not produced the desired success, that does not diminish the great history our two companies have enjoyed together, nor our continued efforts to achieve success in F1. At this point in time, however, it is in the best interests of both companies that we pursue our racing ambitions separately.”
“It is unfortunate that we must part ways with McLaren before fulfilling our ambitions, however, we made the decision with a belief that this is the best course of action for each other’s future,” Honda president Takahiro Hachigo agreed, “On behalf of Honda, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to fans who have been very supportive of the team as well as the drivers, team members and everyone involved who shared with us in the joys and disappointments since we began preparing for our return to F1 in 2015. Honda will continue the fight together with McLaren all the way to the end of the 2017 season, and then continue its F1 racing activities in 2018 and beyond.”
The deal with Renault will see McLaren using the French powerplants for three seasons through 2020, the first time in two lengthy motorsport histories that the two parties have worked together.
“There has never been any doubt over Honda’s commitment and energy to the mission of success in F1,” McLaren Technology Group executive director Zak Brown reflected, “They are proven winners and innovators but, for a combination of reasons, our partnership has not flourished as any of us would have wished. It is certainly not for the want of effort on the part of either Honda or McLaren, but the time has come to move ahead in different directions. As fellow racers, we hope to see the great name of Honda get back to the top – our sport is better for their involvement. I know this view is shared by everyone in the sport.
“Today’s announcement gives us the stability we need to move ahead with our chassis and technical programme for 2018 without any further hesitation. As an organisation, McLaren has always worked extremely hard to form lasting partnerships with its technical suppliers and we’re convinced that we can bring real value to Renault Sport Racing as we work alongside it to develop this current power unit into a regular race winner.”
Although no announcement has been made regarding Alonso’s future, the Renault deal is expected to keep the two-time world champion at Woking alongside Stoffel Vandoorne…
“McLaren is an inspirational team with two talented drivers which should not only support our engine development efforts, but also act as a reference and an example in the ongoing construction of our chassis operations,” Renault Sport Racing MD Cyril Abiteboul noted, “This is an exciting new beginning with a championship-winning team that is hungry to return to glory. The agreement is perfectly in line with our mid-term strategy and with our objective to be in a winning position as a team in 2020. We are looking forward to seeing the Renault brand on next year’s McLaren and racing our new partners on track.”
Sainz heads to Renault
As rumoured, Carlos Sainz will swap colours as part of the four-way deal between McLaren, Renault, Honda and Toro Rosso, jumping over to the Enstone team to partner Hulkenberg for 2018.
“I’m very happy to be joining Renault Sport Formula One Team,” the Spaniard admitted, “To be an F1 driver for a manufacturer team is an honour and I hope to reward Renault’s faith in me with my very best performances on track. The trajectory of the Renault team is exciting and I’m proud to join at such an important time in their history. I am looking forward to working with everyone at Enstone and Viry, and driving alongside Nico Hülkenberg.
“I have worked closely with Renault in F1 and previously in motorsport, so I know their motivation and capabilities. This is the start of a very exciting new chapter in my career. I would like to say thank you to Red Bull for all their confidence and support and for allowing me to take this opportunity.”
Red Bull motorsport consultant Dr Helmut Marko was quick to point out that Sainz’s deal was, at present, for a single season, with the drinks giant keen to keep him in the fold lest either Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen leave the senior Red Bull team at the end of their contracts next season.
“We are happy to have reached an agreement for Carlos to drive for Renault in 2018,” Marko said, “He is a tremendous talent and he will benefit from working with a manufacturer team alongside a highly experienced driver. This will give Carlos a different challenge and we will be keenly watching his progress there as he remains part of the Red Bull family. This is very good development for both Carlos and Renault and will also allow us to bring a new talent into F1.”
That ‘talent’ is expected to be reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly, who is currently plying his trade in Japan’s SuperFormula series, but suggestions that he may make his F1 debut in spite of a title challenge out East now appear wide of the mark as it seems Sainz will remain at STR for the remainder of the 2017 campaign. The driver to lose out in the shuffle is Briton’s Jolyon Palmer who, while perhaps safe for the rest of the year, will be ramping up his search for alternative employment for 2018.
“We must thank Jolyon for his ongoing hard work with the team and his efforts over the past two seasons,” Abiteboul concluded, “He is a dedicated driver and we wish him the best in the next steps of his career.
“Carlos, meanwhile, is a very promising driver who has been on our radar for some time, especially after his successes in Renault junior formulae, and I would like to thank Helmut Marko for loaning Carlos to us for this period. This choice is well aligned with our mid-term strategic plans – we feel that Nico and Carlos will complement each other on and off track and the combination should help us push forwards on the grid.”